Earlier this year, my mother passed away. She was a wonderful Mom and a giving, caring person. One of the things I will always remember about my Mom is the hope and optimism she gave to my life. During her recovery, she always had a positive attitude and did the best with what she had. She taught me this lesson as a young boy by telling it to me: Make the best of the hand you are dealt and she showed me this lesson as she approached her rehabilitation during her last few months. I miss you Mom.
Game Design Philosophy: Make the Best of the Hand You Are Dealt
One of my favorite games of all time is Sentinels of the Multiverse. I give it a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek. It’s thematic, captures the feel of comic book superheroes really well, and is just fun. One of the philosophies of the game (whether stated or not) is that you try to make the best you can from the cards you have.
Each player is dealt 4 hero cards at the start of the game and as you play, you typically play 1 card and get 1 card per turn. Sometimes you start with junk, sometimes you start with exactly what you need, and sometimes you have to just survive until you get what you need! Sentinels embodies the Make the best of what you are dealt concept, and it’s very thematic! In sooo many comic books, the hero pulls out a victory by doing something slightly offbeat (working the stuff around him, using special information, or trying something risky). And sometimes, the hero loses! Sentinels captures this spirit by giving you some cards, and you have to make due with what you have.
Strategy vs. Tactics
My friend Josh and I have this discussion: what’s the difference between strategy vs. tactics? In the end, it boils down to the timeframe of a plan you concoct. If a plan is to be executed over a “long term”, then it’s “strategy”. If a plan extends to the “short term”, then it’s “tactics”. For our discussion below having to do with board and card games, strategy is the long term planning and over more than just a couple of turns. Tactics are the plan for the next turn or two.
Is Sentinels a strategic game? You could argue, since the villains, hero and villain cards are randomly dealt and selected, there can’t be any strategy, as you are just reacting to the cards being played. Clearly, Sentinels is tactical, as you react to the cards that come out. But is it strategic? Absolutely!
Consider Baron Blade (one of the bad guys from the intro deck). In order to defeat Baron Blade, you have to stop him from bringing the moon to the earth! You have 15 turns to do that. Once you stop him, then he becomes a combat terror doing quite a bit of damage. The long-term strategy: concentrate on stopping 15 villain cards from coming out by any means necessary. A secondary goal would be getting prepared for combat with him once you stop the moon from crash-landing on earth.
As you play cards, you must consider the short-term effects (tactics) and the long-term effects (strategy). Should I play an ongoing card now to help later (strategic)? (Fortitude, in the example above is an ongoing card that helps reduce damage) Or should I just do something immediately helpful?
The game can be hard, and you can still lose because of randomness. But that’s what I want in a game! I want to know I did the best I could at both long-term and short-term planning. And I may still lose. But at least you went out doing the best you could.
CO-OP: The co-op Game
Co-op: the co-op game, my own creation, has this design philosophy throughout: Make the Best of the Hand You are Dealt. You are given 5 cards to start, and from those you do the best that you can.
So, absolutely, it’s definitely a tactical game, as you play the best moves you can for the next turn or so.
Is it a strategic game? I would argue YES.
- Many, many, many playtests have the players just barely winning or losing at the very end of the game. But only if they have some idea what’s going on! If players don’t have a longer-term plan for when to use COOPERATE actions, when to use DISTRIBUTORS, when to use CUSTOMERS, when to use the special powers of the characters in play, they will probably lose.
- The end of the week is a critical time. At the end of Friday, goods move automatically from the Warehouse to the Storefront. This will only happen 2 or 3 times per game (depending on the number of players and difficulty), and you have to plan ahead to make sure there are enough Goods in the warehouse.
- The Storefront will almost certainly close at least once in the game. Are you ready for it? Do you keep some cards in your hand for a good SHARE action on those turns? Or do use COOPERATE actions?
- Managing the VIBE. Because the Park only lets you go to OKAY on the VIBE track, you have to be careful. Do you try to get everyone AWESOME early on so you can get some extra cards? Or do you get everyone to OKAY and save cards for the long-term to boost the VIBE?
- Which cards do you keep? Each player has a hand-limit of 5. At some point, you will have to make some long-term vs. short-term decisions.
- When do you play CONTINUOUS GROOVE cards? Most CONTINUOUS GROOVE cards are not immediately effective, but will shield the players from harm in later terms. By playing these cards, you are employing strategy.
I admit this blog posting is a reaction to some criticism that “Sentinels and CO-OP: the co-op game are too random”. CO-OP: the co-op game takes a big heap of design philosophy from Sentinels, and I believe BOTH games have both strategy and tactics that help mitigate the randomness.
At the end of the day, I like games (like CO-OP and Sentinels) where you “Make the Best of the Hand You are Dealt”. I believe the wide variety of cards makes it more fun to try to figure out new combinations. I like them both and think they are great fun.