I have fond memories of playing Risk in many forms. The first was when I played the board game with my friend while camping. He got so mad that I was winning that he picked up the board and threw it across the campsite, spraying the little plastic pieces everywhere. I also played the hell out of the PC version of Risk released in 1997 during one visit to my friend’s dorm at UVM. Because I didn’t partake in many inebriating substances at the time, the intricacies of the strategy game allowed me to enjoy an otherwise very cold and boring trip.
The XBLA game of Risk: Factions lives up to its predecessors, both tabletop and digital. It is a cleverly designed turn-based strategy game that takes the basic gameplay of Risk and adds a few interesting points to control on the map and a cartoon storyline campaign which was well worth a chuckle or two.
The “story” of the Risk: Factions campaign is basically a Warner Brothers-style cartoon critique of war itself. General William P. “Fatty” Mc. Gutterpants starts off delivering a speech railing against the mortal enemy of the human race: Peace. Gutterpants’ ever-present dog accidentally fires a mortar into Warpaw, which pisses off the nation of anthropomorphic cats led by Generalissimo Meow. Meow then launches an attack, making the humans’ noses red with allergies. A series of unfortunate events adds new antagonists, including robots (Commandant SixFour), zombies (Colonel Claus Von Stiffenberg) and finally a group of yoga-practicing yetis and their leader: His Excellency Gary. The art in these cutscenes is surprisingly well-done, as if they were indeed created by cartoon animators instead of videogame designers. (That’s because they were produced by Powerhouse Animation from Austin, TX.) I was reminded of Kricfalusi’s Ren & Stimpy more than anything else.
Unfortunately, there is no conclusion to the story, as if a five faction war over nothing needs no ending. Still, I wish there was some kind of climax, perhaps involving all of the leader characters realizing that war wasn’t worth all of the pain. On second thought, maybe it’s better to leave it open-ended.
If you are familiar with Risk, then you get how the actual game is played. If you don’t remember, the campaign does a good job of reacquainting you with how it works. You start out with territories on a map, each of which has a number of armies stationed in it. When your turn starts, you can add armies to any territory you wish and then attack an adjacent territory. Attacking should really only be done when you have a significant numerical advantage, because you need to beat the die rolls of the defender and d6s can be finicky. Moving armies from one territory to another is restricted, and this gets a little annoying when planning attacks. Just like in the board game, it sucks when armies are trapped behind territories that you already control. Occupying more territories, as well as whole continents, adds to the number of armies you place each turn.
Risk: Factions spices up the classic dice-rolling by using each faction’s unforgettable details and animations. The Cat faction’s dice roll across the screen in all of their furry glory. When the zombies attack, they groan and moan their way into your heart, and into Catmandu. The robots attack with lasers and I particularly love the sounds of an old modem as our metal lords march into their newly conquered territory.
The new rules mess with the standard format and are often integral to winning the match. Some maps have interesting features that, when you hold them, can unleash devastating attacks. Controlling both sides of a dam, for example, lets you flood the continent underneath, reducing the garrison in those territories to 1. When you hold three territories which contain a barracks, you control the missile which gives you an extra attack die in territories surrounding the lake. Resources, such as minerals gathered from mines, or energy harvested from a volcano, pile up only when you have more than one army in the corresponding territories. This is balanced by random events, such as the volcano erupting and destroying the extra armies, or the aforementioned dam flooding. These strategic goals give the player something to achieve on the map other than just fully wiping out your enemies, which honestly just ends up being time-consuming.
Risk: Factions also introduces a series of objectives, such as controlling a whole continent, taking over a number of territories in one turn, or collecting a certain amount of resources. Winning the game doesn’t depend on taking over the whole map, thankfully; you win by being the first faction to complete 3 objectives. The objectives also give you rewards, some of which are amazingly powerful. For example, collecting twelve minerals might give you an extra die to roll each time that you attack. When you can only roll 3 dice at a time, no matter how many armies you’re attacking with, that extra dice is extremely important. If, however, all these new details and rules aren’t your bag, Risk: Factions allows you to play the old classic game of Risk on the exact same board you played on as a kid.
You can play the game over Xbox Live and the leaderboards are already populated with strategy nuts. Perhaps the best feature of all, though, is the fact that you can play with someone in the same room. What?! Competitive multiplayer not over the internets? That’s unpossible!
Risk: Factions is an extremely well-designed re-imagining of the classic Risk board game. It is a simple but effective strategy game that doesn’t take its subject matter very seriously. I think that adding all of the new rules and strategic points makes the game more fun, but if you want, you can always go back to playing the good ol’ classic Risk game that we’ve always loved.
Bottom Line: Solid strategic gameplay, clever, well-written characters and cutscenes, and a loyalty to the board game we played when we were kids all make Risk: Factions a great game.
Recommendation: Risk: Factions is more than worth the 10 bucks (800 MS points). If you like games, it’s worth looking at. If you like strategy games and/or Risk, buy it. Right now. Do it.[rating=4]
Game: Risk: Factions
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: June 23, 2010
Platform(s): Xbox 360
Available from: Xbox Live Arcade