As you saw in Part 1 and Part 2, there has been a long story of board game development and the need to produce a game that is enjoyable and simple but equally challenging and realistic. It would be great to learn something new every time we play and also to use our own life experiences and knowledge to play a better game.
Let’s explore the requirements of an ideal game. Board games can be categorised across three areas; luck, strategy and diplomacy. Some games are very strong on only a single dimension while others are strong in two or all dimensions. Each of these dimensions leads to a completely different game and playing style. Let’s look at some examples:
- Strategy. A classic example of a purely strategic game is chess. Chess is a deterministic game with no luck at all. Since the game is usually played between two people, there is no diplomacy involved either. Another example is Go which despite its simple rules can be quite challenging. Pure strategy games are ideal for research as moves can be accurately calculated and best moves can be formulated.
- Luck. A game purely based on luck doesn’t involve any decision making. An example is snakes and ladders. These games are popular among children, even though they are not particularly useful as they don’t teach them anything about decision making and strategy. Rather, they imply that success relies heavily on luck and is outside an individual’s control. Luck is usually introduced in games by using dice or cards.
- Diplomacy. Games that involve diplomacy are almost always strategic as well. Games with two players can rarely be diplomatic. As soon as you have three people or more where who can interact with each other and compete, you will have diplomacy in the game. An example is Settlers of Catan where players must convince others to trade with them as opposed to their rivals. Another example is online Risk where players can make deals, gang up on weaker players, resolve invasions diplomatically, or even betray each other! The existence of diplomacy makes the games much more enjoyable as it becomes challenging and therefore more interesting.
A purely one-dimensional game is rather limiting. As you saw earlier with the response of Persians to Indians, strategic games can become a lot more lifelike if randomness is introduced in them.
Some games benefit primarily from two dimensions. For example, Backgammon has strategy and luck but not much diplomacy. Is there a game that has strategy and diplomacy? The best example for this category is the aptly named game, “diplomacy”.
Diplomacy was developed by Allan B. Calhamer as part of a study he carried out at Harvard on nineteenth-century European history. He was fascinated with political geography and wanted to capture the essence of conflicts such as World War I and World War II in an abstract game. The game was first released to the market in 1954. Diplomacy differed from pure traditional strategy games as it heavily encouraged the use of diplomacy in the game. In order to win, players have to form alliances, interact with others, form treaties or even betray each other. One crucial aspect of the game is that there are no dice or cards. In other words, the game minimises the role of luck in the game.
Diplomacy is a good game, especially if you are interested in all the interaction and negotiation. However, it somehow feels incomplete. You can never get lucky in the game. It is completely in contrast with real-life. There are numerous examples of luck in history that have led to significant events, change of power or even discoveries. Consider the effect of weather, lucky initial positions in a battle, even a military commander getting sick and its effect on the outcome of a typical battle. Of course, you can never get lucky successively. There is always a payback time. However, the occasional luck requires contingency plans and a strategic thinking that goes well beyond calculating every single move and knowing the exact probability of each one. Real-life is more challenging because we have to deal with uncertainty. It is only natural to include the concept of uncertainty in games as well.
To go back to the reasoning of Wuzurgmihr, vizier of King of Persia, chess had to be balanced with backgammon to reflect real life. Taking this one step further, an ideal board game is a game that is strong in all three dimensions, while at the same time, remains simple and practical. A good board game requires luck, strategy and diplomacy. The best example, as you might have guessed, is online Risk. Online Risk is a game which is very strategic, has a strong element of luck based on dice and cards and diplomacy plays a central role for players who want to win consistently. Not many games are strong in all dimensions which is what makes online Risk so special and popular.
The history of Risk goes back to 1950s. The game was invented by French film director Albert Lamorisse. It was originally released in France as “La Conquête du Monde” or “The Conquest of the World”. Lamorisse took his creation to a game manufacturer in France called Miro. They accepted the game, modified it to make it easier to learn by novice players while difficult and challenging for experienced ones.
The game became popular in France. Later, Parker Brothers, a major American game manufacturer responsible for Monopoly, established a relationship with Miro and took the game to America. This time, they changed a few more rules and added cards to speed up the game and introduced it to the American market as “Risk!”.
Risk took off while the rules stayed somewhat the same. Players started to devise certain house rules to improve the game and some of the good variations found their way into new rules until the modern rule book was established.
Today, Risk continues to evolve. Most of this evolution is taking place online as many Risk variations are explored and tested.
Lamorisse’s game design deserves a lot of credit. Lamorisse is best known for his award winning short films and he even won an Oscar for best original screenplay. Unfortunately, he died in a helicopter crash while filming a documentary in Iran.
With Risk, Lamorisse finally fulfilled the quest for a game that satisfies all three dimensions in a single game and did so with elegance. We no longer need to have a double sided board game such as chess/backgammon to balance strategy with fate. With Risk we can also benefit from diplomacy, the all important area that can significantly improve our lives.
People who are good at diplomacy and strategising are effectively good at soft skills. Unlike hard technical skills, soft skills can be used everywhere and ultimately increase individual’s emotional intelligence. Research shows that investing is soft skills and emotional intelligence has a bigger role in preparing us for success compared to technical skills as it is how well you handle your interaction with others that defines your success. Risk captures critical aspects of decision making and strategising in real life while allowing us to practice our communication and negotiation skills.
We have now achieved the holy grail of gaming with a quest that goes back 5500 years. May humanity play Risk forever…