Strategy Versus Tactics

I prefer strategic games to tactical games, but what does that mean?

A game is not strategic just because it requires some thought, or even some planning ahead. Many games called “strategy games” are more focused on short-term tactics rather than strategy; a thought-provoking example is the Chess Grandmaster Teichmann’s view that “Chess is 90 percent tactics.”

Strategy is the high-level, long-term plan regarding how you aim to win; while they may be generalised and categorised into templates, ideally your strategy is sculpted to match the game session you’re playing right now. Strategic plans need not be predetermined, and will likely be revised in response to opponent actions. Tactics are lower-level, shorter-term manoeuvres that secure local advantage, and are typically analysed and classified so that you can whip them out when the conditions are right.

In boardgames, tactical strength usually comes from lookahead skills, and results in measurable advantage – essentially brute-force decision-tree searching, in an environment of easy position evaluation (something computers excel at). While they can be extremely tricky, tactics are not as fuzzy and creative a process as strategy.

Tactical games are those where the best approach is repeated application of a short-term view: securing immediate advantage now eventually wins the game. On the other hand, strategic games are those where sacrifice (giving up short-term gains for long term advantage) is important, and advantages are harder to quantify (they give long term benefits that cannot be exactly valued). In strategic games, is possible to lose every battle but win the war.

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