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"Life Is a Game But Risk Is Serious!"
You are playing Risk. Due to your starting position, bad luck with dice or bad luck with other players picking on you, you find yourself in a position where you are one of the weakest players in the game. What would you do now? Should you stay put where you are and hope that your luck turns? Should you concentrate on fortifying your continent so then you can have a stronger foothold in the game? Would you try to use diplomacy? What should be your main strategy?
To answers these questions, let’s have a look at an interesting battle that took place recently, in World War II.
In the sixteen’s century, Spain was at its peak. It had the largest naval power and having found the New World, it was extremely busy with various conquests, exercising its military and colonial power. Philip II, the Spanish king, disliked Protestantism and was determined to restore Catholicism to England. Meanwhile, England was in deep financial trouble. When Elizabeth I became the Queen, she decided that the only way to bring stability was get rich. A rich country could counteract the threat of its rivals such as France and Spain. Without money it was doomed. Step by step, Elizabeth worked to increase the wealth of the country through economic reforms. In particular she was very wary of a standing army’s expenses and was determined to stay out of costly wars. After all she wanted the country to get rich and there was no way to get rich if she was constantly at war or preparing for one.
Sometime a visualisation of history can be quite powerful in seeing what the world has gone through. I recently came across this fascinating video showing the formation, expansion and decline of many civilizations in Europe. It is nice to watch as a particular land gets criss-crossed over time by various nations.
The map animation particularly looks similar to what we see in our Risk games everyday and has a somewhat familiar feel to it. I wish the makers of the video stamped the animation with a year and also I wish to see this type of animation for the whole world and for much longer than 1000 years, may be starting from 5000 years ago to include Egyptians as well.
Is anyone aware of such a video, or here is a challenge, is anyone up for it to make one?
As you saw in Part 1 and Part 2, there has been a long story of board game development and the need to produce a game that is enjoyable and simple but equally challenging and realistic. It would be great to learn something new every time we play and also to use our own life experiences and knowledge to play a better game.
Let’s explore the requirements of an ideal game. Board games can be categorised across three areas; luck, strategy and diplomacy. Some games are very strong on only a single dimension while others are strong in two or all dimensions. Each of these dimensions leads to a completely different game and playing style. Let’s look at some examples:
As you saw in Part 1, as mankind progressed technologically, there was a need for a game with strong strategic element.
The word strategy is derived from Greek word strategos which means general. Hence, the roots of the word go directly back to military use. In game theory, strategy is defined as one of the possible sets of options that a player can choose from. Hence, strategy is all about a successive series of actions and choices that a player must go through to get closer to the final goal.
Much of our early history is about wars and expansions. Life consisted of being ruled by successive kings each with their own agenda. As years passed, people became more familiar with strategy. The world needed a game that symbolised this new lifestyle better and this lead to the creation of one of the most famous strategic games of all time. The game was chess.
The story of board game development throughout the history is truly fascinating. It took a lot of effort and evolutionary development over many generations before we ended up with modern board games and more recently world conquering real-time strategy simulation games.
This series of articles present interesting and critical developments in history that eventually led to the creation of Risk, the great game we play today. We will travel across thousands of years and over many empires and explore the quest of mankind for the ultimate board game!
The story of board games goes a long way back, around 5500 years ago. The oldest modern board game, backgammon goes back 5000 years ago. Archaeologists found a set of backgammon with 60 pieces in the rubbles of the legendary Burnt City in ancient Persia which is now situated in Sistan-Baluchistan province, South-Eastern Iran.
As you saw in Part 1, the initial start in Risk is quite critical and if you don’t get it right you can fail spectacularly. Opening moves in Risk are much like Chess. They set the pace of the game, define the strategic positions which would come to define the rest of the game. It is always possible to get away with a single mistake, but a series of mistakes is lethal. If you realise you have already made a mistake, beware that you can’t afford to risk anymore and need to play conservatively thinking about all possible consequences before you make your decision. Let’s analyse the game further to see what happened and what went wrong.
On the outset, Genghis Khan had the fastest army on the planet. His genius was to take full advantage of his fast moving armies against well-established disciplined armies many times their armies. These armies were also backed by resources of an empire which made the task even more profound. Genghis Khan used the ancient Chinese Strategy of “Slow Slow Quick Quick” as his grand strategy. Let’s see how this worked in practice.
History has many lessons to teach us and when it comes to strategy and you can get a lot of insight from it. In 1218, Khwarezm was a prosperous empire covering modern day Iran and Afghanistan. Shah Mohammad II ruled from his wealthy capital of Samarkand. At this time, the Mongols on his East approached him to make a deal on reopening the Silk Road. This would bring even more wealth, to the empire so Shah agreed to it.
Later, Mongols sent an envoy to buy expensive gifts for their court from the empire. Shah suspected the convoy as spies and killed them all. Genghis Khan, leader of Mongols responded by sending their ambassador to the Shah requesting an apology. Shah did not consider the Mongols as an equal power, so he was outraged by a request to apologise. He had the ambassador killed as a symbolic move to show that he was in charge of a superior empire. Naturally, this meant war.
Throughout history, various military strategists in different cultures have noticed an unusual phenomenon: in battle the side that was on the defensive won in the end. Why should this be the case? Does this apply to Risk as well? Based on history, is it truly better to defend rather than attack? How about the other famous aphorism that “Attack is the best defence”? Aren’t these contradictory?
To answer these questions we need to look at attack and defence in more detail and examine the human psychology that dictates certain behaviours that will eventually lead to one choice or the other.
Attack and defence are like two sides of a coin. They each have advantages and disadvantages. Like many questions examining two possible solutions, you may have to use one or the other in specific situations as the ultimate choice. However, the general question remains as to which method is the preferred default choice.
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About Dr. Ehsan Honary
The worth of money is not in its possession, but in its use.