The Analog Gamer: Risky Venture
We’re taking a break this week from the virtual game table series to soak in some of the information on the upcoming D & D Insider after last weekends D&D Experience in Washington DC. Instead I thought I’d take some time to talk about one of the classic games that just about any true blooded strategy gamer will likely recall with one part nostalgia and one part pain: Risk. And lest you wonder what the video game angle is here, EA recently signed a long term agreement with Hasbro to create online versions of their board and card games – so its likely that we’ll see this game in a new form soon.
I was one of the lucky 1000 who received the preview version of the forthcoming Risk update. Now I’ve not played Risk 2210 more than once nor have I played Risk Godstorm but I’ve logged far too many hours in my life rolling the red and white dice in my ploy to take over the Napoleonic world.
The new Risk update drops the old world style and adopts clean, modern sensibilities. While this edition is called Black Ops now it won’t be when the game reaches store shelves this summer. The map has an overall dark/modern feel to it though the core territories and land bridges are the same as the recent version of the classic game. New in this edition are the missions. Though mission based play is nothing new in modern versions of the Risk game, this implementation is a bit different from previous alternate rules. These goal oriented victory conditions change the game appreciably from its progenitor and actually serve to speed up the gameplay considerably. Instead of mindless world domination that can take hours and hours to accomplish players must simply achieve three of the eight posted goals (though there are twelve total missions in the game) to secure a victory.
This mechanic is instituted a bit differently depending on the variation of the rules you choose to follow. Risk now offers a basic and an advanced game. The basic provides a preset world map based on the number of players and fixes the location of colors and victory conditions. This is basically a quickplay version of Risk tuned to make it faster to set up and more simple to teach and play.
The advanced game, called Command Room returns some of the randomness of classic Risk. Armies and territories are chosen by players in order. Two new mechanics also play out in both versions of the game a bit differently than in the classic game – cities and capitols. Cities have a value when considering victory conditions and are tied directly into the number of units drawn at the start of a players turn. Capitols also play into the missions and become tactically important for all players because no matter what, if you do not control your capitol at the beginning of your turn you cannot win the game.
The missions in the Command Room game also include random benefits that reminded me a bit of the secret technologies in Axis & Allies. Completing a mission grants a boon like an extra maneuver or bonus to attack or defense rolls. The “bennies” or rewards also help to change the atmosphere over multiple games as they may be hard or easy to attain based on which missions they are associated with – this randomness worked out in my favor during the playtest let me tell you.
Overall, this new Risk felt fresh and challenging to me. Despite my years and years of Risk play I liked the new twists and mechanics introduced. There were some strange rule questions that came up during play but nothing that could not be resolved amongst the players. Its likely that Hasbro will have to implement the usual rule FAQs and Errata soon after launch but right now we had to be good neighbors and arbitrate for ourselves.
Oddly there was also a territory flub in the rules related to the names of a certain territory in Asia that I’m sure will be caught before the game reaches publication – the directions called it one thing while the game board was labeled differently. Having moved on to more sophisticated strategy titles over the years, I couldn’t remember if the rule regarding committed units had always existed but the game limits more than three units from advancing into a conquered territory after a battle. This definitely changed the game from the old steamroller gameplay I always remembered/feared. Chances are that rule has existed in recent versions of the game but old guys like me never bothered to reread the rules and thus the Blitzkrieg strategy was born.
Fans of the game will find a lot to love and not much to hate here. Risk is a classic that was always onerous to play and set up because the goal was always to obliterate every other player on the board. While you can still play that game (its mentioned as a potential 3rd game type), this is a game that has finally received the upgrades needed to keep it relevant even among casual board games.
My first exposure to the Games Workshop Warhammer 40K universe was not the hideously expensive miniature games. I didn’t learn about the metal mayhem for awhile after I’d first gotten drawn into the setting. Instead I discovered the gothic horror sci-fi world through the Space Hulk video game. Space Hulk started life as a board game where players direct a squad of Space Marines through an abandoned starship, all the while looking for new technology and seeking to wipe out the Ridley Scott-Alien-like Genestealers.
I fell in love with the simple graphics and first person perspective of the squad control (in an era before FPS games really were popular). Undoubtedly I lost everyone in my squad but the Marine equipped with the Flamethrower – though he too perished soon enough. Space Hulk was a challenging game to play – it was not turn-based in the PC version so you had to manage all four squad mates from oncoming Genestealer assaults in real-time. A skill I never mastered. A few years later an update of Space Hulk hit shelves for PC, the Sega Saturn, PSOne and 3DO with some updated graphics and a little better squad control but it quickly faded in the background and never had much impact in the US game market.
Why am I raving about this you ask? Well a few weeks back a group of committed gamers resurrected the classic game from the depths of obscurity and made their version freely available on the Internet. Space Hulk version 1.0 escaped into the ether February 18th and an update is due March 3rd (today in fact) to bring the game up to version 1.1.
Fans of the 40K universe or tactical strategy games should definitely check out this new version. For those who wish the game can be modified and players can create their own maps and scenarios.
More details can be found here at the Space Hulk website.