Stimulated Planning

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Gameplay structures that encourage players to plan future actions in the game.

Some games provide players with the opportunity to predict with some certainty the outcomes of actions and thereby be able to plan what to do thereafter. The certainty of the outcomes and the number of possible future game states after a couple of actions decide if these games can be said to encourage Stimulated Planning amongst players. Depending on what type of challenges a game presents, the planning may include anticipating other players actions and planning.


All puzzles are examples of games that Stimulate Planning, and puzzle-like games like Ricochet Robots, Continuity, and Cursor*10 have the same characteristic.

Classical strategy games such as Go and Chess provide players that show the whole game state perfect information and have no unpredictability to the effects of actions provide ample support for Stimulated Planning. Diplomacy adds negotiation to the gameplay, and by doing so add making plans how to negotiate in the future part of the gameplay activity. Stratego is an example of a strategy game also supporting planning but with part of the game state hidden, while Poker, RoboRally, and No Thanks! use both randomness and hidden information but in this case encourages players to consider the other players' incomplete views of the gameplay as part of the planning.

Stimulated Planning can also be encouraged before gameplay begins. An important aspect of collectible card games, e.g. Magic: The Gathering and the Pokémon Trading Card Game, is to create play decks from a large collection of cards before an actual game begins through building Pre-Customized Decks. Other games consist only of planning activities before the gameplay begins, for example Crobots or P-Robots where programming robots are the players' challenges and 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness where figuring out when to play is the main challenge. Looking at more ordinary games, role-playing games support players both before and during gameplay in planning how their characters can develop and this can be found in both tabletop systems (e.g. Dungeons & Dragons or GURPS) and computer-based systems (e.g. The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout series). Real-time strategy games such as Command and Conquer and StarCraft that provide different types of units and special abilities encourage players to plan how they are going to play before actually starting to play the games.

Making raids in World of Warcraft are examples of activities within games that can require extensive planning by whole groups of players, and the main gameplay activity of Space Alert is this type of group planning.

Using the pattern

Encouraging player to try to figure out how ones actions can cause the game to enter a wanted game state is the essence of Stimulated Planning. Stimulated Planning requires that players can have goals that are not immediately possible to try and reach, and that they can know or predict how immediate actions can be combined to get closer to reaching the goal with a level of certainty making the planning seem meaningful. A basic dichotomy can be made between Tactical Planning, planning based on the current game state, and Strategic Planning, planning based upon general assumption of the game system, but many design options can be used for both purposes. The presence of Strategic Knowledge or possibility of Team Strategy Identification in any game provide a certain level of Stimulated Planning since players can consider gameplay regardless of any particular game session. Stimulated Planning can be encouraged by games having different phases, e.g. Startgame, Middlegame, and Endgame, since this allows players to have better ideas of what actions and goals need to be in focus for their gameplay.

Predetermined Story Structures is a common tool to provide players with a long-term goal not immediately accessible, but Diegetically Outstanding Features in Game Worlds that are either far away or difficult to reach may fill the same purpose. Giving players Creative Control (e.g. to do create Algorithmic Agents) encourages players to set up their own Player Defined Goals but may fail if players are uninspired. Freedom of Choice does not necessarily need to be present or extensive, e.g. No Thanks! provides only two actions while still having Stimulated Planning) but unless it exists the planning is limited to either performing an action or not (which is another way to explain the gameplay in No Thanks!), and the same applies to Illusion of Influence.

The ability to plan how a chain of actions can lead to a wanted game state depend on both how many actions is required and how difficult it is to make a correct assumption of the effects of those actions. However, to do planning at all some time to do the planning is first required, and providing this time can be enforced by the use of Downtime (e.g. through Turn Taking or Ultra-Powerful Events) or Lull Periods. Stimulated Planning can also be encouraged on a voluntary basis, e.g. through making Single-Player Games use Turns or allow Game Pauses. Real-Time Games by their nature act against Stimulated Planning, but may be supported through making No-Ops safe through Game Pauses or the presence of Safe Havens.

