This week’s review of Diplomacy hinted at my deep love of war games but they’re the kind of game that people don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. The sad fact is that war games have a pretty bad reputation as being mathy, wonky and very complicated, but I think that the real reason people stay away from them is because of conflict. In a two player game, conflict is expected and encouraged- you’re trying to beat your opponent at Chess, and beating them means taking apart their carefully laid out strategy. In a multi-person game, however, conflict and player elimination can be bad. Diplomacy has BOTH of these things, but succeeds by sheer force of will. Risk, on the other hand, has both conflict and player elimination and is, as a consequence, terrible.
Speaking of not touching it with a ten foot pole, I have a copy of The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Ring, that I have NEVER played, and have owned for about 8 years. No one will play it with me because I still haven’t completely comprehended the rules in such a way that I could explain it in about ten minutes, and I’m PRETTY good at explaining most games in about ten minutes.
Risk pits players against each other as abstract warring factions, spread out over the globe. Every turn you get new armies, attack your neighbour, move your men as far as they will go, and then get some cards, which allow you to get more men. You also get men based on the number of countries you hold at the end of your turn. Eventually someone hands in a card set to get 100 men, and just railroads the entire board. That is ALMOST every game of Risk. On top of that, in a game of multiple players, you can form alliances with other players and make non-aggression pacts. There’s no teeth to any of these agreements, so you will inevitably be stabbed in the back and eliminated from the game if you don’t stab your opponent in the neck first. FUN!
Sound like Diplomacy? Risk is an abstract war game that can be explained to people in less than 5 minutes. After two turns they “get” the game, and they’re off. Eventually someone realizes that Australia is TEHNUTZ, Asia is a quagmire, and the game ends with somebody yelling about Ukraine’s weakness. It’s an easy game to learn, and the dice ensure that even the best laid plans can come to naught when faced with the evils of chance.
The big issue with Risk is that there’s nothing to do on another player’s turn except roll defence dice, causing huge amounts of downtime. The board doesn’t matter until your turn begins, so there’s no point in watching it. This obviously breaks a few of my cardinal rules of board gaming. Risk also has the problem of encouraging pointless negotiation. You see, in Diplomacy, most of your negotiations MATTER. You could be playing off nations against each other, suggesting moves or trying to get someone to join your grand alliance. In Diplomacy, you can’t win unless you’ve made friends. In Risk, your friendships don’t help you take over more of the board. You can’t assist each other. The best you can do is not attack each other. By having to take turns one after another, the game can change enough between turns that your plans can crumble, which is why negotiation in Risk is mostly pointless- usually an alliance or non-aggression won’t last for longer than one player turn- the mechanics of expansion lead to the necessity to pick up countries wherever they may be. Risk is trying to be a war game, when it is actually a balloon simulator. Every turn you want to expand your balloon as far as it will go before it bursts. That’s Risk. If you’re not inflated sufficiently every turn, there’s not enough air for next turn!
For some reason, people think that Risk goes on forever. It doesn’t. When playing with proper villains, Risk should be over in an hour or two. Depending upon the variant you are playing, Risk can get longer or shorter, but usually shorter. Diplomacy can take DAYS, which is why you actually never get to play it except on the internet. Who has the time to commit to 8 hours of backstabbing nonsense? Me? Anybody else?
Risk is mostly terrible because there’s not a whole lot to do. After you’ve rolled your 100th handful of dice, you realize that there isn’t much more to the game. Also, why would the world be better with you ruling it instead of the blue faction? There’s no difference in how you manage things- you’re both essentially playing the warring nations from 1984, grinding away at each other in a continual struggle long after history has ended. Eventually one of you will win, but what was it all for? Shouldn’t we put down our guns and live in peace and harm… OH SHIT HERE COMES THE RED FACTION!!! TO ARMS! KILL THEM ALL!
If you really want to know what World War 1 was like, play Risk. Nothing simulates pointless gains and meatgrinder combat like Risk. The less you feel for your soldiers, the more likely you would have been a fantastic WW1 general. Just don’t be too hard on your German friend at the end of the game.
What should I play instead of Risk?
I know, it’s still basically Risk, but it adds in factions that all do something new and interesting. This game also introduced something fundamentally new and interesting to board game design, which I think you should ABSOLUTELY try out. You see, in Risk Legacy, you open up a fresh, traditional Risk board. You play one game, and then at the end of the game, the winner gets to sign a continent (Giving them a bonus to their actions in that continent on later turns) or they get to put a base down or a city on a country which also could give them more bonuses later. Eventually, as you play through 15 games, your board becomes CLUTTERED with stickers that were placed BY YOU and YOUR FRIENDS. You create the board. No two Risk Legacy boards are the same! This is incredible. You’re forging a story of constant war and at the end the landscape will be forever altered by your dastardliness. As you go along, you also get to open new, sealed off, sections of the inlay, which may have new factions, or other surprises. The game changes with every play! Eventually, you get down to this:
And at that point, you open it, and maybe your head explodes from awesomeness? We still haven’t opened ours.
WHY HAVEN’T THEY DONE THIS WITH MONOPOLY? Why hasn’t there been a Monopoly: Legacy? How hard would this even be? To be able to change the name of locations, add something to Go, change the Go To Jail space… they’re made by the same company! I enjoyed Risk Legacy so much that I’d try Monopoly Legacy in a heartbeat if it was designed by someone with a real love for Monopoly. Nope. Instead you will have Monopoly: Big Bang Theory! Play as Schrodinger’s cat! Play as Penny’s femininity! Knock three times on Go and die in a grease fire.
Get together with four friends, buy the game and play it over a month or two. It really is something fantastic that you should try out. There’s not much replay past the 15 games, but if you play any hour long board game 15 times, I think you’ve gotten your money’s worth.