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 11: The Shoulders of Giants

Welcome back to Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be looking into other sources of gaming strategy. Over the years, a number of articles and books have been written on how to play games, and strategies to use within them. One of my goals with Crit the Books is to become similarly known within the gaming community as a place to look for depth of strategy.

I’ll be pointing you to some of these articles that I think are the most important, groundbreaking, or informational writing pieces in larger gaming strategy. I’ll also be explaining – in a brief paragraph or two – what makes the pieces so important, and what lessons can be gained from them. I’ll provide a quick summary, but of course, I think you should heavily consider reading the articles for yourself. Many of these articles are how I have built up my knowledge of gaming strategy myself!

The first piece of writing I’ll look at is one that has gone down in card game history as perhaps the most valuable piece of strategy writing ever done for the card game genre. While it focuses on Magic: the Gathering, it has uses in nearly every competitive game that I have ever played in one way or another. If you’ve ever been an M:tG tournament grinder, you probably know what article I’m talking about: Who’s the Beatdown? Written by Mike Flores!

Who’s the Beatdown? is primarily focused on how to realize when you are the aggressor or the defender in matchups of Magic: the Gathering. The article focuses on how to realize when you are the aggressor vs. the defender, and what that can mean for you in the matchup. The article characterizes the difference between the beatdown and control strategies as that between a strategy that wants to beat the opponent early via tempo, and one that seeks to outlast the opponent and gain an advantage through value or efficiency.

Who’s the Beatdown? itself is a heavily Magic: the Gathering focused article, but many of the lessons that it teaches can be applied to other games. In nearly every other game, the dichotomy between tempo and value is apparent in some way, shape, or form. Players can use the resources at hand to seek their victory condition early and lock their opponent into specific responses with their aggressive plays. Alternatively, players can make moves that individually are not as powerful but will gain them more power in the long game because their moves are more efficient engines. Knowing what side of this dichotomy you should be focused on is crucial for a new player.

Moving on, another book that I can’t recommend more is Playing to Win: Becoming the Champion by David Sirlin. Written mainly from the perspective of a fighting game player but incorporating a basis of chess knowledge, Playing to Win focuses on sharpening your competitive mindset through a number of examples from the larger gaming community as well as personal anecdotes.

Perhaps the most impactful thing from my reading was Sirlin’s differentiation between a poor player and a “scrub”. In introducing the latter term, Sirlin looks at the mentality that often causes players losses due to not wanting to make moves that are perceived as “cheap” or “no skill”. He asks of the reader, why would you not use all of the tools at your disposal to win the game? If you’re not using the tools at your disposal, you are either artificially handicapping yourself, or setting yourself up with excuses in case you lose. Either way, you’re not gaining any advantage by trying to avoid certain strategies because they are “cheap”. Sirlin is ruthless in dismantling this mentality in the reader, making it explicitly clear that he doesn’t have any interest in excusing poor play because one is worried about making the game “more fun”.

The final article we’ll look at today touches on one of the easiest ways to distill value out of game objects within games of all kinds. That article is The Philosophy of Fire, also by Mike Flores. The Philosophy of Fire is about breaking down your win condition into its constituent parts, then breaking down all of the components you have access to down to what they can do to propel you towards that victory condition. Then, you make use of the components that do the most for you along that axis.

The Philosophy of Fire is primarily Magic: the Gathering based, but you can apply the basic ideas to nearly every game you play. Let’s look, for example, at a board game: Ascension. In Ascension, players compete to gain the most honor, and they do so by buying cards from a central buy row, using card abilities, or by defeating monsters in the aforementioned buy row for rewards. Often times, I will see new players struggling with the game; they will spend most of the game trying to put together strong synergies in their decks or trying to get their masterful combo to go off. However, they start to see their opponents winning before they are. When players ask me why they are losing so often, I ask them, “What are you trying to do?” Occasionally they will answer with something like, “Get as many cards that draw cards so I can play more cards.” “Is that helping you win the game?” I ask them in return. Often, they’ll respond with something similar to “Yeah… wait, it’s really not, is it?”

The Philosophy of Fire is, put simply, another way to tell you to play to your outs. However, it is also a way to evaluate the actions and resources you are using during games and seeing if you are taking the right ones, or if you are engaging in what amounts to mental masturbation. It is very important to keep your eyes on the prize, and The Philosophy of Fire helps you do that.

