All of us have experienced Risk games that have gone smoothly. We also have experienced games that haven’t gone that smoothly at all despite our good initial positions or fortunes. What happened in these games that we ended up losing so badly, especially if we were still using the same strategy as in our other games? Is it just bad luck, or is something more sophisticated going on?
Risk is a game of politics. To win you need to be able to influence the opinion of others. Of course good players are good at this, so when you are playing against them, anything goes; manipulations, deception, vague remarks, fuzzy justifications, you name it, it’s all there. There is always more to see than just the map in front of you. If you only rely on the map and the armies placed on it, you are limiting yourself from all that you can use to make good strategic judgements. So, what more is there to see? The answer is motivation. It is other players’ desires, wants and needs. If you can work this out you will be much more prepared for what is to come. There is indeed an elegant phrase that captures the essence of this.
It is beautifully shown by the great Latin adage, “Cui bono”, which translates to “To whose Benefit?” or “Who will benefit from this?”
So next time you are playing and you see some unusual game play and manoeuvres, ask “Cui bono”. Now work backwards to find who benefits from the latest move to find out the originator of the plan. This method is of course greatly used in criminal investigations. You arrive at a crime scene and you immediately start searching for the potential person who gets to benefit most from the crime.
It is also extensively used in politics which is a much more complex domain. Suppose there is a rumour that a political camp (say camp A) is sitting on a scandal against the other (camp B). The story on the face of it might be designed to ruin camp B. But, is it really true? Or more important, who will benefit from this? The story actually reduces your confidence in camp A as they appear to be looking for anything to get their hands on power, including ruining others. How about camp B? They seem to benefit from sympathy that despite been honest and focused on helping the society, the opposition is bent on brining them down for some unverified scandalous information they may or may not have. Of course, these kinds of accusations may quickly turn into conspiracy theories where you may no longer know what is true and what is not.
Coming back to Risk, there is always a possibility that two players have made a pact or are allies. If alliances are not declared, how would you know? This is where asking cui bono will help you to discover the motive of players. For example if over time, two players have minimal conflict between each other, you may assume that they have made a pact or have agreed not to attack each other. Based on this you can adjust your strategy and go from there.
Notice that players don’t even have to be consciously allied or declare that they are, even to each other. If you are playing against a couple of friends who know each other very well, you might be automatically considered as they guy who they want to eliminate first. You should read this through the game using cui bono. In fact cui bono should become second nature to you.
If you conquer your neighbour, who will benefit the most? Is it you or your new stronger neighbour (because you are now weaker than what you used to be) who was just as interested as you where in the neighbour you just conquered? This kind of thinking focuses your mind on results and not on what you thought you like to do two turns before. It also sharpens your mind and lets you takes advantage of opportunities. You can extend this further against more experienced players by making moves that deceive them about you real interests. For example, in a normal Risk Board Game play the vast majority of the debates occur when a player cashes some cards and is ready to invade someone. Everyone feels threatened and is ready to suggest who he should attack. Everyone tries to convince him that do X is better than Y and so on. Of course all are trying to save their own skin, so X and Y are all relative to the player who is suggesting them. However, rather than joining them, sometimes all you have to do is to be quiet. You might be able to benefit from someone else’s solution. Look at players’ suggestions and think who will benefit from the solutions provided. You may not be the person who benefits directly (and you may have to survive it), but what if another player who can attack your neighbour benefits from this. He can now invade your hostile neighbour for you and solve the problem while you have not spent a single army. You get to benefit indirectly through someone else’s debates and yet another’s invasions.
Cui bono helps you to think out of the box and look for alternative motives. Nothing should be taken at face value, and of course this course applies just as strongly to the real world. After all, it is self-interest that rules the world.