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  • Adding Strategy To Your Tactics

    - Keith Burgun

  • In my quest to add more long arcs to the game, I also wanted to change what these towers mean. Originally, it was simple: capturing a castle captures its flag, and a small number of enemies also carry flags that can be obtained by defeating them. Get four flags, and you win the match.

    The problem - or, not so much a problem per se as just, a missed opportunity - was that each flag kind of meant the same thing to the player. So what I added were these three icons - the star, the heart and the lightning bolt, each of which give your units an immediate effect when captured. The heart heals the capturing unit, the star levels up the capturing unit (which can last over many missions if you're playing Campaign mode) and the lightning bolt gives all your units one bonus action point. These all give you different kinds of bonuses, so you can make decisions about what you need to be going for in a longer term sort of way based on that.

    Above: the flags with different icons in them, visible through the fog, in Gem Wizards Tactics.

    At one point in the development of Gem Wizards Tactics, I had a rule where when you captured a tower, it would pop up a screen that gave you three choices. One choice was the "rush" choice, one choice was the "defense" choice, and one choice was the "econ" choice. That's alright, but by doing it this way you're taking so much "long arcyness" out of the game. Because when you're heading over to the towers, all towers are worth the same thing: one "pick" of those three options. You don't have to decide before you get to the tower which one you want, so it really ends up being more like this "looping of smaller arcs" where all the sudden you reach a tower and then get to pick whether you want power now, later, or much later. That definitely has some long-arciness to it after you get it, but it's more like a "sudden arc spike" than the continuation of a more holistic arc.

    The smaller arcs already have you moving around on the grid and doing tactics stuff, so why not have the long arc decisions (i.e. go for the rushdown tower, or the defense tower) also be taking place on that same grid. By doing this, you create a more holistic and highly-coupled latticework. When your long and short arcs have a relationship to each other basically what you get is more depth: each small tactical encounter is contextualized differently by its longer-arcs, and vice versa.

    Technique #3: devaluing tactics. This is an oldie, but a goodie, when used responsibly. Sometimes, your game has long arcs, but they get "stepped on" by the shorter arcs. For example, in some tactics games, it's kind of like a series of local encounters, and if you win every little tactical fight, you win the whole game. The "long arc" becomes more of just a "sum total" of all of the local little tactics battles and how they went.

    Sometimes the answer isn't to add more long arcs, but to diminish the impact of your short arcs so that the longer arcs you already have can flourish. In tactical wargames, this has almost always been accomplished in one way: by having random number generators (or dice) determine damage in combat. This does indeed do the job, because you can no longer guarantee victory in every encounter. I do recommend considering using this for tactical-turned-strategy tactics games, although I recommend keeping the randomness somewhat uniform, either by reducing the range (i.e. 3-5 damage vs. 1-10 damage) or possibly by using something like a Dynamic Dice system. In Gem Wizards Tactics, the damage range is 3, and unit health goes up to 10, for reference.

    But there's other ways to do this as well. A game that I really love, Fantasy General, has a system that is such where if two equal units fight each other, they will do equal damage to each other. There is literally no advantage to attacking first, and battling in general is largely almost always a trade off, no matter what you do. So it's always a matter of "where do I want to make those trade-offs". There are probably other solutions here too which can reasonably devalue tactics and I look forward to seeing other ideas!

    Technique #4: Arbitrary long arcs. This is the least good, but still an effective way to create long arcs in a tactics game: simply add explicit, arbitrary abilities to invest resources into other resources that accrue over time. To give the clearest but also probably worst example, just imagine an ability that costs $20 to use now, but gives you $4 every turn for the rest of the game. After 5 turns, you'll have made back your investment and after 10 turns you'll have doubled it. Again, not a great example, but these kinds of arbitrary "rising value" dynamics do create long arcs of a sort. You can't rely on this alone, but this joined with some of the other topics can help to create a tapestry of longer arcs in your strategy game.

    In my game, one of the factions is called the Business Demons. Their leader is Bill Milton, the CEO Wizard. He has a stock portfolio and gains money every turn, at a faster rate if he does certain things, such as build roads - and of course, this is nice because "there being a lot of roads built" means a lot for your tactical game. But also, using his abilities costs money. So this turned out to be a pretty good and functional example of such a thing, that also added a ton of flavor to the game.

    Bill Milton's Portfolio in Gem Wizards Tactics

    I hope this is useful somewhat, if for nothing else as an idea to compare your designs against. Thanks for reading - and if you're curious to see more ways that I've added long arcs to a tactics game, I definitely recommend checking out Gem Wizards Tactics!


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