When it comes to learning strategy in any gaming setting, it is important to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants. While everything that someone else has thought of can be possibly reasoned out and thought of, that is a very inefficient way to learn. Instead, make sure to take advantage of the resources available to you, even if they are focused on games other than your normal ones. I am sure there are lessons you can learn. For this week’s homework, I would suggest you try to find a strategy article you haven’t read before and try to distill it down to its central lesson. Send your results to @CritTheBooks on twitter – I’d love to hear what you find!

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!

 

Lesson 8: Game Flow and Game State

Welcome back, folks, to this week’s lesson on Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be looking at the idea of game flow. Understanding the general flow of a game can lead you to better understanding of where to focus your resources, both mental and physical. In addition, learning the flow of a game can help you look at different parts of your gameplay and identify where you are skilled already and where you need improvement. Finally, it will help you understand critical moments in gameplay and understanding when you need to move into different strategies.

We’ll also be talking about the 3 game states that a player can find themselves in and bring up some general tips for how to play when you are in those different game states. Learning to play from different positions of strength is integral to becoming a better player. While many players learn and sharpen their skills at one game state, learning to play all three will make you a more well-rounded player who is able to adapt to different circumstances.

Like a well-written story, most games – and encounters within them – have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of these parts, the biggest thing that characterizes them in my mind is the goal of each stage. In the beginning stage of a game, you are looking to establish your position going into the mid- and endgame. In the midgame, you are primarily interacting with your opponent, and trying to leverage advantage gained into more advantage. Finally, by the endgame, you are trying to solidify your position if you are ahead and trying to prevent your opponent from doing so if you are behind.

We’ll talk about the beginning of the game first. In the beginning of the game, you are trying to establish yourself. Typically, this stage of the game has a much smaller amount of interaction than the other parts of the game, since players are more focused on using the resources available to them to set themselves up and not deal with the threats the opponent has prevented. In the beginning of the game, you should be focused on using your resources as efficiently as possible and setting yourself into the best position you can with the resources available to you. This is probably also the best time to set up future engines or buffs to make your engines more efficient.

Once you have started to interact with your opponent, that is when you have started the midgame. The midgame is characterized by high interactivity and aiming to use your resources more efficiently than your opponent. At this point, you are looking to play according to your general game plan and strengths. Using your resources to their fullest is key in this step, and this is also the step where you will often be looking to trade your resources for the ability to weaken your opponent’s resources. The majority of your victory condition will be accomplished in the midgame; the midgame generally ends when one player is in a situation where they can win the game in a single move or series of moves.

While the midgame is characterized by interactivity that favors efficiency, the endgame is characterized by interactivity that favors results. At this stage of the game, one or more players have victory all but within their grasp, and are looking for the last step to complete their victory condition. Be it having their opponent at 1 life, being within a goal of victory, or having the opponent’s king isolated, the endgame’s gameplay pattern revolves around the proximity to victory. This is where players will often sacrifice the efficiency that is so important in the beginning and midgame in favor of entirely results-based play. It doesn’t matter if it takes you twice as many resources to stop your opponent from winning, it still stops them from winning. If you have any chance of victory, you need to focus entirely on stopping your opponent from getting their win condition filled first.

Knowing when to move your efforts between expansion, interaction, and victory is one of the most important parts of being a skilled player. Your focus needs to be able to shift as you move between different parts of the game quickly. Many players are more skilled in one or more aspects of the game – perhaps you are more skilled at making the most efficient use of your resources, while I am good at identifying the weaknesses of your strategy and interacting with them. You might get ahead further in the early game because you can make more use of the limited resources we have. However, even if you are in a winning position, I’ll be able to make use of my interactivity once we hit the midgame to shut your engines down. It is important for me to remember that you being ahead doesn’t mean I’ve already lost.

Speaking of being ahead, let’s look at the game states that I mentioned earlier. A number of different gaming communities have different names for these, but I’ll be using the terms advantaged, disadvantaged, and neutral. The neutral game is when both players are on even footing, or close enough to it that the game could swing towards either player easily. A player that is advantaged has a greater chance of winning, while a player that is disadvantaged has a lower chance of doing so. It is important to note that a player’s proximity to fulfilling their win condition does not always translate directly to the game state – Even if you have 20 life and I have 10, if I’m presenting the ability to deal you lethal damage and you’re not, I’m definitely advantaged.

