Sekigahara - This is one of the highest-rated wargames on BGG.
How to ease into using Vassal
First, I’d recommend that you get experience playing Steam and/or mobile implementations of board games or board-game-like games, like Risk, Axis & Allies, Twilight Struggle, Race for the Galaxy, Fort Sumter.
These have in-game tutorials, nice animations, music, good graphics, etc.
This can help ease you into some board game concepts you might not be familiar with if you’re jumping into Vassal without a lot of previous board game experience. Things like having different phases, playing cards to take actions, rolling dice to determine outcomes, cubes and meeples, victory points, tracks, CRTs, etc.
Next, I’d recommend that you get experience playing browser-based board game implementations that guide you through the game’s phases and limit your actions to what you’re legally allowed to do.
This will ease you into the experience of needing to refer to the user manual frequently while learning the rules, needing to look stuff up on player aids, and needing to play some throwaway games to get the feel for the rules.
The graphics aren’t as slick as the Steam/mobile versions, there’s no music, no tutorials. But you get access to a lot more games than if you stuck with Steam/mobile board games.
These are sites like Rally-The-Troops (the best UI IMO), Yucata, BoardGameArena, BrettspielWelt.
RTT has easily-accessible HTML versions of the rules of the games it carries, which makes searching for stuff much easier than if you’re using a PDF manual without searchable text.
You can download the Tic-Tac-Toe module and get practice playing a game locally, via PBEM, and live.
You can try some solo games to get more experience with Vassal before getting into multiplayer games if you’re worried about bothering your opponent with basic questions (although honestly, Vassal’s UI isn’t that complicated, and you may get bored playing by yourself).
The best way to find people to play with is to join the official Vassal discord server and the Vassal PBEM discord server and post in one of the LFG (“Looking for a game”) channels. It’ll probably be quicker and easier for you to find a game if you reply to someone else’s request for an opponent than if you post your own request.
How to think about Live games vs. PBEM: Live games are useful (especially with a voice call) because you can ask for help immediately if you don’t know how to do something. If your partner can’t record a screenshare video showing you how to do everything, then it’s probably best to start with a Live game to get help with the UI for whatever game you’re using. However, Live games have the disadvantage that you’ll feel pressured to make decisions quickly, which can make the game feel less pleasant (in my experience anyway). I like that when I play an asynchronous game I can take my time reading the rules for whatever decision I need to make.
I found people recommending Battle for Moscow as a good PBEM game for beginners to wargaming to start with because the rules are simple and each player only needs to send 7 emails.
You can find an online implementation of Battle for Moscow that’ll let you play against a bot here: https://oberlabs.com/b4m/
Core controls / methods:
Alt + Left click will ping a certain part of the UI (normally the main map but it also works for auxiliary windows) and center other players' UI on that point. So this is a key way to make it easy for other players to follow what you’re doing when it’s your turn or when you’re taking some action.
It seems common for people to write a comment in the log when the dice are going to be rolled that summarizes what the roll is for.
In my Last Hundred Yards game, IIRC we’d write a comment describing who was attacking whom with each roll.
When I played Downfall of the Third Reich, my opponent would write a simple “X / Y” comment that summarized the die roll modifiers(?) for each side prior to each side rolling a D6.
Create a channel in the Vassal PBEM by commenting in the “lfg-discussion” channel like this:
@grogs Could we please get a room for <the game you want to play>. <then tag every player you want included, like @nathan1234 @john1234>
After loading a log file, “you will need to click the play button on the top left of the map screen to step through the log file. Once it is finished you will be prompted to create a new log file. Increment the number in the file name and then complete your turn. Once your turn is finished you will need to select End Log File from the File menu to save the file. You can then upload it [to the Vassal PBEM Discord server] for [your opponent] to look at.”
Pros and cons of board games vs. PC games
I spent a while learning about board games to get a sense of what they have to offer that you can’t get from PC games.
Note that there’s a spectrum of options:
pure board games - physical board, played in-person (or possibly via a video call, but that can be very difficult with many games that have small text or hidden information).
Tabletop Simulator / Vassal, where it’s often a pure simulation of a board game with no automation to help you, or there might be some automation available to guide the game along. You can still make a mistake interpreting the rules.
Rally-The-Troops / Steam editions of games (like Risk, Axis & Allies, various niche wargames), where you’re playing board game and guided through the whole process. There’s no way for you to not follow the rules.
