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Responses to Dave Shapiro's questions for a Risk book, part 3

In December 2012, Dave Shapiro contacted me to contribute to a book about Risk he was co-authoring.This took the form of answers to a series of questions. The book appeared recently, sans this material. This is part 3.

**The following questions are specifically about the Risk relationship in your designs.**

**What games most influenced your designs?**

Heavens, it all started so long ago that that’s very hard to say. I loved American Heritage Broadsides, I loved the old Avalon Hill games such as Stalingrad and Afrika Korps, I loved to play Risk when I was a kid, and when I got a little older (high school senior) I “graduated” to Diplomacy. The old hex-based games obviously influenced my Valley Of the Four Winds and Dragon Rage, though you can say that about any hex-based game I guess.

**What games do you consider the foundations of modern gaming?**

There are many games that more or less started certain genres. But some games are exceptionally important.

Charles S. Roberts' games for Avalon Hill such as Stalingrad and Afrika Korps showed us that you could have a strategic game modeling some reality (which Risk or Backgammon does not do) that also included dice. Dungeons & Dragons is probably the most influential of all games because so many video games owe so much to tabletop D&D. I’m not at all in sympathy with the “pay to win” original philosophy of Magic: the Gathering but it obviously started an enormous genre of its own.

In video games, it’s a little harder to point to games that “started it all” because frequently the breakthrough game isn’t the first game. The Sims, for example, was preceded by a game called Little Computer People that was not successful.

**Do you feel that Risk has influenced gaming? If so, in what way?**

Risk is the quintessential conquest game. And it has its own niche, a board game for young fellows who want to trash talk each other and be competitive, kind of hanging out with the guys. Because it’s a conquest game it’s not really very cerebral, it’s too much attack Attack ATTACK!

But I’m not sure how many games there are, at least, well-known games, that directly derive from Risk. It kind of stands on its own. Yes, there are all the recent variants published by Hasbro, but they are all much, much younger than Risk. What Hasbro is doing with Risk, as it is with its other games, is relying on the brand to sell more games. Hence you have “Sorry Sliders” which really has very little to do with Sorry, but trades on the name. “Battleship Galaxies” is another one.

Risk also appeals to younger people because, thanks to the dice rolling, there’s always a small chance that a weak player will overcome a strong player, a chance to really doesn’t exist in Diplomacy with its diceless system. I recall playing a two player game of Risk where I rolled one “6" the entire game. I lost. It probably wasn’t long after that that I switched to Diplomacy!

It’s not the fact that there are dice, it’s the fact that you have almost no opportunity to try to mitigate the effects of dice. As I said my favorite commercial game is first edition Dungeons & Dragons. There are lots of dice in that game but you can treat it just like some (wise) people treat life, you can try to minimize the times when you need to get lucky to survive. (As in, wear a seatbelt in a car - yet some people don't. Or wear a mask during a pandemic.) Sooner or later it’ll get you, but that’s life as well. You don’t get those opportunities much in Risk. First edition D&D also required players to cooperate to survive. Second edition was much like first, third edition was about “one-man armies” and a lack of cooperation, 4th was back to cooperation, though you really have to screw up pretty badly to die.

**You designed Hyborian Risk in 1981 (a revision appeared in 2006). As this was prior to any of the published commercial versions, including Castle Risk, why tackle a Risk game? (I have not mentioned anything about your new versions - if you choose to mention/discuss them, it would be interesting.)**

The 2006 version was by Chester E. Hendrix, I just host it on my website.

A way to practice designing games is to modify existing games. If a game has a simple system that can be applied to lots of different situations then it’s more likely to be the subject of variants.

Although I’ve designed perhaps only one or two Diplomacy variants in the past 30 years, because of all the ones I did in the 70s I still have designed more Diplomacy variants altogether than anyone else in the world. And as I much prefer Diplomacy to Risk, if I’m going to design a variant it will usually be a Diplomacy variant. I don’t recall the origins of Hyborian Risk but for some reason I decided to make a Risk variant rather than a Diplomacy variant, perhaps because play balance is much, much easier to get right in a symmetric game like Risk as opposed to an asymmetric game like Diplomacy.

END PART 3

Comments

Interesting interview

Dr. P,

I don't know how different we are in age (I'm 53), but our respective gaming trajectories are quite similar. Risk was the first war game I had played and was enamored by the size and scope , only later turning to Axis and Allies which incorporated an economic component. While stationed overseas did I actively get involved in hex-and-counter war games and never turned back. For the last 10 years, I've provided development assistance in the form of lead play-testing and proofreading/editing service to Doc Cummins over at Decision Games. It's very true that we as designers stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. To William Attia, we owe worker placement; to Donald Vaccarino, deckbuilding; and to many others, the amazing mechanics which we incorporate into our titles today.

Cheers,
Joe

Appreciation

You have a lot of wisdom and insight to share, Dr. Lew. Thanks for taking the time to post your responses here. Though they may be from several years ago, the information is still relevant and useful.

I appreciate your efforts and generosity, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Prof,

I'm 70 (I cringe when I see that). And I spent many years playing only D&D, though after I'd gone through Avalon Hill and Diplomacy.

I'm old-fashioned insofar as I stick with a few games and don't pay much attention to new ones.

I try to make models when I design games (usually). So I've never actually used worker placement or deck-building, though I've thought about it, because they don't represent any reality well. Though they obviously work great for abstract (non-model) games.

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