Friday, March 16, 2012

RISK and its updates

Let's talk about RISK. You've played RISK, right? Everybody has. You take your armies and you conquer the world, only someone backstabs you and it all ends in tears. I've even talked about it once or twice on the blog here.* I've played a lot of RISK, probably running the gamut of potential game states. I've played innumerable games, including the time I brought it winter camping with the boy scouts. I've made alliances and nonagression pacts, been backstabbed, broken up other people's alliances, had bitter arguments over the rules and the terms of agreements. I kicked the board over once when I got eliminated on the first turn. I've played once on a double world with two boards, and I even organized my own RISK tournament. (Napoleon won. Oh, don't bother sending in for their tournament information; it's useless. The only thing I learned from it was that the proper spelling of RISK is in all caps.)

Given my longstanding connection to the game, it might come as a surprise when I tell you that the game sucks. Ok, not that much of a surprise, it's not like i didn't foreshadow it by telling you I'd be surprising you. But back to the point. Judging by the standards of today and the other war games you can find on the market, it's a wonder that anyone plays the game at all. Quick rundown of the problems with it:

-Australia. Friggen Australia. You get someone set up there and it becomes prohibitively expensive to go in and root them out. Meanwhile they're getting extra armies every turn.
-The cards. In the long term, it doesn't matter what else you do, the cards is all that matters.
-Diplomacy. I gotta say, I learned a lot of things about negotiations from this game. Trouble is, a lot of those lessons came via harsh penalties; you table talk because if you don't you're screwed. You don't form alliances because if you do, they screw you. You don't break a promise because that's a great way to lose friends. In a permanent sense.
-Only one kind of unit. Makes the strategies pretty straightforward.

That'll do, for now. The point is, while RISK was innovative and exciting when it was introduced what, seventy years ago? Game technology has moved on since then. You've got dozens and dozens of more modern war and strategy games that are a lot more interesting to play. There's a reason why we never seem to stop talking about Axis and Allies here. So why do we still play RISK?

Because everybody plays RISK. Everybody's got at least a passing familiarity with the game. So if you're forced to socialize with those long lost cousins, and they're having trouble coming to grips with the fact that you don't go to the bars for a good time, instead you stay up all night pretending to be a wizard or some such, well, it's something that they'll play. And it does have some merits. I griped about only one kind of unit above; inasmuch as that bothers me as an advanced gamer, the simple rules structure that that entails makes it a lot easier to play with just about anybody. The fact that at least one of them has probably played RISK before is also huge; it's always harder to get your foot in the door with an unknown anything; it's why I've played so many Axis and Allies franchise games, it's why comic book movies are the thing this decade, and it's why when I go to the grocery store and want pickles, I pick up Vlasic ones. Not because I know anything about pickles, but because I've seen their adds before and the comforting warmth of already knowing the brand name is enough to steer me in their direction. I hate advertising so much.

That brand name recognition is huge in terms of marketing the game. RISK is never going to leave the Walmart shelves because of that. Supposing your nephew is turning eight. You don't know a thing the kid, so what do you get him? Maybe you want to get him a game. If you know absolutely nothing about board games you wander into the toy aisle and look at the familiar names, and get him one at random. You pick one you recognize, maybe you dimly remember playing twenty, thirty years ago. What did you pick up? Monopoly. Or Clue. Or RISK. Maybe Yahtzee. Scrabble is for a more mature audience. You know- when they're old enough to snigger endlessly about spelling out dirty words. But back to the point; these games generate huge amounts of revenue for the companies that publish them.

So we've got a cycle going on; kid plays RISK, kid grows up, kid buys RISK for his kids. And while the player base is large enough that you can get steady revenue from this cycle, well, wouldn't it be better if you could turn these kids into true gamers, people who will shell out again and again for your games? To that end, Parker brothers, or Hasbro, or whomever, anyways, they've been publishing variants on RISK to patch up some of the rules, and to hopefully convert their occasional customers into more steady sales.

The first one of these that I ever played was called RISK 2210. "OK, so, you're in the future, right? You fight with giant robot armies. And you get generals with special powers and stuff. Oh, and you can conquer the moon."

Conquering the moon is one of my longstanding goals.

Later I got to play RISK Godstorm. In this one you're in the ancient world, and you summon gods. Which interact much like the generals. Come to think of it, it's suspiciously similar to RISK 2210. Anyways, in this one when your armies die, they get sent to the underworld, where you get to fight it out. When they die there? Then they're really dead.

I gotta admit, being able to sink Atlantis is pretty cool.

While these games are all right, they haven't exactly revitalized my interest in the brand. Sure, I'll play them, but they aren't exactly as exciting as I'd like.

Now, now a new one comes along. RISK Legacy. This one promises that the game will change, irrevocably, depending on how it's played. Interesting. I wonder how they'll do that. Or at least I wondered. I'm five games in now, and some interesting things have gone down. But I've spent too much time yammering about RISK in general, so I'll talk about that. Next post. Which won't take three months, I swear.

*For the people who are bored enough to click and are still curious, I haven't gotten much further with my Markov Chains. I've done some fiddling with simulations rather than actual solutions, which has met with limited success. Unfortunately, I don't trust computer simulations almost at all.

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