Being Resourceful, Part III

Posted on Jan 13 2013 by pomomojo in Chess, Parlor Games

In previous blog posts I discussed how every game has its own resource that the crafty player must learn to control. In some games the resource is obvious since it is the same resource we use in real life – money. In other games the resource is clear but is a bit more divorced from reality such as the use of points or dice pips. Finally, there are games where the resource is not at all clear since you don’t seem to be spending anything during the game.

One example of this final category would be Mahjong. Like in Scrabble you restock your hand of tiles every turn. Unlike in Scrabble where each tile has a point value that you will try to increase through careful placement, Mahjong tiles only have value relative to the other tiles in your hand based on how you can meld them together. So if the tiles themselves aren’t the resource you need to manipulate, then what is? One could argue that the main resource in this game is secrecy. As you draw and discard tiles you are slowly revealing information to your opponents about what tiles you are seeking out to win the game. With each play, then, you must consider how much of this resource you are “spending.” Likewise, you need to pay attention to your opponents and try to increase your knowledge of their hand. By manipulating the resource of information you should hopefully be able to complete your hand before they do.

Another example of a very abstract type of resource is found in Chess. Here the pieces themselves are certainly a resource and have even been given values with the queen being worth the most and the pawns the least. But many top players will sacrifice a queen in order to win the game so the value of the pieces isn’t directly correlated to victory. Another way of looking at it, then, is that the main resource is the number of movement options you have at any given time. Therefore, if you sacrifice a pawn early in the game you might have fewer points worth of pieces on the board, but in doing so you may open up a diagonal or a file for your more powerful pieces to move along. Proof that maneuverability is the primary resource can be seen in the victory condition – you don’t win by defeating all your opponent’s pieces but by reducing his options for movement to zero by putting him in checkmate.

These types of games can be the most difficult to master because the beginning player will often not even identify the proper resource in the first place. A Mahjong player too focused on making early melds or a Chess player unwilling to ever sacrifice a piece to obtain a better position is a player who is missing the point of the game all together.

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