Total Diplomacy Risk Game Strategies

Risk is Under Attack!

Risk is Under Attack!

By Ehsan Honary :::: Saturday, June 21, 2008

:: Article Rating :: Risk Fans
I recently came across an article about Risk with a very critical view of the game. The article attempts to convince the reader that Risk is not a game about strategy or negotiation and that there are better board games out there. The author of the article thinks that Risk is over-hyped and that its popularity should eventually wane and other games taker over it's position.

I have listed the challenges here along with the corresponding responses. I think Risk is alive and healthy and it's popularity is actually increasing due to new online Risk games and that it is much easier these days to find Risk players than it ever was. They are available 24/7 and you can play with just about any variation.

The following are my responses (in italic).

1. The first weakness in Risk is the scarce number of actions it offers its players. For four or more hours, all players do is place armies, move them, and roll dice.

If you play Risk properly, there is a wide range of actions you need to take. You need to use diplomacy and politics to stay out of harm. You need to have an overall strategy and make sure you follow it based on the developments in the game.

2. Another problem in Risk's design, a feature in some other games, is player elimination. In four-hour long Risk, it is quite possible to be eliminated within the first thirty minutes.

The online versions of Risk solve this problem. If you lose you can simply join another game and try again. Even in the context of the board game this is not a fair comment. You can't have it both ways. The trill of winning comes together with not losing and getting eliminated. You really won't feel as especial if everyone was still playing to the end of the game.

If that's not enough, there are also shorter versions of risk, like Lux Delux, that increase the pace of the game by shortening the turn times.

3. The third problem with Risk's long play-time is the small proportion of that time with which any single player is actually involved in the game.

This is probably far from the truth. The game is not about rolling dice and attacks. It's a strategy game. Anyone who has actually played the game knows that a lot of time between the turns is spent on thinking what to do next. Believe me, it's not always that clear. In a six player game, the board map can significantly change before your next turn comes. You need to be on your toes all the times to stay ahead of the competition. Besides, if it is not your turn, you might be involved in defending. No experienced player should sit idle while the other player goes on to attack as much as he likes. There can be a lot of diplomacy, politics, propaganda and the like. All of that is part of the game. A person who is playing the game who only expects actions on his behalf when it is his turn, is not really playing the game with its full potential.

4. Risk has no safeguards against downtime, its turns last very long and do not involve every player.

Each turn can get all players involved. This can happen either through direct attack and defence, or more likely true diplomacy as explained above.

5. Besides its problems with game length, Risk suffers from a lack of depth. A game has depth when players make a number of meaningful choices throughout the game. A good choice might increase one's resources, eliminate a rival from the game, or gain an advantage in a conflict. A bad choice might lose resources in the game or otherwise set up failure in a conflict. There are two areas Risk often receives credit for in providing depth: being a game of negotiation in how one deals with the other players, and of strategy in how one moves his or her pieces. Both of these claims are misguided. Risk lacks meaningful negotiation, and its preponderance of luck, its consistency in geography and unit capabilities, and its poorly chosen objective keeps what strategic element it has weak as well.

This whole argument is entirely flawed. The argument defines depth by having meaningful choices. This definition is subjective. There may be other elements that contribute in this regard such as how much one can learn from the experience and can it be related to real life. Even if we accept this definition, Risk can easily satisfy it. A player always needs to make important decisions for his survival. When it comes to decision making, you can't usually get deeper than issues to do with survival due to our evolutionary nature. The argument also claims that Risk is not a game about negotiation or strategy. Negotiation, diplomacy and propaganda are the cornerstones of the game.

6. In cases where it is not obvious what course of action should be taken decisions could just as easily be made randomly.

Well, in purely logical terms, this is stating the obvious. In any game or any situation, if it is not obvious what you should do, then you may resort to a random decision. A random move can actually work to your advantage. This has been researched heavily in Artificial Intelligence when a robot can make a random move to free itself from a dead end when it no longer has a good situational awareness. 

7. Negotiation will inevitably fall apart if the players are equal: no two players can split an area up any more efficiently than another pair, no area is worth more to one player than another, and all players share the same objective and the single means to accomplishing it.