In a neutral game, you should be playing to your personal strengths as a player and making use of the plays available to you. A neutral game is a time where both players can afford to flex their strengths, since both players want to earn an advantage as soon as possible. You’ll also want to look at your opponent’s weaknesses and see if you can capitalize on them while you can afford to, since it can be more difficult to have that leisurely freedom of playstyle once one player is ahead of the other.

When you are in an advantaged position, it is to your benefit to play conservatively. After all, if the game state does not change from where it is now, you are more likely to win. There is no reason to take moves that carry a high reward if they also have a high risk, since a neutral result is more favorable to you. When you are advantaged, you have the privilege of being able to dictate the direction the game goes, since your opponent must wrest the advantage from you first before focusing on fulfilling their win condition. While the advantaged player can relax more than their opponent can, it is important to not give your opponent openings which they can exploit to put themselves in your position.

On the other hand, if you are disadvantaged, the onus to change the relative power positions of the game is on you. You’ll want to take high risk, high reward plays – if they fail, you’re in no worse a position than you were before you tried them. If they succeed, however, you stand the chance of gaining a significant boost to your chances of victory. In fact, a single well-placed play can often move you into the advantaged spot! You want to disrupt your opponent if at all possible, since putting them off course is an easy way to shift the movement of the game in a direction you prefer. When you’re facing a loss, there is no reason not to put everything on the line – if the choice is between a high chance at a loss and a riskier, but slightly lower chance of a loss? Take it. It might not work out, but so what? You’ll be in no worse a position.

Identifying when you are in the advantaged or disadvantaged position can be difficult. Indeed, a key part of gaming skill is recognizing when you can afford to make those high-risk plays. However, being familiar with playing from ahead and playing from behind will make your gaming better overall, since you’ll be able to flexibly adapt to whatever situation you find yourself in.

This has been quite a long article, so I am going to cut it off here! As you can see, understanding the flow of the game and the state of the game can help you figure out what your primary goals for your movements are, and help accentuate your strengths. Identifying these will help shape your gameplay moving forward and will reduce the mental burden on you as well as help you recognize strong and weak points in your gameplay. This week, try to keep track of these things as you play. Ask yourself, “What is the current game state? Who is ahead? What part of the game flow are we at?” See if your moves are helping you towards the goals we talked about.

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 6: Resource Strategy

Welcome back, readers, to Crit the Books! This week, we’ll be looking back at some of our discussions on resources and using the terminology we developed there to discuss some generalized game strategy. If you haven’t yet, I suggest you read last week’s article, where we define resources and engines. We’ll be using those terms a lot in today’s article, so please make sure you’re familiar with the terms!

The first bit of strategy advice I’ll be discussing today is Attack your opponent on their most limited resource. The easiest way to assure your victory in most games is to, if possible, eliminate options from your opponent. The easiest way to eliminate options entirely is to remove one of your opponent’s resources from them. If your opponent has nothing to power their engines, then they will often struggle to find their path to victory.

To illustrate this, we’ll look at 2 different examples of games. The first we’ll look at is the most popular paper TCG in the world, Magic: the Gathering. Let’s look at one of the most linear decks in most formats, Burn, or Red Deck Wins. These decks have some of the most efficient engines in Magic in terms of cards and mana to damage. However, these decks are often very limited on card draw. Therefore, decks that aim to beat those decks often attempt to win by eventually gaining more card advantage than their opponent. Of course, simply having more cards than your opponent will not win you the matchup by itself, but it will put you ahead and put you in a position to win the later game.

Another example of this style of play in Magic: the Gathering is land destruction. Lands are one of the most limited resources in Magic – you’re limited to playing one at a time, once per turn. Because of this, spells that destroy lands are often very powerful, and any deck that can do so consistently and efficiently is one to be feared. Blood Moon is a very powerful card in many decks, largely because it is functionally land destruction against much of the metagame. While it is not attacking your opponent’s mana directly, it is attacking them on another limited resource: colored mana.

The other example we’ll be looking at is from the tabletop miniatures world, and one of my personal favorite games of the genre: Guild Ball. In Guild Ball, one of your most limited resources is movement. Each model can only make a movement once per activation unless they have other abilities that do so, and those abilities that allow movement outside of that single activation are few and far between. Because of that, abilities that can stop or limit your movement are very powerful, and some models are taken into some matchups simply because they have those abilities.

