Gloom of Kilforth review


Image by Tristan Hall

Rated: 3/5

Introduction

So after bitching about the censorship of the artwork on one of the cards, and later apologizing for it since it ended up not being censorship at all, finally got a hold of the game and played it, solo. So small controversy aside, how is this “roughly 10 years in the making” big bad mamma jamma of a fantasy board game in the same vein as Mage Knight and Magic Realm? Eh, it’s just ok.

The Visuals and Component Quality

Prior backing this game on Kickstarter nearly a year ago, my impression was that this game had artwork that was better than it, or any board game for that matter, deserved. This isn’t artwork that belongs on playing cards, this is artwork that belongs on posters to hang up on walls, framed, and meant to be gazed at in wonder and fascination; probably even better if you’re doing so while puffing the magic dragon or munching the eddies. The artwork is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, like most games, you tend to forget about how good it looks and look past that to focus on the gameplay. And to make the gameplay better, the component quality needs to be good, with easy to learn/understand icons, pieces that are easy to handle and move around without accidentally knocking something out of its place, etc. In all honesty, I have yet to play a deep fantasy board game that wasn’t fiddly to some extent, and this one is no exception, even more-so if you’re playing with more than 1 player/hero. That being said, it is less fiddly than Mage Knight and Magic Realm (good Lord, what isn’t less fiddly than Magic Realm?). It plays fine without too much fiddliness, assuming you have the room for it.

This will take up some space.

Cards are of decent quality, though when I started sleeving them in clear Dragon Shields (I usually never play one of my own games unless I have sleeved everything first, you know, for preservation), I did notice it ever so slightly chipped away at a small bit of the lower corner of the cards. Not all of them, but some of them. Other than that, the card quality is fine. Sturdy enough and thick enough to be considered standard.

Chipped the card a bit while sleeving.

So aside from the cards, there’s also Zelda hearts for health, black corrupted devil hearts for action points, clouds for obstacles, trees for hiding, sand timers for fate (what, no fate cards from Atmosfear?), Mario coins for gold, and solid sturdy chits for loot and marking enemies.

The Gameplay

So this is where games either excel or fall apart, or somewhere in-between. In the case of this game, it’s in-between. You start out as a hero who seems too weak to beat the game as is. But once you complete the first part of you Saga (a 5 part story that you choose at the start of the game), and you level up, that’s when things start to get rolling. Basically the number of actions you can take is equal to your health at the start of the day. You start with 4 health at the start of the game, so you can take 4 actions. When you level up, you get another health, and thus another action point, allowing you to not only do more stuff each day, but also take more damage in combat.

Requires cards with the Badlands and Forest keywords, plus a card that has the Quest keyword if playing with 1-2 heroes.

In order to level up you need to acquire cards of certain types, whether they be Quests, Titles, Places, Spells, Strangers, Villains, etc., they are all represented by cards. You can only acquire these cards by traveling around and having encounters in various locations, hoping that the card you draw will be the type you want. And then you have to go about getting the card in the same way you do anything in the game that involves acquiring cards, rolling dice.

You see, when you move to a location where one of these cards is at, or if you move to a location with no encounter and one shows up when you move there, they each have a stat to roll against on the left side of the card. Depending on the card type, you can go for a Fight, Study, Sneak, or Influence test. For each test, you roll a number of dice equal to how much of those values you have (ex: if you have 3 Study, you get to roll 3 dice for Study tests), and get a success on a 5-6. Aside from Fight tests which pretty much mean you’ve entered in combat against a stranger or enemy, the other tests you can try multiple times over the course of a single in-game day until you get enough successes to get the card, or fail to get enough by the end of the day in which case all your successes go away and you have to try again the next day, starting from square one (or rectangle one in this case, you know, card shapes).

Gotta go to the Lost Forest in order to get this item that you hold in your hand.

