Area Control

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Being in control over who can move within an area in the game world, or having access to actions linked to locations in the game world.

Games with game worlds of some kind often make use of these worlds by making different parts of them have different value for gameplay. This makes it natural for players to try to have access and control to these. This Area Control may hinder other players from using the resources or other possibilities available there, or can simply be that one can oneself access them regardless if other players can do so also.


Having implicit Area Control over the center of the game board in Chess is one of the main strategies in the game. The goal of Go is to have efficient Area Control over as much of the board using as few stones as possible. Gameplay typically begins with claiming areas in the corners, which are most easy to defend, and moves out along the sides to in the end game revolve around the center of the board.

Having Area Control over the places where new weapons and power-ups appear is vital in multiplayer matches in First-Person Shooters such as the Quake series and Unreal Tournament series.

Area Control can also be regulated through rules. For example, one of the goals in the Battlefield series is to have control over flag points. This is done by teams by having sole presences in the areas around the flags for a certain period of time. Other games, e.g. Risk and Greed Corp give players Area Control simply by entering locations (and Greed Corp lets this persist when units are moved out). Carolus Magnus and Imperial 2030 let players have control over areas indirectly by controlling factions while Blood Bowl has rules making moving out of squares next to opponents risky due to the possibility of being tackled. The Civilization, Hearts of Iron, and the Europa Universalis series differentiate between who has Area Control over a territory and how owns it.

Area Control can be shared between players. One example of this can be found in the Settlers of Catan where all players that have settlements bordering a hex can gain resources from it.

Using the pattern

The design of Area Control in games consists of deciding how control can be achieved and what effects that control provides (which also touched upon why it is interesting to gain the control). Control can either be due to direct or indirect actions. Direct actions consist of reach areas with Focus Loci and often simple Connection with the areas determines control but the Connection may have to be an Extended Action to give Perceivable Margins and let other players try to Overcome the first claimer. The use of Territories or Check Points can help make Area Control actions direct since these provide clearly identifiable targets. The construction of Bases may directly cause Area Control to be achieved. In areas already under somebody else control, Combat is typically needed when Area Control is to be achieve by direct actions (conquering cities in the Civilization is an example of this). Gaining Area Control by indirect actions is usually achieved by Negotiation or the use of Resources in Trading or Bidding.

Regardless of what types of actions are needed to gain Area Control, game systems can explicitly acknowledge Area Control through assigning Territories. The Hearts of Iron and the Europa Universalis series show how both direct and indirect actions can be used for Area Control while also making use of Area Control and Ownership of Territories as separate conditions. In these games new Territories are gained by first invading them (direct actions) and then receiving them as part of peace treaties (indirect actions). Players can only produce Units in their Territories which they have Area Control over - a player that has enemy Units in all his or her Territories cannot produce any Units.

Related to how Area Control is achieved is the question of whether the rules makes this control permanent or not, i.e. if gains of Area Control are Irreversible Events. Settlers of Catan lets Area Control persist until the end of the game since cities cannot be lost in this game (unless one is using The Cities and Knights of Catan Expansions) while the Emergent Gameplay of Go can make areas unconquerable even if there are no explicit rules assigning permanent control. If the ownership of the area is not an Irreversible Events, the possibility of future Transfer of Control events creates Guard goals of keeping the area. While areas' Location-Fixed Abilities and Resource Locations provide natural Rewards and Penalties for gaining and losing Area Control respectively, Guard goals can be encouraged by giving additional explicit Penalties and attacks can be encouraged by giving additional explicit Rewards (e.g. the money gained by conquering cities in Civilization). Regardless of these issues, Game State Overviews can be considered to make players aware of who has Area Control of what.

The common reasons to try to have Area Control is because they contain Resources, give access to Location-Fixed Abilities (e.g. Controllers) or Resource Locations, that the areas provide good Line of Sight to other areas, or that having control makes opponents have Movement Limitations (Zone of Control extends this to nearby locations). Indirect, Area Control can help create Combos since players can position the game elements better.

Some areas naturally become focus points for Area Control. Examples of such areas include Choke Points, Sniper Locations, and Strongholds. Arenas can also work but then because of their relation to the previously mentioned patterns or because they contain Check Points. Flanking Routes can be used on all these focus points to make them less easy to control, as well as provide more Varied Gameplay and likely require Attention Swapping. The possibility to have Strategic Knowledge about such locations, e.g. because they are fixed features in maps which are reused, are likely to affect how players strive to have Area Control.

Interface Aspects

Area Control is typically not shown in game interfaces unless it is formalized with Territories.


Having Area Control is a form of Ownership that affects Game Worlds. When this Ownership can be contested, Area Control easily leads to Emotional Engrossment and Conflicts over Gain Ownership goals. It specifically affects places with Location-Fixed Abilities since they can provide players with Privileged Abilities (if they are scarce) and these Abilities can be Temporary Abilities if Ownership can change. If achieved Area Control cannot be contested, this creates Entrenching Gameplay. Area Control can be used to create Expansion phases by placing it in focus on gameplay.

Area Control easily spawns different types of goals for players. Reaching the areas that one wishes to control creates Traverse goals, and when several players are trying to reach the same area this becomes Races. If the areas is already under somebody else control, wanting to take that area creates Overcome goals. Stealth can occur when an extended sole presence is required to control an area; this can be a successful tactic in multiplayer games such as Battlefield 2. In many cases trying to gain Area Control are Supporting Goals to other goals; this is maybe most explicit when Area Control can help create Combos.

When many areas exist that can be controlled, knowing the values of each of these is a form of Strategic Knowledge. Choosing which of these to try and control is an example of having a Selectable Set of Goals which require players to do Risk/Reward choices or Trade-Offs. Maintaining Area Control is a Continuous Goal and Interferable Goal to Guard a location; maintaining control over several areas changes this to Reconnaissance goals or requires Attention Swapping - in games with Teams this can be reduced back to Guard goals if Cooperation works.


Can Instantiate

Attention Swapping, Conflicts, Continuous Goals, Emotional Engrossment, Entrenching Gameplay, Expansion, Gain Ownership, Guard, Interferable Goals, Overcome, Ownership, Movement Limitations, Penalties, Races, Reconnaissance, Rewards, Risk/Reward, Selectable Set of Goals, Stealth, Strategic Knowledge, Supporting Goals, Trade-Offs, Transfer of Control, Traverse

with Extended Actions

Perceivable Margins

with Check Points or Territories

Gain Ownership

with Location-Fixed Abilities

Privileged Abilities, Temporary Abilities

with Teams


Can Modulate

Abilities, Bases, Combos, Controllers, Game Worlds, Location-Fixed Abilities, Resource Locations

Can Be Instantiated By

Arenas, Bidding, Choke Points, Connection, Negotiation, Resources, Sniper Locations, Strongholds, Trading

Can Be Modulated By

Combat, Extended Actions, Flanking Routes, Focus Loci, Game State Overviews, Check Points, Irreversible Events, Line of Sight, Strategic Knowledge, Territories, Zone of Control

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With



An updated version of the pattern Area Control that was part of the original collection in the book Patterns in Game Design[1].


  1. Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.