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If Obama Played Risk...

If Obama Played Risk...
Diplomacy, Strategy, Real-world example

Article Rating:::: 43 Ratings :::: Monday, December 1, 2008

Imagine, one afternoon, by some magical coincidence you find yourself in a room where a number of ‘players’ are gathered around a world map, playing Risk. What’s unusual about this game is that the players are not ordinary people like me and you. They are in fact the heads of states of some of the most influential countries in the world and they have gathered together in the UN to ‘play it out’, over a Risk game.

Imagine the new president of USA, Barak Obama, is in charge of the US player while other corresponding heads of states are present as shown below.

 Europe  USA  South America  Middle East  China  Japan  Africa
Token  Token  Token  Token Token Token  Token

(Rules: using escalating cards and connected fortifications)

You are an excited observer and can’t wait to see what happens next and how it will all play out especially since a new person is now in charge of one of the most powerful continents.

The new person, Obama, looks at the map trying to evaluate what is going on. There is more to the map than meets the eyes. There is a whole set of relationships between players. US has a treaty with Europe, called NATO, which states they should not attack each other over their borders (until they are the only two players left in the game). US has a similar treaty with Japan. Interestingly, Europe is very friendly with South America, so any US hostility there will not be tolerated.

The other side of the map seems quite chaotic. China is a classic isolationist. It is strong and can count on its steady growth for many turns to come without getting into any major conflicts. China also had cards to cash in which at this level are going to make a difference.

What makes the game slightly unstable is probably Middle East. Obama has a flashback remembering the history of the game. The US made treaties with the other players systematically. The intention was to secure the continent, so it could expand in new directions. As a result it ended up locking itself in its own continent. US realised that if it wanted to get a card every turn (so that it did not fall behind others like Europe or increasingly China), it had to have a base outside the continent, so they could attack a territory and get a card. This led to their presence in the Middle East.

Obama is still deep in thought… Middle East is indeed a very strategic position on the map. It’s the only territory with access to three continents. The presence of any large army here can be a direct threat to at least three continents if not everyone. Whether it was an accident in history, or by design, the US ended up with a large base next to Middle East. That area has become quite the centre of the action in the world.

Of course, everyone’s intention is to win the game, one way or another. Obama is now going through an analysis in his head. Obama knows that keeping a base outside his continent is critical if he wants to keep expanding. He really needs those cards because of the growing competition from the East. Naturally, there is no option to attack South America or Europe. He doesn’t want to upset any of his allies. On the other hand, he has to worry about China. China has no threat and is growing steadily.

After some thought, he starts to see the picture in his mind. The problem is that the Middle East is not happy about the presence of all those US armies. They understand fully that if they can eliminate the US’s presence around them, the US will have no choice but to attack someone else. Sounds good to them! After all, they want to win the game too.

The issue is that the Middle East ‘can’ attack anyone else and create lots of damage. The truth is that they probably won’t do this since they won’t gain much but lose a lot more. In fact, they like to appear as dangerous because that way they will survive longer in the game. In effect, they are following the ‘Turtle Strategy’; slowly grow, don’t attack, don’t get any cards and be ready to suicide on anyone. No one wants to attack them because of the huge cost and the small gain. This is why Middle East has simply grown every turn to this size.

Before Obama came to power, US had a grand plan. They thought they should just go for it and eliminate Middle East by brute force! They thought they will be lucky and maybe they can absorb the cost of the war. They went ahead and started this attack, but it went horribly wrong and they ended up losing lots of armies. It turned into a corrosive war. The rest of the world wasn’t very amused about the new US adventures either.

So when Obama came to power, he had a huge mess on his hands. Other players were racing along growing quickly while the US was falling behind with the continuous cost of attacks in the Middle East. Other players didn’t like the heavy handed approach, nor did they like the presence of US so close to their shores.

Unlike his predecessors, Obama seemed to prefer diplomacy. As we know well, diplomacy is bound to produce better results than brute force. It requires brain power, good politics, and long-term strategic thinking which seemed completely missing before Obama came to power.

After what seems to be some deep thinking on the future of US, Obama eventually decides on a whole new approach. This is how his reasoning went.

The real threat in the game is China and Europe. US didn’t want to fall behind his most important ally; Europe. After all, there could be only one winner and US wanted to be the winner very badly. On the other hand, China was becoming a stronger threat every turn and with no obvious conflicts or enemies, it was bound to grow even further.

So Obama thought that he should really pass on the threat of Middle East to someone else, effectively getting out of the conflict and out of the way. He decided to reduce the size of US army in the Middle East and instead move to Africa. Now the Middle East became a problem for the Chinese and the Europeans. This way the Chinese have to be busy defending themselves against an ever present threat, or spend a lot to expand beyond it.