And once you get one of these cards, you can do two things with it (aside from getting either gold or loot): either keep the card in your hand as a Rumor for completing Sagas, or exchange the card for an Item, Title, Spell, or Ally (this depends on the card type you exchange; for example only Places can be exchanged for Titles). It depends on what you need the card for. But of course, it’s not that easy. Once you get a hold of a Item/Title/Spell/Ally via rumor-trade, you still have to visit the location depicted on the card in order to get the ITSA. Because it’s just a rumor you heard at the place you visited, from the individual/monster you killed, from the side Quest you went on, etc (thematically-speaking). On the one hand, Items, Titles, Spells, and Allies can give you ability/power boosts to make your life easier. But on the other hand, you can’t fight the final boss without completing your saga, which requires sacrificing these cards to progress on the saga and level up. Personally, from my experience, it’s better to level up ASAP, for at least the first 2 levels, so you can get stuff done faster. After that, it depends on the situation.

So pretty soon it falls into the same pattern. Move to a location, hope you get the card of the right type, hope you have good enough stats to beat it, otherwise move along and try for something better. Once something shows up, keep rolling dice until you succeed. Once you succeed, rinse and repeat until you get enough cards to get what you want/need, level up, do it all over again until the big bad Ancient One from Arkham Horror, I mean Eldritch Horror, I mean Lovecraft Gloom of Killing Forth demons from hell show up that you need to off by cutting it’s head off with a sword, or blowing it away with a spell (if you’re a good enough Arcane aficionado). And how do you do that? You guessed it, the same way you do in Arkham Horror, rolling a bunch of dice and hoping you get enough successes over the course of a few rounds (or maybe you’ll get lucky and only have to do it for 1 or 2 rounds) to take it out.

And you have to level up fast enough to chuck the maximum amount of dice per combat round before the game ends. And at the end of each day, things slowly get worse, with 1 of the 25 locations you can travel around falling into gloom, threatening to suck a little bit of life out of you if you spend the night there. And with each life you lose, you lose an action point. For each life you get back, you don’t get that action point back until the start of the next day. So the game does plenty to slow down your progress to prevent you from leveling up fast enough so that the game doesn’t become a cakewalk.

And that’s pretty much how the game goes. There are different ways to play it, either solo/co-op with multiple heroes, or competitively against others to see who the first hero to take out the baddie is.

Thoughts

This was the one factor I had my doubts on when backing the game, the dice-chucking. But I was willing to give it a shot (and my money) because it looked like there may be enough theme and immersion to where I could overlook most of that. Plus I kind of had to admire how much time and effort Tristan “ninja dorg (because that’s a cool way of saying dog)” Hall put into this thing. Truly worthy of attention on Kickstarter, unlike those other board game companies who would probably do just fine without it, but still use Kickstarter to fund their board game projects anyway.

Mr. Dorg

In all honesty, there is a good amount of theme to it, enough variability to make each game experience different. But the tactical depth is lacking by my standards. A bit too much luck for my tastes. Getting a hold of some ITSAs can be fun, the feeling you get when your character levels up and can do more is great. And the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want (though I’ve only done 1 playthrough so far). But the dice-chucking, man, especially for the boss battle. It’s basically the same reason why I did away with Arkham Horror years ago. All that exploration, adventuring, analyzing the best routes to take and the best course of action to do each turn/round/day. All for it to lead to a nearly mindless dice battle. Sure there are different bosses to choose from, and they hit you in different way, but it all devolves into the same thing at the end of the day.

I guess you could say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But the thing is, if the destination wasn’t all that great, why would you want to go see it again? Especially when there’s other games in the same genre to fall back on?

Don’t get me wrong, I do intend to play this a couple more times, and with other players, before I decide if I’m going to trade this off or not. Game could be more interesting with player interaction. In fact, that’s what I’m counting on. The whole game boils down to being a race against time, and mitigating luck and planning well enough that you get to the finish line before it all ends. Throw in other players, then it becomes trying to get to the finish line before they do, which can encourage heavier thinking and more optimal planning. Co-op could be interesting (I would only do that solo, but that’s just me), with the way the rules force players to work together, requiring everyone to participate in completing each other’s sagas. But as it is now, too luck-based for long-term enjoyment.

But keep in mind, I’m a very picky gamer. I prefer my games to be light on luck, or entirely absent of it. Or if there is luck, that there be extreme strategic decision making to go with it, or a heavy amount of immersion. The game doesn’t have quite enough immersion or strategy to be a keeper. But it is worth trying out.

Comparisons


This isn’t fair, but neither is life or the outcome of dice. How does it compare to Magic Realm and Mage Knight?

