I have never really been interested in board games. Actually, when I think about it, I’m not really interested in any games, computational or physical. There is one game, however, that I have managed do develop and sustain a long-standing addiction to, and that game is Risk.
Put simply, the classic “World Domination RISK” is a game of military strategy. Your objective is to conquer the world. The board is set out like a simplified world map, consisting of six continents, and 42 countries, which players are aiming to overtake. The game’s manufacturer, Hasbro, defines the objective of Risk as being “To conquer the world by occupying every territory on the board, thus eliminating all your opponents”.
It sounds simple enough, but just like in real life, global conquest does not come easily. The game of world domination is actually very complicated and dynamic. Simple, yet complicated. Easy, yet hard. Frustrating, yet extremely popular. These characteristics have led to Risk gaining cult status within the board gaming community. Since being developed in 1957 by French film director Albert Lamorisse, the game has gone on to become one of the top 10 highest selling board games of all time
Part of the ecstasy (and agony) of Risk is that the game can be enjoyed with between 2-6 of your closest allies (or worst enemies). However, in my experience, the best battles occur when you are pinned against between 4-5 adversaries. If too few players are partaking you lose out on some of the beautiful nuances of the game, such as declaring unofficial treaties with your adversaries in order to safeguard yourself from impending attack. The alliance strategy is one of the most interesting components of the game. This is because there are no rules protecting these informal agreements. There is something distinctly human about making an alliance with your fellow man, only to go back on your word once a better opportunity comes along. The potential to form (and break) alliances increase with the number of participants in the game, yet there are also drawbacks to having more players huddled around the map. One such drawback is that when you are playing with five other players the game can get very long. I have personally been involved in battles that have lasted over four hours! The sometimes elongated game time can add another layer of frustration to the volatile, relationship-testing masterpiece that is Risk.
As I was planning this review of Risk I set out to find some worthy foe’s to challenge me over a couple of Friday night beers. Unfortunately, my friends are no longer willing to take the risk, (pun, sorry) so there I was, alone on a Friday night, wondering how I was going to write a review for a game that I haven’t played in over 6 months. It then suddenly dawned on me that I have the “Risk: Global Domination” game app downloaded on my smartphone! Perfect.
I sat down, opened the app, and selected the ‘Global Domination’ game mode, which pins me against 3 computer-generated opponents. I could have chosen to play against other real people online, or there is a “pass-and-play” option so you can play with friends, but on this particular Friday, I was pretty comfortable with just beating on robots.
The game was essentially over before it started. Anyone who is familiar with Risk knows that once you have taken control of Australia, the game can often be won fairly quickly. I have played Risk many times before, and I knew that this hack would surely lead me to victory against the computer. It turned out to be frustratingly easy. After three turns I had conquered Australia. After six turns I had conquered Africa, and eliminated one of my three opponents. After fifteen turns, and about half an hour of my time, I had defeated all of the computer generated opponents and staked my claim as ruler of the world.
It was, however, a hollow victory. One of my favourite parts of the Risk board game is the interaction between players. The comradery and the hostility. The treaties and the antagonism. The way you can see what your opponent is thinking by the way they play their hand. These human elements were distinctly absent as I battled against computer generated opponents, and it made for a lackluster experience.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Risk. It is my all time favourite game. I have spent countless hours battling against friends and family during Christmas holidays and weekends away. Some of the best arguments I’ve ever been privy to have come about after a few rolls of the Risk dice. What I have learned here though is that it takes two (or more) to tango, and I alone cannot facilitate an enjoyable Risk experience by sitting alone on a Friday night playing against a computer.