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Critical Starting Moves in Risk (Part 2 of 2)

Critical Starting Moves in Risk (Part 2 of 2)
Strategy, Online Risk Games, Real-world example, Beginners , Series

Article Rating:::: 12 Ratings :::: Sunday, November 8, 2009

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.

Several things went wrong in the game where Red did not pay attention to several critical elements:

  • Over expansion. Fighting armies will cost you. If your goal is more difficult to achieve than others, you should assume that others will get to their simpler goals sooner than you. It is critical to think of what they would do next when they get to their goals. For example, if other are aiming for smaller continents than you, it is more likely for them to conquer their before you. You need to think of their options once they have conquered their continent and while you are still short of conquering yours.
  • Neighbours options. If you have a neighbour whose goal is simpler than yours, such as going for a smaller continent, think very carefully on how you are going to deal with this particular neighbour. Sooner or later he needs to expand and if you haven’t secured your continent yet, he will have all the incentives in the world to slow you down even further.
  • Runaway Opponent. Sometimes, you may have a lucky player who is way ahead of others or is capable of creating a gap between himself and all other players. You should NEVER neglect this. Players selfishly carry on with their local agenda while the strong gets stronger faster than all others. Naturally sooner or later he is going to pick on other players. In an escalating game, where cards values are increased, a strong player can use a chain strategy to eliminate many players in a single turn. He can do this by eliminating one player, cash the collected cards and then attack the next person using the extra armies and so on as long as he can continue. This is why you need to take steps to balance the world power. If you don’t have enough armies, you should resort to diplomacy and make everyone else aware of the danger of selfishly following their own agenda. This is not as hard as you think and you can’t afford to ignore it.
  • Going for Continents. Most players like to go for continents. This is natural as you get extra bonuses which you can use to expand rapidly. However, continents give you a specific bonus only once you conquer them. There is a cost to pay to get a continent. Hence, you should treat it like an investment. First, you put a lot into it hoping that years (turns) later you will get back more than your original investment. There are many risks involved such as bad luck in conquering the continent or neighbours attacking you. You may need to defend yourself somewhere else and not being able to afford to protect your investment as much as you should. All of this means that some players prefer not to go for continents at all and instead concentrate their armies by not fighting. They reckon that not losing armies as a result of not fighting gives them as much advantage as average bonuses of a continent. This is a perfect strategy to follow when you have a bad start in a game and don’t see a clear affordable path to a continent. Interestingly, many players don’t follow this simple rule and pay dearly. By following this simple strategy, you can significantly increase your chances of winning Risk against others who are not aware of this.

Next, let’s see what you could have done when you found yourself in this dire situation.

Move 5.

You have three cards at this point. Blue has just cashed in. You think your only move is survival. In Risk, the best survival strategy is to stay away from others, make it expensive for them to eliminate you while giving them little incentive to attack you. Having too many cards is bad, because your cards become lucrative to others as the game progresses forward. On the other hand, if you occupy a non-strategic position with lots of armies, players will have little incentive to attack you as there is not much to gain but a lot to lose. For your move, you decide to get one more card in the hope of cashing it the next turn to concentrate your armies. This is a gamble, but at this point you have not much to lose. You concentrate your armies as much as you can.

Risk Starting Move

Move 6.

Meanwhile Black is expanding rapidly and not a single player seems to be doing anything about it. They are all focused on their own continents, as if that’s what it all matters in this game.

Risk Starting Move

Move 7.

Now, finally you can cash in your cards. You dump them all in one territory that has access to many places while it is out of the way of others. This gives you manoeuvrability while still staying isolated. At this point, you only want to be a threat when someone attacks you. Your huge army is certainly a cause for concern for all players since you can just pick on anyone and severely weaken them.

Risk Starting Move

You are now in a much better position and have survived the initial mistakes and bad luck. However, it is not all over yet. Do you have a chance to go on and win the game? What would you do now? What do you think of Blue and Black? Who is the biggest threat and finally, who is the most likely to win this game and why?

What did you learn from this example?

Post Rating


Pierre   By Pierre @ Tuesday, November 17, 2009 10:08 PM
Well it depends on what card trade-ins are, Im assuming somehwere 12-15 and if that is the case and if blue has enough cards you should go for him and you could chain that kill and trade in and get brown in the same turn if trades are high enough. I highly doubt it is possible to kill purple because he is spread out and unless you are very lucky with the first 2 kills.

If Blue doesnt have enough then just kill one of purples territories (the one not attached to the bridge) and get yourself a card. Since I assume any river is impassable no matter how small it is, you will probably take a lot of casualties trying to knock black off of one of his continent bonuses.

Pierre   By Pierre @ Tuesday, November 17, 2009 10:11 PM
Oh I didnt even notice yellow haha. I guess you should kill him unless he has no cards in which case it is a waste. Odd how he survived anyways with one single army, I guess were assuming purple tried and failed to kill him.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Tuesday, November 17, 2009 10:28 PM
Pierre, you are right. Purple tried to kill Yellow, but was unlucky. Yellow might have one or two cards which makes it an obvious target, if others don't get there first.