Attacking an opponent’s most limited resources is the best way to turn off their engines, and by doing so, you can cost your opponent a lot of efficiency. Whether it be through turning off their ability to cast spells, stopping them from turning their action into attacks, or even limiting their actions to those which are reactions to your plays, you can gain a lot of control over the flow of the game by attacking their most limited resources.

Another piece of gaming advice that will help you moving forward is accentuate the strengths of the resources that you have more of than your opponent. That is a lot to take in, so let’s break it down further. Of the resources available to each player, there are likely resources that you will have more of than your opponent, either those that you have an excess of in the beginning of the game, or those that you gain an advantage over the course of the game. When you have resources that you have more of than your opponent, you should do your best to leverage your resources to their most effectiveness, because often your opponent will not have strong ways to contest their use.

Let’s go back to Magic: the Gathering; specifically, the burn or RDW matchup that we discussed earlier. Often, when you’re partway through the game, you’ll have more cards than your opponent. It is up to you to leverage the excess of cards that you have to the best use and gain the most efficiency out of those cards. If you can use those cards to deny your opponent cards or gain yourself more cards, then you will often find yourself in a winning position. That sort of effect that causes you to be farther ahead when you are already ahead is called a snowball effect and will often gain you the victory if you take advantage of an early lead.

As another example from M:tG, we’ll look at decks that do their best to gain an advantage over their opponent in the resource of lands, or mana. These decks will often do their best to make use of their extra mana, because it often costs resources to get yourself in a position where you have more than your opponent, and if those resources are not used, you have spent tempo, cards, and earlier mana to not gain a significant advantage – they have been wasted! When you are ahead with your mana, you don’t want to be playing cards that are the same cost and power level as your opponent. You want to be playing more powerful cards that cost more. You want to leverage the advantage you have into a win!

In Guild Ball, this same concept is in play. If your team has more movement options than the other team, do you want to engage with your opponent and put yourself in a position where you can’t use those movement options? No! You want to spread out and place yourself in locations where your opponent simply can’t reach you. You want to use the movement that you have available and put yourself out of range of your opponent’s attacks and abilities, because how are they going to be able to get over to you to stop you? When you have an advantaged position, take it!

When you have achieved an advantage over an opponent in one or more resources, that will often be a key path to winning. That excess you have will make it so your opponent cannot interact with you on that axis, and must find a way to win in other ways – perhaps with resources that they have more of than you, or engines that they have which are more efficient than yours.

Looking at the resources available to you and your opponent is key to optimized gameplay. By paying attention to where your opponent’s weak spots are, and by playing to your strengths, you’ll be able to give yourself an advantage. The important part of this lesson is learning how to accurately identify your opponent’s resources and find weak points that you can exploit. If you can do that consistently, you’ll find your win rate going up and up!

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 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!

 

Extra Credit 1: Tilt

Welcome back to Crit the Books, folks! We’ve got a first for our audience here – a Patron requested Article! Our request this time around, from a patron who would like to remain anonymous, was to write about tilt. Tilt is one of the most often discussed subjects in competitive gaming circles, but it’s not always ascribed to narrative games. However, Tilt and the effect it has on your play are absolutely huge when it comes to polishing your gameplay and sharpening your skills. Let’s get to learning!

Tilt is originally a poker term and is used to describe an emotional or mental confusion or frustration, often following a loss or an unlucky result. This disturbed emotional or mental state can often have a detrimental effect on a player’s skill, leading them to make unwise moves or play in ways that will not lead to them winning. There are many methods in which tilt can be caused, recognized, and dealt with. We’ll be looking into some of those methods, and I’ll give some personal anecdotes that might assist you in your own tilt adventures.

Before we move further, however, I want to clarify something. Many players who think of themselves as good players tend to think that they cannot be put on tilt, or that they are somehow immune to its effects. In my experience, they’re all wrong. Tilt is something that happens to everybody. We’re not machines! Trying to make yourself immune to it will only make it harder to notice its effects when it does happen. When you’re tilted, accept the fact and work through it.