All 3 games are not dungeon crawlers. You travel along landscapes in each of them. It has a Mage Knight feel in that you get stronger the more you do, to where enemies that were difficult before get easier to beat. But Mage Knight has far less luck, and is absent of dice, and has the same working against the clock and optimizing your turns routine, but with deck-building. But in all fairness to Gloom of Kilforth, it handles taking damage and how much that slows you down, and how much time you have to take to recover from it better than Mage Knight. You feel each and every wound you take in Gloom of Kilforth, while in Mage Knight you can tend to shrug them off unless you take a lot of them. It makes you feel more, well, human, more vulnerable. And that’s a good thing, because the last thing you want to feel in a game where the world is at stake is invincible. But on the other hand, Mage Knight is much more tactical with the combat system, giving you much more control and decision-making.

Mage Knight.  Image source.

With Magic Realm, well Gloom of Kilforth is much easier to learn than that game, so that’s a big pro. But despite it’s complexity, Magic Realm stays very abstract with the theme. Sure there’s monsters and treasures and stuff, but they are absent of flavor text. That game is absent of a set fictional world that has a backstory. It leaves it up to the imagination. It leaves much of what you do up to the imagination, which ultimately encourages the immersive feel, getting you to think about what is happening and what is going on, rather than trying to show you. Each character in Magic Realm is far more distinct than the characters in Gloom of Kilforth. Not just in their starting stats, but in their starting abilities. In Gloom, it’s more about your starting stats, encouraging you to focus more on fights, influencing, sneaking, etc. Wherever you have the most numbers and can throw the most dice, that’s optimally what you’ll go for. It’s obvious in it’s approach. In Magic Realm it’s much more subtle, demanding many playthroughs before you can even see what strategies to use for just 1 character.

Magic Realm; yes, you need pencil and paper for this.  Image source.

Pros and cons, Gloom of Kilforth is more accessible than either of those 2 games, but in being more accessible it has less depth. Depending on your group, you may not want depth, you may not want to play something that will take 4+ hours. You may want something like Gloom of Kilforth, which provides the fantasy experience at that level. And that’s the niche the game fits in, a medium level game, as opposed to heavy like Mage Knight, and as opposed to driving university professors mad with Magic Realm.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about this game, it’s that it’s not a dungeon crawler. I’m not a big fan of that genre, at least when it comes to the fantasy genre.

Last Words

So, there’s my thoughts. Take them as you would with any review, with a grain of salt.

PS: Oh yeah, one other thing. It’s extremely refreshing to see a game that uses cardboard standees rather than 3d plastic sculpts.

Update
So I played the game a few more times, once with another player in Competitive mode, too see if the game improves or worsens. Unfortunately, it’s the latter, but there are some nice things I found within the game upon repeated plays.

First it should be mentioned that this game should’ve come with a guide showing the statistics of what is in each region type. It helps with the theme and allows players to formulate strategies.

Badlands: 4 places, 2 strangers, 5 enemies, 8 quests, 2 events.
Forests: 7 places, 6 strangers, 3 enemies, 2 quests, 2 events.
Mountains: 2 places, 2 strangers, 9 enemies, 6 quests, 2 events.
Plains: 6 places, 8 strangers, 1 enemies, 3 quests, 2 events.

So this basically means the Badlands is where one would go in hopes of finding Quests, Forests for finding Places, Mountains for finding Enemies, and Plains for finding Strangers. It’s the most optimal, but the other region types also tend to have a decent number of other encounter types. As I pointed out earlier, “the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want”. It’s not quite THAT luck dependent, as keith hunt pointed out (see comments below). The first 2 or 3 Saga chapters just require places, strangers, enemies, quests, titles, spells, items, and/or allies. However, once you get to Saga Chapter 4, it gets a little more tricky. For instance, some cards require a specific keyword like Arcane, Shadow, Villain, Assist, etc. Those cards are more difficult to track down. However, during the course of the game, from what I’ve played, there’s usually enough instances of cards with those keywords showing up that it’s never unfair. I could be wrong, it may be possible that you could enter into a scenario where every encounter/title/spell/ally/item doesn’t have any of those keywords, but it’s never happened with my playthroughs, so it’s unlikely that will happen.

