Tuesday, January 16, 2007

No News is Bad News

The Board Game Internet Awards results have been delayed, owing to various reasons of sickness, travel, and so on. I apologize for this. I expect that the results should be in by my next post, next Tuesday.

I'm actually doing work at work, so I have less time to sneak my minutes in here and there to post.

But this evening, while playing Puerto Rico with my wife as we sometimes do, our eighteen year old came in with a few friends from her post high school seminary, two of whom were said to be "from Germany", although it turns out they had been in Germany for only three and five years respectively.

They took a curious look at our game when they walked in, and I asked them if they are familiar with the game, coming from Germany.

No, they weren't. And what's worse, one of them had the temerity to say, "Oh, you know what the best board game is? Risk."

I know I'm following on the heels of DW's last post about respecting your elder games, but really. I wouldn't walk into the house of someone playing Halo and say "You know what the best video game is? Pong."

When queried, my assailant claimed that the reason something thirty years old could still be "the best" is that there haven't been any other good games in the last thirty years. When I pointed out not only the very game I was playing, but a nearby closet full of games, he seemed suspicious but interested. But then my daughter swooped him away before the conversation could continue.

Sometimes it's an uphill battle. But Risk? Sure, I guess I enjoyed it when there was nothing else around. But long game, early elimination, lots of dice, lots of downtime, ganging up on weaker players. Ugh. Spare me.

Risk violates the most basic rule of board games: poor narrative. Even Chutes and Ladders does better than it.

At the beginning of Chutes and Ladders, people are on the lower levels, trying to hit the ladders. In mid-game, they are trying to hit ladders and avoid chutes. At the end, they are trying to catch up to the leader or hope he hits a chute before he gets just what he needs. It's nail biting.

Monopoly has an early game of development and paying small fees. It had a mid game with higher fees and trading to form monopolies. And it has an end-game of waiting to see who hits that expensive hotel and goes bankrupt.

Risk has an early game of player elimination. It has a middle game of jockeying for advantage. But the last third of the game is generally a foregone conclusion. No suspense. No narrative.

Makes you wonder.



huzonfirst said...

I'd have a lot more respect for Risk if there wasn't a flaw in the combat resolution (well, I consider it a flaw, at least). My problem is that there's no minimum loss for each battle. It's entirely possible for a defender with two armies to knock out an attacking force of a dozen or more through a series of Attacker-Loses-2 results. We've all seen it. This can really wreak havoc with any sort of a plan. I don't want anything deterministic, but if the results for each battle were one side loses two and the other side loses one, I think the game would be greatly improved. There would still be uncertainty, but at least an attacker could estimate his maximum losses. It isn't hard to gin up a variant that matches the percentages of the current system. However, the original mechanic is so beloved that I doubt you could get anyone to play with anything different. Even the new Hasbro releases, like 2210, which alter huge swatches of the design, don't touch the basic die-rolling system. Pity.

Pawnstar said...

Chris, my only howl of protest is that you included Antike in that list; it is the only one (I feel) that isn't trying to do exactly what Risk does.

My biggest disappointment with Risk is not the playing-the-odds central mechanism but the manner in which the game has been used as a vehicle for licensing - LotR Risk, Star Wars Risk and even Narnia! Bad game? Definitely not, and some of these incarnations belong with the system; but please let's not continue with Pokemon Risk, Monty Python Risk or even Gone GamingRisk!

Yehuda, the length can be curtailed and the narrative restored somewhat with the use of mission cards - inherent to the basic game here in the UK.

Despite all of this preaching, I would be hard pushed to get any of my gaming friends to play Risk (although the many extensions and variants Chris states are another matter) - the best I have ever managed was a few work colleagues.