Today I want to talk about the difference between tactics and strategy. Let us use our band of mercenaries as an example.
Three of our half orc mercenaries dove into the brush to track down a wizard spy. The wizard was obviously injured, and three strapping half orcs should have been more than enough to handle a single caster. The tactic of 3 vs 1 is a solid. What their team didn’t account for is a cavalry of adventurers to come swooping in to save their fallen comrade. Sending a scout forward to lure out the enemy is a useful strategy.
The primary difference between a tactic and a strategy though comes down to the difference between means and plans. The mercenaries and the party used the same tactics, out number your opponent and beat them down but the party used a more sophisticated strategy even if Taffy didn’t tell anyone about it.
In my experience tabletop games tend to reward tactics over strategy. There are several reasons for that. The predominate one is the material presented to players. Many adventures have a small group of individuals encountering some scheme and rallying together to end a threat to the fluffy bunnies and kittens of the world. This type of story is easy to invest into, takes a manageable amount of time to tell while not requiring the greatest amount of skill to make enjoyable. Tables that coordinate their individual tactics will be rewarded as they defeat any presented encounters. Then they will have a chance to enjoy any narrative prepared by their gamemaster.
The second cause is that for players to engage in strategy they must first be active protagonists in their adventures. This goes beyond just player agency and more to is a party actively seeking something from the game world? The players must have goal and a motive before they can form a strategy. Simply stated, that is very hard to accomplish well and/or consistently. A GM can engage players by throwing varied encounters with a loose theme easily while if players drive the narrative a GM will need to put greater thought into planning and prep.
Plus, what I said before was only part of the experience. Tabletop games reward players for tactics and game masters for strategy. As the GM you control plot, NPCs and world events but if those aspects are not coordinated players loose interest and will move onto either new games or disruptive activities at the table. This forms the basis for the third reason; tabletop games find themselves forced to strike a balance of gameplay based on the roles people take when in the game. An average table of 5 people breaks down into 4 players and 1 GM. Thus 4 people rewarded for tactics with 1 person rewarded for strategy.
Nothing prevents the trends from being reversed. A GM can use clever tactics to challenge their players why as players can formulate complex multi session strategy to foil the evil empire. Every table will be a little different. What we should keep in mind is how the people at the table interact with each other and how to get the best enjoyment from the time we all spend together.