With competitive play against other players, the only real thing that changes is trying to get encounter cards before others do, though it may not matter that much if other players aren’t interested in some cards that are out there while the others are interested. Plus the map is big enough for players to explore and find what they need. Once you get 3 or more players, those special “keyword” requirements are less of a factor in regards to completing Sagas, because of the number of players and because the competition for getting more cards can become fierce (but it never seemed that fierce to me; then again I’ve only done 2 players tops).

In all honesty, the game seems better as a solo game. It plays shorter, and the playtime increases a pretty good amount with each added player. For a single-player game, if the player knows what he/she is doing, the game tends to run at about the time the box says, 45 minutes, maybe an hour depending. Each player does pretty much add on another 50-60 minutes to the game. And a game like this shouldn’t run more than 2 hours. Just my opinion.

In all the 3 times I’ve played the game, I’ve won 2 of them, including my first playthrough. It’s all really dependent on the type of race and class you choose at the start of the game, but the main difference is how often you play as someone who wants to Fight enemies straight up vs. someone who has more emphasis in study/sneak/influence. Fighting is more dangerous, especially early on in the game. If you lose a battle, you lose your gold and a rumor/asset. This sets you back considerably, and can make things hopeless. This is why I recommend the Advanced Variant for Saga completion, where instead of just spending 5 gold per chapter completion, you spend 2 gold multiplied by the chapter number. It makes the game flow better, and fits thematically for the world becoming more challenging to accompany your increasing strength. I’ve beaten the game using the normal and advanced versions of saga completion. There are ways to increase the difficulty, as provided in the files section of BGG by Tristan himself. But as of now, I don’t feel the need to.

I don’t consider the overall game to be fun enough to be worth going into Challenge mode for (or Ancient/Bloodbath mode, as it’s called). Mainly because despite the nice streamlined gameplay, despite the nice artwork, despite what immersion there is and thematic connections between the cards and race abilities and other things, the game is a glorified dice-chuck-fest. If that is your thing, by all means, go for it, it’s one of the better dice-chuck-fests out there. But for others who want more decision-making when it comes to battles, there’s other adventure board games out there that provide that. For everyone else who wants something accessible and dice-heavy, there’s this game.

Barbarossa review

Rated: 3/5

Introduction (ie addressing some criticisms of the game)

So there are 2 versions of this game. One is the version which has anime chicks in scantily clad outfits doing some implied and ridiculous sexual gesture. The other version is a more historical version with black and white WWII photos. Regarding the latter, where’s the fun in that?

First of all, I own the anime-chick version, not the historical photograph edition. Some would ask why I would buy such a game. I bought it for a simple reason, spite. I despise all you easily offended politically correct gamers with all of my little black perverted heart. Some of which state that no one should play this game because it is vile, perverted, sexist (sexploitation), pro-lolita, pro-nazi, and glorifies horrible people in a horrible war. That revisiting/addressing WWII should be done in a serious/professional matter, and in no other way. And there’s also arguments along the lines of keeping your sexual fetishes in private. Subject matter like this should not be perverted.

“It amazes me that people who fancy a certain fetish can seriously be upset by the aversion displayed by people who don’t share this fetish.”Simon Mueller

I’m starting to think that political correctness is also a fetish.

You know, stuff like that. It’s less controversial to have a game with images of individuals getting their brains/organs blown out by knives/gunfire/bombs/zombies, but more controversial when there’s any amount of skin shown in any fashion, perverted or otherwise. That’s how it works here in America. Doesn’t help that the girls in this game are under-age.

All you SJWs scared off now?  Good.  This review is for everyone else.  Image by jpwrunyan.

Continue reading

Risk Classic Board Game Review

Preface


Image from http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/8384/what-exactly-do-objective-and-subjective-mean-in-contemporary-philosophy

Objective (adj.): not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased — Dictionary.com

Game (noun):
1.) a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck. — Google.com
2.) a competitive activity involving skill, chance, or endurance on the part of two or more persons who play according to a set of rules, usually for their own amusement or for that of spectators. — Dictionary.com
3.) a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure — Merriam-Webster.com

My current definition of a good game:
A good game must:
1.) Provide a level of competition between equally skilled opponents who have an understanding of the game.
2.) Enable players to develop their playing skill on a variety of levels.
3.) Have players of high skill consistently defeat those of lower skill.
DPM: decisions per move; the number of choices a player is capable of making when it is their turn.

