Types of Training Games

All models are wrongbut some are useful

George Box

To say that you can easily classify training games would be a lie. You can probably come up with multiple different taxonomies that are all mostly accurate, and all have different strengths and flaws. The usefulness of such a model isn’t in the fact that it is a complete representation, but in that it can help clarify our thinking and facilitate discussion.

So with that out of the way, let’s look at one way of breaking down training games and how we can use them.

Type 1: Not A Game

I’m going to start with training activities that aren’t games. You are currently reading this on a site called Game Design 4 HEMA, which is all about methods such as the Constraints Lead Approach (CLA) – which fall into the bigger bin of Ecological Approaches (EA). But with all this messaging about games and EA we shouldn’t pigeon hole a relationship of EA == Games. There are many types of EA training that have nothing to do with games.

When I’m reading about CLA training activities in textbooks it’s actually very rarely games that are being described. A CLA training activity is anything that you’ve constructed to offer representative training for a skill.

Examples of non-games:

  • Defend the Wall (very free-form, but not competitive)
  • Any coached drill (could be free sparring for one, but the other is not trying to win)

Type 2: Games Targeting Skills

These are games which target specific things in a deliberate fashion. Often times the game is tailor made for a specific purpose, and the rules build out from the end goal. (see: Game Design Process: The RPS Method).

These could be for techniques in a traditonal sense, such as the Indirect Thrust being used for teaching disengages or winds, or the 5-Point Leg being used to teach attacks to the lower openings. They could also be for a more abstract skill, such as the Soviet Foil being a hyper focus on measure and momentum. In general the strategy should be more or less baked into the game, and the implementation of the core aspect is what determines the winner. (Though if the skill is ‘disengages and winds’ it still leaves a large amount of creativity involved in actual gameplay.)

More examples:

Type 3: Tactical Game

A tactical game is one that isn’t focused on application of a specific skill, but in choosing how to best employ the existing base of ability to solve the problem. For instance the Four Openings Game has nothing inherently exciting to restrict actions, but presents an ever changing tactical scenario of “how do I best utilize the fact that I only have to defend one quadrant to enable me to overcome the limitation of only being able to score against one quadrant”.

In some ways this is an arbitrary boundary. Take the Five Point Leg Game which I used as an example of a technical game in the last example. Well I lied! I actually think the leg shot game is a tactical game rather than a technical one. Because the actual hitting of the legs is unimportant in the grand scheme of “how do I set up the scenario where I can hit them safely”. In addition the decision on how heavily to focus (or not focus) on the legs is probably the deciding factor to victory.

When doing a tactical focused drill you need to let them explore and use solutions that you didn’t plan for them!

More examples:

  • King In The Hole – While Despot In The Hole was made for a specific technical skill (breaking up an attacker who’s chaining attacks) the King In The Hole is just a tactical puzzle to solve. There is no specific action that is targeted.
  • Grab or Go – Unlike the Ripping Game, which is designed to teach a very specific skill of aggressively pulling the sword free, the Grab or Go explores how to transition into grappling and how to exploit bad transitions.
These four games are all come from the same Direct Attack starting point, but have an increasing emphasis on the tactics employed rather than the method in which the technical action is executed.

Type 4: Meta-Games

This is a little weird to exist as a separate classification, but I think deserves mention on it’s own. A Meta-Game is one in which focuses on the development of the meta between exchanges, that is to say it is a game which makes the fighters think about the previous exchanges, and other sources of information about their adversary other than what is happening in the immediate moment.

Basically every game that has multiple passes with the same partner has some meta component, even if people aren’t great at grasping it a lot of the time. The Fencer/Fighter game is nominally a technical game: about movement skills. However there is a great advantage to the player who notices a pattern to how much on person favors one option over the other.

In this way many tactical games with limited options often evolve into meta games as the students become familiar with the pros/cons of different strategies and which people tend to favor. This is a good development because it means they are paying attention and thinking critically about what they are doing. In contrast if you don’t see a meta game developing then it’s a sign they are not truly focused on the tactical elements at hand.


Type 5: Crazy Games

If you have a specific outcome in mind when you start the game, it probably doesn’t belong here. Crazy games are not so much about any specific learning outcomes as breaking people out of familiar movement patterns and tactical approaches – to approach fencing as a problem solving activity. They present a fairly unique set of circumstances that the fighters need to quickly adapt and experiment around, a real “journey is more important than the destination” situation.

Often times you will find that the people who do well in competition do well at crazy games, whereas the people who under-perform have difficulty.

These also are often the most fun games as well.


Wrapping Up

All games have elements of all types included, to a greater or lesser degree. In fact the same game may move through different types depending on who is playing or how the coach frames it. While you probably can’t (nor should you) stop a game from sliding into a meta game with more play, you could probably get it there faster depending on how you explain the rules. Likewise if you are intending something to be a tactical game and they are always using the same approach you should figure out why. Maybe they just misunderstood and though you wanted it done a certain way? Maybe they need a more technical game that helps them get comfortable with understanding their different options? Like with all models the usefulness is only in how you can use it to help clarify your thinking and teaching.