Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Chess and Resource Management

My local Starbucks has a chess board sitting around, so I decided to play against myself. Since this gives me perfect predictive power about what my opponent is going to do, it obviously removes some of the standard elements of Chess, but there was one thing I realized when playing it: Chess is first and foremost about mobilization. That is, you begin with all pieces in play, but since most of them are behind a wall of pawns to start with, they don't immediately threaten your opponent. The way you gain options is by moving them into positions where they can form threats.

On reflection, this is more similar than I'd thought to modern strategy games and their treatment of resource management. Think of Magic, where I've chosen cards to place into my deck - the cards are there, but they're not in a usable state, they're not active threats, until I draw them (and have enough mana available to use them). Even if I play an RTS game, say Starcraft, I have a potential army that becomes realized when I gather enough resources to build it, and the question I constantly have to balance is how long I should spend mustering threats before I try to use them - if I'm playing well, I should attack as soon as I think I have a force my opponent won't be able to defend against. This is the same kind of strategy I'm using in Chess - I'm trying to move my units into a position from which they can simultaneously threaten my opponent, and as soon as I think I can launch an attack my opponent can't defend against, I will.

So revelation of the day: mobilizing units and building them are, from the perspective of their impact on strategy, extremely similar (as long as it takes a similar amount of effort). The big difference, of course, is that my units can still be used to defend in many situations before I've moved them at all. If you like, however, you can imagine these situations as my opponent bringing the units into play (like if my opponent plays a card that results in me drawing new cards, or allows me to respond by playing one). It also suggests a certain consistency between the way classic and modern games conceive of strategy.

Just thought that was interesting.

No comments: