Risk: The True Gateway Game
Many talk about Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride as being ‘gateway games’, meaning games which open the doors of the board gaming world to many and give them a taste for games which go beyond Monopoly and The Game of Life. Risk has been around for over 50 years now and is also considered by gamers to be one of those mass market games which gateways try to steer players away from. However, I would contend that Risk is perhaps one of the most important gateway games out there.
I received Risk as a Christmas present when I was my early teens and promptly tried it out with relatives that evening. And I loved it. I loved everything about it. The dice were being used for something different than moving around the board. Fantastic! The object of the game was nothing short of complete world domination. Awesome! The game involve strategizing your movements and attacking at the right moments; it involved pleading with your friends to join with you, then taking back your word and crushing them into oblivion!
I know that I am not alone in my high school discovery of this long, intense strategic game. Many of others have moved beyond Monopoly or Clue and discovered the wonder which is Risk. Risk is the true gateway game; it catches us when we’re young and gives us a taste for something more in the world of board gaming. For some, world conquest is satisfying enough; but for others, this is only a launching point.
The enormity of Risk may make the gameplay seem complicated at first, but once the layers are peeled back, we see that the mechanics of Risk are rather quite simple. You are given territories to place armies on and then you may choose to attack bordering territories on your turn. Battles are determined through dice rolling; attackers use three dice, defenders use two, and the higher dice rolls kill off armies. As you conquer new territories, you collect cards which you can collect and trade in for more units. That’s really all there is to it.
What almost always happens when the game starts is that certain players gravitate to different parts of the globe; the red army may end up gathering in Europe, the blue army in North America, the grey army in Africa. They abandon their unit who are stuck in territories in the middle of no where and focus on those territories they own which are close together. And in practically every game, one player decides to use the strategy of taking Australia early in hopes to hide in the corner of the world and amass a very large army which will wreck havoc in the near future.
So if the mechanics are simple and the strategies easy to decipher at the start, why is Risk so great? Player interaction, that’s why. You are in direct competition with your friends, attacking them, defending against them, forming alliances, breaking alliances, doing whatever needs to be done. Risk has such a strong place in modern pop culture purely for this reason; it is a brutal every man for themselves rumble across the span of the entire globe.
Each player is given an army of their colour, and sometimes these colours become very important to some players. For example, I am always the Red Army. If I don’t play with red, my whole game is thrown off. Others are partial to the Black Death or the Yellow Fever. Each army is made up of three different plastic pieces; soldiers, horses and canons. The only difference is that horses stand for five soldiers and cannons for ten to assist in counting.
The board is the entire globe separated into territories which are drawn out according to where they can attack and be attacked from. Some territories have only one way in or out, while others are much more vulnerable to a team attack. The board is separated into seven continents. Once someone has control over a whole continent they gain more troops. This also gives players immediate goals as they also focus on the more lofty and long-term goal of world domination.
Risk is one of my all-time favourite games, and I believe always will be. Even though I may venture further out into the land of board games, discovering much richer and more complex mechanics and themes, Risk will always be like gong home again. It is that strong and secure base which allowed me to venture out, which showed me what gaming could be. And deep down inside us all, perhaps there is that lust for power which keeps bringing us back. World domination, after all, is nothing to be taken lightly.