Pure PC game, where it was never intended to be a board game, and has features that couldn’t work as a board game.
Variety. Board games require less technical knowledge to develop than PC games, and so it seems more common / easier for non-technical people (like historians) to develop board games than PC games. This seems to lead to a wider variety of gameplay / themes than you typically find in PC games.
On the other hand, it is possible to develop a game as just a Vassal module. But since there doesn’t seem to be as much of a market for paid Vassal modules, it seems like the market for physical board games is what is
Modability. Board games are extremely easy to mod. It’s extremely easy to add rules, remove rules, change rules, create new maps, etc.
See the note above about this being possible in Vassal modules.
The visual/tactile experience. The physical presence of the pieces on the board can add to the experience.
“There is something inherently dramatic about holding the die above the table and knowing I need a 5 or 6 to take Paris. Computerized wargames -- and computer-based versions of board games -- suck a lot of the drama out of the situation. B-17 Queen of the Skies was great at building dramatic tension during solitaire play, by making you roll on a series of charts. Bad things happen on one chart, which leads you to another; then you get another bad roll which puts you onto another chart... It would be really simple to write a program that just presents you with the final results, but you would not get the tension building that you get from manually rolling dice and looking things up.” (Source)
It’s common to hear people say that after spending all day working on a computer, they don’t want to look at a computer screen while playing a game to relax.
“I spend too much time staring at a screen as it is.” (Source)
The social experience. Being physically present with your opponent does seem to add to the experience (depending on the circumstances).
See the note above about this being possible with Vassal modules.
Refereeing. You don’t have the computer guiding you through the sequence of play / ensuring you’re following the rules / rolling the dice / keeping track of the state of the game, which means:
it can take a lot, lot longer to play if you’re not familiar with the rules
if you bump the table or a cat jumps on the table, you can lose the state of the game
it can be harder / almost impossible to “undo” your decisions (like how you can on rally-the-troops.com)
Remote/Async. You can’t easily play remotely / asynchronously.
Space. The games take up a lot of space, are harder to travel with, etc.
Fog of war. You can’t easily hide the pieces of your opponent, which means that often you’ll unrealistically be able to see a lot of information about your opponent.
As the British, your job is to react to the insurgents.
You pretty much never want to do a limited op if you’re first eligible.
The “sabotage” action is one of the major ways that the insurgents are going to accrue victory points (subtract from political will).
The “propagandize” action didn’t come up much in their game at all.
You’re going to go through ~16-18 cards total.
There is a strategy guide in the rulebook that gives general advice for how to play well:
“you should begin each campaign with a plan for what you want to achieve, and only divert from it if there is something more important you need to respond to”
“in the long-term the Propaganda Round effects are likely to have a greater impact [on political will / who wins], and you should make sure that you are always working towards achieving these.”
“you can use a Limited Operation on one turn to set yourself up for a powerful action on the next”
MCP (insurgent) advice:
“it is important to expand early and often into areas that [the British] are seeking to control. Rally is ideal for this, but don’t be afraid to use March to re-enter otherwise inaccessible areas if necessary, especially if they are only protected by a New Village.”
“make sure to [March into Economic Centers and place Sabotage] at every opportunity you get”
“make sure to secure your own income, with a Base in Thailand being virtually untouchable and worth 4 Resources over the whole game if placed down early.”
“Once Active your Guerrillas are easily removed by the British, especially outside of Mountains”
Misc. Thoughts: - In casual games it seems important to keep your eye out for players who are likely to remain in alliances for longer than they should. The same thing happens a lot in casual games of Risk.
Questions to Answer:
What is the smallest functional game that you can make? In other words, if I wanted to have as few players as possible and as few territories as possible, but I also wanted to not violate any of the original rules, how many territories / players would I have?
Analysis of Simple Situations:
2-square game: If each player starts with one square and there are only 2 squares, the game will be a stalemate. [Is there any way to generalize this observation?]
