Rhythmic-play board games vs. calculus board games

So I’m not real sure how to describe this difference, and I’m curious if others have observed anything like this.

My brother and I semi-regularly play complicated board games with one another. In general, he’s better than me at games: he can plan out complex moves in his head, adding and subtracting many numbers, such that on turn five (or whatever) he suddenly brings all the pieces together into a magnificent multioperational move that wins him the game either immediately or within a couple of turns. Nuclear War is the game where I first saw it, but it also shows up in railroad games, electric grid games, and the like: he knows all the numbers and makes them work in his favor. I could probably do what he does in his head if I used a spreadsheet and took half an hour for each turn, but where’s the fun in that?

But other games give me an advantage–namely, games with a particular rhythm to them. Small World is an example of that: you also are balancing resources, but the resource balance is less important than a certain rhythm to the game, recognizing when it’s time to take a different sort of turn. Agricola has a similar rhythm, and I think I have a very slight edge when playing it.

Is this distinction–between games that favor lots of mental calculations, and games that favor some sort of rhythm to play–a valid distinction? Are there other games that fit into these categories?

I understood when you compared Nuclear War (and implied what I assume is Power Grid) as a calculus game to Small World as a rhythm game, but you lost me when you put Agricola in the rhythm category. To me, Agricola comes off as a point optimization puzzle - very mathy and subject to optimization. Is the “rhythm” aspect tied to the question of when to go for a resource before your opponent goes for it?

I think the feel of worker placement games changes significantly with the number of players. With two players, it’s not difficult to figure out what an opponent is likely to take. Is it almost winter and they don’t have enough to feed their family? They’re going fishing or for another food source. This kind of guessing game becomes so much more difficult with four players.

I’m also surprised to see Agricola listed as a “rhythmic play” game. Apparently I don’t understand what you mean by the term.

I play a lot of tabletop games and I tend to divide them into what I call tactical and strategic games. Tactical games are those where you only consider the situation in front when it’s your turn to make a move; there’s no opportunity to make long-term plans because the situation is too fluid and unpredictable (Fluxx or Red7 are examples of very tactical games). Strategic games are those where you have to plan out moves over a series of turns in order to accomplish anything (Caverna or LeHavre are examples of very strategic games).

Well, to be fair, I may be reverse-engineering: I assumed that I’m better at “rhythmic” games, and I win Agricola more often than other games, so I figured it must be a rhythmic game :).

Definitely I see Small World on one end of that spectrum and Nuclear War on the other end. But I’m not sure exactly how to define that spectrum, or where to place other games along it.

I think you’re reacting to the decision-making in Small World about when to put your race in decline (or possibly about what race/ability combo you should pick).

But I’d argue that those are numbers-based decisions too… Just at a level of complexity that defies simple analysis. So you end up with a gut feel…

One recommendation for the OP. If you don’t like number-crunching games I would strongly advise you to never play The Scepter of Zavandor.