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Three Moves Ahead Episode 75: The Strategy Syllabus

July 28th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 10 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


This week, with the rest of the TMA crew (i.e., me) off gallivanting around California or saving lives or something, Rob and Julian decided to have a real show. They dig deep into the perfect strategy gaming syllabus, and come up with some obvious and startling conclusions. At least, that’s what they tell me. I haven’t listened to it yet. I hope there’s pie.

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10 Comments so far ↓

  • Christopher

    – When I went to a school (this is public school system in Quebec, Canada), the mathematics textbooks had a section of chess, although that wasn’t really taught all that much. Is there anywhere else that does this?

    – Unrelated (but amusing) Risk story of the day: As kids, me, my brother and our friends use to play risk; but because we didn’t read rules we had our own “house rules” regarding set-up. We assigned people with whole continents. So we would just turtle for some turns, building up massive armies along the frontier territories. Then somebody would attack somebody, and either it got too boring to resolve the huge number of roles, or somebody got whiny and depressed that their continent was being run over and quit, or time just ran out. I don’t think we ever finished a single game.

    Good times.

    – Hmm … what’s the mod? Fall from Heaven for Civilization IV?

  • Zehaeva

    Julian! I’m going to start with my Go Lover Hate Mailâ„¢ here.

    The rules to Go are simple. The Strategy is deep! I almost want to say that no one realizes how much strategy there is in Go until you get past the beginning ranks and you start to think you have a grip on the game and then play someone who is at the 1kyu/1dan level (someone with an almost professional level of ability). You will very quickly realize that everything you believed about the game must be horribly mistaken; that there are indeed monsters out there, cold, unkind and merciless.

    And now I have like 9 hours before I can play. /twitch


  • jwiv

    This ep really brought back my own fond memories of boardgames in a friends basement. We did a lot of Risk (and later Castle Risk), but somewhat bizarrely we went through a HUGE railroads phase – a TON of Rail Barons and Eurorails. As much as I loved (and still love), they really seem to be a niche unto themselves, so I’m not sure if they’d make for a great gateway/intro game for people into strategy.

  • bred

    My gateway computer wargame was The Perfect General. It’s pretty simple by todays standards, but introduced me to a whole load of concepts in tactical warfare. Combined arms, LOS, victory locations, terrain, weather and force composition. The thing that made it so accessible was the units were all generic; light tank, medium tank, heavy tank, elephant tank, Mobile Artillery, Infantry, Bazooka Infantry etc.

  • Rob Zacny

    I have not played The Perfect General in ages, but I remember it being something of a hidden gem. Help me out people, because I need to know if I’m seeing it through rose-tinted glasses: is it just me, or did The Perfect General series feature some of the most ruthless and rational AI of any wargame, past or present?

    I have vague memories of getting my ass kicked by that game, but I’m almost certain that Bill Trotter wrote a column where he put the AI to the test by playing the Dien Bien Phu scenario as the French. I remember his amazement when the Viet Cong began amassing huge clusters of AAA to shoot down French aircraft, just as Giap did historically. But it apparently wasn’t scripted. The AI just responded to what Trotter was trying to do, and in doing so matched the historical record.

    Am I hallucinating this memory?

  • doctorfrog

    As a strategy game dabbler and neophyte, I really enjoyed this episode. I like listening to this podcast, but since I’m essentially a noob, a lot of the games you guys talk about usually sail over my head, or are the sort of thing that I like the *idea* of more than I actually like *playing*. Heck, I only just started messing around with Master of Orion II, and thanks to this podcast, I fired up Chessmaster 10 for the first time in a long time. I might make it through the tutorials this time, might find out what the heck an X-Ray Attack is.

    Would you guys consider a splinter podcast, in which you expand on your syllabus, maybe even teaching a full-on course in strategy gaming, for noobs like me? I know it’s not likely to happen, but it’s just a thought. Maybe you can at least draft and finalize a sort of ‘real’ syllabus or Wiki for strat fence-sitters like myself.

    Julian, I listen to you both on the GWD cast and this one, and your elderly ways are much like my own. Always good to hear your input. Kudos (I think).

  • Brian Minsker

    I think Julian was a little too quick in dismissing Panzer General II as a good introduction. While I haven’t played PG:Allied Assault (no Xbox), PG2 had terrain effects, indirect fire, supporting fire, supply constraints, reinforcement constraints, combined arms, and fog of war (and probably more I’m forgetting), but all introduced in a fairly simple, well-presented, and easy-to-understand way, which is what you want in a game that teaches.

    You could make mistakes and easily see what you should have done differently (oh, I need to have fighter support for my bombers…). It also required you to press forward to keep earning prestige for reinforcements and to meet your time constraints, but didn’t let you throw huge piles of units at a situation to solve it. You had to think your strategy and tactics well ahead of what you were doing at the moment and plan for contingencies when things didn’t go quite like you thought.

  • Quinten

    I think the choice of Risk is inappropriate. Better intro conflict games can be chosen that teach the same lessons. Small World, by Days of Wonder, is a far better game that teaches the same lessons that Julian was discussing. Small World also has the Decline mechanic, which forces the player to not get attached to only one army. I also think Memoir ’44 is a good introduction to strategy, and one I would suggest before PG Allied Assault.
    Also, I would suggest PG 3D before II. 3D has more emphasis on smaller numbers of units, which gives the game a more tactical feel. Plus the level up element is stronger in the third game. Both 3d and II are available on Good Old Games: http://www.gog.com
    As for Chess, I think their is too much emphasis on that one game. One could love all varieties of strategy games without being a fan of chess, or even being familiar with it. The comparison of Chess with Starcraft is interesting though. I realized during a game of Dominion with a friend last night, that there are certain openings and strategies in that game too, based on what set of ten action cards you have. I told my friend, who lost both games, that one needs to know their entire strategy within ten turns.

  • Jared H.

    Good show considering there were only two people but wasn’t it basically episodes 20 and 29 combined?

    I think a good game to introduce people to strategy gaming is one of the RollerCoaster Tycoon games, since there is no real enemy to rush at you the game is played at whatever pace you feel comfortable with. The reason I say RCT and not like SimCity is because (at least with my friends) city builders are kinda bland, where as managing a themepark is fun.

  • David Brake

    not a single mention of Diplomacy? It has reasonably simple rules, great intuitive appeal because it’s easy to visualise yourself as leader of a European nation and huge depth. Of course you need a lot of friends and a lot of time to play a game but surely it would be a great intro to strategy gaming if you could meet those conditions…