Lesson 5: Resources and Engines

Welcome back, readers! This week, we’ll be taking a look at one of the central parts of all games. In fact, I think it could safely be said that what we’ll be looking at today is the most important concept in gaming. If you can master the ideas that we touch on in today’s lesson, you’ll be ready to learn a lot of skills that will sharpen your skills beyond that you could even imagine. This week, we’ll be looking at resources!

Resources is a very open-ended word, so we need to sharpen down exactly what we mean by that. In gaming contexts, I define resources as such: a resource is anything in a game that meets 3 requirements. It must be measurable and defined. Players must have a limited quantity of it. Finally, a player must be able to interact with it or spend it.

First, something must be measurable and defined. Something that is fluid, changeable, or only vaguely defined cannot be a resource. For example, “advantage” in a game is not a resource. Differential between scores could be a resource of sorts – how much more life you have than your opponent, for example. To fit into our discussions on resources, it is very important that we avoid things that we can’t look at objectively, with numbers behind them. That is how we can accurately judge resources.

Second, players must have a limited quantity of the resource. If a player is not limited in something, then there is no reason to worry about managing it, and resource management is where most of our discussions of resources will be centered. If something is unlimited to players, then it is not something where you can attempt to reduce how much of it your opponent has access to, which means that it can be safely ignored in our discussions.

Third and finally, a resource must be able to be interacted with or spent. Resources need to mean something – if players can’t do anything about it but simply look at it, it is not something that needs to be discussed in gameplay scenarios or strategy because player actions have no impact on it. Because of this, when we discuss resource management in games, it needs to be something that players can interact with, even if it is something only one player can interact with.

Now that we’ve defined resources, let’s look at some examples of them, both ones that you’ve probably thought of as resources before and some that you might not have looked at in this light before. One of the most common resources you see in games of all sorts is gold, or another type of currency. As I’m sure you are aware if you have ever played a game with these, how much gold you earn and how you spend it is crucial to your victory. As we look at other resources, you’ll start to see that how you manage your resources is often central to winning your games.

Gold and currency are far from the only resources in games, however. Have you ever been playing an RPG and thought to yourself “I can afford to take an attack from this boss before I have to heal, so I can attack it this turn.”? If you have, you’ve been looking at your health as a resource! In fact, having to choose between attacking a boss and healing yourself points to another resource that, in video games, you don’t always think about – actions. Actions as resources are very common in board games and tabletop games, but you don’t always see it in video games. Just because you only have one action each turn doesn’t mean it’s not a resource that can be looked at as a resource – in fact, looking at your actions as resources will often allow you to analyze your play in a more helpful way. Even things like your movement each turn can be viewed as resources. Can you only move 5 spaces in a turn? Well, let’s see: it’s measurable, you have a limited amount of movement, and you can spend it by moving. Sure seems like a resource to me.

So, if just about everything can be looked at as a resource, how does that help you as a player? It can let you more accurately decide what resources are valuable to you, and focus on playing to your outs, like we talked about a few articles ago. It can help you predict future turns or figure out if you have the initiative at given points in a game. Most importantly, though, it clues us in to one of the central tenets of gaming – one of the most important things that you can learn as a player. It’s not true all the time, but it is true enough of the time that it should be kept in mind all the time – The player with the most resources is more likely to win. It seems pretty simple on its face, but it’s an important part of almost all gaming strategy.

You’ll notice that we said that the player with the most resources is likely to win, but not guaranteed. How can that be? After all, if I can just do more than my opponent, aren’t I going to win? That’s where we touch on another term, one that is just as important to resources: Engines! An Engine is anything in a game that allows you to turn one or more resources into other ones, in either a positive or negative value. Engines are everywhere in games, and again, you might not think of many of them as Engines. A basic melee attack in D&D? At its core, it is a way of changing one resource (actions) into another resource (negative health on your target). Engines are often basic game mechanics, but objects in games can also provide players with more powerful or more efficient engines. Arcane Intellect in Hearthstone is an engine that lets you trade 3 mana and a card for 2 cards. Casting a creature in Magic: the Gathering is an engine that lets you trade some mana and a card in your hand for a creature on the battlefield.

This leads into our other central lesson for this week: The player with more, and more efficient, engines is more likely to win. In many ways, these two tenets are intimately tied together. More efficient engines let you acquire more resources and give you more options with what to do with those resources. More resources let you make more use of your engines. Engines and resources are symbiotic parts of the central ideas of gameplay – they form the framework of a game, and they provide you with ways to manipulate the framework of that game.

Now that you know about resources and engines, start looking for them in your games. Start asking, “What resources do I have available to me right now? What resources does my opponent have? What engines do I have access to? How can I use those engines to minimize the resources that my opponent has? How can I use those engines to maximize my resources?” By asking yourself those 4 questions, you can focus your gameplay and make yourself a better player.

A big thank you to my Patrons for this month: Alex, TicTac, and anonymous patrons. If there are specific subjects or concepts you’d like an article written on, I suggest you look at my patreon! For just $7 a month, you’ll be able to suggest article topics for me to write on.

As always, remember that it’s not enough to just hit the books if you want to win. You’ve got to Crit the Books!


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