Over the Board
There are many different ways to play games. Some help you learn, others keep you mired in ignorance like an X-Wing in an ancient swamp. Here are tips for how to approach any game for maximum strategic learning:
- Play your first several matches quickly and don’t focus on winning. Instead, focus on seeing the the fundamental forces and patterns of play. A game timer is useful here because it forces you to take your turns quickly. You’ll form a “10,000 foot view” of a game, which will give you a context into which you’ll fit strategy details later.
- In your first several matches, deliberately adopt a different strategy for each match, and even try some strategies which seem poor. You’ll understand the fundamental dynamics of the game more quickly.
- After you’ve played a few times quickly to get familiar, play against players who are better than you. Ask them to talk through their thinking about both their moves and yours as you play. I cannot stress enough how valuable this is.
- Play multiple matches each session. As with any other skill, immersion learning will take you from beginner to expert in the smallest total number of plays.
- If you can play it on an app/online/PC, do it. Because programmed versions of games do all the setup+accounting for you, they play faster, so you can get in more matches in less time, which helps you to adhere to points #1 and #4 above. Also you can usually find better opponents online, which makes it easier to adhere to point #3 above.
- Protip from a neurobiologist: make your game sessions the last thing you do before you go to bed. Your brain consolidates memories of the last thing you do each day better than it does memories from earlier in the day. In fact, think about strategy as you’re falling asleep each night. Don’t think hard. Just let your mind wander over different possibilities.
- Consider your opponents’ options and plans as much as you consider your own. Psychological studies suggest that strong players think more about their opponents’ options and plans than weak players do.
Away From The Board
Perhaps paradoxically, proficiency in an activity is often developed most quickly by spending at least some time away from the activity itself. This is why basketball players practice free-throws instead of only playing scrimmages. It’s the same for strategy games. The activities below will help you become better, faster, with less overall effort. Note: these shouldn’t substitute for actually playing. You should play the game and adopt these practices between plays.
- Read strategy articles early on (but only after you’ve played a few quick games so that you won’t struggle to understand what’s being said). Start from what the best players already know.
- Write about your strategy ideas after each play. Doesn’t need to be a long essay, just a few brief notes to yourself after each play. Here again, I cannot stress enough how valuable this is.
- Tell others what you’ve learned. Two benefits: teaching solidifies your understanding, and the feedback you get will help you refine it further. Start a post here at Board Game Strategies for a game, and without publishing it, add your notes to it after each game. After you’ve added notes over a few plays, publish it. The ensuing discussion will help you develop your understanding further.
- Memorize your in-game options. This is most obvious in games with lots of cards with different powers, like deck-building games, for example. By memorizing every card power early on, you’ll progress faster with less overall effort. Even if a game doesn’t have lots of cards, there is still often something to memorize, like the number of available tiles or tokens of different types.
- Many games have the equivalent of “card-counting”. That is, in-game events affect the probability of subsequent in-game events. Figure out what the important probabilities are and develop a system for calculating these probabilities in your head as they change in play.
photo courtesy Alex Abian
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