3-square game If the winning condition is to get 2 squares, this game should be a stalemate with perfect play (the pieces should bounce every time they try to move into the middle territory). However, with an imperfect opponent one player could win by convincing the other player to not
Throughout the book, Roberts notes errors that, if avoided, might have helped the Germans to win battles and perhaps even the war itself. Hitler, he says, should have begun the war three years later than he did, in 1942 rather than 1939. He should not have allowed the British to escape at Dunkirk as France fell. He should have arranged for the Japanese to help in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Once on Soviet territory German forces should have recruited the non-Russian populations rather than repressing them, and returned farmland to peasants rather than exploiting their labor and taking their food. In September 1941, Army Group Center of the Wehrmacht should have pushed forward to Moscow rather than detouring to Kiev. Army Group South should have fought a war of maneuver rather than concentrating on Stalingrad.
Inevitably, the reader of these observations will find himself posing counterfactual questions. If we agree with Roberts, as we should, that Churchill personally helped lengthen the war by keeping Britain from seeking peace terms after the fall of France, then we are also implicitly saying that, absent Churchill, peace might have been made. The war-winning alliance of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Soviet Union was sealed only in December 1941, and could not have been achieved had Britain left the war.
But even if the case for Churchill shows us the importance of this implicit counterfactual, it is still unclear just how to deal with Roberts’s explicit ones. Each depends upon careful judgment of what was thinkable in a given moment, and the fact that Roberts appears to use only English-language sources cuts against his ability to weigh convincingly what Hitler and other Germans considered possible. If Hitler had begun the war three years later, surely very many other things would have been different, and not all of them to his favor.
In other cases, the what-if’s require too much to be altered to be really useful. The reason German forces did not befriend the non-Russian minorities and assist the hungry peasantry in the Soviet Union was that they were embarked on a war of racial colonization that was meant to kill tens of millions of Jews and Slavs. In the end, as Roberts himself concludes, that is the war Hitler wanted. And as he knows, the reason Japan did not help the Germans in the Soviet Union was that Hitler did not want Japanese help. What’s more, the Japanese themselves had already decided to move south into the Pacific rather than north into Siberia. Tokyo had been quite powerfully alienated from Berlin by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, in which Berlin seemed to exchange its alignment with Japan for an alliance with the Soviet Union. In other words, sometimes what appears at first to be just a matter of Hitler’s own decisions in fact involves the thinking of leaders of other countries as well, which means that the exercise becomes much more complicated.
Then, too, what if Poland had agreed in 1939 to join Germany in an invasion of the Soviet Union, as Hitler wanted? If Poland had allied with Germany rather than resisting, Britain and France would not have issued territorial guarantees to Poland, and would not have had their casus belli in September 1939. It is hard to imagine that Britain and France would have declared war on Germany and Poland in order to save the Soviet Union. If Poland’s armies had joined with Germany’s, the starting line for the invasion would have been farther east than it was in June 1941, and Japan might have joined in, which would have forced some of the Red Army divisions that defended Moscow to remain in the Far East. Moscow might have been attained. In this scenario, there is no Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, and thus no alienation of Japan from Germany. In that case, no Pearl Harbor, and no American involvement. What World War II becomes is a German-Polish-Japanese victory over the Soviet Union. That, by the way, was precisely the scenario that Stalin feared.
Question: What general principles could be extracted from these what-ifs? In other words, what process for decision-making could Hitler have followed to avoid these mistakes (assuming they should be called mistakes)?
Columbia block wargames
How to play well
Pay attention to the road movement limits, because they make it so you can’t just mass like 8 blocks in one city and then move them all together to attack at once.
Pay close attention to the garrison limits of each town/city so you don't get units disbanded during the winter turn.
Most of the additional units you can recruit require that you control certain towns that you don’t start out controlling, so you want to be thinking about capturing those towns so that you can recruit those units.
They found the theme dry / hard to get excited about. (Personally it seems to me like it should be marketed as being like the eastern front of WW2 but in medieval times.)
They found it was very easy to make mistakes that would totally ruin your chances of success. (But if it's equally easy for both sides to make such mistakes, presumably you could recover if the other side made a mistake later?)
They found it was a very front-loaded planning experience, meaning you had to put a lot of effort into planning things before you even got started with your campaign for the season. (This reminds me of defending in Combat Mission, where your largest opportunity to affect the game is in the setup phase, and if you mess that up you can be in a totally hopeless position before things even get started.)
They didn't like the box art. (IMO they spent a ridiculous amount of time talking about this.)
Questions I have
How realistic is it that I need to provide and manage provender and vehicles for the armies of my lords?
