Good Game Design – Tactics Games


Holy crap, you guys really came through with
the suggestions of tactics games to try out, I’ve been playing a TON of them over the
last several weeks. And you know the coolest part of discovering
a new genre that you love? Instead of playing a 10/10 game once every
couple years, I get to experience the best of the best all at once, it’s like Christmas
up in here! So yes I’m still a newbie to everything
strategy games have to offer, but I’ve already noticed loads of fantastic game design that
I just have to talk about. Let’s dive right in! What struck me right away about this vast
sea of tactics games is how diverse they can be – and I’m not just talking about setting,
story or tone; even in gameplay and mechanics it seems like no two experiences are alike. I mean, don’t get me wrong they’re all
turn based and you can only move a certain number of spaces to take down your enemy,
but how they bend within those rules is pretty captivating. Advance Wars has a health system where the
more damage you take, the less you’re able to dish out, but you’ll always hit your
opponent if you attempt to. Compare this to say, XCOM: Enemy Unknown,
where they incorporate hiding behind cover to lower the percentage chance of getting
hit at all, but this reciprocates to your foes as well making you realize that each
battle is more about positioning than actual brute force. The annoying thing here is that if an enemy
has even just 1 HP left they’ll still do full damage on their turn. Then you have games like Fire Emblem which
add permadeath to the equation so you have to think about much more than the current
battle – if someone dies early on, you’re stuck with a smaller team for the rest of
the journey. This leads to decisions that are more calculated
and less risky – maybe I’ll hang back an extra turn and heal just to be safe. On top of this you have roguelites like Invisible
Inc. and Into the Breach which have to somehow account for all the procedurally generated
obstacles that’ll stand in your way. Pit People wants you to plan your entire turn
at once instead of one action at a time; Steamworld Heist is a 2D sidescroller; Final Fantasy
Tactics throws in a directional facing system where you’ll have a harder time landing
a hit if you attack from the front, the list goes on and on. But what blew me away is that all of these
titles make sure their variables are balanced, and they achieve this through many different
methods. For example, while I personally prefer games
without any randomness to account for, the ones that do have them minimize the potential
frustration by allowing the player to move greater distances. In Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, you can
team jump to reach those far away baddies, or use a slide maneuver to deal out extra
damage if you happen to be a bit closer. But normally, to ensure a 100% hit on an enemy,
you often leave yourself exposed in the process. This is why setting up your squad with extra
defense bubbles or remote control drones to do the dirty work for you are really cool
alternatives. Of course, allowing for faster travel has
to be carefully considered – as a designer you don’t want the characters to be unstoppable
either. This is why some games establish a two-tiered
movement system and only let you to attack if your within the first one. Invisible, Inc takes a very different approach
– here, stealth is the key to survival. On paper, this one looks really brutal because
if you get spotted even once, your teammate is immobilized which usually means your run
is about to go belly-up. But ahh see, they’ve ensured you have several
rewind charges that set you back to the start of a previous turn just in case you make a
silly, life threatening mistake. Compare that to Advance Wars where each individual
unit doesn’t have that much impact on the overall course of battle, so if you realize
you messed up and there was a better course of action, as they say, “too bad so sad”. But they make up for that by letting you buy
more units to replace the ones you’ve lost, and the more structures you control the more
money you receive each turn. Your mind is more on the scale of an army
taking over the whole battlefield, and less about each specific maneuver. One tactics game that I found especially intriguing
was Into the Breach. Because of the smaller scale, it’s able
to focus on countless moving parts working hand-in-hand. Every single turn in this game is like it’s
own logic puzzle where you have to account for each possible outcome – is this enemy
lobbing an attack or shooting in a straight line? If I hit it, will it launch into the civilians
next door? What’s the order of operations, will this
guy die before he has a chance to hurt me? You’re only allowed one reset for the entire
encounter so you need to plan carefully, but it’s also extremely clear about what the
consequences of your actions will be. As you unlock new team combinations it might
seem like some of them are underpowered because they don’t do any damage outright, but you
realize environmental effects are just as important as sheer power. Like how smoke cancels the next enemy attack,
or fire kills them slowly over a couple turns. Because the goal is to simply survive and
not take building damage, maybe moving an enemy one square away is the best course of