Obama also thought that by going to Africa sooner than Europeans, the US will establish a stronger and a more de facto presence. They could spend all their excess resources here and boost it up. Obama correctly thought that by focusing on Africa, an undiscovered land full of opportunity and potential, he could bring back the balance the world needed and effectively return as a stronger player against the all important Europeans and Chinese.

With this new plan, Obama went ahead and made the necessary moves.

Everyone was amazed at the transformation and good fortune that this move brought to US. It was so good that the European player, many turns later when the tide turned against her, famously said “why didn’t I think of that”…

Post Rating


mmarshall   By mmarshall @ Monday, December 1, 2008 3:02 PM
Could you clarify what the "connected fortifications" rule is? Google isn't helping.


Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Monday, December 1, 2008 3:39 PM
Sure, here how different variations of fortifications are. There are no universal names for them, but these make sense.

You can move your armies between two territories that share a common border only once.

You can move your armies between two territories that share a common border as many times as you like.

You can move your armies between two territories that are connected through territories you have control over, only once.

You can move your armies between territories that are connected through territories you have control over as many times as you like.

Hope this clarifies it.

mmarshall   By mmarshall @ Monday, December 1, 2008 3:49 PM
Thanks, that makes sense now :-)


Sling   By Sling @ Tuesday, December 2, 2008 2:33 AM
Gave me a laugh, unfortunately in real life military presence doesn't mean more military. Africa looks temping on the risk board, but I don't know if I bears much weight in reality. Also India is a becoming power but in light of the risk board's space it was an interesting and original scenario.

High_Risk   By High_Risk @ Tuesday, December 2, 2008 4:41 PM
Interesting article, I think apart from your interest in politics and diplomacy, it highlights your grasps of current affair.
Great site by the way...

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Wednesday, December 3, 2008 3:56 PM
Thanks High Risk. You have been too kind ;-)
My pleasure...

Karla Marx   By Karla Marx @ Sunday, December 14, 2008 1:54 PM
Interesting assesment, but the outcome doesn't look so rosey. Because China has already gotten to Africa, and Africa is much more happy to do business with China than the US or Europe. Because China supports the dictators and doesn't lecture on human rights.

RedzoneRacer   By RedzoneRacer @ Tuesday, September 15, 2009 5:23 PM
^The US, having NA, could use the 8-9 reinforcements they get every turn to conquer Africa rather rapidly. And China has NO armies in Africa.

However, there's little anyone can do against China anyways. They could switch a large amount of armies from China to India and gun down the Middle East, then Africa, or they could eliminate Japan from the game, then trade and follow through with that plan. Either way, they should end up with Asia. Then, they can effectively move out in all directions, conquering the world at their leisure.

Thatguy   By Thatguy @ Wednesday, December 16, 2009 12:02 AM
This is very political and very real. Except that the middle east has no where near that power. The only power they have is in the hands of suicidal terrorists who would attack every US and EU country they could get to. Or if they got smart they would take africa and go turtle strategy and let the US and the EU kill themselfs in a fight against China.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Wednesday, December 16, 2009 7:39 AM
@Thatguy, thanks for your comments.

Middle East's power presented here is due to their control over production of oil. In the real world, that's what makes it strategic.

Thatguy   By Thatguy @ Thursday, December 17, 2009 12:24 AM
Ah. Thank you, I didn't realize that the number of armies represented other things besides military.

Student of Risk   By Student of Risk @ Saturday, May 15, 2010 10:35 PM
I am new to risk, so my question may be a little silly.

It is a good idea for Obama to switch focus to Africa. But how can he go into Africa without first going through Middle East, Europe and South America? Is it the case that the treaty with Europe allows him to somehow do that?

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Sunday, May 16, 2010 6:27 AM
Not sure about your question, but Obama has access to Egypt. So he can deploy armies there to expand from.

slickandjake   By slickandjake @ Wednesday, September 22, 2010 3:47 PM
This example provides another enlightenment. The U.S. is in a tough position due to alliances/treaties. It was the founding fathers' original intent and recommendation to stay out of entangling alliances and treaties. You can see how getting into them can cause a loss of flexibility.

