Monday, January 9, 2012

Let's Talk Risk

I'm going to be honest with you: as much as I talk about Advance Wars, my first love has always been Risk. Risk has always influenced my thinking when it comes to strategy, which is probably part of the reason it took me as long as it did to catch up with WWN on AW game theory. I've always been better with abstract math than I have with hard math, which is pretty much what the differences between these games boils down to.

Risk is truly a perfect game. Even at its basic core, the game has enough nuances to write an entire book about. And unlike any other game, you can add as many rules as you want to Risk, and so long as the basic core remains intact the game never loses its fun factor. Such variants as "Zombie Risk," or official ones like "Risk 2210 A.D." manage to add to the game without taking anything away. This is because ultimately, all games of Risk depend upon player interaction. As soon as you run into a variant that loses this aspect, you are no longer playing Risk.

In fact the best aspect of Risk is that there are only three ways to be genuinely bad at the game: being a sore loser, a bad winner, or having a lack of critical thinking.
  •  A sore loser learns nothing from his loss: everyone else was at fault. Someone cheated, or got lucky, and didn't exercise anything resembling skill to beat him. His basic thought process boils down to, "I'll get you, Gadgets!" He is guaranteed to continue losing, because he has learned nothing and people will eliminate him and take his cards just so they don't have to deal with him anymore.
  • A bad winner believes he won because he is awesome at the game. He may boast about his skill to the very same people he just beat. He is guaranteed to lose the next game, because everyone is still pissed at him.
  • A lack of critical thinking is detrimental if you plan on being a serial player of the game. This player gets stuck on a particular strategy he likes; he figures if he wins, then he wins, and if he loses, then he loses. He doesn't stop to analyze why a particular tactic did or didn't work, and just goes with the flow. His endgame totally depends on the actions of other players rather than his own personal skill at the game.
Being good at Risk, on the other hand, is totally independent of whether you win or lose. I like to sit down with one or two of the folks I just played with and talk about why the game ended like it did. This conversation can go on for days.

I'll be talking about the various editions of Risk that I have had an opportunity to play with other people over the years in the next series of posts.

Risk: Factions (PC) Review

This is a review I was writing on Gamespot. Unfortunately, the site bugged out every time I tried to submit it. I am posting it here instead for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy.

Since anyone playing this game has undoubtedly tried their hand at the original board game, I won't bore you with the details. You play your pieces, roll your dice, and in general fulfill your goals.

Risk: Factions' eponymous gimmick has no real effect on gameplay, but it does make the battles more interesting to watch. There is something endlessly entertaining, to me at least, about Yetis taking over the world; don't ask me why. Unlike other versions of Risk there is no option to skip watching the battles, but it isn't a horrible slowdown and can be overlooked.

The objectives and their rewards are swiped straight from the 2008 edition of Risk. For those unfamiliar, it's a bit like having missions in the classic Risk, except you can perform more than one and get rewards for doing so. These rewards include "two extra armies per turn," "starting maneuver," and my personal favorite, "guaranteed card," in addition to several dealing with the dice. The exact objectives that need fulfilling can differ from the original, though, in that the game includes a few such as, "control x number of crypts/radars" or "mine x minerals." Eliminating a player will also count toward your objective pool, and like any Risk game you get their cards when you do so. As with the board game, you can play world domination, where the objectives and rewards are just there to help speed you along, or command room, where three objectives win you the game. There is, of course, an option to play classic Risk, where none of these exist.

Unlike other electronic versions I've seen so far, Risk: Factions includes map features in modes other than classic. Some of these, like cities and each player's capitol, are again ripped from the board game. Others, like crypts and barracks, offer you control over some special ability once you control enough of them. Some of these abilities, like flooding the dam or controlling the missile, offer interesting challenges to those regions of the map. Others, like the temple (well, just the temple really), are downright game breaking; the temple lets you convert any territory and its armies to your side, which makes hoarding objectives and rewards all the easier, and overall global conquest far too easy.

The major problem with the singleplayer game is that the AI is monumentally retarded. It is so bad that you can actually pin most of its moves down to a science: if its advance would leave a territory exposed, it will always leave at least three armies behind of possible. It's somewhat more intelligent in its maneuvering phase, but it doesn't make up for the fact that when the AI is attacking, you don't need to be worried about recuperating from a sweeping advance. The AI also doesn't prioritize map features correctly, being more concerned with achieving the remaining objectives than, say, bum-rushing your temple to keep you from rolling over the map. The only way for it to remotely challenge you is to play command room on a map other than the ones with a temple in them.

All of this could be rectified by just playing multiplayer. The problem? On all the fifty times I've looked (yes, I counted) there were no players besides myself online. That's right: nada, zilcho, bubkiss. Now believe me, I've played plenty of games that just have a small crowd, but I am not exaggerating here: there was no one to be found. This, predictably, renders many of the Steam achievements moot as they can only be accomplished with a sufficient multiplayer crowd of, wait for it, five people!

To conclude, Risk: Factions is a perfectly playable game let down by a bad AI and a currently non-existent multiplayer community to make up for it. I give it a 6.5 out of 10.