Whether they come in a board game or video game format, popular strategy games like Starcraft and Risk, demand a level of forethought and planning to achieve success that separates them from other, more visceral games.
Derek LaFever, who currently serves as the Senior Director of Information Technology & Strategic Planning at FOX Architects, says that several of the same principles that lead to success in strategy games also apply to real life in general and the business world in particular, making them valuable tools for developing one’s strategic acumen.
LaFever would know, as he’s been a corporate IT leader for more than two decades, helping companies plan and execute successful strategies through his combination of visionary and calculated thinking. He’s also an avid fan of strategy games, having honed his analytical chops on games like chess and Catan. Below, he shares a few of his best tips for conquering both strategy games and life.
Have a Full Understanding of the Rules
Many strategy games are relatively simple on the surface but contain a surprising amount of depth and subtlety that will be lost on those who don’t put the time and effort into learning their nuances.
Reading instruction books may not be much fun, but Derek LaFever rightly notes that it’s even less fun to have your troops consistently wiped off the face of the gameboard because you don’t fully understand the rules of the game, leaving you unprepared to take full advantage of promising opportunities when they present themselves.
Know Your Opponent
Knowing what your competitors are up to and what their strengths and weaknesses are is equally as important in the strategy game realm as it is in the business world, allowing you to develop methods to capitalize on their weaknesses and limit the effectiveness of their strengths.
Likewise, by knowing your opponents well, you can more easily predict their tendencies and plans, giving you the opportunity to formulate strategies that will counter their moves and keep you one step (or many steps) ahead of them.
Know Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses
Likewise, to grow as a player and as a person, it’s important to be able to make honest assessments of your own capabilities and tendencies. By knowing what aspects of the game or of a particular situation you’re good at, you’re able to better prioritize those opportunities when they appear and take advantage of your skillset.
It may be even more important and difficult however to understand your weaknesses and learn how to adapt your playstyle and approach to cover for them. Only by recognizing and accepting the flaws in your performance or thinking can you learn to overcome them and become a better player.
Don’t Be Predictable
Just as you want to figure out what your opponents are up to, you likewise don’t want to tip them off to what you’re likely to do by being too predictable, thus allowing them to plan for and counter your efforts.
This is particularly true when playing strategy games against AI opponents, who are (perhaps rather unfairly) capable of remembering and analyzing all of your past moves to uncover patterns.
Derek LaFever suggests that instead of always making the best percentage play, you can get ahead in the long run by mixing up your approach and occasionally taking risky gambles or not capitalizing on the obvious opportunities (which could be traps laid by your foe).
Doing so will keep your opponents on their heels, never being quite sure of what you’ll do next or how they can manipulate you to accomplish their goals.
Being aggressive is another way to keep your opponent on their heels. It’s often said that offense is the best defense, and this is particularly true for many strategy games, in which pushing the pace and relentlessly attacking your foe all but forces them to do nothing but defend each turn, preventing them from getting settled and developing their own strategy.
Use Your Resources Effectively
Many strategy games feature some level of resource management, often in the form of gold, building materials, food, and other supplies. In most cases, these resources are extremely finite, making proper allocation of them one of the biggest contributing factors towards your victory or defeat.
Given their limited availability, there is a tendency to rush to expand territory and gobble up as many of these resources as possible, boosting the speed at which you can grow your army and develop their capabilities. However, this can lead to spreading your resources too thin and leaving you vulnerable to counterattack.
Derek LaFever recommends a more measured approach to resource management that focuses on developing and fortifying existing resource bases, thus limiting wasted resources from futile expansion efforts. That should give you a much stronger foundation to work from, allowing you to begin disrupting your opponents’ resource management efforts and firmly occupying new territory.
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