The game is broken up into a Levy phase and a Campaign phase. The Levy phase is where you assemble your force, and the campaign phase is where you maneuver it around to try to gain victory points.
There are a few scenarios plus a full campaign.
One particular scenario he uses as an example is five turns.
Each turn is ~40 days long.
A turn takes place in one of three seasons: summer, winter, and Rasputitsa.
To play, just go through the sequence of play that’s listed on the player’s aid.
Arts of War
The first thing we do is draw event cards.
On the first Levy phase of a scenario/campaign, you use the bottom half of the event card to receive a “capability” (that will presumably be active for the duration of the game).
NW: It seems the purpose of this is to serve as a source of randomness in the setup / decision tree of a scenario/campaign.
On all subsequent levy phases you use the top half (“event”) of the card. Those either are executed immediately or can be held and used at a player-determined time.
NW: This seems to be a way to further randomize the decision tree of the game as it progresses, to prevent things from getting stale when replaying it.
We next need to pay our lords to stay in the field.
This is a very important part of the game: lords serve for very low durations (like 2-4 turns, so that’s like 80-160 days) unless you keep giving them more loot to convince them to stay in the field.
Each lord has a “lordship value” that they can spend to do various things, like bringing other lords into play.
NW: So this “lordship value” seems to be a way to represent each lord’s political / social “pull”.
To bring another lord into play you just spend one of your lordship points and roll a single die, and if the number is at or below the fealty rating (1-5) of the lord you’re trying to muster, you succeed.
It’s very important to recruit new lords to your army. But you want to time it right, because the more lords you have, the more upkeep you need to pay to keep them in the field. So you might want to wait a bit.
Readying vassal forces
NW: vassals are basically the subordinates of lords.
You can choose to have your lords call up additional troops from their vassals.
If your force size for a given lord goes above 6, it’ll cost you extra to feed your army. You generally want to avoid that.
Your armies need transport to move their supplies (provender) and loot.
If you move along a waterway/roadway with more stuff (provender and loot) than you have transports, you’ll be “laden” and move more slowly.
In this “transport” phase your lords can buy more transports to avoid ending up laden.
NW: How many carts/boats does each counter represent? How many pounds of provender does each counter represent? I want to be able to imagine what my army looks like.
In summary (but also introducing some new info): in the levy phase, your lords can use their lordship points for four things: getting other lords into the war, recruiting more troops for their own army, buying transports, or enhancing their army with additional capabilities from your hand of cards.
Each lord can have up to two army-specific capabilities, and each side in the war can have as many generic capabilities (applying to all lords?) as they have lords in play.
Your lords can only muster if they’re in a friendly location.
The Call to Arms
There’s two parts to this.
The Teuton side: The legate
The Teutons have a card that activates a legate (representative of the Pope), and once activated the legate can activate a lord without needing a die roll (and without needing to spend lordship points?).
It’s good to use the legate for lords with lower fealty ratings (i.e. lords where you’d be less likely to activate them through a die roll).
You want to play this card as early as possible and use the legate as frequently as possible.
Legates can also be used to make lords available for recruitment one turn earlier.
Legates can also be used to add lordship points to a given lord.
The Rus side: They can pay a victory point from their “vesh”(? bottom-right corner of the board) to: 1) have a lord available for recruitment one turn earlier, 2) auto-muster a lord, 3) have a lord at a friendly locale use their lordship for muster(NW: Why use victory points to do that?)
Lords can’t spend their lordship points on the same turn they’re recruited.
First we flip the levy marker to its “campaign” side.
We then discard any generic capability cards in play in excess of the number of lords we have.
The actions you take during the campaign phase are determined by cards from a campaign deck. There are three cards in the deck per lord. There are also three “Pass” cards you can use (but you generally don’t want to pass, you want to be doing things). You’ll build a hand of these command cards corresponding to the current season: six total cards in summer, 4 in winter, and 5 in Rasputitsa. You can choose which cards you want in your hand.
You activate your lords one-at-a-time and take all actions with each that you want to take before moving on to the next one.
Your opponent doesn’t know who you’re activating, the order you’re activating them, etc. And you don’t know what your opponent is going to do.
At this point, if you have more than one army in a space, you can designate one of them as a lieutenant to create a single more-powerful army.
You reveal the top card of the deck. You can look at the command rating to know how much you’re allowed to do with the lord you’ve activated.
