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Patrolling game world areas to detect changes.

The actions in games can quite naturally change the locations of game elements or the status of the gameplay environment. Having information about the current state is typically advantageous to players, so if players do not have this directly from the game, they may set up Reconnaissance goals for themselves to acquire this. Reconnaissance goals can also be set up by the game or game masters so they are explicit goals that need to be completed for the gameplay to progress.


Typical examples of the pattern can be found in Strategy Games where the units have information only about the other units near them. For instance, in the Civilization series player are required to continue moving their units within already explored areas since the movement of enemy units are not detected unless they are near a unit or a city. In the board game Space Hulk, the player playing space marines always knows the presences and location of the enemy "genestealers" but not their exact number. This makes Reconnaissance missions necessary to find where enemy buildups are taking place. Other examples of Strategy Games which require Reconnaissance missions due to one reason or another include Advanced Squad Leader, the Advance Wars series, and the Hearts of Iron series.

Performing Reconnaissance-based missions can be vital for winning Real-Time Strategy Games such as the Defense of the Ancients series and the Starcraft series. First-Person Shooters and other games with similar gameplay that take place in open environments, e.g. the Battlefield and Far Cry series and World War II Online, do not require players to engage in Reconnaissance goals, but doing so can provide tactical advantages.

Using the pattern

The possible reasons for Reconnaissance goals are many: locating Enemies, finding Resources that would otherwise be Secret Resources, Guarding or maintaining Area Control over areas too large to watch from one position. However, there are two main ways of creating Reconnaissance goals that are solvable. One is to have Enemies for which players have an Uncertainty of Information regarding their location due to some circumstance. The other is to have a general Fog of War. The Fog of War may actually be the cause of the Uncertainty of Information but can on its own create solvable Reconnaissance goals - they are solved when all needed areas are observed. Traces offers a third possibility for Reconnaissance goals - it may be enough to find these but since they normally are less noticeable than Enemies they may not need to have gameplay mechanics to hid them (they can also be used to make it easier to notice the presence of Enemies). In many cases it makes sense that the Enemies have Stealth goals (not caring about detection being the main counter reason), and when this occurs the Reconnaissance and Stealth goals become Excluding Goals.

Adding specifics to Reconnaissance goals consists of defining the area that has to be searched, deciding how the Fog of War works if it exists, placing the Enemies (if any), and deciding on the means for players to observe the environment. Hiding Places can make Reconnaissance goals more difficult since players or Agents need to be aware of these and check these as part of searching for changes in areas. Traverse goals are quite often used to limit the area that needs be traveled but still require players to have large areas to watch. Line of Sight is the typical way of being able to detect changes but Alarms can provide additional means. The pattern can support Scouting if players can be Stealthy while performing Reconnaissance.

Reconnaissance differs from Game World Exploration differs in that the places, areas, and area boundaries may all already be known but the players need to notice differences in the environment from what they know. This makes Memorizing a possible supporting activity for succeeding with Reconnaissance goals.

Interface Aspects

Since Reconnaissance goals build upon players not having Perfect Information, games that wish to have these goals may need to consider which presentations of Game Worlds they use. For example, God Views do not work well with Reconnaissance unless tempered by Fog of War. Game State Overviews can help in Reconnaissance tasks but can also make them trivial.

Narrative Aspects

Players' Reconnaissance goals can be woven into Predetermined Story Structures as ways of letting players be introduced to threats. Those of their Enemies are typically part of specific scenes or Levels but do not advance the narration.


Reconnaissance goals are special cases of Gain Information goals in that they rely on Uncertainty of Information regarding the locations or existences of Enemies. If there actually are people trying to avoid detection, i.e. Agents with Stealth goals, the Reconnaissance goals modulate the Stealth goals and are Preventing Goals. These goals are also Continuous Goals as they should be performed as long as there is a reasonable risk that there are still Enemies within in a given gameplay area. While having Reconnaissance goals can make players have Anticipation of finding Enemies, actually finding them may still give them Surprises since the actual situation and time may be unexpected.

Reconnaissance can give rise to both Strategic and Tactical Planning. Strategic Planning since players need to plan how to conduct patrols without knowing the specifics of the situation or need to plan how to avoid others' Reconnaissance goals, Tactical Planning since getting information through successes with Reconnaissance goals make players need to reconsider what they should do.

The Reconnaissance goals of Enemies that are performed through static Movement patterns can require players to perform Rhythm-Based Actions to avoid detection.


Can Instantiate

Anticipation, Continuous Goals, Gain Information, Memorizing, Predetermined Story Structures, Preventing Goals, Strategic Planning, Surprises, Tactical Planning

with Enemies

Rhythm-Based Actions

with Stealth

Excluding Goals, Scouting

Can Modulate


Can Be Instantiated By

Fog of War, Guard, Traces

Enemies together with Uncertainty of Information

Can Be Modulated By

Alarms, Area Control, Environmental Effects, Flanking Routes, Hiding Places, Game State Overviews, Line of Sight, Secret Resources, Traces, Traverse

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Game State Overviews, God Views


An updated version of the pattern Reconnaissance 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.