Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Stainless Games
Release date: Available now
As a child of the Eighties, one who saw the world move on from tabletop entertainment to games we could play on our big screens, I feel I have a decent enough vantage point to declare: Board Games Are Dead! Well, maybe not buried, but certainly a niche product pulled out purely for parties and holiday get-togethers. I know some of you Dungeons & Dragons nerds will argue about it, but these games certainly don’t own the market share they once did when they were the only game in town. And with people progressively finding themselves running on a longer leash thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we’ve discovered that we can take our musty enchantments on the go and get in a quick game or two of Parcheesi while paging through iPad apps. It’s this digital distribution stream which the developers of Risk: Factions look to attack.
Risk: Factions presents players with two options. While the classic world-domination gameplay is available from the start, the bulk of the game has been redesigned for quicker skirmishes. The original Risk, like old standbys such as Monopoly, was designed to drain a rainy day of its drear. In the new age, we need quicker bites, which is exactly how Factions has been developed. The game boasts a single-player campaign mode featuring five unique skirmishes against factions made up of zombies, robots and other classic video-game villains. In addition to this glorified tutorial, the real meat is found in the multiplayer component, which allows up to five players to fight each other for world domination.
While the original Risk was a game of strategic land grab, forcing players to depend on lucky die rolls to augment their domination plans, the new version focuses on achieving preset objectives. Each map opens with a set of assignments (control three cities, successfully attack enemy installations eight times in one turn, etc), which you need to complete to score strategic offensive and defensive bonuses that reward you with enhancements such as +1 improvements to dice rolls. You need to finish three of these objectives while also aiming for control of the opponent’s capitol cities to emerge victorious.
Risk: Factions is a game perfectly suited for XBLA, assuming you intend to play against live opponents. While the single-player campaign tells a decent tongue-in-cheek story recounting mounting aggression against a human army amid a rapidly growing cadre of combatants from the cat, zombie and robot races, it’s over all too quickly and really just serves as a glorified tutorial to get you into the strategic groove. The real action is found in the multiplayer space, where you can engage in some manic skirmishes against four real-world opponents. Of course, this can lead to gang tackling as the two sides pair up to take down another, so it helps to play against a group of trusted friends, who might not be in it to watch your back, but will likely keep the combat on the up-and-up.
Risk: Factions features a cool animated aesthetic, with some nicely drawn cartoon cutscenes telling the single-player tale and animated cut-ins showcasing the mounting carnage at the bottom of the screen as the battles rage. While these little touches can be skipped to speed up the game, they do add character and style, something from which modern-day re-creations of classic board games can really benefit. My major knock against it – and this is core to the concept dating way back to the classic board game – is that too often your strategy is at the mercy of a lucky die roll. Of course, that’s the point of the game; you hope that you can pull a higher die roll than your competitor to successfully attack or defend the land at stake. In the multiplayer mode, this isn’t as much of an issue, but playing against the AI, I felt the computer scored necessary die rolls whenever it needed them, almost in a bid to extend the skirmishes and lengthen the woefully short single-player campaign.
That said, most XBLA players are not coming to this game for the solo component, and as a modern-day reboot of the strategy classic, Risk: Factions scores often. Like the best games, it’s easy to pick up and play, and as long as you find a group of like-minded combatants, it rewards you with addictive skirmishes that last just the right amount of time, leading you to call for just one more way too late into the evening. You knew this was coming, but the cliché is warranted: this is a Risk worth taking.