Abstract strategy games are traditionally thought of as games in which the “theme” has little bearing on how the game is played. A mediaeval war, dynastic politics, or controlling a kingdom, for example, can all be applied to chess, but this has little bearing on how the game is played. The way your Knight moves is unaffected by whether you think he is rushing into battle or disrupting enemy supply lines.
Furthermore, with the absence of chance or randomness, abstract strategy games would appear to have perfect knowledge. Abstract strategy games make up the vast majority of two-player board games.
Usually, they’re made to represent a situation as realistically as possible. These are games where the theme is important, and choices are made to make the experience as realistic as possible. This does not suggest that a simulation strategy game will always try to imitate real life; rather, it will make every effort to be as realistic as possible.
Many modern video games, like Hearts of Iron IV, can be classified as simulation strategy games. There are also several board games that fall into this group, such as Kriegsspiel.
Many games would not ideally fit into either the simulation or abstract categories. Some abstract games, such as Junta, will have a central theme that is essential to the gameplay, and will even attempt to recreate the “feel” of that theme. In order to be playable, many simulation strategy games would have to make realistic compromises.
In this context, abstract and simulation strategy games should be viewed as statements of purpose rather than hard and fast rules, and many of the games we’ll look at will fall somewhere between an ambiguous strategy game and a simulation strategy game.
In videogames, the terms “strategy” and “strategy games” may have a variety of meanings. The natural tendency is to think of strategy games as descendents of wargames and, as a result, to describe “strategy” in the sense of war. Nonetheless, “strategy” may almost be defined as indefinable when applied to various contexts such as sports, war, politics, game theory, or business. As a result, how do we apply a term like “strategy” to videogames and game studies? I believe that “strategy” can be described using either a dictionary or an encyclopaedia. I’ll demonstrate that, depending on what they consider, meanings of “strategy” can essentially be divided into three categories: iconic, formal, and experiential definitions. However, the inconsistencies between these meaning groups reveal that their rationales are also somewhat different. Both of these meanings use the word “strategy” to emphasise various elements of games or gameplay, ranging from a realistic depiction of war to a competitive experience. Finally, I’ll discuss how the diversity of strategy definitions does not help to clarify strategic gameplay.