Obviously this is an apples to oranges comparison of real life and a risk game. In the current real world, the Middle East is very smart, slowly building armies on territories where armies of another group already exist. They are growing numerous followers, as Islam is the fastest growing religion in the U.S. and Europe, and using the anti-discrimination laws of their opponents to prevent the opposing armies from attacking them. Then, they use hit-and-run tactics in the U.S. and Europe (i.e. terrorist acts), which anger these populations, create an Islam versus Christianity mentality in these nations, in order to gain more devoted followers who will sacrifice their lives for the Islam cause. What the soon-to-be terrorists believe is that this is a jihad, a war between religions. This, of course, is a ruse because they do not realize the cause is not for Islam at all, but for control of power and resources. However, religion has been used as an excellent tool to unite the Middle East against their western opponents, which it has been used for throughout history (even as recent as WWII, where Hitler united Germans by blaming Jews within Germany and in surrounding nations for their problems). Not only have they united the peoples, but they have created an army willing to die to the death for the religious cause, which of course is not the real cause, but we don't have to explain that to the followers. All the while, the U.S. and Europe continue to weaken from this growing threat, trying to fight a military war when it is really a political war. The westerners are causing civilian caualties in the Middle East, which only serves to grow the numbers and resolve of the Middle Eastern armies against those infadel westerners. Meanwhile, the westerners are also duped into believing this is a religious war, getting irritated by the pin-prick terrorist attacks, further growing the numbers and resolve of the Middle Eastern armies due to the growing Islam-Christianity wedge. In the end game, the Middle Eastern side destroys the U.S and Europe from within, growing followers in those nations by catering to the downtrodden and distraught from the economic and political misery that surrounds them, joining any type of leadership that can make their life better (re: see Hitler again). This, of course, takes many, many turns to accomplish, but unlike the westerners the Middle Easterners have a culture of patience. Once the Middle East has secured the power and resources from the westerners, and realizing that they already have huge followings in many Asian and African nations, they can chop up the rest of the world piecemeal until they have won the game.

Did you ever think that planning to build an Islamic Building a few blocks from ground zero in NY City and getting negative publicity for it, has actually been the plan all along? How about publicity for Quran burning? Has it enraged the Middle Easterners to say, burn American flags and perhaps join Al Queda in greater ranks? Do us stupid Americans fall for these plots hook, line, and sinker? Do Americans truly believe this is an Islam-Christianity fight? I think Obama, the U.S., Europe, and the rest of the World better take a hard look at events and figure out why Al Queda grows stronger while they grow weaker, otherwise they may wake up one day as slaves to a new master.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Monday, September 27, 2010 2:25 PM
Thanks slickandjake for your comments. It seems the Risk article was inspirational! Your comments have raised many valid points . Let's hope for a better future.

Anonymous User   By Anonymous User @ Friday, January 21, 2011 12:20 PM
A very interesting and absorbing scenario, I had much fun reading it! I have been playing Risk since the age of ten, when my parents first bought me the board game and I agree that, in this scenario, 'Obama' is right to believe that any future assaults on the Middle East are futile. As far as I can see the only advantage of taking the ME would be to create a supply line between his troops in Afghanistan & Egypt, but the severe losses he would, undoubtedly, take would surely render this supply line hard to defend and vulnerable to attack.

In this scenario the North Americans do have the initiative though, as Obama is the only player that has forces deployed outside his own bprders. However, I do not agree with the Writer that Africa is his best option.

If I were Obama I would look south and launch an assault on the South Americans. I am aware that his southern neighbours have an alliance with the Europeans (as stated in the writers piece) but what are the implications? In my opinion the European Army, despite the attack on their allies, could do little more other than stamp their feet and write a few strong letters! The European army is of almost equal strength to the North Americans and so the Europeans are hardly likely to risk an all out conflict at this early stage of proceedings; especially with the mighty Chinese army massing very close to his eastern flank.

For Obama the advantages of taking South America over Africa are quite significant. Firstly this continent is far enough away to prevent any intervention from the Chinese or Japanese. Secondly, Obama can double the number of continents he controls whilst still maintaining the need to only defend 3 territories (Alaska, Greenland & Brazil). Thirdly, this means he can adopt a strong defensive position whilst re-inforcing his troops at twice the rate of his opponents.

The worse thing I can see happening for Obama is that the Europeans move into Egypt & take over North Africa in order to secure their own position.

Such a bold move would surely ignite this scenario into life and force some 'action' on the part of his opponents; thus forcing them to reveal what their exact intentions are.

The Chinese are clearly the most powerful force as they have 2 strong armies that (as the writer states they also have cards to trade) are capable of being quickly re-inforced. My guess is that, like Obama, the Chinese would prefer to let someone else deal with the Middle East question and will strike north, probably annihilating the Japanese in the process.

The Africans are too weak to launch any kind of offensive and will be wiped out early on. The Middle East can remain strong, but only while their armies remain encamped within,,,, the moment they strike out they will split their forces and become vulnerable. The Europeans will probably have to deal with the Chinese western thrust whilst maintaining a careful eye on what Obama may be up to, making their position that much weaker.

So all in all, the taking of South America seems to me the best policy for Obama, as he will strengthen his own position whilst causing instability elsewhere forcing his opponents to start the chain reaction towards total war. The result of which would most probably result in a Chinese victory in Asia & Europe. However, such a campaign would surely stretch and weaken the Chinese forces to the point that, if Obama picks the right time to strike, global domination will finally be is and he becomes President of the United States of the World!!!! Easy........!!!!

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