Now that we’ve dealt with that tangent, let’s look at the things that can cause tilt. Tilting can be caused by any number of things, even outside of the game itself! Even something as innocuous as having a bad day can have a big detriment on your play. Inside the game, though, there are a number of things that can cause tilt. Maybe your deck just isn’t being nice to you and has put your best cards in the bottom half. Maybe your dice aren’t cooperating and are trying to set a new world record for consecutive number of ones rolled. Perhaps you went for a high-risk, high-reward strategy because it was your last out… and it failed. It’s not always variance and random chance, though – did your opponent have an option available to them that you missed, and it has turned the game in their favor? There are any number of ways you can get frustrated with a game, and these are just some of them.

More important than knowing how tilt can be caused, though, is recognizing tilt when it happens. The most dangerous enemy is one you’re not aware of and tilt is one of the most insidious hidden enemies there is. It can often cause you to play quickly and aggressively, throwing away a game that you could have won because you are frustrated. Sometimes it will cause you to overthink every action even when you don’t need to, leading to you running your timer down and eating up your time. Tilt can take even the right play and make it sound like a guaranteed path to defeat.

Identifying the mental patterns that you fall into when you’re on tilt can be difficult, because every person tilts differently. Oftentimes, a player will have different styles of tilt that they fall into in different scenarios. The trick is recognizing the habits you take on when you’re on tilt and identifying the thought structures that it creates. As an example, I’m very much a quiet tilter. When I’m on tilt, I go almost entirely nonverbal, especially in competitive games like League of Legends or Magic: the Gathering. “I’ll pass the turn to you!” becomes “Go.”. One of my friends is a very talkative tilter – when they’re on tilt, they’ll start talking about the different lines of play they could have chosen, and they’ll often ask their opponent what they did wrong. Tilt is most easily recognized by following your thoughts and your play, and asking yourself, “Where did I change? When did I stop caring about winning the game?”

Stopping tilt isn’t an easy task. There’s no other way to put it. If stopping tilt was easy, I wouldn’t be writing articles about it – and I’m far from the first one to do so! Getting yourself back into a good headspace after you’ve been slammed into tilt hell is another thing that everyone does differently. That said, there are some useful tips to help clear your head and get yourself back into the winning emotional and mental state. Each one of these helps different kind of players, and I think each one is useful in different situations.

The first method I’d suggest is “focus on the moment”. Oftentimes, what puts people on tilt is something that happened in the game, or something that happened earlier in the day. It’s not unusual for a frustrating result from your first match to put a downer on your play for the rest of the game. Put it behind you. Dwelling on the past is only useful for the lessons we learn from it, and you can learn those in retrospect. For now, focus on what is in front of you and the resources you have. Don’t let one misplay start you down a train of 13, and don’t focus on what you don’t have. Take the resources you have in front of you and craft a winning strategy with them. It’s not about “if”. It’s about “how”.

The second method is “Calm down”. Take a deep breath. It might sound small, but your emotions and mentality are interwoven with your physical state. Relax. It’s just a game. It’s not a win or die scenario – although if it is, refer to method one. Clear your head, close your eyes, and let yourself refresh your headspace. Accept that you were tilted – no sense in denying it – but move forward past it.

The third method, and perhaps the most difficult one for competitive games, is “Distract yourself”. Tilt can be like a snowball down a hill – it can collect momentum and get bigger just by existing, and it will try to do so. You’ll often tilt yourself harder the more you try to avoid tilt! Sometimes, you just have to walk away. Step out of the shop and grab yourself a snack at the 7-11 across the street. Step away from your desk and pop some popcorn. If you’re heavily tilted, drop from the tournament and go do something you’ll enjoy more than you will 5 rounds of increasingly tense matches. It’s alright to accept when you’re stressed and need a break, and the game will always be there for you when you’re in a better place mentally and emotionally.

Tilt can be dangerous, and I hope that this lesson will be helpful to you in avoiding it yourself. While I didn’t touch on it in this article, keep your eye out for an article about using your opponent’s tilt to your advantage. For now, though, try and look at your relationship with tilting. Do you go on tilt often? Do you find yourself losing because of it? Try to identify the habits you drop into when you are on tilt. Explore it. You’ll learn a lot about yourself as a player.

A big thanks to my Patrons: Alex, TicTac, and those who prefer to remain anonymous. If you enjoy my content, you can join that list at patreon.com/CritTheBooks. You’ll get other perks, such as early articles or the ability to suggest articles of your own!

Remember folks, gaming isn’t always about hitting enemies. Sometimes, you’ve gotta Crit the Books!