Hello, my dear readers, and welcome to another week of Crit the Books! It’s been a few busy weeks, but because of that, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some of my gaming companions and gotten a lot of interesting insights on different styles of game and how to look at strategies in those different games. In fact, this week I’ll be talking about one of the most common differentiators of strategies that I have seen across multiple games – Narrow vs. Wide strategies.
In a nutshell, Narrow and Wide strategies refer to how the game’s resources – be they mental energy, action points, or similar – are spent when there are multiple places to spend those resources. In a Narrow strategy, resources are more often spent on a single goal, model, or game component. In a Wide strategy, resources are distributed to different locations, allowing for more flexible play but less pure strength in a single aspect.
Narrow strategies are focused on putting as much power into a single objective as possible. These strategies tend to be very powerful in terms of raw force or numbers, but can sometimes fail when the objective or component that the resources are focused on is either defeated or otherwise made irrelevant. Narrow strategies are about trading pure efficiency in setup for maximum efficiency in output. Strategies like this are often called buff strategies or something similar. While putting all of your proverbial eggs in one basket can be risky, it can pay off very well if your basket is strong and safe enough to keep all of your eggs safe!
Wide strategies, on the other hand, trade away the incredible efficiency of one single output in exchange for a more widespread efficiency among the wider goal. Wide strategies tend to be more flexible, and are more difficult to dismantle because taking multiple components out of commission or making multiple pieces irrelevant is more difficult than stopping simply one. Wide strategies tend to be lower variance as well, since putting all of the odds into a single point can be dangerous. However, wide strategies often lack the pure power that narrow strategies can wield.
You can find examples of narrow and wide strategies in nearly every game imaginable and identifying the width of different strategies can be key in finding out how to beat them. Let’s look at some examples of narrow or wide strategies in a number of games and look at what makes them narrow or wide.
First, we’ll look at one of the oldest games of strategy still played today: Chess! In chess, you’ll often hear that some players specialize or pay extra attention to a given piece. Perhaps one player tends to favor the extreme power that their queen brings to the table, or another player tends to make use of the unique attack vectors that the Knights bring to the table. These players tend to favor more narrow strategies, where the majority of resources that they can spend – their movements each turn – are spent on one component. Players like this can have difficulty when their pieces of choice are removed. On the other hand, some players tend to play more evenly with all of their pieces, making use of whichever piece has the most efficient options at a given time. These players are playing a more wide strategy, which can be harder to figure out strong counterplay for. However, they will often not be able to take opponents by surprise as easily, and their gameplay can be more easily planned for.
Now that we’ve looked at an older game, let’s look at a game with more complicated pieces, such as Overwatch. In Overwatch of the past, two team compositions that we will look at are “el presidente” and deathball comps. In the former, a large amount of resources are focused on buffing or protecting a single character that has the ability to turn those buffs into a high output. Oftentimes, Bastion is “el presidente” of the group – he trades away his mobility for the ability to gain high DPS. Healers like Mercy or Ana, who have very high healing per second on a single target, can help protect Bastion, while tanks like D.Va or Orisa can protect Bastion to make up for the lack of his mobility. These allow the team to make full use of Bastion’s powerful, but narrow strengths, and those same strengths mirror those of the entire team composition. The comp deals amazing amounts of damage with significant durability, but if Bastion is removed from the equation, they can very quickly falter.
On the other side of the equation in Overwatch are deathball compositions. In Deathball comps, healers like Mercy are often passed up in favor of healers who lack the strong single target healing, and instead look towards healers that can heal – or offer other buffs – in an area of effect. Brigitte and Lucio are both pretty common to see here. These healers have significantly less healing on a single target, but when you add together the healing they can provide to 5 other players, their healing numbers very quickly approach or even outstrip those of more focused healers. While this is only looking at the support side of deathball comps, it serves as a good foil to the narrow “el presidente” strategies by pointing out the power of wider strategies, where it is harder to bring the team falling apart by taking out specific key players.
As you’ve seen, looking at and judging strategies on a narrow vs wide axis can be very helpful when it comes to analyzing weaknesses of a strategy. As well, knowing what playstyle you tend to prefer can help you focus on your strengths, something that we tend to talk about a lot here on Crit the Books – because it’s important! For your homework this week, look at the strategies you used in the past few games that you played. Did you use a more narrow strategy where you put many resources into a single component to squeeze the most efficiency out of it, or did you adapt a wider strategy which was more difficult to counter? Maybe your strategy even changed over the course of the game!
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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!