Areas have different worth. Each player's circumstances dictate his strength and weaknesses while it is different in each game and between all players. Sharing the same objective is a good thing, because it makes it clearer. But it is a mistake to think players have a single means to achieve the objective. Some like to develop their empire in isolation, while extrovert people may like to negotiate and use diplomacy to achieve the same goal.

8. In a game where the goals and capabilities of all the players are the same, there is nothing to base a diplomatic decision off of.

Is it not true that goals of all nations on this planet are to prosper, get richer and stronger? Does that mean there is no base for diplomatic decisions? Hardly. In fact the opposite is true.

9. The concept of Risk being a game of negotiation is a false one.

If you have ever played Risk, you will know the power of negotiations. Unfortunately, some players are not at ease when they have to confront other players on a political level. They think the game is just about armies, luck and tactics. They may enjoy the game and they should play it as they like. However, this doesn't mean that you can’t use negotiations in Risk effectively.

10. Risk's first fault movement-wise is its draconian objective of eliminating every other player .... The coarseness of this objective in Risk eliminates the potential for subtlety, for being able to win the game without making it obvious to the other players.

Eliminating can be trilling, but more important is the ability to learn how to survive and never lose hope. In any game, it is obvious that you want to win. You can’t hide that objective any way!

11. Risk's second mistake in its strategic movement is consistency. All armies are worth the same amount, and all the spaces on the board are equally unimportant.

This is just a highly biased and negative view. All space on the board are not equally unimportant. There are certain choke points that provide more strategic value than others.

12. If two equal armies meet in this initial scramble, an outcome undesirable for both sides, then one will be eliminated and one will be weakened doing the eliminating, which player being which determined by the luck of the dice. Such a buildup is a game of chicken, with a potentially large payoff if the opponent gives up, but mutually debilitating consequences if both continue.

Game of chicken is not about luck or dice. It is a strategy of survival. It is a psychological strategy. When these situations occur in the game, it actually makes the game more interesting. I provided a through review in Chapter 8 of Total Diplomacy in regard with Dynamics of the Game.

13. In Risk, players have nothing to consider but the strength of the other players and what continents they control in the placement and movement of their pieces. This is too simple for a game this long that is supposed to be one of strategy.

This argument is flawed as well. A typical Chess game may take 2 hours to play if not more. It has much simpler rules than Risk. Does it mean it’s a bad game? Does it mean it is too simple a game to have a strategy? The situation is the same for Risk.  

14. Thirdly, the luck element in Risk is a strong obstacle for any attempt at creating a field for strategic thought.

Chance is fact of life. We deal with it everyday and it is generally a matter of choice. Some like to give a lot of value to luck and expect it to run their lives. Others, usually more successful, make their own luck. The presence of luck in any game makes it more realistic and life-like. If the implementation of luck in the game is as balanced as it is in real-life, a player can learn a lot from the game as well as getting entertained. You can’t blame luck if you consistently lose in Risk. It is the lack of a sound strategy that leads to elimination.

15. Though not a game of strategy or negotiation, and even though it takes too long and includes player elimination and a large proportion of downtime, Risk is still easy to learn and can be a fun game for some ... It is interesting that after nearly fifty years, Risk remains as widespread as it is. Its popularity should eventually wane as newer, better, board games are discovered and played in its stead.

Risk is a game of strategy and negotiation if you know how to play it. Risk indeed remains widespread, because like all other famous game, it has passed the test of time and has remained timeless and engaging. There are many signs that it's popularity is actually rising due to a large number of variations and computer game implementations. Other board games can also be just as engaging or even better in other ways, but Risk will always have its own place.


Do you think these challenges are valid? Please share your thoughts. I am sure if you are a Risk fan, you will have many reasons to believe that Risk is a great game.Where do you think is the true strength of the game? Why has Risk lasted for more than 50 years and is still popular despite the huge rise in more sophisticated computer games? How long do you think Risk will last? Is Risk's popularity declining in the face of increasing entertainment choices?