Risk. The Game of World Domination a la Nineteen Eighty-Four

Taking a bit of a break from Savage Worlds this week, a group of us decided to play Risk, the boardgame of global domination. Good times.

I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with the game. It’s undeniably fun. But as a bit of a history buff, it does kind of annoy me that players are expected to wage global conflict in a manner that bears no resemblance to the European age of imperialism or any epoch before or since.

Just to get Risk’s ahistorical legacy out of the way with a few examples, when did any would-be modern emperor attempt a huge amphibious landing in Europe from Greenland? Iceland into North America? Kamchatka into Alaska? Brazil to North Africa? How is the Middle East not sub-divided into contentious little regions? Why can’t a force from Great Britain directly raid the east coast of North America? Some links between countries suggest the path of historical migrations, perhaps, but have no connection with any actual war fought between continents, or even within them.

I wouldn’t demand any kind of realism from this classic game, except that edition after edition sports European-style Napoleonic era infantry, cavalry and cannons on the box. If that’s what it’s supposed to be, then make it like that. It’s not impossible — the classic war game of Axis and Allies managed to produce a playable map that all but forces you to re-enact the actual raids, amphibious assaults and giant infantry attacks pretty well where they actually happened between 1939 and 1945. Helpfully, A&A has neutral countries you’re basically supposed to ignore — something that would also work well if applied to certain territories in Risk.

Don’t get me wrong. I do still think Risk is an awesome game. And I understand that the Risk-A&A comparison is a bit apples-and-oranges.

Besides, the game has other virtues. In Risk’s unintentionally Orwellian, Nineteen Eighty-Four-ish gameplay style, borders are constantly shifting back and forth. Alliances are forged, forgotten and betrayed — sometimes within minutes. One moment, you’re trying to consolidate your empire in Europe. The next, you’re packing off to South America with your last remaining forces to forge a banana republic.  That is, until you cash your cards and decide that actually, North America would make a better home base for a benevolent dictator.

No matter who owns the most territory or ultimately wins the game, no one has to justify their military rule. War is not politics by other means. There is no politics in this game. It’s just sort of understood by the imaginary people who live in your territory that they are to submit to your authority because, doggone it, you’ve got the biggest army.

Call me the President of Oceania, please. Or Eastasia. Or Eurasia. It’s all good. Now let’s roll.

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2 Comments on “Risk. The Game of World Domination a la Nineteen Eighty-Four”

  1. Sam Richards says:

    I’d never really thought about Risk as a dystopian game, but it makes sense. Now I’m think about the proles slaving away in industrial wastelands to fuel my mission to wipe out the Red Army!


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