The classic definition of grand strategy is “purposeful employment of all instruments of power available to secure a community”. In other words, it is your ultimate plan to win. In Risk, this can boil down to the following:
“What is it you want to do and how do you want to do it?”
The ultimate goal in a classic Risk game is always very clear; conquer the whole world. This makes it relatively easy at first look, but is it that simple? Remember, in real life if you ever come to conquer the whole known world, you may not be too bothered about what happens the next time the world in conquered. You will not live to see it because these events happen so rarely (if at all) and last for a long time when they do that the question may not matter. However, your ultimate goal in Risk is not just to win one game, but to win repeatedly. This is your ultimate goal which you must consider when you are formulating your grand strategy.
Grand strategy has been discussed extensively in history by the likes of Clausewitz and followed meticulously in major recent events such as World War II and the Cold War.
Grand strategy has the following main five principles. You must implement as many as you can in your grand strategy to be successful and get best results.
Have a Goal in Mind
Know exactly what you want to achieve. Because you can play Risk repeatedly, your overall aim is to maximise your winning across many games especially if you end up playing with certain players over and over again. Your reputation is critical and you must actively work to build on it.
You may wonder what this means in practice. It means that you don’t have to win every single game at all costs. If you betray someone you made a deal with, they are bound to think that your word has no value. Next time they may take revenge or convince others that you are the biggest threat. As you might know well, you can never fight all other players present in a Risk game all on your own.
Hence, know when you need to win, and when you need to let go to preserve your reputation. Your reputation is your most valuable asset, along with your ability to win the game.
Attack their Strategy
Many players, and for that matter many leaders in history, fall into the trap of attacking the other entity directly and usually very emotionally. Their country gets attacked and they immediately want to put together an invasion force and teach them a lesson without thinking what the other party wanted to achieve. One doesn’t have to look far to see how modern leaders are falling victim to this trap even in the 21st century.
Instead of focusing on beating the other player in a direct battle to gain some territory or resource, you should focus on stacking their strategy. In Risk, it means you need to understand where they are going. For example, a player has access to two neighbouring continents where one of them, belongs to you and decides to attack you instead. You can proclaim that it is unfair, decide to retaliate directly and end up in a corrosive war which would only benefit the player who had the other continent. Instead, examine the attacker’s strategy. Why was he interested to attack you and not the other player? Does he intend to conquer your entire continent in the short term, or was this just a move to slow your growth? Is he squeezed from all directions and simply wanted to attack someone to get a card? Which direction can he ultimately expand to?
By attempting to answer these questions you can start to understand his limits and subsequently his potential strategy. Once you know what he wants to do, you can take steps to counter act it. Don’t take it personally when someone attacks you, just think of what they want to do and what you can do about it.
Widen your Perspective
All too often, leaders can get too focused on the details and miss the big picture. You must actively seek to think out of the box. In Risk, this means not to end up in a retaliation war just for the sake of it. Don’t feel obliged that you must teach a lesson to the other players every time they attack you, unless this fits into your wider grand strategy across many Risk games. End games played in Risk between experienced players demonstrates this principle nicely. Many experienced players abandon their starting continents in endless manoeuvres. What was once a stronghold is no longer as valuable as cards or strategic positions which means they need to keep moving all the time. Not having attachments to your original starting point and an ability to think several moves ahead will let you manoeuvre more elegantly and maximise your chances of winning the game.
Take an Indirect Approach to Your Goal
Brute force is not always the solution. Armies in Risk are like cash in the bank. You can quickly spend them where it matters. In Risk, preservation of armies, especially at the beginning of the game is of utmost importance. In practice, this means that you should avoid battles and wars as much as you can. It means you should not be the strongest player present in the game since you would become an automatic target. You should always have enough armies on the map so people would think twice before attacking you. This is similar to the “turtle strategy”. Sometimes you may need to give a few territories away to avoid a full on invasion lasting several turns.
Last but not least, you should always seek to make deals and solve issues diplomatically to preserve your armies. Quite often those who make a deal go on to be in the end game and potentially win, not much because of the deal’s attractive terms but more because of the eventual reduction of fights between the deal makers. All other elements equal, this alone will let you accumulate more armies than others which help you to fund your campaign at the end of the game for a decisive win.
Take Pre-emptive Action to Eliminate Problems Early
If you see it coming, take steps to sort it out at soon as you can. In Risk, this is best described by the push for continents. If you see that a player is close to conquering a significant continent, you need to take steps to reduce his advance or at least slow him down. You don’t have to do it on your own, you can use diplomacy and get others to do it for you. In any case, the sooner you address the issues the more time you have to prepare yourself. Per-emptive actions require a grand strategy, so you know where you are going, and a foresight to see where your world is heading, so you can make a move by combining the two.
All in all, never lose sight of your grand strategy and always seek to understand the strategy employed by others. Top Risk players who win repeatedly always have a strong philosophy of the game and strongly follow their winning strategies. You can see it in their games and it is what distinguishes them from others.