Lesson 12: Wide and Narrow

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!

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!

 

Lesson 10 – Gaming Styles

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?

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!