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Is mastery of a game truly possible?

As gamers we like, by definition, to play games. Some of us then like to get good at those games, and a few really value achieving a level of mastery of those games. I’ve been thinking about what exactly that means, and in particular what it means in relation to games, meta-games and heuristics.

Last first of that list, for those who don’t know, heuristics are the rules of thumb that a player uses to make themselves better at a game. They are the bits and pieces of general rules that you start to pick up after a few plays that make you better at that game. On the first plays of most games of any complexity they can be quite overwhelming, and players will often make early turn moves that end up wasting actions and putting them on the back foot, learning which parts of the complexity to discount from thinking and which early actions to take on for the best range of options are basic heuristics for a game. For most ‘thinking’ games, this is learning the game.

There are exceptions, dexterity games generally don’t have heuristics in anything like a traditional sense, nor do many communication games. As a rule, though, Euro games in particular rely very heavily on heuristics to give players a sense of progress on repeat plays, and its through the refinement and application of those heuristics that mastery is usual seen as being gained. A set of powerful and well refined heuristics will generally give the player that possess them an insurmountable advantage over a player without them.