23 Getting A Better Understanding of War

Jacob Costello

The game of War is a game for people of all ages to play.  The game is very simple, you use a deck of cards, half of the deck goes to one player and the other half to the opponent.  Both players flip cards at the same time and the person with the highest card takes their own and the opponent’s card.  In this analysis, I will discuss what the game of War is about.  I will talk about how to play the game, what you need to use to play, who the audience is, and the elements of a game that Costikyan states in his article.  I will express the weakness of War and how it fits in to Costikyan’s six game elements.

The name of the game is War.  The intended audience for the game can be anyone.  War is simple and it is very easy to catch onto it.  The game can be designed for kids, older children or adults.  War is a fun game for people of all ages.  The materials needed for War is a full deck of cards, minus the jokers.  The dealer must hand out cards to both players so one player has half the deck and the other player has another half of the deck.  There aren’t any materials you need besides that.

When it comes to the game of War, it is considered turn based.  It goes by rounds, both players flip over their top card to see who wins in the round, the winner of the round gets both cards that were flipped over, then the players go again, and it repeats.  Players keep flipping over their cards until their pile is empty, after that with the cards the player has one, uses that pile to continue playing.  War is an easy game, Aces are the highest card and beats everything, King is the second highest and beats everything besides and Ace and so on.  The number card two doesn’t beat anything unless there is a War.  A War is when both players flip over the same card.  When that happens, both players place down three cards, face down and flip over the fourth card, whoever has the higher card, gets all the cards that were placed down.  Once one of the players run out of cards to play and doesn’t have any more cards that they won from previous rounds, loses and the other player wins.

In 1994, Greg Costikyan wrote an article called, “I Have No Words and I Must Design.”  In this article he explains his six elements of a game, those six elements are; tokens, goal(s), opposition, decision-making, information and managing resources.  Costikyan said an activity must have six elements in order to be considered a game, if the six elements aren’t present, the activity is not a game.

According to Costikyan, these are what the six elements mean.  Game tokens are something that represents a player and the player’s status within the game.  For example, in Monopoly, the fake money represents how wealthy or poor someone is.  A goal is something the player is striving for.  In Monopoly, the goal is to be the last player with money or to bankrupt all the players.  The opposition is something that gets in the way of the player reaching their goal.  The opposition is also the struggle in the game, the obstacle you must overcome to be victorious and achieve the goal.

There are many important factors in War, but decision-making is the most important characteristic of a game.  A player must be presented with a series of choices which will impact their chances of reaching their goal.  In order to make these decisions, you need to have some sort of information.  In Chess, the player is presented with perfect information, which means there is nothing hidden from the opponent.  Lastly, managing resources.  A resource is something a player uses in order to achieve the game.  In Monopoly, the resource is the spaces you land on.  Using information, the player can know whether the space has been purchased or not, so they can use money to purchase it.  Tokens, goal(s), opposition, decision-making, information and managing resources are the six elements an activity must have to be considered a game.

According to Costikyan’s definition, the single major weakness of War is decision-making.  The definition states, “Games are a “form of art in which the participants, termed Players, make decisions in order to manage resources through game tokens in the pursuit of a goal.”  There is no decision making because you flip over the cards in your pile face down, so you are blind to what cards you contain.

The major weakness of decision-making in War affects other elements.  The definition says players make decisions in order to manage their resources through game tokens.  In War, the game does not have decision-making, you flip cards at random to see who has the higher card.

You can’t manage your resources because again, you are flipping cards at random, you have no idea what card you will flip next.  You have no control over the card your opponent flips over as well.  Lastly, War does contain game tokens.  The number of cards you have in your pile determines how well or how badly you are doing in the game; it represents your status.  There is a goal to War.  You need all the cards in the deck to win.  Once your opponent runs out of cards, the game is over.  The opposition is your opponent, War is a head-to-head, one player against the other.  There is no information in War.  You don’t know what cards you have nor what cards your opponent has either.  Without any information, there are no decisions to be made in the first place.  Decision-making is the single major weakness in the game of War.  It also affects the elements of managing resources and game tokens.

As you can see, War is a game for all ages, and it is very simple.  The rules are easy to understand, and you can play with anyone.  In the War analysis, I discussed the rules of War, the materials needed and how War is considered rule based.  I analyzed Costikyan’s six elements that must be included for an activity to be considered a game.  If an activity doesn’t include tokens, goal(s), opposition, decision-making, information and managing resources, it is not a game.  War’s major weakness is decision-making, and it also affects the elements of managing resources and game tokens.  According to Costikyan, War is not a game.  Overall, War is a fun activity to play with anyone and there are interesting factors that make it fun and enjoyable.


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Creating Games by Jacob Costello is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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