SDPM: significant decisions per move; the number of choices a player can make during their turn that is actually beneficial to them; moves that experienced veteran players who have an understanding of the game would make, disregarding others.

 

Introduction

I have to admit, my initial hopes were to show that Risk is not a good game objectively speaking. That sounds a bit subjective of me, but that doesn’t mean someone can give an objective critique for subjective reasons. It’s our own subjectivity that drives us to do what we do after all, but we must also face facts and consider that our subjective stances might be wrong once we analyze something from an objective point of view.

Anyway, onto Risk. Risk has several variations in its style of play that have evolved over the years. If evolved is the right term. At it’s core, it’s a game about gaining victory by taking chances. Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t played this game since I was a young teenager. And I don’t remember my last plays being all that entertaining. The game took forever. Plus I hated the random nature of the dice, especially when you have a force that outnumbers another force by at least 2-1, maybe even 3-1 or greater, and yet that force manages to hold off. It evoked the emotion that, while war can be won by skill (the way units are placed, where to put reinforcements, etc.), it can also be won by luck. It rubbed me the wrong way, so within the first 2 years of joining BGG, I initially rated Risk a 1 out of 10.

I decided to take a second look at the game, from a more objective viewpoint.

 

Versions of Risk

So coming to the different versions of vanilla Risk (the only version that will be covered in this analysis), the main difference is with the cards and the timing of the reinforcements the cards provide, and how many reinforcements the cards give each round.

*The original version of the game (made in 1959) has players choose their starting territories by having the first player choose a territory and place a unit in it, the next player doing the same, and this process continues until all territories have been claimed.

*The original version rewards a player 1 card out of 3 possible types if they conquer at least 1 territory during their turn. If they get 3 of a kind, or 1 of each type, they can turn in the cards for a certain number of units. The number of reinforcements that can be gained with these cards increases each round (up to 60). There were no territories listed on the cards for secret objectives in the old version.

* If you have 6 or more cards, you must turn them in for reinforcements immediately, even if in the middle of a turn.

* Wipe out all of a player’s forces, you get all their cards, which could potentially get you reinforcements immediately (see previous point).

I’m going by this ruleset, and going by the strategy pointed out in a very good review from BoardGameGeek.com.

 

The Analysis

Dice

Image from http://www.dicehatemegames.com/

First the biggest issue, the dice. There are several online articles that go very in-depth with the statistics. But long story short, if the attacker has more troops than the defender, the attacker is more likely to win. If both players have a respectable number of units (let’s just say more than 3 each), if the attacker has just as many or more units than the defender, the attacker is more likely to win, due to rolling more dice and having better odds at getting better results than the defender. If you want the long in-depth version of all this, here’s some links:

http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-use-math-to-win-at-the-board-game-risk-2013-7

http://www.datagenetics.com/blog/november22011/

http://www4.stat.ncsu.edu/~jaosborn/research/RISK.pdf

2016-08-26 11_11_28-Risk (game) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia2016-08-26 11_11_54-Risk (game) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Images from wikipedia Risk page.

The whole point of dice roll probabilities is to make it more likely for one result to occur than another, and allow players to take risks with those probabilities in mind. Sometimes the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, it’s never a guarantee. And that’s the whole point of this game, to take a risk, take a chance, make a play that is a gamble, but has a good payoff. Playing it safe doesn’t really cut it in this game for a number of reasons.

1.) It makes the game run longer than necessary, especially if more than 1 player plays it safe. A game should only be as long as necessary.

2.) Even if the above reason isn’t a factor to be considered, playing it safe is detrimental towards winning in this game.

3.) This isn’t how the game was intended. Why else would it be called Risk?

Dice statistics are mapped out in this game to encourage a certain style of play to go along with the theme of the game. In this case, and I am repeating myself here, it’s to be aggressive, build up forces to where you outnumber the defender in 1 or more territories when it’s your turn, attempt to take said territories, and push your luck with how far you’re willing to deplete your forces in certain territories, gaining much in the short term at the risk of being weak and vulnerable in the long term. The game favors the aggressor attacking the defender if the aggressor either has 4+ troops attacking a defending territory and/or has >= more troops than the defender. The attacker is more likely to win in such situations, while the defender is more likely to win in the other situations.


