Welcome back to Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be looking at a division between different gaming styles. Most players that I have known fall easily into one of the two categories I’m going to be bringing up in this article. In addition, we’ll be looking at how knowing what gaming style you fall into can help you get better at the games you are interested in improving at. Knowing your gaming style can be very valuable in figuring out what drives you to play a game as well, which can do a lot for making games more enjoyable overall!
When I talk about gaming styles, I mostly mean how a player approaches learning things within a game and how they are more naturally inclined to progress in different games. The two styles that I’ll be talking about are intuitive gamers and trained gamers. Neither of these styles is necessarily more skilled at gaming than the other inherently, but they have vastly different ways of approaching learning about the game and improving. They also have different flavors of learning that they tend to prefer in games.
The first category we’ll be talking about is the one that I would consider myself, since that is the one that I have a more personal view on. That is the intuitive gamer. Intuitive gamers tend to enjoy learning via discovery. An intuitive gamer craves new things they can discover – they will tend to gravitate towards strategies that widely vary in their path to victory and will adore seeing a new line of play that they have never seen anyone play before.
These gamers tend to have a steeper initial improvement curve in games – they’ll often be able to pick up new strategies easier and adapt their existing decision-making patterns – heuristics – to those new strategies faster. Intuitive gamers will tend to look at decision making in games from a very high-level or macroscopic perspective. Rather than getting themselves bogged down in minutiae, they will find themselves looking at their overall goal in a turn or in a period of time and trying to make that plan happen.
Because an intuitive gamer finds joy via discovery, they will often find themselves hopping between different strategies in a game. Maybe they’ll swap factions in a miniatures game, or swap decks often in a card game. Flexible strategies that can play different games based on context tend to be where these players shine, since they can adapt on the fly to different circumstances.
These intuitive games will often find themselves preparing for competitive settings like tournaments by trying to play both against or with varying strategies – this will help them develop rough heuristics based on varied matchups, and they will generally trust their skills to handle specific details in the matchups. These players tend to be very good when playing from a disadvantage, since they can focus on how to meet their high-level gameplan.
On the other side of the spectrum are trained gamers. The joy of learning that trained gamers tend to is that of mastery. Where an intuitive gamer craves discovery, a trained gamer looks to improve their skills with a given strategy. They will tend to enjoy more linear strategies that follow along a given, practicable path, and will enjoy seeing their plans come to fruition even when faced with difficulties along the way.
While intuitive gamers tend to improve quicker in the beginning of learning new strategies, trained gamers will find that their skill improves more consistently over time, and that their training and repetition will bring them higher rewards once the intuitive gamers tend to start to plateau in their skill improvement. Where intuitive gamers will focus on the high-level strategy, trained gamers will often find themselves looking more at ground-level strategy. Instead of looking at their big plan repeatedly, trained gamers will tend to sacrifice their flexibility at the high level in order to focus on the small details of a plan: measuring exact ranges, determining exact cards and amounts of mana that need to be spent, etc.
A trained gamer will find themselves sticking to a single strategy and trying to learn the ins and outs of that specific strategy. They will tend to prefer strategies that do not significantly change based on their interaction with their opponent, because it allows them to put themselves in situations that are practiceable. Strategies that tend to stick to the same basic gameplan regardless of matchup are where trained gamers will shine.
Trained gamers will look at tournament preparation as a chance to focus in on their strengths – while an intuitive gamer will look for breadth and try many different matchups, a trained gamer will typically look for depth. They’ll identify what is their worst matchup – or the matchup they expect to see most often – and play that matchup repeatedly, trying to explore and critique even the smallest parts of their gameplan against those specific decks. Trained gamers tend to be very successful when playing from a lead, since they can afford to direct less mental energy at worrying about stopping their opponent and more towards meeting their victory condition.
Both trained gamers and intuitive gamers can be successful at high level play – some players are familiar enough with a given strategy that they will pilot it regardless of the environment unless that strategy has a significant disadvantage. These trained gamers will often find success regardless of whatever the strongest strategy in the metagame is. On the other hand, intuitive gamers find themselves very comfortable in shifting metagames, since their flexibility makes it easier to pick up “the best strategy” and attain victory through the power of their strategy combined with their more generalized heuristics.
Knowing what gaming style you play as can help you determine where your weaknesses and strengths are as a player, which is key in improving your skills. As well, being familiar with your preferences will make it easier to know what to focus on and – crucially – what will give you the most enjoyable preparation experience when it comes to more competitive settings. As your homework this week, I encourage you to figure out what type of gamer you are, and the gaming styles of your gaming group. Are you a trained gamer that prefers to “one trick” a strategy, or are you an intuitive gamer that can never seem to decide what they are focused on?
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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!