Game Pitch: Risk – Sustainability Edition

As part of my studies in the Digital Games Cultures course at The University of Wollongong, I have been assigned a task in which the aim is to develop a board game. I have long considered the classic table-top game Risk to be the ultimate board game, and with that in mind, I have decided to create a modified version with an alternate ideological objective.

Modification or ‘modding’ of games is described by gaming scholar Dr. Hector Postigo (2007) as being the act of making modifications, or “mods” to a game. “These mods can range from changes in the physics of the virtual world to total conversions in game play that can lead to changes in story line and game type. (Postigo, 2007) In a sense, the modification of a board game echo’s media scholar Henry Jenkins’ notion of participatory media, whereby fans and programmers are converging in their roles of creating and consuming content. (Jenkins, 2006) In this context, I will endeavor to actively participate in the creation of a game by modifying a game that is already in existence.

The term ‘modding’ is often reserved to describe the act of modifying digital games, but in this article, the term will be used specifically to describe the reinterpretation and alteration of a physical table-top board game style gaming experience.

Risk is the preeminent strategy game of global domination. In the classic Risk, players are battling to conquer the world by capturing territories and defeating their opponents. A player is victorious once all other opponents are eliminated and all territories captured. The quest for conquest in Risk is interesting because it mirrors the relentless pursuit of conquest and global domination that we have seen throughout the history of civilisation, particularly in the west. Prominent examples include the British conquest of Australia in 1788, the Spanish conquest of Mexico, beginning in 1510, and perhaps most notably the Colombian conquest of North America, beginning in 1492. I note here that I for the purpose of simplicity I have chosen to refer to each of these instances by using post-colonial country branding; no disrespect or insensitivity was intended by doing so.

As much as I enjoy playing Risk, it has always found it frustrating that the game creates a narrative which promotes the notion of conquest. In each instance mentioned above, conquest has resulted in pervasive and (mostly) negative consequences for original inhabitants of the lands. For instance, both Australian and North American indigenous populations were decimated to the point of near annihilation due to British conquest, and the region now known as Mexico has seen a massive exploitation of natural resources and degradation of indigenous culture and heritage. With this in mind, I have decided to create a version of Risk in which the object of the game is to settle on and sustainably inhabit a chosen continent. Many of the original characteristics of Risk will be maintained, but this modified version will embody an ideological shift away from conquest and toward sustainability.

 

Original Risk Map

 

The first step in modifying Risk game is to reformat the map. The reason for doing this is to create more of a level playing field, so to speak. The original map for risk consists of six continents, each of which has a different number of territories, ranging from four in Australia to eleven in Asia (see map above). I have deconstructed the map and reshaped it so that each of the continents now contains an equal number of territories, thus eliminating the disparity between each of the continents (see images below). In gaming terms, this type of modification is known as mapping. The aim of the “mapper” is to design new levels, or “maps,” for a game. (Postigo, 2007)

 

image (2)
Designing the egalitarian Risk map

 

 

image (3)
Amended Risk map with an equal number (7) territories on each continent

 

The second ideological shift away from the classic Risk is to alter the game mechanics. In the classic version of Risk, the objective is to conquer the entire world. In this new version, players will endeavor to inhabit one chosen continent and create a sustainable environment. Players will still have the option to attempt to conquer other continents, but the incentive to do will be diminished. For instance, a player who has successfully inhabited the continent of South America will find it difficult to then conquer North America, as the characteristics of North America are vastly different to those of South America. If the player inhabiting South America attempts to attack North America they will face foreign diseases, a lack of agricultural knowledge, and military insufficiencies. This challenges are not impossible to overcome, yet will require the South American continent to have first created a sustainable environment on their own continent before they can confidently to attack another territory.

The primary objective here is to inhabit a continent that can withstand attack from opponents, forge a sustainable ecosystem, and maintain the health of the continent. Victory ensues when a player can successfully manage to overcome these challenges and prove to be sustainable for a series of three consecutive turns. Other continents may see a specific continent is coming close to victory and form informal alliances in order to weaken the continent that is close to achieving sustainability. This mechanic is similar to the informal alliances that may be formed in Risk, yet the object is to weaken, rather than to kill.

Other rules and objectives will be teased out further into the design phase and during the playtest phase of game development. This post serves as an introduction to the ideological function of the game. Any suggestions or critiques are welcome and encouraged.

References:

Postigo, H (2007) “Of Mods and Modders: Chasing Down the Value of Fan-Based Digital Game Modification.” Games and Culture 2: 300-13.

Jenkins, H (2006b). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press