Image from http://www.dicecollector.com/DICEINFO_WHAT_SHAPES_DO_DICE_HAVE.html

Another factor to consider when it comes to dice is, despite what the probabilities may declare (1/6 chance for each result each roll), and despite the idea that all the results will even out over the course of 10,000+ rolls, those are only projections as to the results as opposed to what may end up happening in reality. While in theory dice do even out, that doesn’t necessarily mean they eventually will. And even if they did end up evening out, what’s to say they will remain even once the dice are rolled another few thousand or 10 thousand times? And if it does even out over that period of time consistently, then does that mean the dice results are truly random?

Bottom line, even if that’s true, a single player is not likely to roll the dice 10,000 times over the course of a single game of Risk. I’m not even sure if a single player rolls the dice even 1,000 times. So the dice results aren’t evenly distributed across all players in the game, which means randomness is a large factor in the game when it comes to deciding who wins or loses.

The point I’m making is that this takes away from the competitiveness of the game, at least in the fair sense. You know, for the sake of fair competition. The point of a competition, which games are a form of, is to have players test their skill against others. Risk is a game that does require skill to gain an edge over other players. Part of this is in carefully choosing territories and taking into account the die statistics when going into battle, and having a good idea as to when you should play your reinforcement cards if you’re capable of doing so. If the game is suitable for serious competition (tournament level/setting), then the most skilled player will win more often than others. This is assuming the game allows for different levels of skill to begin with.

In the case of this game, the die results are capable of ruining the best of plans, the most advantageous of positions, and destroying the largest of armies against the might of the smallest. Statistically, it doesn’t happen as often as it does with the worst of plans, the most disadvantageous of positions, or the smallest of armies. But it can happen. It can happen because the game never has 100% guarantees to outcomes. It’s not a deterministic game, as is the case with most dice-based games. Risk defenders can argue all they want about the odds of such events being one in a thousand, or in a million, or in a billion. It doesn’t change the fact that not only do such events happen in the game, players who have played such games are more than happy (or unhappy) to talk about them. So assuming this game is played in a tournament setting, the fact that a player can lose the tournament due to losing the game because of those “small chances of happening” incidents, that’s an indication that the game may not be best suited for serious competition, and is therefore less likely to be a good game. The odds of such incidents may be small, but they are there.

But that’s just on the topic of dice outcomes.  There is more to discuss…

 

Downtime

Image from http://worldbuilderblog.me/2015/06/

The lengthier turns and/or battles makes it necessary to roll the dice several times before a player decides that they are finished with their turn. This results in downtime for other players. This isn’t always a bad thing, as players may look in on a battle in eagerness to see just how much each opponent is having their forces reduced from fighting one another. This allows them to form plans and change plans based upon the numbers on the board after the battle is over. The game does its best to try and make battles a bit on the quick side by always having units killed for each set of rolls. Assuming the attacker and defender both have at least 2 dice each per roll, 2 units will die every roll in the game, 1 minimum if the defender or attacker only use 1 die. The battle will always move closer towards an end.

That being said, battles aren’t handled very efficiently in the game. Some of the larger battles can take a while before they finish. Why wouldn’t the game simply allow for more dice to be rolled, and therefore allow for more units to be eliminated? Because they chose to limit themselves with a D6 die, which works well with the 3 vs. 2 max system that Risk implements, but this comes at the expense of making larger battles take longer than is necessary if more dice with more faces (ie an 8 or 20-sided-die as opposed to the 6-sided-die) were used for those battles. But that would also likely affect the statistics in such a way as the game didn’t intend, as the creators wanted the probabilities as they are now, no more, no less, and decided it would be better to stick with those statistics at the expense of shorter battles.

Ultimately, there is 1 reason why I believe the system should be tweaked for the larger scaled battles, and that’s to fit in with the theme, Risk. If more units can be lost for each set of rolls, that would increase the risk-factor of the game in the large-scale exchanges. But with me not being a math expert, I’m not sure if that would affect the statistics, and if it did, if it would affect them for the better or for the worse.

Either way, the lengthy battles and/or turns can disengage players from the game, as they are bound to grow disinterested the longer they are unable to make an impact on the flow of the game. Or at least that would be the case, if not for the other major factor of the game.