You have a variety of actions you can take, and you can mix-and-match them as you please in whatever order you want.
If you’re not “laden” (having more provender than vehicles), it’s 1 command point to move to an adjacent territory. If you’re laden, it’s 2 command points.
If you have loot, you’re automatically laden.
If you have too much provender and/or loot, you may not be able to move at all.
Whenever an army moves or fights, you must place a “moved/fought” marker and then pay provender to “supply” the army (make it able to be activated again). If the army is of size 1-6 you pay 1 provender. If you don’t have the necessary provender, the lord will want to end his campaign sooner.
If you move into a territory with an enemy fortification, you automatically enter a state of sieging it.
There is also a “siege” action that seems like it means “putting effort into the siege”, which can mean building more siege equipment (adding more siege markers) or potentially causing the defenders to surrender. It uses all of your command actions.
Storming a fortification:
You can perform rounds of combat equal to the number of siege markers you have placed against that fortification.
When attacking, you need to roll once to see if the wall protects the defender, and then roll again to see if the defending units' armor has protected them.
If the attackers succeed, they get victory points and spoils (loot for your soldiers, provender to feed them, and coin to keep your nobles in service).
When you move to a location with a defender, the defender can either stand and fight, or avoid battle (move to an adjacent location, not including where you’ve attacked from).
If you avoid battle as a defender, that counts as a movement, so you need to provide provender. So you need to plan for that possibility.
If the defender is at a location with a fortification, he can choose to withdraw into the fortification.
When in a fortification, you can “Sally” (move out of the castle to attack the defenders).
“Supply” gives your armies provender.
Units will draw from supply from “home locations”.
Each seat can provide up to one provender each.
You need the transport necessary to reach those supply sources.
You want to have a lot of transport and a lot of provender all at once, so you don’t get laden when you supply. You generally want to keep them equal in number.
Once you’re on the enemy side of the board, you can “forage” for provender, but there are limitations.
You can forage at a friendly fortification during winter or Rasputitsa, or anywhere during summer.
“Forage” gives you 1 provender.
You can’t forage in an area that’s been “ravaged”.
You do this in enemy territory, except conquered lands. You place a “ravaged” marker on the spot, gain half a victory point, gain a provender for your army, and if it’s a locale other than a “region” (unnamed location?), you also gain a loot.
Ravaged markers are never removed during the campaign, making it harder to campaign.
If you start your turn in a port, you can spend all your command points to move to another port.
You can’t do this during winter.
You must have enough ships for your horses: Teutons need 1 ship per horse, Russians need 2 ships per horse.
You need additional ships for your provender: 1 ship per provender, 2 ships per loot.
If your lord is in his home seat, he can add a coin to his provisions, and spend it during his levy phase to push his service marker out by one.
Pass - Do nothing
Side-note: Knights are important because their armor protects them from hits and they do extra hits, so they can be quite strong, particularly if they recruit their vassals.
After the command phase:
Attrition: If you have more than one of an asset (provender or vehicle), you must discard any one asset or card from that lord.
Unstack any lieutenants.
Discard any cards you don’t want anymore. Apparently this includes capabilities/events that you’ve played. So you may want to do this to switch between the event and capability of a card.
Advance the campaign phase marker and switch it to the levy side.
It seems like the dominant strategy is to ravage rather than besiege because the scenario is so short that you can't really build up the force size and siegeworks necessary to take on the bigger cities. So it’s basically like a “base race” as you’d see in Starcraft.
If you can take out a smaller enemy force while on your way to ravage their rear, that might be a good idea to prevent them from coming onto your side of the map.
At least on the Rus side, you don’t need to worry about your lords reaching their service limit, so you can afford to have them go without provender without worrying about them disbanding.
The Teutons need to reach 7 VPs and have at least 2x as many VPs as Rus.
The dominant feature of this scenario (as opposed to Pleskau) seems to be the limited number of cards usable in each turn: three of the five turns just have 4 cards. This seems to incentivize combining your forces via lieutenants so that you can move more lords around.
The Rus don't have enough lords to be able to just block off all of the paths he could take to ravage.
The Teutons can't easily muster more forces, while the Rus can. So it seems like the best strategy for the Rus is maybe to attack the Teutons, fall back, muster more forces, and then attack again.
