2014-07-17 : Strategy vs Style

Following from Procedure, Components, Object, Strategy, Style.

A game's procedures give you some set of available legal plays.

Which of the legal plays available to you do you choose?

Some of the legal plays available to you are better plays, with regard to the object of the game, and some are worse. This is the matter of strategy: of the available legal plays, there's a smaller set of strategically sound plays.

Which of the strategically sound plays available to you do you choose?

This is the matter of style.

In some games, there are almost always a wide variety of strategically sound plays, and style can rise to preeminence in your thinking.

In other games, if there's a narrow set of strategically sound plays, playing stylishly can mean compromising on strategy. If it's a multiplayer game, your fellow players might consider this to be bad play, or admirable, or quirky, or whatever else, depending upon the game and your fellow players and how it's going and so on.

Everybody still with me? Legal plays, the subset that are strategically sound, and the stylistic choice you make between them?

1. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Sometimes, in some games, you'll have only one legal play available to you. For instance, in Chess, when your king is in check and only one play can resolve it; in Poker, when you've been called and must reveal your cards; in Murderous Ghosts, when the MC book tells you that your play is to have the ghost say the explorer's name.

In those cases, there's no strategic choice, but you have a stylistic choice in how you present or frame your play.

In Chess, you can make the play with resolution, or resignation, or you can try and re-try illegal moves in a vain attempt to get out of it.

In Poker, you can smirk, shrug, glower, showboat.

In Murderous Ghosts, the stylistic choices you make are everything: how the ghost sounds, how it moves, whether it seems aware or not, what it's communicating by saying the explorer's name.


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This makes...
Nick go "Isn't that MG stuff strategic?"*
VB go "Right!"*
Nick go "Gotcha"
BR go "the poker might be, too"*

*click in for more

2. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Coming up: special challenges in this department that many RPGs face.


3. On 2014-07-17, Levi said:

With you.

Attempting to put my thoughts spurred by last time in this language:

I feel like there's a significant deal to be said in the games we play about the distinction between moves that are legal (what you can say and expect to have effect) and moves that are explicitly endorsed (by hard-coding them with additional rules, or otherwise calling them out).

And, interestingly, how that doesn't always line up with what's strategically sound.  Sometimes, some of the strategically sound moves *aren't* what's called out, and that has weird effects. 

Extreme example: Joe looks at the special system for Thing X, and decides to do something else that doesn't *quite* fit the Thing X category, because he likes GM judgement and ad-hoc application better than the special system.  That's a...  Legal, strategically sound...  Weird thing.

(All this being an aside, really, but it's where my head goes with this.)


4. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Levi: Agreed. Many RPGs allow procedurally legal plays that have no procedural effect, or ambiguous procedural effect. It is weird!


5. On 2014-07-17, Ben Lehman said:

Weird, but cool.

With you so far.


6. On 2014-07-17, Ben Lehman said:

no wait I have something more to say about this.

In RPGs it's possible a move can seem to have no procedural effect, even to the player who makes it, and then turn out to be concretely and deeply procedurally important.

It occurs to me that this is probably what you mean by "ambiguous" but there is a thing where we can't really know if it matters or not until it matters or we've forgotten it.

This is a weird, neat thing about RPGs.



7. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Yes! Agreed in full.


8. On 2014-07-17, Josh W said:

That's an extravagantly specific definition of something as flexible as style.

In some chatting I've seen somewhere about stealth games, there's this idea that the good ones allow a region of ambiguity with rectifiable consequences in which the player has a capacity of expression, not just experimenting in search of a solution.

You should definitely replace your preferred word choices with my own, whatever the consequences for the vibrancy of your thought process.


9. On 2014-07-17, Moreno R. said:

Adding to the list of weirdness:

It's possible in a rpgs that your stylistic and strategic choice is clear, but the procedure tu use is not. (how many thread were written about "when you use Taking by Force and when instead you should use Go Aggro"?)

Sometimes there are overlapping procedures, with the choice between them assigned to someone who can even not be the player who made the stylistic choice (the GM for example), other times the procedures don't overlap but the fictional situation is ambiguous and must be clarified, other times the procedures are not clear enough.

It's not a thing that happen in every rpg (usually there is no overlapping in Kagematsu or PTA, for example) but I don't think I have ever seen in any other kind of game something like that ("I want to laugh playing this hand at poker, but I don't know if I have to show the cards or not...")


10. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Moreno: Any game that's complicated enough can have ambiguous or competing procedures. Magic: the Gathering, for instance, used to introduce special abilities in its new expansions that didn't interact squarely with the systems introduced in earlier expansions, and they'd have to sort it out, make judgments, redesign, and issue errata and guidelines. I don't know whether this is still true.

In simpler games, those kinds of design problems are more obvious and easier to sift out pre-publication. RPGs are often the most complicated games we play.


