2014-07-21 : The Object and Particular Strategy

Following from Procedure, Components, Object, Strategy, Style; Strategy vs Style; Objects of RPGs; and Non-Endstate Objects, Strategy & Style

The object of a game of Hearts is to have the lowest score when the game ends. The game ends when any player reaches 100 points.

Therefore, the general strategy of a hand of Hearts is to avoid adding points to your own score, while adding points to your opponents' scores. If you're already winning, you might prefer to shove points onto the player with the highest score, to bring the game to a quicker end, or the player with the next-lowest score, to strengthen your lead. If you aren't already winning, it's important to shove points onto the player with the lowest score, to force them to overtake you.

Suppose that at the deal your hand consists of mostly low cards across the suits. This hand is pretty safe. For this hand, your particular strategy might be to get rid of potentially point-winning cards early, before the hearts come out, so that in the later game you win no tricks.

Suppose that at the deal your hand consists of most of the cards of one suit and a couple cards each of the others. For this hand, your particular strategy might be to use the early game to solidify your domination of your strong suit, so that you can use it in the later game to force others' plays. This is a riskier hand but not a bad one.

Suppose that at the deal your hand consists of generally high cards across the suits, but all in the 8 to queen range, few face cards. This is a pretty poor hand. Your particular strategy here might be to opportunistically throw in with someone who has a strong hand, trying to shift the points you'd otherwise win onto somebody less canny or even less lucky than you.

Summary: Combined with the procedures of play, the object of the game gives you your general strategy. Combined with your general strategy, the changing circumstances of play give you your changing particular strategy.

Super Mario Brothers! Your particular strategy changes from level to level, obviously enough. It also changes when you've grabbed a fire flower vs when you haven't, when you have a lot of lives vs when you don't, when you're big vs when you're little, when you know a level well vs the first time to play it, and others.

In Apocalypse World, your object as MC is to find out what the characters make of their world. The principles are your general strategy. The changing circumstances of play are which characters, in what conditions and situations. It starts with the playbooks the players choose and develops continuously from there. Together, these give you your particular strategy. Same as in Hearts: of all the cards you could legally play, which do you consider playing, and which do you reject as poor play? In Apocalypse World, of all the things you could legally say, right now, when the players turn to look at you because they need to know, which do you consider saying, and which do you reject as inappropriate, counterproductive, or poor play?

How about now! Everybody still with me? Did I lose any of you?

1. On 2014-07-21, Vincent said:

Come to say it, "counterproductive" is pretty good, isn't it?

Strategically sound play means productive play, fruitful play. Strategically unsound play means fruitless or counterproductive.


2. On 2014-07-21, Ben Lehman said:

still with you.


3. On 2014-07-21, Gregor said:

Framing MC stuff as strategy, I like it.

But in the previous examples your strategy adapts to circumstances you can't always control. As the MC you seemingly have a lot of control over the circumstances of "what the characters make of their world".

I can't qrticulate it fully right now, but it makes my Czege Principle sensors tingly.


4. On 2014-07-21, Vincent said:

Gregor: If I understand you, this is why one of the principles is to sometimes disclaim decision making, and why the principles in general strongly emphasize the characters' agency.

Pursuing your object to find out what the characters will make of their world means forebearing to make something of their world for them, even though you could.



5. On 2014-07-21, Tim F said:

So when i play Burning Wheel it is in my best interest to gain as much Artha as i can and play to advancement as good as i can because both things hel each other out and the object of the game is to "fight for my beliefs".

So in order to fight i need to advance. To advance and not fail i need artha. To get artha i need to play my beliefs

This is what you are talking about right?

Depending on what beliefs and skills i have/don't have i will use different actions in the game. Right?


6. On 2014-07-21, Alex d. said:

Very much with this thread of thought now.  I think I'm starting to draw some lines between these concepts.

What this has got me thinking about is how players can have such different perspectives on what the object of a game can be.  Depending on how a player perceives the object of a game their strategy for playing the game may drastically change.  Is this likely the root of most problems players have when things go awry and start to not be fun?

In the Hearts example, if a player understands the strategy a little differently by putting significantly more weight on the strategy of adding points to other peoples hands and less weight on avoiding adding points to their own, then you may have a situation where a player approaches the game with the perspective of not really caring to win, but focusing mostly on trying to make others lose, which is a perfectly viable strategy. 

Now we get into that last little bit about being counterproductive.  Regarding these types of strategic decisions it was suggested that we think about"...which do you reject as inappropriate, counterproductive, or poor play?"  I certainly know what I find inappropriate or counterproductive, but what about other players I am playing with?  Their ideas about what is counterproductive and inappropriate might differ drastically from my own ideas because their understanding of the objective and their strategy is different from my own.  Doesn't this now put players at odds with each other because they have different strategies due to different interpretations of the game?


7. On 2014-07-22, Gregor said:

Vincent: Yes! AW takes care of that pretty well. I'll be thinking of this some more though.


8. On 2014-07-22, way said:

I do have a question, might not about this post in particular, but the series. You say that a game consists of these five elements. Do you mean the "game" in that statement as a product on a shelf? Or a particular instance of the game in play? Or the game while being designed? To me it has very different implications on the usefulness and correctness of these definitions, and I can't really figure out which one you are talking about


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

Tim F: Yes!

Alex D: Yes!


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

Way: The game as it exists conceptually, encompassing all its instances. The game as a created system of action-reaction.


11. On 2014-07-22, Andy said:

Really neat! Now I'm looking at your last question, and thinking of gamers who discard certain courses of action for their characters because "my character would never do that", as opposed to someone who asks "well, what if my character did that?" (In reflection of that, the players in AW are "playing to find out" just as much as the MC is!)

Both of those players would consider the other player's behavior to be poor play, right?

Secondary thought: there's also the circumstance in Hearts of shooting the moon, which totally reverses which strategies are optimal non-optimal, because it almost becomes a mini-end in itself. I guess that's just another circumstance, just like what your hand is.


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

Andy: Right! Or, well, it depends on the game and the circumstances. Sometimes players' different strategies toward the same object are compatible, sometimes incompatible.

They might consider it poor play, though, yes. Right on.


13. On 2014-07-23, Fr?d?ric S said:

Hello Vincent,
I'm a bit confused with the object of Apocalypse World.

It seems abstract, and I can't imagine how to handle such an object. It's so contemplative and wide, that I don't see any link with your other examples.
I don't either see how the game mechanics throw me towards that object.

When I am a player in AW, I'm focused on "protecting what matters", "getting what I need" and "dealing with the consequences of my choices". As a GM, it's more something like "attacking what matters".
The rules help me playing this way. May be it's not the object, but the goal of the game ?

"What the PCs make of this world" looks more like playing with dolls and sanbox, than having a real purpose to me.

What am I missing ?


14. On 2014-07-23, Vincent said:

Frederic S: The object of Apocalypse World for its players is to make something of their world. The relationship of the MC with this goal is a little ambiguous (but perfectly functional), because the MC has to be both opposition and referee in turn. Thus, "find out what the characters make of their world," with the explicit inclusion of the idea that their world will push back against them.

The rules of Apocalypse World are designed to help the MC switch effortlessly and appropriately between opposition and referee, instant by instant, judgment call by judgment call.


15. On 2014-07-23, Fr?d?ric S said:

OK, I thought AW would have a tighter object (this one seems to fit with any RPG).

Is simulation play with dolls (without any formal rules) fitting to your definition of a game with object ?


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