Risk is classic strategy board game created by the Parker Brothers (and now a division of Hasbro) over fifty years ago. Hasbro have recently released a spate of boardgame conversions under the guise of Hasbro Game Night. Thankfully this version of Risk doesn't need you to add that rather dismal title to your gamerscore list, rather running independently. There have been a number of other attempts to cross the electronic entertainment divide for Risk, most of which are probably best forgotten, but this time it turns out to be something quite special.
The basic premise of Risk is rather simple; starting with a number of territories across the world map, populated with a set number of units, the idea is to take over the entire world via conquest. Battles are decided on the roll of the dice and it's always the bigger numbers that win. Easy as it sounds, the practicalities are a little more difficult. Placing the right numbers of units in the right territories and choosing the right time to advance and invade is key to the overall success. This is strategic thinking at its grass roots level. Some may say it lacks depth, but actually the simple and gentle nature of the tactics needed in play makes it all the more fun.
Risk: Factions is more a makeover rather than a re-visioning of the board game though - while the classic version is available to play, the main thrust of things revolves around the Factions campaign mode, though this is perhaps a little on the short side. Presented through a series of animated cut-scenes, very much in the style of a dodgy cartoon, the story plays out across a number of different chapters. The chatter through the game might be regarded as a little childish at times, with some very silly and blatantly obvious double entendres - this can be forgiven though as it doesn't really cut into the meat of the game too much and there is the odd clever and thinly veiled reference to dictators of the world (Chairman Meow anyone?) – it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, fighting yetis, feral cats, zombies and robots.
To win in Faction mode, the player must defend their territory capital whilst at the same time achieving at least three of the level objectives. These vary across the different maps and involve objectives such as creating garrisons, taking over a set number of territories in a single turn, conquering a number of continents completely or controlling enough barracks across the different borders, some being tougher than others. The core system remains true to the classic Risk however, the more territories and capitals you control, the more troops you have available to you as a commander - distributing these wisely is part of the key to the win - and you do want to win don't you?
All action through the game is turn based and follows an easy to understand path. Firstly troops must be placed in owned territories and this is followed up by a round of bludgeoning opponents. Attacks can be initiated from an occupied area with up to three troops, represented by three six-sided dice. There must always be at least one garrison in the base from which the advance is initiated, so if a section of the map has three units, only two of these can plunder the countries bordering it. Defending territories can use one or two units, and it's the highest dice roll that becomes the victor. This does mean there’s an element of luck and randomness to proceedings and some folk may find this off-putting. As long as the player has units to attack with, he may try to invade as many factions as he likes during this phase, but here is another taste in the strategy pie - spread things to thinly and the flavours become weak. Finally, troops may be moved from one surrounding area to another in order to bolster borders, which may have become fragile.
It's not simply about controlling the most areas, though clearly this does help matters, there are also special regions that bolster the player's adversarial arsenal - capture the area surrounding one of these special locations and your army's strength will be increased quite substantially. Locations such as missile banks, dams and mines can be controlled and it adds a little extra spice to the strategy.
A game like this couldn't be complete without some form of multiplayer mode, and here things do not disappoint; Risk is probably more fun as a social experience than constantly playing the AI. Up to five players can compete in head-to-head battles both on and offline, allowing play in both the smaller Faction maps and the full global conquest - though things can extend well past the sort of threshold your average FPS match runs to here.
Risk: Factions takes all that is great about the fifties board game and thrusts it in to modern videogame - it's a worthy effort and a decent addition to XBLA; you should at least give the trial version a go. A game like this is infinitely replayable, so at 800 MSPs it really is a bit of a bargain. For strategy-lite fans it’s a no brainer.