What is it about strategy games?

    What is it about strategy games – and why ever design a new one?

    A games inventor is similar to an author, in that both aim to create a good experience for the person who buys their book or game. But the parallel does not end there. A novel represents a journey for the reader, where bit by bit, the elements of the story and the nature of the characters reveal themselves, so that the reader becomes immersed, and disbelief with regard to the reality of the story is suspended. A game represents a journey for the player, from learning the basics, to then progressively understanding ever more imaginative strategies and tactics to improve their game, and being caught out by, or managing to exploit, subtle corners of the game play. A good game enables the players to become immersed in a new world, where they use their minds in a different way to explore and exploit a set of rules that have both sufficient constraint to enable the game to be played in a balanced way, and be won or lost over a shortish period of time, at the same time allowing for sufficient room for creativity in game play.

    When Fibonacci was invented, there were few games that used the triangle lattice board design – Chinese Checkers, a version of leaping drafts, was one - however this did not fully exploit the potential of the triangular lattice, which had the potential for a game with Go like qualities, but the extra node links, gave additional possibilities for a dynamic rather than a static territorial game. The challenge was to create a luck free game that had an element of balance, or Yin and Yan, that if broken would lead to fast victory. As a games designer, the creative process is exciting, and then once finalised, you then go onto the journey that the games player experiences when he or she buys the game.

    With a book, you generally only read it once, however with a good game, you can enjoy it for your lifetime, and a game is a more social experience, where you learn about both the game, and also get to know your opponent. Not that there are any guarantees – but on more than one occasion, a game of Fibonacci has been a catalyst for bigger relationships – my brother’s opening gambit, I kid you not, was to play a game of Fibonacci, with the girl who became my sister in law. I have been requested to send sets of Fibonacci in the same way that you might send flowers or chocolates – not sure if as a token of requited or unrequited love. However, I do believe there are a minority who purchase a game for this sort of reason. Certainly playing a game can get to the nub of whether two personalities are suited to each other – and could equally result in people getting to know that they are not suited, and going their separate ways, prior to getting together under misapprehensions.

    Most people buy strategy games to discover a fun new challenge, and do so for similar reasons that they would buy a puzzle of the Rubik’s cube variety, or play a one player game such as Sodoku. Except, with a two player game, the challenge is to both master the game and beat your opponent. It is huge fun and intellectually challenging, as well as without doubt sharpening your wits.

    The process of inventing a game is rewarding, however, the market for strategy games is a specialist one, plus there are many very good strategy games out there. Never the less to hear that, over drinking whiskies at the end of a Scottish reeling party this year, that Westminster School pupils are very keen on the game, a good twenty years after it was invented, and to get people still wanting to buy the game from different parts of the world today, is cool. Going to Poland for a wedding a few years back, and being told, that there were Polish Fibonacci enthusiasts at the wedding, was a delight. As an inventor, creating and playing a game that is original, and really works, plus knowing that there your game is still being played twenty years later, and, God willing, will still be played for many more, is a good part of the experience.

    Fibonacci has been a good journey, and I hope that the above gives insights into the process of inventing a new strategy game, as well as reasons for playing one!

    Thomas Naylor (designer of Fibonacci) 6th August 2011.