Strategy games should always be moving toward their conclusion

One of the principles that has been important to me over the years, which I have talked about a lot, is the idea that strategy games should always be moving toward their conclusion. In a way, this extends from the basic Clockwork Game Design model. In this model, you have a goal, and a “core mechanism” which has two parts: a core action and a core purpose. This core purpose is to pursue that goal. So if all of the supporting mechanisms are supporting that singular core mechanism, which itself is pursuing the goal, then, *in theory*, the game state ought to always be moving toward its conclusion.

Some on my discord have somewhat jokingly called this rule that games must be moving toward their conclusion, “The Law of Burgunian Motion“, which makes me smile. I do think that, all else being equal, it’s a good bit of wisdom, and I think that a lot of games would be helped a lot by a designer taking that lens seriously and looking at their games. It definitely feels bad when I deal 20 damage to you on turn 1, and then you heal 20 damage on turn 2 with little or no other state change happening, as an example of a violation of Burgunian Motion.

As an example, let’s think quickly about fighting games. Technically, there is nothing other than the timer bringing a fighting game to its conclusion (and some fighting games, such as Smash Bros., often don’t even use a timer, only using stocks instead). Both players can kind of just sit there on their own side of the board and not attack each other, if they want. It’s interesting to think about how a designer would go about changing the game, if they wanted that not to be true. Coming from Smash Bros as the example, one idea that I had once was that there’s a gravity orb in the middle of the stage and players are constantly pulled towards the orb. If they touch it, they bounce off as if struck by a smash attack. So players jump to orbit AROUND the orb. You can also attack the orb to move it, maybe. But the idea is that players are sort of forced to be in proximity of each other and coming into close contact with each other, and if they don’t press anything, they will get hit by the orb, and the game WILL resolve one way or another. I don’t know if this is a great idea, but it’s the kind of interesting thing that comes about from using this Law of Burgunian Motion.

A simple example of this theory working in action would be David Sirlin’s Puzzle Strike, one of my favorite board games, which I cite often. In this game, players have a stack of gems that they shoot at each other. If any player’s stack raises above 10 by the end of their turn, they lose. At the start of each player’s turn, they “ante” one gem into their stack, and this ante actually increases at certain points in the game. So, while there are ways they can be removed, the total number of gems that are in play are higher than they would be if players simply added the gems themselves with their actions.

Of course, like all theory, there are a lot of times when you probably should just ignore this “law” for some other benefit, and making that design decision is where a thousand other skills and experiences come into play.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and happy new year, everyone!