Into the Breach and Genre Snobbery

I'm really enjoying Into the Breach. It takes a lot of work and courage to build a game where the player can plan their next move with all the necessary information right in front of them. Player omniscience is a scary thing because it can lead to quick mastery or boredom. Apparently, it can even get a game assigned to a different genre.

In reading stories about Into The Breach I've stumbled upon more than a few comments saying that this strategic Starship Troopers simulator is actually more like a kaiju-killing puzzle. So why do people think that, and why is the term "puzzle" used like a put-down? The answer lies in the game's scope and the fact that it has nothing to hide.

Gamasutra Comment

This Gamasutra commenter argues that ITB isn't a strategy game because you know too much, and there isn't enough randomness. If that isn't quite clear, they go on to put a pretty fine point on it:

Strategy games require bullshit

This is an agreeable line of reasoning to other commenters, but it struck me as dismissive. I get that uncertainty adds tension and makes a game feel like it can't quite be solved the way a puzzle can. However, removing that dice roll element does not mean automatic simplification. Knowing how the attacks will unfold for the next move does not make your choices any easier. There are still dozens of questions you have to ask yourself. Can I afford to lose another city? Is another hit to my mech worth blocking an enemy's emergence? Should I burn a single use weapon this time, or save it? Should I let this pilot die so I don't have to read anymore of his corny dialogue?

Hoping this was just a confined bit of genre snobbery, I went looking elsewhere. It turned out a similar sentiment had cropped up over at Rock Paper Shotgun.

RPS comment

"Mindless repetition" and "trivial variations" feels pretty harsh. ITB has a significant number of mechs, pilots, and weapons you can combine and a good variety of enemies that will force you to change up your strategy. See, I used the word. Do I win? In fact, the game layers on complexity as you progress with more ways to move, take, and receive damage. Surprises still happen, but only because you've forgotten something that's indicated clearly on the battlefield.

I'll cap off this series of hot takes with the spiciest one of all:

tabletop puzzle games? You mean jigsaw puzzles?

Well, I'm glad they're having fun at least.

It might seem like I'm trying to keep the tainted name of "puzzle" off my precious strategy game, but I'm not. I even agree that there is quite a bit of puzzle running through ITB, but it doesn't degrade it. I love having all the data I need to make a plan and execute a perfect series of moves to save a dystopian island's only bar. I love that the game fits on one screen and I don't have to send a doomed scout mech pounding off into the fog of war.

Some call Into the Breach a puzzle when it bills itself as strategy. Whether this is meant as an insult or not, it reveals the best thing about the game. It is a triumph of focus and design that can show you everything it's going to throw at you and still present a satisfying challenge.