 

Negotiation

Image from https://www.linkedin.com/topic/negotiation

At anytime during the game, players can discuss temporary (but non-binding) alliances, convincing one another to work against another player, or to convince a player to attack someone besides themselves, which gives them a chance to grow their numbers and take advantage of weak positions on the board. This is a very important aspect of the game. Without negotiation, the game would grow stale quickly. Simply attacking other players, making optimal movies, and hoping for the best with the dice, and waiting for that all to resolve until it gets to your turn, isn’t enough for a game like this where luck is so high. There needs to be talk among players to add an extra layer onto the game.

However, if a player is in a weak position and is holding some cards in their hands (for reinforcements), then a player will definitely want to attack them, wipe them off the map, and claim their cards to gain an edge on a later round, or in the current round. Negotiation can only take a player so far.

So this is something for non-active players (those not rolling dice) to do while dice are being rolled between the active players. And this in of itself also requires a skill. Negotiation is a legitimate skill in gaming. Without negotiation, games like Werewolf wouldn’t exist. Being a good negotiator (which also goes hand in hand with board positioning and aggressiveness) is key towards winning the game. Is a player winning? Team up against him. Is the dominant player threatening to attack you? Think of a way to convince him/her to attack someone else instead. Convince him/her that they want this continent instead of that continent.

Negotiation isn’t something I can go very in-depth with because there is a very wide variety of ways negotiation can go. There can be fair and unfair methods of negotiation, which means there would have to be some constraints with how far negotiation can go. For example, a player can say something like, “If you attack him, I will promise not to attack you,” while another can say something like, “Either you don’t attack me on your turn, or you’re sleeping on the couch tonight!” All I can say is that it works differently for each person, and for each group that person plays with. One who is good at negotiating has to be adaptable, and capable of acting out different roles, from being the vulnerable beggar, to the deceptive weasel, or the intimidating lion.

But is it enough to compensate for the downtime between turns (especially at the mid-point of the game and onwards)? Statistically, I would say no, and here’s why. If a game goes the way it should statistically the way some players anticipate it will (statistically likely to win this battle, conquer this continent, win this game, etc.), then players will also follow a familiar pattern for negotiation to go along with this. When outcomes diverge from the most likely statistical outcome, negotiation is likely to change to take that alteration into account. Negotiation is only a key factor for the first half of the game. After that, there’s usually only 2 players tops who are most likely to win the game (barring unlikely outcomes), and negotiation becomes borderline pointless. It becomes a matter of resolving combat between the large forces. Inefficient.

The Cards

Image from https://magisterrex.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/the-best-classic-board-games-risk-the-game-of-world-domination/

The set collection portion of the game. There are 3 different types of cards (plus a couple wilds), which means that in a worse case scenario, a player would need 5 cards maximum to be able to make a set; 3 cards minimum. Players have to make important decisions with these cards. They can either hold onto them with potential greater rewards (more troops) in a later round at the risk of having a player attack them with the intent of wiping them out to claim their cards, or turn in the cards at the start of their turn to try and gain a positional advantage for the current round. Later in the game (by the 5th or 6th round), the number of troops that a player can gain from these cards would be so great that the game wouldn’t last much longer, assuming top-tier players were playing optimally.

In order to get one of these, you have to take a territory. If you fail to take a territory during your turn, that’s usually pretty bad for you. In essence, this encourages aggressive play as well, along with the statistics of the dice rolls (attacker rolls more than defender so long as they outnumber them).

But this also adds in another interesting element. If you wipe another player’s forces off the map, you get all their cards. If this gets you 6 or more, you immediately get reinforcements to continue your attack streak. This encourages aggressive play even more, and shows no mercy towards those in a weak position. It also encourages the game to be played quickly and not long and drawn out.

It also encourages games to be played with 5-6 players. The game falters with less when dummy forces are put out there for players to attack. Because dummies don’t have cards (no pun intended).

Player Rankings

Image from the film Best of the Best.

One of the methods used to determine if a game is good or not is to see if the game is played in tournament settings, and if so, how diverse the rankings are, and if there are top-tier players who consistently win and stay near their level over the years. Unfortunately, I am currently unable to find a website that has such rankings, or determine if tournaments exist for this game. I do believe this game is tournament-worthy, and I also believe it is possible for there to be different ranks of players. But it is also possible that the player rankings and winnings may not be as diverse as necessary for the sake of being deemed objectively good, potentially. Until such a setting is establish, using the classic rules, we may never know.

