Diplomatic Play
Logistical Play

Tactical Play

First published on Chris Bateman’s blog, Only A Game on 9th February 2007

Tactical play relates to improvisation, and competence with all manner of tools. To other people, those preferring this style of play can appear to be both reckless and lucky. Second only to Logistical play in terms of its apparent distribution, it is a key commercial force in the modern games industry, and it may be an influencing factor in the success of the many games which focus their play upon the most popular tools in modern games - cars and guns.

Conversion from Other Models

Tactical play is presumed to correlate with Artisan in Temperament Theory, which corresponds with SP (Sensing and Perceiving preferences) in Myers-Briggs typology.

Additionally, the Type 3 Wanderer in DGD1 correlates with Tactical play (as, to a lesser extent, does the Type 2 Manager, although the profile of this play style is far closer to Strategic play).


Different play styles are associated with different talents, which are expressed in those players who favour this approach to play.

Whereas Logistical play is focussed on goals, and Strategic play on systems, the focus of Tactical play is improvisation. Every game grants the player a number of possible actions they can take, and the player gifted in Tactical play will naturally conceive of immediate and effective ways of combining these actions to have an effect. For any situation, they will naturally have ideas as to what they can do, and proceed rapidly to trying these ideas out. Sometimes, they will even chance upon novel and unexpected solutions to problems, which can be an especial source of satisfaction for such a player.

The effect produced may advance the game by meeting a goal, but it is the capacity to have an impact that is important to players favouring Tactical play, not the goal, per se. Indeed, such a player may have just as much fun making something happen that has nothing to do with advancing in the game - with a sufficiently interesting game world, such players can entertain themselves for some time just by exploring what they can make happen as a consequence of their own actions. (The playground worlds of the GTA games in particular lend themselves to this approach).

Another key talent associated with Tactical play is a natural proficiency with machines and tools. Players who prefer Tactical play seem to possess an immediate degree of competence with any tool or vehicle the game provides them - provided they are in control of it. A device which does everything without player input is not an interesting source of Tactical play; a device which allows the player to demonstrate their natural skill is what is desired. The most obvious example is with driving games of all kinds - these base their play around the player’s capacity to control a vehicle, and generally have immediate appeal to players who enjoy this play style. (Note that players preferring Logistical play may also enjoy a driving game, but in such instances competence is learned through repetition, rather than being immediately present).

What seems to be desired for Tactical play are tools (weapons etc.) with a degree of analogue control, such as the analogue control of a car through both its steering and acceleration, or the analogue control of a gun through a free aiming mechanism. Given the games industry’s obsession with the commercial appeal of guns and cars, these are by far the most common examples of analogue control found in modern videogames, although environmental negotiation abilities (jumping, climbing and so forth) occasionally afford opportunities for Tactical play - especially with secondary jumping abilities, such as a double jump or gliding ability.

Other examples can also be found. When The Legend of Zelda franchise moved into a 3D world with Ocarina of Time (Nintendo, 1998), it centred its play on a diverse collection of tools, most of which are essentially analogue in nature. (The roots of the toolset lie in earlier 2D games in the franchise, but these earlier tools were not analogue in nature).The slingshot, boomerang and bow are effectively variations on the gun theme but each still allows for skillful free aiming, while the hookshot (a type of grapple) has more of the nature of an analogue tool, cuccos (chickens) can be used for gliding, bombs have a variety of uses, and the ocarina of the game’s title provides all manner of additional abilities to the player. Although the Zelda games meet a variety of play needs, they are notable examples of the tool-focus associated with Tactical play.

Players who favour Tactical play sometimes seem to be naturally lucky. This is not to suggest any supernatural element, however - rather, this capacity for serendipity seems borne of simple psychological roots. Players who express this play style often show an exceptional tolerance for adapting to random variation - what might be considered compensating for noise (again, this may relate to a preference for analogue controls). Furthermore, Tactical play can be associated with openness to risk, sometimes expressed as impulsive recklessness. It is this combination of a willingness to take chances, and capacity to adapt quickly and effectively to random events which create the impression that players with strong Tactical skills are naturally lucky - the more chances one is willing to take, the more opportunities one has to fluke success. On analysis, then, this is simply a further expression of the spirit of improvisation that lies at the heart of Tactical play.


Players favouring specific play styles are also prone to different frustrations. Different elements of play cause varying degrees of friction for players, according to their preferred way to play.

The chief source of friction associated with Tactical play is constraint. The player favouring this style seeks to improvise and overcome, and anything that gets in the way of this approach is an annoyance. Tactical play thrives on the freedom of the player to act, and to have an impact in the game world, and thus anything which constrains the player’s freedom will frustrate a player preferring this play style. If a game prevents the player from using one of their tools in an arbitrary manner, this is an unacceptable constraint - ‘why can’t I use that here?’ is the natural question. If the Tactical player cannot act freely in a game, they would often prefer not to play at all - ‘I’m not putting up with that!’ is the natural response to excessive constraint.

(This should not be confused with the Strategic player’s problem with limitation, which is concerned with insufficient choice of actions - the Tactical player is annoyed by immediate constraints to action, rather than too narrow a set of choices. For instance, in a typical FPS the player often only has the capacity to move, and a choice of weapons - limited from a Strategic perspective, but more than sufficient for Tactical play. Conversely, if a game’s story imprisons the player and takes away their weapons and tools this can be an engaging puzzle from a Strategic perspective, but it is pure irritation for solely Tactical players).