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This makes...
SM go "MTG clarified all rule interactions..."*
VB go "yeah..."*

*click in for more

11. On 2014-07-17, Vincent said:

Come to think of it, it's also common in some non-RPG games to have a person whose job includes making procedural judgments on the other players' plays. The refs in Roller Derby, for instance, when they're judging whether someone's move constituted a foul.


12. On 2014-07-17, Joshua Bearden said:

I agree that it's useful to talk about style when discussing RPGs. I'm not sure if it gets us anywhere to define style in relation to strategy. Strategy, I think, is a narrow term which only has meaning in relation to a definite object. Style on the other hand can be used to evaluate plays and procedures prior to or tangential to a discussion of their objects.


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This makes...
VB go "This is, yes, the distinction I'm drawing."

13. On 2014-07-17, Philippe D. said:

I was thinking that sometimes I choose from style first and strategy second. But this only means I misidentify the object, right?

This gets muddy for games with multiple objects (or no object = objects slots).


14. On 2014-07-17, AsIf said:

IMO the subdiscussion on style has drifted from design (indication of author intentions) to play (personal approaches to ambiguous situations).  Are we considering here that design style and playstyle are different things?


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This makes...
VB go "keep your attention on the design!"*

*click in for more

15. On 2014-07-17, Alessandro R. said:

In some games, style and strategy come close to be the same thing. Chess and especially go are examples of this. You calculate moves and spot mistakes, of course, but with some degree of mastery, you also express a style, you look for elegance and aesthetics in your plays. Style makes your play and analysis more effective.


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This makes...
VB go "agreed."

16. On 2014-07-17, Rickard said:

Style reminds me of the joke "You know when you played too much roleplaying game when ... you wont buy Boardwalk because 'that's not what the Hat would do'".


17. On 2014-07-18, Simon C said:

Ah! Yes, I misapprehended what you meant by "style". By this definition definitely no fundamentally different relationship.

So, why is this a useful way of thinking about games?


18. On 2014-07-18, Barnes said:

I think in terms of chess and go, that's still just strategy. Both games are solvable. If you and your opponent knew perfect play your only choices come down to "maintain your position" or "worsen your position."

I'm not sure that kind of style is the "smirk, shrug, glower, or showboat" Vincent is talking about, it's just humans being (comparatively) bad at games.


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This makes...
BL go "Chess still has style"*

*click in for more

19. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Simon C: Maybe it isn't.

So far, I don't think I've said anything at all startling. I'm still laying groundwork and trying to stick with things that are as obviously true as I can. So for now, my question isn't "do you find this useful," it's just "still with me?"


20. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

On Chess, Go, and Poker in marginalia: Everybody, remember that style usually means choosing between strategically sound plays. They nearly always go perfectly hand in hand.

"What about this play, Vincent? Was it strategic or stylistic?" The answer is almost always "both, obviously."


21. On 2014-07-18, Joshua Bearden said:

I don't think I'm opposing Vincent's definition of style when I say that I actually think it encompasses every single choice made during and around a game that is not absolutely dictated by strategy.  This can include choosing between two equally sound (in the players view) strategic options, because if they are truly equal then strategy does not dictate.  This must also include social and aesthetic behaviour. I don't think this is a wishy washy definition either because I'd argue it refers precisely to what any person in casual conversation would call "play style". 

A game designer can encourage style but they cannot enforce it the way they can enforce strategy. I say strategy is "enforced" by the designer because the designer sets the object and the legal procedures. As soon as a particular style becomes defined enough to be enforceable the designer has created a new 'object of the game'.


22. On 2014-07-18, Vincent said:

Joshua Bearden: Agreed.


23. On 2014-07-18, Francis said:

Where in this does "playing the player and not the board" fit?  Strategically sound and therefore a style?  Strategically effective but deliberately unsound (which I might consider it in the case of chess)?  Or irrelevant?  Or we haven't got that far yet?


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This makes...
BL go "I for one consider that to be strategy"*

*click in for more

24. On 2014-07-23, Ynas Midgard said:

I'm reading through these posts and wanted to clarify things. If I understand correctly, it is style that colours a choice made by the player or a result of a procedure (e.g. how the player describes his attack and the GM its result, without changing the procedure).

These can happen anytime in a game, I presume, for instance when I determine my character is an archer instead of a swordsman or a wizard (although all strategically viable), or how his armour looks like, etc.

It appears to me that, if I understand you correctly, style can be suggested (by artwork and textual examples, offering certain game objects) or enforced (by limiting the quality of the game objects and end results of the procedures to fit the envisioned style).

Although how much one can and is willing to enforce it is entirely different thing.


25. On 2014-07-23, Ynas Midgard said:

(In the penultimate paragraph I meant game components not objects, although I suppose it would be true with both.)


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