Some people just seem to be naturally good at strategy games, while others struggle to eek out a win every once and a while. If you fall into the latter group (or if you just want to improve your already-stellar strategy skills), there are a few relatively simple things you can do to get better at strategy games and start seeing winning results against your opponents. And, these tips apply to both the occasional, more casual game-night or leisure app player and also for more advanced gamers who want to take it to the next level.
Note: For simplicity’s sake, our examples here will refer to moves and strategies you can make while playing Latice (either the app or the board game), but these tips certainly apply to any and all strategy games.
LEARN PATTERN RECOGNITION: Pattern recognition is one of the key components not only to strategic thinking but also to problem-solving (in fact, it’s just a basic part of what it means to be human, enabling us to recognize familiar objects, experiences, or people). Being able to recognize patterns when you’re playing a game means not only observing patterns in the game or your opponents’ patterns of behavior but also opening your eyes to your own patterns that can work for you or against you (even when they’re unconscious moves).
Example: Latice is itself a game of patterns, of arranging tiles in as many successful patterns as you can each time. Essentially, every move in the game is an exercise in pattern recognition as you match tiles by shape and color. As with any good strategy game, the intensity and complexity of the patterns you can create varies with your skill level, but the one pattern you always want to look out for is an actual “Latice” (see image below) where your tile matches on all four sides (earning you two extra moves):
PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE: This may seem obvious, but simply playing strategy games often will improve your skills, whether you realize it or not. Don’t let your own perceived lack of skill or natural ability for strategic thinking discourage you from playing. If you don’t play, it’s impossible to improve.
PUT YOURSELF IN YOUR OPPONENT’S SHOES: When you’re knee-deep in any game of strategy or skill, it’s easy to have tunnel vision and only focus on your own next move. But, remember, strategy is also about thinking ahead, anticipating what’s most/least likely to happen, and acting based on what you want to accomplish on the board while also trying to make things more difficult for your opponent. You want to get ahead in the game, but you always want your opponent to fall behind. To do all of that, you need to pay attention to what your opponent is up to and try to block them as often as you can without compromising your own available moves.
Example: Getting comfortable blocking your opponent from getting a trefoil or a Latice is an intermediate to advanced move, but it starts by paying attention to how your opponent might be setting themselves up. If you see they’re one square away from a sun square or they look like they’re setting up a pattern for Latice, consider blocking them with a tile they’re unlikely to find a match for.
SHORT GAME VS. LONG GAME: Don’t only focus on the turn at hand or your next move. Think of the overall game and where it’s headed. What can you do to swing things your way in the long run? Are there small opportunities you should pass up in order to make larger, more important moves that will lead to a win
Example: Sometimes it makes sense to save certain tiles (like wind tiles) or extra moves for subsequent turns if you’re setting yourself up for larger moves or getting ready to finish the game and lay all of your tiles down.
THINK ABOUT YOUR MISTAKES: The more often you play, the easier this will become. And, again, this is about recognizing patterns of behavior, one of the most important qualities of a good strategic thinker. Here, you’re paying attention to the negative patterns of your own behavior — the moves that likely keep costing you the game over and over again.
Do you tend to hesitate or hold back when you should be going for it? Do you keep making the same mistake over and over again? Do you get rattled or careless when your opponent is on a winning streak? Try to identify your top 3 most important areas of weakness when you play. By simply becoming aware of your most common mistakes, you’ll be less likely to keep making them as you become a better player.
DON’T BACK DOWN FROM A CHALLENGE: It’s human nature to back away from things that we perceive as either too difficult to master or that we feel we aren’t naturally good at from the start. But, this is not the attitude to take if you’re trying to improve, build new skills, or grow your knowledge base or strategic abilities. Get comfortable with playing opponents who are at a higher skill level than you. Don’t give up on the games you love or that you have a desire to master even though you might not be a “natural” at the outset (reality check: most people aren’t, so you’re definitely not the anomaly).
Latice Example: When you’re playing the Latice app, don’t be intimidated by the Cat. Even if you’re a beginner or still trying to learn the basics of strategy, playing an advanced level from time to time is a great way to expand your skills, challenge yourself, get inspired, learn new moves, and make valuable mistakes that you can learn from.
TAKE YOUR TIME: Good strategic thinkers are deliberate. Every move is thought-out and reasoned. Seasoned strategists will be able to move through this process more quickly to a point where it’s almost automatic (Chess players are masters at this), but if you’re not quite there yet, don’t fret over taking your time to make a move and think it through. If you feel pressure from other players to pick up the pace, play solo with an app so you can do your own thing and spend as much time as you need analyzing your choices.
EMBRACE LOSING: Whether you’re playing a board game with friends or heavy into an app or online game, losing doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved anything. Let me say that again, losing doesn’t mean you haven’t achieved anything. The road to becoming a stronger strategic thinker is paved with losses and experimentations, so don’t let the prospect of losing (and losing a lot) deter you from playing the games you love and slowly getting better and better at them.
Here’s one of our favorite quotes about losing:
“That’s what learning is, after all; not whether we lose the game, but how we lose and how we’ve changed because of it and what we take away from it that we never had before, to apply to other games. Losing, in a curious way, is winning.” — Richard Bach (American writer)
PLAY WITH REAL PEOPLE: People are unpredictable. Their thought patterns, behaviors, and reactions are messy, clumsy, non-linear and brilliant. When you’re playing in an app or online, don’t fall into the rut of only playing the app. Think of it like this: playing a strategy game is kind of like going to the gym for your brain, and only playing against the app is like only working out your quads every single time you go. Yes, it may be good for your quads, but what about your other muscle groups? Playing real people lets you flex those “muscles” you don’t use when you’re playing a bot.
For one, a game against live opponents is usually played at a faster pace. You may face a more or less aggressive player who goes out of their way to block you more so than an app. Unlike an app, they may make a silly mistake that opens up a great move for you. Or, they may surprise you with their advanced skill level and force you to step up your game. The unpredictable nature of your opponent’s own skill level, strategy skills, and playing patterns will help you to become a better player.
IT IS A GAME, AFTER ALL: So… have fun! Yes, becoming a master strategist can be as serious an endeavor as you want it to be, and of course, there’s a unique kind of “fun” in any intense or immersive learning experience. But don’t lose sight of the pure joy you feel when you’re playing a game you love, no matter the skill level!