Current Articles

How to Spot an Ally?

How to Spot an Ally?
Psychology, Diplomacy, Strategy

Article Rating:::: 13 Ratings :::: Sunday, May 6, 2007

It is sometimes desired to have allies in Risk. Having an ally has many benefits. You will have one less enemy to deal with. In addition, your ally is likely to fight with your enemies reducing their power even further. You may also get him to help you on strategies and initiate a campaign together as part of a global plan.

All in all this sounds great. However, as always there is a catch. The most fundamental problem is that there can only be one winner. As a result, you and your ally will inevitably need to face each other at some point in the game. Therefore, alliances are short term solutions. An alliance is there to benefit the two parties for a while and when the circumstances have changed, the alliance is terminated, expired or broken.

Experience shows that those who can manage alliances well usually have the upper hand. The allies end up having a distinct advantage over those who do not have an alliance. Isolation leads to disaster. Historical examples (such as Concert of Europe or NATO) and international politics also confirms this.

Eventually there comes a time when your alliance with another starts to get shaky and breakable. You need to be prepared for this. You need to have a Plan B in case your ally leaves you or worst stabs you in the back. To know when this may happen, you can continuously test your ally to understand his mentality.

The test consists of six elements. You need to apply this test periodically to your ally, so that you can monitor his mentality towards you. This is basically a friendship test you can use to see if they are a true friend. This test is applicable to players in Risk as well as nations on this planet. The elements are as follows:
  • Trust. True allies must be able to trust each other. Consider your ally’s relationship with others as well. Does he have a history of breaking deals or becoming annoying? Is your ally reinforcing his position against you? Does your ally trust you?
  • Envy. Does your ally envy you? A true ally wants your success just as much he wants his own. He becomes proud of you. If he envies your success, it really means he didn’t want you to succeed. It is as if your success is at his expense. A true ally will never think like that.
  • Criticism. Everyone can make a mistake. Only few may let you know about your mistakes. A true ally will let you know if you have chosen a wrong strategy or executed a wrong tactic. Your success is in his interest and he won’t mind upsetting you in the process if it is critical for you to know about it.
  • Goodwill. A true ally is always interested in your world. He wants to know about your strategies, your well being and your achievements. Test your ally by asking open ended questions about yourself. See if he shows any interest in you.
  • Nosiness. If your ally tries to know what your plans are and appears to be nosy, he is up to no good. A concerned ally wants to make sure you are OK. He may offer help and will stop questioning you if you wish. A curious ally won’t stop until he finds out the answer. He is more interested in the answer than you. Pure curiosity and nosiness is a sure sign of a bad ally.
  • Sacrifice. Inevitably there comes a time when the situation may become bad for both of you. Is your ally willing to sacrifice something of his own for you? Or is he more concerned to get himself unharmed out of the situation as soon as he can, with or without you.
Your ally needs to pass at least 4 of these elements to be considered a true ally. If he only passes 3 elements or less, you need to reconsider your positions. You may have to strengthen your alliance by other means if you see fit. Alternatively you may start thinking about post-alliance world order.

Remember, if you want to be a true ally for someone else, examine yourself with these test elements and see if you can pass.

Post Rating


Mr Strategist    By Mr Strategist @ Monday, May 7, 2007 9:22 AM
I found this quite useful. I am interested to make alliances, but usually it is next to impossible to know if someone is going to break my deal. Now I have to examine them for these qualities and see if they pass.

One thing I have noticed is that I have to pay a lot of attention to players history. If they are used to breaking deals in Risk, they will almost certainly do so. On the other hand if they are used to making such alliances they expect others to do so too. Its always the new players who are confused and will follow whatever others do.

Just need to balance the game to wards the style you like.

Machiavelli   By Machiavelli @ Friday, May 11, 2007 2:07 AM
Interesting, although the term I would apply to such players is not "ally" but "sucker". Sure, these qualities are very useful in an ally, but I try to avoid all the traits you described - except nosiness, which is never a good thing; a good player can predict what their opponents will do simply by looking at the board.

The thing about alliances, as you mentioned, is that they are necessarily temporary - the game can only ever have one winner. So you ALWAYS need to be thinking about post-alliance world order. Even if your alliance kills off everyone else you should make sure you come out ahead. Because it's no better to be the last to die.

The games I play tend to be centered around the idea that everyone is looking out, first and foremost, for themselves. So the answer to the last question, would your ally sacrifice something for you, is "Only if he would benefit by doing so". If he can get off scot-free by abandoning me, he would do well to do so, and as a neutral observer I would applaud him for such action.

Whenever I make alliances, I reassure my allies that I won't attack them by explaining why I don't WANT to attack them, and tell them why they shouldn't want to attack me. I don't say "Oh, trust me", because that's just looking for trouble. And I make it very clear to them that I will turn on them if they become too powerful for my liking. Which saves hostility if they ever do become too powerful.

