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TL;DR: Turn-based strategy games tend to be designed for high difficulty. As a less experienced gamer, how do I improve my gameplay in TBS games to meet these high standards?


I've been playing Fire Emblem Awakening for quite some time, and I've finished the game at Normal/Classic without excessive difficulty and without losing any units. I'm now playing at Hard/Casual, and I'm starting to have trouble—I'm losing units almost every battle, and while Casual mode limits the impact of these losses to the current battle, I feel like I'm doing things wrong. (Note that I am relying on pairing up considerably, I do check enemy movement and attack power to control casualties, and I do try to sequence moves so that attacks bring down enemy units as efficiently as possible. I have the EXPonential Growth and The Golden Gaffe DLC packs, but I'm trying to rely on them as little as possible.)

The Fire Emblem franchise has had a very high difficulty throughout most of its history. While recent titles have offered lower difficulty options, the high difficulty of many of these games has been well accepted, at least in Japan. A large portion of the Fire Emblem community, from what I can tell reading forum posts online, plays Awakening at difficulty levels higher than Normal, and Casual mode is strongly frowned upon.

This isn't limited to Fire Emblem. Other turn-based strategy games, like Battle For Wesnoth and XCOM: Enemy Unknown, tend to be designed for high difficulty (though to a lesser extent with Wesnoth).

This leads me to believe that my skill is not up to the standards historically set by TBS games and the community of players who play them.


So, in the spirit of this question, as a less experienced gamer, how do I improve my gameplay in turn-based strategy games? While an answer related to Fire Emblem Awakening is most relevant to me, I'd like to have tips that apply to TBS games in general.

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I could probably give a pretty good "generic" answer, although my fire emblem skills are somewhat lacking (I played my last FE game probably 3-4 years ago...) –  agent86 Mar 25 '13 at 1:22
    
It sounds to me like you are already taking steps in the right direction. I would note that Hard difficulty is called such on purpose. The game puts you up against unfair odds in both numbers and levels, especially in the beginning. Once you get some levels and supports into your characters it will start to feel more fair. –  AdamP Mar 25 '13 at 15:30
    
Wait until you get to play Reverse Lunatic. It's harder than Hard and the CPU gets to play first. It was a nightmare in FE 12, but I don't know if it exists in Awakening... –  Nolonar May 3 '13 at 10:19
    
@Nolonar: Not in FE13. FE13 instead has a Lunatic+ mode unlocked upon completing Lunatic. –  DragonLord May 3 '13 at 12:11
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1 Answer

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The challenge factor from these types of turn-based strategy games tend to come from the following:

  • Your resources are generally fixed - you can't grind for more or delay an engagement while you (over-)prepare
  • Mistakes made early tend to compound to the point that if you make errors early, you're likely to continue to feel the effects late into the encounter/game
  • The game mechanics and systems involved tend to be complicated and deep

In every encounter, there's generally a tipping point - some point at which the encounter has been won by one side, but there's just the messy matter of meeting the requirements for success.

The way I tend to tackle this type of challenge is by iterating and careful analysis. For instance, let's say you're playing XCOM:EU.

You get halfway through a battle and two of your soldiers are dead. The enemies are quickly overwhelming the rest of your squad. At this point, you're probably past the tipping point - the enemies already killed two of your soldiers, and you started out outnumbered. Now is a good time to take a step back.

At what point did I start to lose? Well, probably when one of my guys died.

Why did he die? Well, he was in a bad spot and got ambushed. There were a couple of lousy dice rolls that contributed.

Now I've reached a point at which I had control and made a decision. I can't have predicted the ambush with 100% certainty, and I can't influence the random number generator, but I probably could have anticipated that things were going poorly, and put him into some better cover or had him fall back. Having identified a choice that I had and didn't do a good job of making, I can iterate on my strategy and try again.

The compounding factors are the same as our challenge items from before. For instance, changing this decision might not be enough to effect the outcome. I may have made a tactical error earlier in the fight, or I may have brought the wrong people into combat, or I might have made a mistake in outfitting them, or even earlier when leveling them up.

Tracing these sorts of issues back to their root can be challenging, but it's the only way to improve. This is one reason that, when faced with a game that I know is going to be challenging, I'll start on a lower difficulty level or in a mode that allows me to restore my state from earlier. That way, I have the option of rolling back more of my decisions. When I can play flawlessly, losing no resources and inflicting maximum harm, I turn the difficulty up a notch and see where the leaks in my strategy are when the computer is playing smarter.

Part of this is a learning process - learning how to best utilize your limited resources requires an understanding of the game mechanics that doesn't come easily. Part of this as well is patience - most of the time, these games aren't rushing you, so you can take your time and make sure you're making the most of your environment.

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generally fixed resources are only in the older fire emblem games. Now fire emblem is approaching more of a disgaea feel where you can grind your way to being overpowered. –  z - Mar 25 '13 at 17:34
    
@spartacus, yeah, XCOM did something similar. If you never do certain story-related things, you can essentially grind lower level aliens for quite some time. –  agent86 Mar 25 '13 at 17:49
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