Strategy games are designed to provide a thoughtful experience of learning and progression. The rules are often simple, yet the application of those rules can lead to many different styles of play and tactical options.
The technical difficulty involved in mastering games varies. Monopoly has elements of skill, yet much of the game is dictated by the roll of a dice and the choices players can make are very limited.
On the other end of the spectrum are more complex games like poker, chess and Go. All of these are easy to learn, yet practically impossible to master. That’s what gives them a wide appeal as well as an endless, timeless allure.
Poker – Incomplete information
The first basic poker rules needed to understand the game involve recognizing hand strengths and learning how to make bets using chips.
From there, the game spirals out into a near endless pursuit of math and strategy. Seasoned players use formulas called GTOs (game theory optimizations) to work out the most mathematically sound way to play a hand, adapting these calculations to the styles of other players on the table.
The complexity behind poker comes from the fact that it is a game of incomplete information. You can never know with 100 percent certainty what a player is holding, or what cards will be dealt next.
In poker, you are always working with unknowns, combining the information you do have with the statistical likelihood of particular outcomes.
If all this sounds a bit complicated then worry not – like all of the games mentioned in this article, poker can be enjoyed at all levels. It all starts with learning the basics.
Chess – 10 to the power of 120 combinations
Unlike poker, chess is a game of complete information. That means you can, technically speaking, see everything you need to see on the board to make a decision. Nothing is hidden.
So, what exactly makes chess a complex game? The answer lies in the sheer number of possibilities for how a game can pan out. On the opening move of a chess game there are 20 available moves. By the time each player has moved five times there are 69,352,859,712,417 possible game states.
In a chess game, the total number of possible games is estimated, conservatively, to be 10 to the power of 120 (or 10 to the power of 40 if we’re talking about “sensible” games).
That’s an unfathomable number, and the reason why chess is practically impossible to master.
Again, the rules of chess are easy to learn, starting with understanding the movement of individual pieces – such as diagonal for a bishop or every direction in the case of the queen.
Go – more combinations than atoms in the universe
Go is a game that was invented in China at least 2,500 years ago and is still actively played by over 20 million people today, many of them in East Asia. The aim of the game is to surround more territory than your opponent by placing little pieces called stones on intersections of a 19 x 19 board.
Here’s where strategy gaming takes an existentially frightening turn. Not only does Go have more possible game combinations than chess, but it also has more possible combinations than there are atoms in the universe. Let that sink in for a minute.
Go has 2.1 x 10 to the power of 170 moves, making it a googol times more complicated than chess. The universe has 10 to the power of 80 atoms, making Go more complicated than the universe itself. Or something…
And like all the games on our list, the rules of Go are very easy to learn. It’s not like you have to know all outcomes to get started.
So there you have it. We weren’t exaggerating… Some strategy games really can’t, in any practical sense, be mastered, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!