Welcome back to another week at Crit the Books, readers! This week, we’ll be doing something similar to what we did last week – we’ll take an established strategic concept from a game, then distill it into its smaller parts and uses to try to apply it in other games. This week, we’ll be pulling a concept from the ancient game of Go, also known as weiqi or baduk. We’ll be looking into the concept of influence – what it means and how it can help your gaming improve.
Influence, in Go, refers to the potential impact a given piece can have in the game as a whole. It can refer to how difficult it is for a given stone to be captured, or how important the stone is to making certain groups unable to be captured. A stone’s influence also takes into account how much that stone helps you capture those of your opponent, or how it makes it hard for your opponent to score territory around that stone. In short, a stone’s influence is a rough measurement of how much it can affect the larger game state. A stone that saves a large number of stones has a high influence, and a stone that denies your opponent only a small bit of territory is a low influence stone.
For the purpose of applying the idea to other games, we’ll look at that first definition – how much a given game component can affect the larger game state. A component that the game will revolve around, and one whose fate will decide the course of the game moving forward, is a high influence piece. Even if a given piece ends up being important only once, it can still be a high influence piece if the game hinged on that piece’s position or even presence. An easy way to measure a piece’s influence is by asking how much of the game state it can directly impact.
When we are looking at a given game state and trying to analyze it, it is important that we not only look at the pieces themselves, but the influence that those pieces have. It is not enough to simply look at what those pieces are going to do this turn. What are they going to do next turn? The turn after that? Identifying which game components the game will center around is perhaps one of the most important skills that you can train when looking to improve your ability to comprehend the state of the game.
Just like identifying your outs, it is important to recognize that a piece’s influence can change drastically over the course of a given game. A piece that can be very aggressive early, but is fragile and easily answered, will have a lot of influence in the beginning of the game but much less influence as the game goes on. Similarly, components that look like they may not be very influential early can end up being very important later on in the game, as players’ resources dwindle and become harder to make use of.
When you can familiarize yourself with a component’s influence, you can also use that to present threats to your opponent. If you know a piece has the highest influence in a given area, you can use that piece to claim resources for yourself and threaten your opponent’s resources in that same area. For games where there is a free movement component, such as Warhammer 40K or Guild Ball, a model’s influence can be interpreted as an area around that model where they can impact the larger game. Oftentimes, influence and threat range are synonymous in games like this – the more areas a model can extend its threat and influence, the more influential that model typically is, especially in objective based play.
Also important is paying attention to the influence of your opponent’s pieces and how they interpret the influence of your own pieces. If an opponent thinks a piece is less influential than it is, they are less likely to spend resources on mitigating the effects of that piece. If an opponent overestimates a piece’s influence, they are likely to give up resources or efficiency to answer that piece. This will create an opening that you, the player, can exploit. At its core, this is what bluffing is – causing your opponent to misinterpret the influence of a game component.
Being familiar with the influence that a component has is also vital to planning ahead and making predictions in the game. By accurately being able to predict the way the game will go, you will be able to place yourself in better positions later in the game or force your opponent into disadvantageous positions. The manipulation of your piece’s influence hinges on your ability to accurately identify how much influence a given piece has.
Many of the metaphors and examples I’ve used are most useful in a tabletop or board game setting, but it is important to remember that these same theories of influence can be applied to card games as well. We’ll look at a digital card game as our example for this: Hearthstone. In Hearthstone, a 4/4 minion will have a large influence when played early – it is a quick threat that must be answered and will likely be able to influence the board state heavily. On the other hand, that same 4/4 minion will likely have a significantly lower influence on the board later on, since there will more easily be creatures larger than it or more powerful cards that can be played. Early on, it might be worth it to put more resources into getting the 4/4 on the board since it will be very influential, while later on you probably won’t want to make that 4/4 into a big resource sink.
Overall, influence and understanding it is something that will move your game to the next step if you master it. Try not to look as your pieces as what they are doing this turn, or what they are capable of at the immediate moment. Instead, focus more on what they can do and what they can’t do. That next step – thinking ahead and not in the present – will crystallize your strategies and strengthen them beyond what they are now. Know the potential of your components, and success will come your way.
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!