Games based on strategy can become very complex, because they require players to come up with long-term ways of achieving a specific goal. Players have to think about every move as part of a calculated series of actions whose consequences affect one another. The key is to understand how the game works – the logic of it – as well as anticipate how the game is a system and behaves over time. Developing a strategy means understanding what game designers call the dynamics of the game. A game like chess is the quintessential strategy game.
Strategy focuses on the capabilities of players to make decisions. Complex games, such as the Civilization series, structure their gameplay in turns and give players time to think, while the Starcraft real-time strategy games require making a myriad decisions in one second—and having nimble fingers to click around the screen really fast. Strategy mind games do not have to be as complex as these examples. The goal of Streamline is to get from point A to point B, while Hexaedral requires players to activate the tiles of the grid and change their color within a limited number of moves. Although we can use trial-and-error to understand how the game works, completing each level successfully involves thinking about how each move allows us to achieve the goal bit by bit. Designing a strategy game does not always require creating extremely complex systems. Both Streamline and Hexaedral are relatively simple in terms of rules. What they do very well is introduce each new rule, each new restriction, incrementally. Whenever there is a new constraint, the difficulty increases, so the plans that worked in previous levels now have to be rethought. Strategy mind games require devising streamlined systems that produce and encourage interesting behaviors.
About the Author
Clara Fernández-Vara is the co-founder of Fiction Control, a narrative design company, and Associate Arts Professor at the NYU Game Center. She's a game designer and writer as well as an academic, so her work combines scholarship with the creation of narrative games both for research and in the commercial sphere.