action instead of trying to tank your way through. In fact, the way you do purchase new squads
is by completing achievements which directly encourage you to experiment with the game’s
various systems – it actively wants you to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Ugh this game is so stinkin’ good. A few other things I’ve noticed modern iterations
improve upon is speed of play and accessibility. As great as some of the classics are, they
can be a little slow to get through, and I mean it’s no secret that a level in a tactics
game is generally much longer than one in a platformer. That’s why it’s really cool that games
like Wargroove allow you to remove battle animations or hold right click to speed up
enemy movement – it’s always nice when you can get back to the action as fast as you’d
like. But further, making sure they’re accommodating
for all different levels of play is a huge plus in my book. Wargroove’s difficulty sliders and Mario
+ Rabbids health boosts are great optional choices for those needing extra help, and
are better than picking easy, medium or hard before you even know what that looks like
in practice yet. Sometimes you’ll see rookie mistakes only
affecting your score or ranking instead of restricting progress, or sometimes, like in
Invisible Inc, rather than failing a mission after a certain amount of turns, the game
simply cranks up the challenge the longer you stay in a level. So it pushes you toward efficiency without
overwhelming you or making you restart altogether. Now this goes both ways too – added challenge
for those wanting more is also a good idea. Obviously you can just change the difficulty,
or give a higher score for playing well, but I really like when there are harder bonus
objectives or other ways to modify how you play for veterans seeking to push their limits. Hilariously, the first time I played Final
Fantasy Tactics Advance, I accidentally started the first mission without realizing you could
place more units on your team, so I got totally creamed since I only had two characters. But I realized this is a neat, though possibly
unintentional, way to increase the difficulty – you could do challenge runs by limiting
your units, or restricting which abilities you can use. The bottom line is that the best tactics games
I’ve seen make you feel clever by figuring out a solution that wasn’t explicitly handed
to you on a silver platter, and this is accomplished not by lack of instruction, but by giving
an abundance of options to succeed. This means that yes having a variety of classes,
locations and enemy types all with different attributes is great, but it’s more about
how they interact with each other. So maybe this means in addition to making
sure your weapon is strong against the enemy’s, you move to more difficult terrain as well
to lessen their chance of hitting you back. In the Rabbid Kong boss fight, he regains
health from his horde of bananas until you press this button to drop them into the depths
below, but in doing so you’ll get pummeled by a retaliation attack, so maybe the drone
can be more useful than just fighting from a distance – you could move it onto the button
to save yourself some unwanted damage. The best strategy in Into the Breach seems
to be blocking enemy spawns by standing on top of them – you only lose 1 HP and then
never have to deal with it, but even better, if you can move your opponent onto one of
those spaces, not only will it block incoming spawns, but hurt that ugly alien bug as well
– yeah a two for one special. Or sure, you could simply push a foe out of
range from attacking a building, but instead you could teleport it over some water and
drown it immediately. This stuff is genius – the obvious choice
isn’t always the best one, and finding that sweet spot of a perfect play, man there’s
nothing like it. But you see, I think they’re designed that
way on purpose – by having a ton of choices, you open the doors for creativity to shine. The tricky part is making sure that everything
is balanced and a particular strategy isn’t overpowered to win every time. Some games include tide-turning special abilities,
but put them on a cooldown or can only be used once per battle. Others give these skills to important characters
that must stay alive in order to be victorious, so you may keep them further behind despite
their potential on the front lines. Either way tactics game thrive by making you
think before every action, and because of their slower nature and higher punishment
for mistakes, you feel rewarded when you figure out the optimal solution to whatever is thrown
your way. Have you ever had those a-ha moments while
playing tactics games? Tell me about your favorite ones and why they
stuck with you. What is it about these titles that give you
an experience unlike any other genre? Tell me in the comments below and let’s
talk about it. I have been having the time of my life playing
through these games, and I can’t wait to see where they’ll go next. If there’s other genres you’d like a video
on that I don’t normally cover, be sure to let me know as well, because if they’re
anything like the broadened horizons tactics games have shown me, I’m all in. Thanks for watching another episode of Good
Game Design, I’ll see you guys next time, stay frosty my friends! Did you know you can wear my stupid face on
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