 

Conclusion (with some subjectivity)

Image from http://memegenerator.net/instance/59806260

After giving this game another chance, using classic rules, I’ll admit, it’s better than I remember. It’s really not the worst thing out there if you play it properly the way good players play it. It is a game that truly set the standard for board games about area control, negotiation, and risk-management. Before there was Chaos in the Old World, there was Risk. Before there was Dune, there was Risk. Before there was War of the Ring, there was Risk. It’s the one that started it all, and it has some fun in it to this day. Sure there are other versions such as Risk 2210 AD, and the famous Risk: Legacy, and they work for what they are in their own right, but those are different enough to deserve a separate analysis.

That being said, while respect should be given to this relic, it is still a dated relic. Other games have come along that built upon the foundations that Risk has set to make themselves superior to it. Game that are all about securing territory to gain more troops in future turns, games where risks must be taken to secure such territory, and games where players can negotiate for which opponent to go against, or dissuade the current player from attacking them, etc.

Games like the previously mentioned Chaos in the Old World, which handles combat for each player who only need to roll a set of dice once for each territory to resolve their part in combat.

Games like Dune where negotiation can stay relevant throughout the course of the game (or be relevant at random portions each game), and can drastically change the situation on the map.

Games like Advanced Civilization (or the more recent version Mega Civilization), which has an advanced form of set collection which requires negotiation.

Risk is like all those games, but without all the bells and whistles which some may consider overkill. It is area control and risk-taking at it’s most abstract. Can I objectively say it is bad when it has set the foundations for all those other games?

Currently, and this opinion is subject to change, I can say that the game is bad. The game does still work today, even compared to other systems, but the combat can take too long for what it is, and negotiation becomes less relevant as the game goes on. While it is true that how long a player’s turn takes is subjective, as is a player’s patience, it’s not subjective with how many rolls minimum it can take to resolve combat in a region, or over several regions, over the course of a single player’s turn. Combat mechanics, even ones that represent large scale conflicts, have been handled with superior systems that can be resolved faster than the one this game provides, which has to be taken as a negative for a game that is this abstract with what it does.

Luck can be considered a negative as well, but all the other previously mentioned games also have luck in their own right which is on the same level as Risk, if not more-so, or worse. Luck isn’t the biggest issue this game has, but it can evoke the feeling that it is due to the nature of combat within the game system, how many rolls are made, and how each roll can become pronounced when a single defensive unit with a single die can destroy a few units from a larger attacking force that rolls 3 dice for each combat phase. With the right roll, a defensive unit can be invincible, no matter how large of a force it is up against. That also makes the luck more pronounced. Games with such pronounced elements of luck are incapable of having even stronger pronounced elements of skill, which isn’t good when it comes to competitions, pitting the skill of one player against another. The one element that can be argued to make up for this is the negotiation elements, convincing players to work against others. The problem with that is that nearly every area control game has that element in it. It’s not unique in Risk, and even that element has been done better than in Risk when it comes to affecting the game-flow and game board because of it.

A game should have some amount of determinism in it in order for it to have some semblance of fair competition. In a game with no luck, players can change/adapt their moves and short/long term plans based on the moves of other players. In a game with luck, the same thing happens, but the player also has to adapt/change based upon random events and random results as well. Those changes should boost their odds statistically of winning the game, assuming the player knows what they’re doing. It should get to the point to where a player’s odds of winning can potentially reach 100%. That’s currently my opinion anyway.

Risk was good for its time, but other games have come since then that do what Risk does only better. The game is still worth playing today to see where such game mechanics have all started from, but that is all.

If anyone who reads this cares to contest my points, please, by all means, feel free to due so. I may go back on them and change them. That is the point of an objective review after all. It’s to make points and arrive at a conclusion back by facts and evidence. If there is a fault in the facts and/or evidence, or if there is other facts and evidence to consider that can change the conclusion, let these be known.

 

PS: A game rated as objectively bad doesn’t mean it’s a game that can’t be enjoyed. Any game can be enjoyed, theoretically. A game rated as objectively bad means it’s not fit for being played by serious gamers in a serious environment to match skill against skill, to have their skills tested and bettered.


Image from http://www.tomliberman.com/objectivism/subjective-v-objective