Activities that require planning include Resource Management, Puzzle Solving (e.g. to achieve Capture), or avoiding Traps or being in the Line of Sight of Agents in order to complete Stealth goals. Of course, Stimulated Planning is also required to make Stealth goals as difficult as possible by those with Guard goals. Especially Resource Management can provide a great variety of possible actions that can Stimulate Planning of how to make use of Limited Resources: which Resources and Units should be created by Producers or Converters, what Investments to make, and which Resources should be saved in Containers. Related to this is knowledge of Resource Sources, having this allows players to plan on how and when to try and get Resources needed for various actions. Further, many sorts of actions promote planning: Extended Actions may require it as well as provide time to plans what to do next, actions with Delayed Effects such as Development Time may require planning to make full use of Timing, having to choose between possible Rewards, and the long-term consequences of Irreversible Actions may require more planning than other actions. Limits on which actions can be done make them into Resources and thereby also stimulate planning; examples of ways to do this is Action Caps such as Budgeted Action Points but making actions have Cooldown periods is also possible. Any Risk/Reward choices or choices that require Trade-Offs also promote Stimulated Planning. The number of actions available is one aspect of this so Complex Gameplay effects Stimulated Planning, typically by making it both more difficulty and more necessary, while Limited Set of Actions makes it easier without necessarily making it needed. Collaboration or just coordinating activities into Collaborative Actions also requires planning, especially with Asymmetric Abilities. By having Mutual Goals this may become a necessity, as for example in Space Alert.

While Predictable Consequences is required on at least some level for the pattern to be present (since otherwise it is impossible to plan what to do after the first action), various types of Internal Conflicts can make it a necessity. The presence of Enemies make the planning of actions more complex because one must consider their actions as well (especially if these are groups with Orthogonal Differentiation) but also more difficult, or even impossible, because they may limit the amount of time available to plan. Stealth is an activity where this type of planning is more likely to be necessary than not since often single mistakes can ruin attempts. If the Enemy actions are easily predictable, e.g. the movement of aliens in Space Invaders, this may require more planning in the form of Puzzle Solving or Dexterity-Based Actions for some parts of the plan. With more complex behaviors, either by opposing players or sufficiently complex Algorithmic Agents, the Enemies become Agents which may cause the planning to become more difficult (one must consider what the Agents are planning) and may even shift the gameplay towards Negotiation or Social Interaction. This can partly be countered by Public Information or Symmetric Information about other players' goals and game elements to make it easier to predict them, with the added feature that players know what other players know. Private Game Spaces also encourages Stimulated Planning since that when other players only indirectly, if at all, can effect the player's efforts one's own efforts have more Predictable Consequences. In general, any gameplay where there is Player Unpredictability from other players provide motivation for Stimulated Planning since deducing correctly what other players will do is usually beneficial (an example of this can be found in Race for the Galaxy where guessing correctly what actions other players will perform can allow oneself to avoid having to chose those actions).

That players must have a certain presence of Predictable Consequences of their actions does not mean that complete predictability is desirable from players' perspectives; one may want to plan so that one is intentional unaware of the exact outcomes to allow oneself to have Surprises. This can be a motivating factor for Game Masters, either because they themselves will be provided with challenges during gameplay or that the results narration is unknown to them.

A basic requirement for being able to draw conclusions about what effects ones actions will have is knowing something about the current game state. Direct Information of course provide this, even more so for and games with Perfect Information (e.g. Chess or Go), but games with Imperfect Information may use Game State Overviews to provide sufficient information to support the planning. Games that piece-wise hand out resources or information about resources, e.g. through Drawing Stacks, allow players to engage in Stimulated Planning through Memorizing what has been used and from that information consider possible plans. Symmetric Goals supports Stimulated Planning in that it allows players to know what goals other players have (as long as they are not also Secret Goals) and thereby can make predictions on how those other players want to manipulate the game state.

Since games that provide players with too much support for planning may cause Analysis Paralysis, and too much Downtime for other players, Stimulated Planning may need to be balanced with Limited Planning Abilities (but see Ricochet Robots for an exception) or, for Multiplayer Games, making the Stimulated Planning part of the required Negotiation in Teams. This can be through hiding parts of the game state, e.g. through Fog of War or Uncertainty of Information, or through providing Limited Foresight to counter Predictable Consequences, e.g. by making the outcome of actions depend on Randomness.

Planning may occur by itself between play sessions, and for this reason Stimulated Planning can be said to be encouraged by Asynchronous Gameplay. Player-Planned Development in roleplaying games and Development Trees are example of game features that further increase the likelihood of the Extra-Game Actions of planning between play sessions. Stimulated Planning can be promoted by the Extra-Game Actions of Save-Load Cycles, which allows players to do Experimenting first and then try to overcome challenges; in contrast, Experimenting with Non-Renewable Resources can make players commit more to Stimulated Planning.

Focusing solely on Strategic Planning, games can also have Stimulated Planning between game sessions by containing Card or Deck Building, or by making Strategic Knowledge important. When a game has Replayability it is often has Stimulated Planning, if only to plan how to have a different experience if nothing else. Cursor*10 can be be seen in the light as a Meta Game where a player must plan in one game session what effect his or her actions have in the following game sessions (although it should be noted that the session are played back-to-back).

