Basics of Strategy Board Games
Strategy games are hard to define, many people will note that most games are “technically” strategy games. It is doubtful that you will play a game without having some sort of strategy. For this reason, it is more important to define what makes a strategy game before exploring their history.
We will define this as games in which strategy is the most important part of winning. The main definition points to having little or no luck involved in the process of victory. These games are based on knowledge of the game mechanics to prosper. For instance, the only thing that changes in Chess is the strategy, there is no luck involved.
Strategy Games come in three basic types: abstract, resource control (or Eurogames) and press your luck.
Abstract strategy games, such as Chess and Mancala are usually centered around the movement of pieces and board control. As the name suggests they are typically very basic in rules. This sub-category includes the oldest non-dice games in the world. These games will never include dice or a card, as that increases the randomness.
Resource control games are typically named Eurogames but the name does not explain itself well. Other confusing names such as hobby game and gateway games also exist. I’m gonna go ahead and stick my 2 cents in and call them by what they do. (Simple Huh!) In general, the purpose isn’t direct conflict with opponents and more gaining resources such as workers or lines of control. There is also a high focus on a theme. Ticket to Ride and Catan are the two current biggest examples. Although they have small elements of luck, they aren’t central to the gameplay.
Press your luck games are an interesting twist on the strategy games format. Many debates revolve around strategy games but by my above definition, they are included. The majority of these games cross with trivia, dice or roll and move games but have a twist. Instead of ending the game or round a player can choose to extend the playtime. Players then have to know the strategy and mechanics of the press mechanic. The luck can by beaten repetition, a player can choose to take more turns to lower the effect against a bad roll or card draw.
History of Strategy Games
Chess is a simulation of war that took inspiration from a few games. First and foremost is the Roman Ludus Latrunculorum (1300 BC) which is also a forerunner of Tabletop Wargames. Tafl (400 AD) came from Celtic and Germanic origins but the rules varied highly between region. An Indian game with similar mechanics, Chaturanga (500 AD), has mostly the same figurines of Chess.
The earliest version of Chess had been dated to around 600 AD. It went threw continual modifications and had various regional rules. Around 1475 Italy and Spain adopted rules that made it what it is today. In the Age of Enlightenment, Chess was taught at schools and the first chess clubs started. Chess currently is the most well known and played game in the world, the number of active players rivals the number of Facebook users.
Mancala is a counting game based on sowing a field that can be dated back to before 700 AD. Mancala has more than 800 names in various dialects and more than 200 versions are recorded. Most varieties of the past share similar concepts and were standardized during the Age of Enlightenment.
Dominoes started sometime before 1200 AD, and really pushes the line between strategy and luck. The 1700s saw their first appearances in Europe, although with some notable changes. Because there are so many active ways to play not all types fall under the strategy game moniker.
Dots and Boxes (or it’s many names like boxes and pigs in a pen) is a pen and paper strategy game developed in 1889. Battleship started as a pen and paper game in the 1930s. Connect Four launched in 1974 by Milton Bradley.
The press your luck category was named and made popular by the show, Press Your Luck, which started in 1983. This was actually a remake of a 1977 show Second Chance. The concept of press your luck games are prevalent in many gambling games including Craps, which if you believe legend places its creation in the Roman Empire.
Health Benefits of Strategy Games
Improves Cognitive Abilities – Concentration, flexibility, pattern recognition, problem-solving and critical thinking are core to strategy games. Study’s show strategy games can help with Dyslexia and Alzheimer patients.
Improved Strategic Planning – Benjamin Franklin noted that Chess helps develop foresight, circumspection, sportsmanship, and perseverance. This can be said of the majority of strategy games.
Builds Self Confidence – Winning games already come with a confidence booster. Losing in strategy games will force one to take stock of themselves and analyze their game plan, this type of reflecting is great for one’s self-awareness. In this way, great strategy games make winners out of losers.
Chess was the first real game that I ever went full geek out to, I loved learning all the moves and the opening gambits and it was the first time I was taught anything about strategy. I greatly enjoyed being in the chess club and the tournaments I went to. Although I still enjoy playing Chess, it’s mostly regulated to teaching kids. As more advanced games have been introduced to me I have new favorites, but Chess always holds an endearment to me.
Talking about new favorites I already mentioned Ticket to Ride and Catan (formally Settlers of Catan) but I just want to reiterate they are the bee’s knees!
Carcassonne is 20 years old but I’ve come to enjoy it recently.
Pandemic and Pandemic Legacy are a great example of co-op strategy games. The added RPG elements of the Legacy game makes the replayability higher. Legacy also makes it super difficult to explain to new players so be warned if you have a rotating door for players.
I have fond memories of Stratego and Mancala and everybody should try them out, they are probably lying around in one of your relatives’ closets.
Photosynthesis is a beautiful game I’ve only tried once but it is on my (ever-expanding) buy list.
I (And anybody I’ve played it with) enjoy Incan Gold as a press your luck game.
Pass The Pig is good for family fun and a great press your luck game.
Pig is a fun free game that can be played with a single 6 sided dice (although it is fun with a D20) that is the simplest version of press your luck.
Will you like strategy games?
You probably already know the answer to this, some people are simply turned off from the amount of knowledge and research some of the more serious strategy games need. That’s not to say you won’t like a game of Checkers, but Pandemic might be to much. That being said Abstract Strategy games are great for kids and for lifelong learning. The replay function is at an all-time high.
Chess was played among the educationally enlightened during the American Revolution, yeah the Founding Fathers were super Chess nerds. A bevy of famous celebrities like Julia Roberts, Edward Norton, and Antonio Banderas play. It would probably behoove everybody to learn the basics of Chess at some point in life.
I’m not usually a fan of most press-your-luck games, not because I don’t like the concept but just because a lot of game mechanics can be a bit wonky. Functionality is of utmost importance in strategy games, nobody wants to feel cheated by the system in a game of wits.
Theme and graphics are window dressing in strategy games. There are very few abstract strategy games that are popular that don’t have a very basic theme. In general, people like to know why they are moving things around and it helps to have real-world comparisons when talking strategy.
Mastery and Achievement are the cornerstones of fun in most strategy board games, more complicated mechanics can be a detractor to some.