New players sometimes think that to win Risk they need to work out a winning strategy and follow it every time. The problem with this approach is that it ignores what other players are going to do. You can’t say I will do these series of manoeuvres and I will do them no matter what. To win Risk, you need to know how to respond to different situations and to know this you need to know your priorities. Sounds very simple, but you will be amazed how many players don’t follow this simple rule. If you ever play online Risk, you are bound to come across many who simply follow a fixed strategy, like ‘Get continents’, ‘Go for cards’, ‘Just keep growing’ and so on. These strategies are good but they are too fixed to get you to win the game. You may get by very well in the early stages of the game and then get kicked out not knowing what hit you.
To have a flexible strategy you need to know your priorities as well as others’ priorities. You need to formulate your plan based on these priorities in every turn. Let me stress that again, you need to continuously ask yourself what others are up to, how the game has changed, which stage the game is in, and if you need to switch from your current strategy to the next.
There are certain strategies that are popular but if used at the wrong time, will result in disaster. A walkthrough of these strategies is perhaps the best way to explain them.
Imagine you are playing a Risk game with cards that are set to increase every time they are cashed. This is the classic rule. Also imagine that you are playing to conquer the whole world. Now, here is what you need to pay attention to as the game progresses.
1. In the beginning of the game, territories are the most valuable assets. If you started at random locations, players usually don’t have a continent. As a result, those who have more continents get more armies. Hence, your priority is to expand.
2. As you expand, your aim is to go for continents. The choice of continents depends on how crowded the game is and also on the type of map you are playing (remember, Risk can be played on any map). Naturally, in a crowded game you go for isolated small continents, while in games with few players you go for larger ones. Hence, your priority is to go for continents.
3. As the game progresses, the competition for continents heat up. All players are suddenly engaged in completing their continent invasion or are engaged to secure it further so that they can feel safer in their own home continent(s). Hence, your priority is to understand other players’ goals and to secure your own continent.
4. As turns pass, you start to accumulate a number of cards. In the beginning the value of cards may not be much and so you don’t have to worry about them as much. Of course, you should try not to miss collecting cards, but you don’t have to spend 10 armies just to collect one card. It’s simply not worth it. At this point continents are still more lucrative than cards. So if you can cash cards you should think about expanding to other players’ continents to rub them of their bonus. Alternatively, you should expand and get another continent while you can. You should also be careful with your border so they won’t get penetrated if someone cashes cards and invades you. Hence, protect your continent(s) and rub others of their bonus.
5. As card values go even higher, the balance of assets starts to change. By now, some players have already done better than others. The world doesn’t consist of just roughly equal players anymore. This is when the action starts. Players tend to cash and go for the kill. This is the elimination stage. That’s what the cards are for. When you remove a player, you get their cards which by now are far more valuable than they used to be. Many players fail to make the transition from the previous stage to this stage. They get the timing wrong, or are simply happy with their original plan of continent invasion which at this point is no longer very valuable. Hence, look for weak players and try to eliminate them, make sure you don’t become an easy target yourself.
6. As card values get even higher, continents become even less useful. At this stage you might be getting 5 for your continent but 30 for your cashed cards. There is no point to respond to someone who has attacked your continent so that in the next turn (if at all) you can get the continent bonus back. Use math and see where the value is. In this stage, cards are far more valuable. As a result you are under threat all the time. If you don’t get a weak player’s cards, someone else might and that’s too bad. If you let the weak player get his own card, then he will return back from the bottom and become a problem again. Many players miss this transition as well. Hence, think of your survival and other players’ survival. Try to control the ‘existence’ of players to your benefit by blocking, manoeuvring, diplomacy or any means you can.
7. When cards are very high, growth doesn’t matter. Your continents don’t matter either. Other players’ continents are also irrelevant. All that matters are cards, momentum and who gets to eliminate which other player and in what order. It is so easy to go all the way to the end of the game, and lose it. We have all done it and usually it’s because either we get distracted by unnecessary engagements in the game (war of attrition, vengeance, etc.) or that we miss-time our move. Hence, only think of cards, predict who will attack which other player, who can get eliminated, who will get an eliminated player’s cards and if you can make surprising manoeuvres to keep others guessing.
The trick is to know when to switch from one strategy to the other. Throughout the game, use diplomacy to attend to your priorities. It can make your life a lot easier rather using brute force.