It's like Mr Strategist C said, I all depends on your playing style. I mean, yes, it's very nice to have your alliance take over the world together, but for me, if you conquer the last territory and realize that your ally has North America, Europe, South America, and half of Asia and now you have to fight him, then you've failed to understand the point of the game, which is to win. Individually.

Still, very nice article. Much food for thought.

Ehsan Honary   By Ehsan Honary @ Friday, May 11, 2007 7:59 AM
Thanks for your comments Eng Ng. Generally I pretty much agree with you. In regard with sacrifice, there is always a possibility that an ally will go all the way. It makes it easier if you think of allies as friends. If two people are true friends, one can easily sacrifice something for the other, even if he or she knows that they may end up in a worst position than they were before. True allies in Risk are rare because if the highest goal is wining Risk,then a true sacrifice may not really help. However, as I experienced in the past, some people may look at much higher goals than winning the game. They may want to strengthen their relationship or want the other guy to have a good time. In these situations, a true sacrifice is truly possible and a good sign of spotting a true ally. I admit that this is a very rare event though.

Darya   By Darya @ Friday, May 11, 2007 5:37 PM
In some sense i agree with both ENG ng and Ehsan Honary, for me risk ia about winning, i want to win every single game, no matter who i am playing with, once around that table i dont know anyone and i dont want to be friends with anyone, a competetive side of me emerges which shouts me, me me and i am told that its not a pretty sight:-) However i can see the point Ehsan is making, as i have in some very rear occasions been nice to my allies, usually when trying to get a good friend or a family member intrested in the game. I think the main point of every game especially Risk is to win individually and if that means you need to be nice and helpful at some point then so be it:-)

dadams   By dadams @ Saturday, January 12, 2008 3:28 PM

I like your criteria, as you state you can apply these your counterparts behaviour over time to determine whether they are friend, foe or vacilating between the two.

I also liked Eng Ng’s comments which reveal him to be a Rational Predictable Competitor.

He also defines sucker and this could be interpreted as an Irrational Friend.

Ehsan’s follow on comment carries this one step further and lays out the parameters for a Rational Predicable Friend/Ally and his final comment – true sacrifice, true ally – very rare event.

This leads to two things signalling your intention of how you define a win; beating the other guy or playing for the sake of playing.

As Ehsan stated in the original article ; apply these to yourself and practice the behaviours and you are signalling to your counterpart how you define a win.

Good fun

deadlynatas   By deadlynatas @ Thursday, May 15, 2008 1:28 PM
i like this topic and i found it helpful if anyone wanted a partner i play final conquest you can contact me on

RISK   By RISK @ Saturday, March 21, 2009 11:57 AM
Good point remember if you want to make an ally give him refugeand let him turtle he will thank you later

Post Comment

Only registered users may post comments.
Rate = 2.62 out of 5 :::: 13 Ratings.
About the Author

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.

My Book: Risk Game Strategy

Total Diplomacy: The Art of Winning Risk

Available from Amazon as paperback and Kindle

Available in Apple Books

Learn More About the Book

RSS Feed


Latest Forum Posts
RE: Diplomacy In Online Risk
by Ehsan Honary
Hi Jamie. Well, I think not relying on diplomacy won't do you any good. The situation you describe i...
RE: World Domination: Ways to win Risk
by JamieRogers
I agree, Alan. If you are playing with the dealt cards setup, then you should generally go for which...
Diplomacy In Online Risk
by JamieRogers
As most members of my family or my friends dislike playing risk or only play occasionally, I play mo...
How can I win this match?
by Pyrux
Hi, I'm an italian guy named Lorenzo.  Today, me and my housemates started a Risiko (Ris...
RE: World Domination: Ways to win Risk
by Great Alan
British & French : Once the German enter Belgium, we shall crush them! Erich von Manstein : Sorry, ...
RE: North America Strategy Help
by Great Alan
You have 2 options, Shirokiba: 1. Transfer your strategic objective to other places. 2. Force yo...
North America Strategy Help
by Shirokiba
So, I just started playing Risk and I try going for North America, it typically works out rather wel...
RE: Tell me if this strategey is good or bad
by The General
Nailing is an excellent stratgy because it prevents your neighbor from receiving his bonus which mak...
RE: 3 player game: Me vs Husband and Wife team
by Ehsan Honary
Kumo, this is a rather interesting scenario and let me just say it is tricky. In general a 3 player ...
3 player game: Me vs Husband and Wife team
by kumo
So, every time I play against my buddy and his wife, it always turns out to be essentially me agains...

If you do not compete for alliances anywhere, do not foster authority anywhere, but just extend your personal influence, threatening opponents, this makes town and country vulnerable. No alliances lead to isolation.

Sun Tzu