Since planning is often needed for Cooperation and Coordination, Stimulated Planning can be created by having Multiplayer Games with Alliances, Guilds, or Parties or any other structures they encourages Cooperation or Coordination.

Diegetic Aspects

As mentioned above, Diegetically Outstanding Features of Game Worlds typically play important roles in games to provide goals.

Interface Aspects

Game State Overviews and Scores can both support the establishment of short and long term goals, and depending on how much Diegetic Consistency can be ignored, Geospatial Game Widgets can provide similar functionality. Bookkeeping Tokens and open Discard Piles are ways to have game elements provide information to support planning, while Near Miss Indicators can help players readjust their planning, either by noticing their own failures or by becoming aware of other players' actions.

Narrative Aspects

Similar to Diegetically Outstanding Features, Cutscenes and Predetermined Story Structures typically play important roles in games to provide long-term goals but can do this beyond what the player has perceived of the Game World so far.


Stimulated Planning gives Player Defined Goals and Goal Hierarchies since players are required to set up smaller goals that together lead to the intended games state, but existing explicit Goal Hierarchies can in turn easily make players engage in Stimulated Planning. This provides Cognitive Engrossment when players perceive they benefit from extensive planning and engage in it. When information is insufficient but can be gained, Stimulated Planning instead causes Player Defined Goals to Gain Information, possibly through Experimenting. It also can give players a sense of Empowerment in that they can envision how they can effect the gameplay, and being able to efficient plan can be a measure of Gameplay Mastery. While Strategic Knowledge can give rise to Stimulated Planning, the encouragement to engaged in planning by other means modulates the Strategic Knowledge by making it more (or less) likely that it will be used.

When it may not be possible to see a solution Stimulated Planning may give rise to Analysis Paralysis in Multiplayer Turn-Based Games. This may not need to be a problem in Single-Player Games since the player is occupied, but for Multiplayer Games this leads to Downtime for other players and even very short period of planning may give rise to this.

In Real-Time Games, Stimulated Planning makes Disruption of Focused Attention more likely since players may need to perform Attention Swapping to address more immediate concerns, and may create Tension if one perceived that one does not have enough time to do the planning. In Multiplayer Games with Teams, Stimulated Planning leads to Negotiation and Social Interaction.

For games that encourage planning between game sessions, e.g. through Deck Building or making Strategic Knowledge valuable, the may lead planning in the form of Extra-Game Actions.


Can Instantiate

Attention Swapping, Cognitive Engrossment, Disruption of Focused Attention, Downtime, Experimenting, Extra-Game Actions, Empowerment, Gain Information, Gameplay Mastery, Goal Hierarchies, Negotiation, Player Defined Goals, Social Interaction, Timing

with Multiplayer Games and Turn-Based Games

Analysis Paralysis

with Real-Time Games


Can Modulate

Strategic Knowledge, Timing

Can Be Instantiated By

Action Caps, Agents, Algorithmic Agents, Asynchronous Gameplay, Budgeted Action Points, Card Building, Collaborative Actions, Cooldown, Cooperation, Coordination, Creative Control, Cutscenes, Deck Building, Delayed Effects, Development Time, Development Trees, Diegetically Outstanding Features, Direct Information, Downtime, Endgame, Extended Actions, Freedom of Choice, Game Pauses, Game State Overviews, Goal Hierarchies, Internal Conflicts, Investments, Illusion of Influence, Guard, Lull Periods, Middlegame, Perfect Information, Player-Planned Development, Player Unpredictability, Pre-Customized Decks, Predetermined Story Structures, Predictable Consequences, Private Game Spaces, Puzzle Solving, Resource Management, Resource Sources, Replayability, Risk/Reward, Safe Havens, Save-Load Cycles, Scores, Startgame, Stealth, Strategic Knowledge, Strategic Planning, Symmetric Goals, Tactical Planning, Team Strategy Identification, Trade-Offs, Traps, Turn-Based Games, Turn Taking, Ultra-Powerful Events, Units

Drawing Stacks together with Memorizing

Experimenting with Non-Renewable Resources

Line of Sight together with Stealth

Multiplayer Games together with Alliances, Guilds, or Parties

Can Be Modulated By

Attention Swapping, Bookkeeping Tokens, Complex Gameplay, Discard Piles, Enemies, Fog of War, Geospatial Game Widgets, Irreversible Actions, Limited Foresight, Limited Set of Actions, Near Miss Indicators, Public Information, Randomness, Symmetric Information, Teams, Uncertainty of Information

Possible Closure Effects


Potentially Conflicting With

Enemies, Limited Planning Abilities, Real-Time Games


A rewrite version of the pattern Stimulated Planning 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.