Anonymous User   By Anonymous User @ Thursday, March 11, 2010 3:37 PM
The author is a decent strategist but there was a much better move in placing armies. The better move would have been to keep 9 on the one country and use it as a border. Place all the armies in the lower right. Then knock black's border and make him lose the blue continent. Move enough men to make your border strength in his country so he cannot gain it back. Use the rest of the men to slowly push back blue. Make him weak and take away his Continent while gaining the brown Continent. The last move is to use the 9 men to take out the yellow and gain the extra cards. The next turn work on defending that continent while keeping blue and black from owning the neighbor Continents. From there you just weakened black and now make a deal with purple and brown to do the same. Tell them you will not attack them as long as they work on weakening black.

Brown will not be able to then when you get strong, attack brown claiming that he is not helping the cause to weaken black.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Friday, March 12, 2010 11:23 AM
Anonymous User, thanks for your comments.

I understand your strategy, though there is one major problem with it. In this case, Red is the weakest player in the game and Black is the strongest. Attacking the strongest player who has a lot has a lot of resources (two continents) is the best way to give a player to attack you. As the weakest player, you should use diplomacy to get others attack Black on your behalf rather than you attack Black and hope other will join. It is quite possible that others may not join and leave the conflict to unfold between you and Black. This would be the fastest way for you to get kicked out of the game.

Since Red has been very weak, he should simply pay a lot more attention to staying in the game and stock piling armies than directly attacking a superpower. As tempting as it, it is not a good strategy.

Pfv0.5   By Pfv0.5 @ Tuesday, June 15, 2010 7:36 AM
I was wondering if it would not be a good idea to instead of place red's main army where it is, place it one country up (so instead of taking the country to the left, I would have taken the one above and moved my troops there). Doing so would accomplish a couple of things:
1) It would most likely deter black from moving into the middle continent. Why go where there is a 24 man army and risk losing a whole turns worth of men (or almost that many) to oust a player with no cards when you could go and cripple the trapped purple (who poses an immediate threat to black's upper continent), as well as open up future turns to attack brown?
2)It would shelter the dying purple and blue, or at least allow red the ease to get at them when they are ready to fall. It is clear brown is a rather inexperienced player, and would probably either tackle purple with black or go and wipe out most of blue with a set (maybe from taking out yellow) and take his continent, leaving red a good opportunity to finish either blue or purple and take their cards, possibly allowing for a comeback (red could use the set to cripple black's continents, effectively running him to the ground, assuming he uses his set prior to red's attack).
Also, the position is still relatively out of the way, and still allows plenty of room for red to pull out and away from any threats that arise. Personally, I think this is the best option, but I am rather inexperienced, so I would appreciate some critic on it. Thanks!

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Tuesday, June 15, 2010 9:15 PM
Pfv0.5, that's an interesting idea.

There is one thing to bear in mind though. Black is the strongest player and Red's priority is simply elimination of other players to cash cards and expand. There is no point to go for continents or expand to many countries. The option that you suggest is about annoying Black in a very strong way. This can be quite dangerous because Black can very well take down Red even if that means getting seriously weakened. All you need is a careless/expansionist player and you would have an issue.

Instead, the focus of Red should be on elimination of a weak player who has cards. Purple is a candidate but Blue is much better as it provides an isolated strategic point which is useful for regrowth after elimination of Blue. Blue has 12 and Purple has 17. Black's natural target is Purple, so if Red wants to stop that, is asking for trouble to the benefit of Blue and Brown.

Overall, the best strategy is to get all others attack Black rather than single handedly annoy Black for the benefit of others. This may not be that easy though, so going for Blue can be Plan B.

Anyway, some thoughts. Thanks for you inputs.

Pfv0.5   By Pfv0.5 @ Wednesday, June 16, 2010 12:00 AM
I agree that Red's only option at this point is to go for weak players and get cards, and was not suggesting that Red try and take the middle continent or expand to much. I was thinking more along the lines of just waltzing around the middle territories for cards while keeping close tabs on the purple and blue satellite countries for the opportunity to take them down. I was thinking of possibly getting brown to take down blue and strengthen itself to fight black for me, while appeasing black with giving him most of purple (without letting him know it was only most of purple). I was figuring it would be too hard to persuade all other players to attack black, without killing myself doing it, and it would be too risky to take on blue (especially if he had a set). But I do see how an expansionist black could be a very ugly problem, and I would probably take your strategy if blue had two or less cards, as it would be a little safer. I do not know the card counts though, so I figured blue would have more than two. Thanks for the critic! I appreciate it very much, as I am fairly new, especially at the psychological aspects. Again, thanks!

slickandjake   By slickandjake @ Wednesday, September 22, 2010 2:37 PM
I'm confused, how many armies do you get a turn? You went from having 5 total armies in the south, and in one turn you have 11 total armies and have captured a territory. I am having a hard time following where all the armies are coming from.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Monday, September 27, 2010 2:22 PM
slickandjake, thanks for your comments. Not all states of the games are shown in the article to reduce complexity. Assume that a couple of turns or so have passed were little has happened in the game which is why it is not shown. Hope this clarifies.

slickandjake   By slickandjake @ Tuesday, September 28, 2010 1:01 PM
Well then shame on black and blue for not taking red out. Or anybody for not taking out yellow.

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I am a board game and Risk game enthusiast. I like thinking and talking about strategy in games which has led me to the creation of this website. Although Risk is a classic, I feel one can never get tired of playing this game. Read about what I think of the game and I am always eager to know what you think.

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