Another source of friction associated with Tactical play is boredom. This may seem a strange suggestion - don’t all players have a problem with boredom? But players favouring Logistical play have tremendous tolerance for repetition provided they are progressing towards a goal, and players favouring Strategic play can be willing to spend considerable time trying to solve a tough puzzle or beat a difficult foe. Neither situation will suit a player whose preferences lie firmly in Tactical play; such a player will quickly lose interest if what they are doing becomes routine, or takes too long to achieve. The opportunity to have an impact must always be present, and when it is not boredom is the natural result. Often it will cause such a player to give up entirely and play something else instead, and players favouring this play style start many more games than they ever finish.

A Brief History of Tactical Play

The early arcade games of the 1970s were too abstract to have wide appeal for player’s favouring Tactical play, although such players probably did enjoy early videogames such as Space Invaders (Taito/Bally Midway, 1978), Pac-man (Namco/Midway, 1980) and so forth, for the novelty if for nothing else. The players who persisted at these games, however, were more likely to prefer Logistical play, as the capacity to have an impact was limited.

The 1980s moved arcade games into a more accessible place, and driving games such as Out Run (Sega, 1986) and Hard Drivin’ (Atari, 1989) could be found along shooting games such as Operation Wolf (Taito, 1987), all of which provided opportunities for solid Tactical play. Additionally, it is likely that fighting games such as Street Fighter (Capcom, 1987) attracted Tactical players. On the home computers and consoles, the most Tactical games were probably the early platform games, such as Manic Miner (Mathew Smith, 1983) or Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985), although inevitably these also supported Logistical play through their structures.

The move to polygonal 3D in the 1990s was to see an explosion of interest in Tactical play. Wolfenstein 3D (id Software, 1992) and Doom (id Software, 1993) laid down the first person shooter (FPS) template which has always been distinctly Tactical. Although the only tools provided are guns, the properties of the weapons are sufficiently different that Tactical play can emerge in the capacity to choose the right weapon for the right situation, as well as the spatial play elements key to FPS games, which also suit players favouring this play style.

The superior graphics of Quake (id Software, 1996) gave it notoriety in game fandom, but the title sold only a few million copies (Doom is estimated to have sold 4 million copies, and to have been downloaded and played by some 10 million players). The most commercially successful FPS’s of this decade were GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997) which combined solid game design with a hugely popular license, and Half-Life (Valve, 1998) which combined the technology of Quake with an inventive story implementation. Both sold 8 million units, the highest sales figures achieved by FPS games to date.

Driving games were similarly invigorated by the move to 3D, with games such as Virtua Racing (Sega, 1992), Ridge Racer (Namco, 1993) and the seminal kart racer, Mario Kart (Nintendo, 1992) all affording the Tactical play of driving (although most driving games also supported Logistical play, in that courses could be learned by repetition). Other racing games to provide opportunities for Tactical play included skiing games such as Alpine Racer (Namco, 1995) and the more successful genre of snowboarding games such as 1080 (Nintendo, 1998). However, cars remained the commercial centre of racing games, and Gran Turismo (Polyphony Digital, 1997) sold 10.5 million units on the PlayStation, with each of its sequels selling roughly the same numbers to total 44 million units across the franchise.

The next decade was to see cars and guns combined in the same titles, thus concentrating the Tactical focus of certain games. A notable title is Halo: Combat Evolved (Bungie, 2001), which featured a greater focus on the shooting element than the vehicular element, and which provided excellent opportunities for Tactical play - players enjoyed being able to make an impact with weaponry, explosives and vehicles. Commercially, the game enjoyed reasonable success, selling some 5 million units; sufficient to mark it as a hit, and certainly nothing else on the Microsoft Xbox console enjoyed greater commercial success.

But it was the advent of the playground world structure in games such as Grand Theft Auto III (DMA design, 2001) and its sequels that served to take Tactical play further. For a start, these games combined both driving and shooting elements (thus combining the most popular sources of Tactical play into one game), but additionally the capacity to wreak free-roaming mischief allowed players the opportunity to have an impact in a more direct way than ever before. (Although the playground world structure has earlier roots, it was only when it was used in 3D and in the context of cars and guns that it achieved the full measure of its success). Such games also included an effectively linear sequence of missions, and thus supported Logistical play as well; by strongly appealing to the two most significant play styles - and doing so with the added appeal of cars and guns - commercial success was all but guaranteed, and the games have sold up to 14 million units in their recent iterations.

Assuming the distributions of players preferring the Tactical play style correlate with the Artisan Temperament, we would expect some 25% of the population to greatly enjoy this style of play - second only to the Logistical play style in hypothetical popularity (50% of the population, if it correlates directly with the Guardian Temperament). As a result, games that meet the needs of both Logistical and Tactical play could appeal to as much as 75% of the population, and thus supporting both play styles is increasingly essential to mass market success.


Tactical play is a key factor behind the success of driving games, and shooting games - especially the ever-popular first person shooter - although it can be found to some degree in a wide variety of different game genres that focus on a single avatar, and provide the capacity to have an impact. Although not proven, it is hypothetically the case that Tactical play is second in commercial importance only to Logistical play, and comparisons of sales figures for the most popular games supports this claim.

With an irrepressible capacity for improvisation, and a reckless experimentation that can result in them seeming to be naturally lucky, the player favouring Tactical play seeks immediate freedom in their game worlds. Constraints are an especial annoyance, and such players can become bored easily when they lose the ability to have an impact. Naturally proficient with machines and tools with analogue controls, the Tactical player seems to have an immediate competence with almost any game that attracts their interest.


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