How to Win at Every Game Ever
There are no guarantees, but here’s a 3-steps universal strategy to drastically increase your odds
Is 2020 the year of gaming for you too?
We live in an uncertain world where games are easily the best sources of escapism. There is something comforting in spending countless hours in your go-to titles or returning to a cult classic. We can enjoy new games with fresh and fun social experiences at home, like Fall Guys or Among Us. Board games claim back their throne of indoor family activities.
Like many, I’ve been an avid gamer my whole life and could easily play hundreds of hours on a specific title. There is a lot of pleasure in slowly improving your skill and knowledge over time until you master every facet of an experience.
During the quarantine, I discovered many new board games (some of my favourites illustrate this article) and enjoyed the contrasting approach. With no mechanical skills to develop, you must figure out the strategic element to win.
As a game designer, it fascinates me how in all sorts of games, there are factors you can’t control (unfair matchmaking, bad luck, unpredictable opponents ). Yet, some players manage to do consistently win more, without having any genetic or physical advantage. How can they?
In this piece, I give you the three universal and straightforward concepts, which apply to any game (digital, board games, even sports) and that you can leverage to increase your chances of winning massively.
Step 1: Increase your options
Simply put, games are about choices. Where to move, what to do, what to use: all the games in the world ask you to make decisions. Choices have an impact on the state of the game and eventually, its outcome. Therefore, your goal as a player is to make the best choices to tip the balance in your favour and finally claim the victory.
However, games won’t let you do anything at any moment. Depending on the state of the game and previous choices, you’re presented with limited choices and need to make the most out of it. The first general strategy to master is always to seek to increase your options, thus ensuring you’ll always be able to make better choices.
Cards games are a genre where increasing options is an obvious win factor; to the point, there is the dedicated term ‘card advantage’. Ever wondered why most games set a limit on how many cards you can hold, although they already limit how many you can play a turn? Because having more options is a huge advantage.
I played a lot of Hearthstone in its early days, and I’d face countless opponents who were playing cards faster than drawing them. That was giving them an early advantage, but they’d also end up with empty hands, at the mercy of luck for their next turn draw. Even if when they seemed to be closer to the winning goal (having your opponent health at zero), the lack of options leads to worse decisions and often defeat.
The strategy of increasing your options applies differently to all games. In Counter-Strike and FPS in general, you can hear of ‘map control’: the more places and paths a team secures, the more options it has to be unpredictable to the opponent. In a Battle Royale, having more ‘options’ can be as simple as assembling a loadout with both weapons suited for short and long-range.
In some games, you can’t just gain new possibilities, but you can at least try not to limit your future options. In a nutshell, to leverage this concept, you must be attentive and continuously ask yourself: will I have enough option to make the best choice, even in case of bad luck? Games give you limited actions; you should never waste one on a bad option.
Step 2: Maximise the value
If you followed the first step, you’ve now got more options. Great. But opportunities don’t make you win, actions do. The second step is to maximise the effective value of each ‘tool’ or ‘asset’ you have at your disposal (equipment, card in hands, position advantages, etc.).
Conceptually, a game features ‘contexts’ where you can use ‘tools’. Usually, you can use a given tool in several contexts (or there would be little choices), but some are more worthy and get you closer to winning. Your strategy is to know well the tools & the contexts of the game, then to optimise how you match them together.
Let’s imagine a game with a simple combat system where you can use a weapon card of strength 4 to kill a minion with an inferior defence. If you use it against an enemy with four defence points, you maximise its value, whereas dropping it against a 1-defence minion is wasted potential.
In a UNO game, everybody usually waits until they run out of colour before spending a black Wild or Draw Four card, it’s more efficient. However, when they’re aware that one player might win with the current colour, they’d use one, which is the better choice. Maximising a tool’s value isn’t absolute; it depends on the context. Relatively simple in theory but mastering this concept requires a solid grasp of all the rules also to be able to find less apparent contexts to leverage.
One fascinating example to me, outside of the game world this time, is the echelon in cycling. In case you don’t know, it’s a sport where the individual effort has a massive disadvantage against the bulk of the peloton benefiting from aspiration. So, when the wind blows from the side, cyclists ride in several echelons to be protected and relay often. Experienced riders can leverage this context by speeding up to try to break the peloton, making it very hard for the group behind to catch-up.
At some point to win a game, you need to take advantage of some rules better than your opponents. By understanding how to use the right option in the proper context, you can maximise the value of each asset at your disposal.
Step 3: Know when to take risks
By following the first two steps, you ensure to have enough options and to take the most advantage of their potential. It’s not enough yet; most games aren’t that simple and feature unpredictable, challenging elements. To further increase your odds of winning, you need to know when to take risks and when not to.
To apply this technique, you first need to be able to identify whether you’re in a good position to win or not. Some games have their scoring system exposed (points, rounds, etc.), but for asymmetrical competitions, where you don’t have the same tools or goals than your opponent, it might require more in-depth analysis.
You then have two possibilities: if you have the advantage, play safe, but if you don’t, take (controlled) risks to swing back the game your way. What I mean by ‘taking a risk’ is ‘choosing a tactic which relies on events outside of your control (luck or opponent’s decision) but can lead to a more a favourable situation’.
Team-based FPS is a type of game I played a lot where you see this principle in action. In Rainbow Six: Siege or Counter-Strike, you can quickly grasp which team is winning the round based on how many are dead and who needs to take the initiative (plant or defuse the bomb). When you’re the last alive in the team against a bunch, and you know it.
A lot of players, myself included, fear to take actions which could lead to losing immediately and prefer playing passively, hoping for a miracle. Confident players know a bolder play, can backfire directly, but also often allow you to take back the advantage and increase your odds. The mathematical expected value is better; this is the better choice, albeit scary.
Poker is another game where you can easily observe this if you watch tournaments. As a game of chips primarily, players know that when their stack runs low, they can’t wait to draw perfect cards to play. They must go all-in with a not-so-good hand in the hope of getting back in better shape, rather than letting your chips evaporate in blinds. Balanced games rarely turn the tide unless someone makes a mistake or takes risks.
In any game, if you can consistently analyse who’s ahead and take risks accordingly, you’ll be able to maintain or try to claim the lead; which eventually leads to the final victory.
The three concepts I presented in this article are the universal guidelines on how to approach any game. Seek to increase your options, make the most value out of them and understand when to gamble (in this chronological order, most of the time). Master them, and eventually, you’ll be able to win at every game, even the first time you play.
Does this give you 100% odds? Of course not. In a balanced game, a strategy to win consistently against equally-skilled opponents would be the opposite of fun. Players take pleasure by solving challenging problems: even when they’re familiar, there is always room for surprise.
If you want to go even further, here is a last piece of advice: don’t just apply these techniques for yourself, establish a strategy which prevents others from using them. Reduce their options, force them to make the lower choices and control the level of risk they need to take.
And if all of this is a little too convoluted for you, relax and enjoy. Games are for fun, which we all need this year more than ever.