What is fun about Risk?
This is probably the best description I’ve ever come across of why Risk is my favorite game of all time:
Talking about SBF going to prison: “Listen, he’s never gonna have been through anything this horrible in his entire life. But he’ll have a new appreciation for--I have have a story I’ll tell ya, and then I’ll letcha go. The story is, when I was locked up in basically like a county jail, I was waiting to be sentenced, and I was talking to this guy who’d just done…god, it was like ten or twelve years in federal prison, and I think he still had a few more years in the state. And I was just like, man this is so…I was just like, I can’t believe this is happening. And he said, “Cox, I understand you’re freakin' out. Listen, there is gonna be a time, and it’s gonna be a few years from now, but there will be a time, you’re gonna go to prison, and there will be a time when you will be sitting around…”--and he was telling me a story that somebody had told him--”You will be sitting around and you will be laughing and joking and doing something, and you’re gonna stop and there will be a moment when you will realize, like, wow, this is great. These are great guys. I’m having a good time. This is great, what a great moment. And you’ve had those on the outside, you have those sometimes with your friends. But when you’re locked up and you have that moment, you’re gonna think ‘there’s no place I’d rather be’.” And I went, you’re outta your fuckin' mind, bro. That’s never gonna happen. Probably three years later, I was playing Risk with a bunch of guys, probably four or five guys, this guy’s invading this country, this guy had an agreement not to invade that country, he rolls the dice, he invades it, “Ahhh! I can’t believe you, we had an agreement, you--” he’s like, “bro, what am I supposed to do? I gotta take Czechoslovakia!” There are people bringing us sodas, like they have guys that will walk around and sell sodas, and they’re bringing us food, and somebody says “yeah, gimme a Pepsi!” And it’s ice cold, and you’re laughing--I remember I was laughing so hard, and I remember looking around at these guys--this is great, like, this is great. These are great guys. And it hit me, I was like, “Oh my god”…because that guy told me about his moment. His moment was, they were standing around a burn barrel, talking and shootin' the shit one day, and he said “I had that moment”. And you’ll realize, it’s gonna be ok, I can do this. And it was.”
The game is relatively simple to learn, unlike Monopoly. This makes it easy to get inexperienced gamers involved.
The simplicity of the game makes it easy to come up with rule variations and have a good idea of how they'll change the game.
The game is relatively simple to reason about. You can usually have a reasonable idea of the effect of your actions, and what your odds of success are.
This is in contrast to Axis and Allies (and arguably chess), where the decision tree is totally clouded by the complexity of the game.
The game isn't too simple, like "Sorry!" or Clue. You can often make somewhat complicated plans.
You get to feel powerful / important: you're taking over the entire world.
You get to make important decisions: whether to back-stab your ally, when to attack, etc.
There's a lot of tension. The game can really get emotional.
If the game has willing players, you can get a lot of fun back-and-forth debate to try to persuade people.
It can be a lot like playing Diplomacy, except with the added fun (IMO) feature of people being able to go it alone and just rely on staying out of the way of warring factions. In Diplomacy you can't do that; you have to ally and backstab.
It has a similarity with poker in that even if you're not playing at the moment, you can be planning your future moves, or watching the other players to try to guess their intentions, or trying to persuade people to do things.
I found the realism of the setting (as opposed to fantasy variants) to make it more fun for me; I felt like I was Caesar or Napoleon. Fantasy games have never been able to do that for me. I had the same issue with GoldenEye vs. Perfect Dark; when I was confronted with aliens in Perfect Dark it ruined the immersion for me.
How to enjoy Risk
There is no deadline to finish the game.
At any point, two players can agree to leave the room and have a private discussion, which can take as long as they want, even if it holds up the game, as long as it's clear they aren't trying to purposely obstruct the game.
How could Risk be made better?
What are the things people don't like about Risk?
Summary of the criticisms I've read / heard
It's too random.
It takes too long to play.
There's player elimination, at which point those people don't have anything to do.
The game doesn't technically end until one player has capture all territories in the world, but it's often clear who the eventual winner will be long before that.
The game doesn't have a good method for dealing with players leaving the game while they still have armies on the board.
The early game is slow as players focus on just collecting a card each turn.
Strongly favors luck over strategic thinking.
Players who are eliminated earlier have nothing to do.
My responses to criticisms of Risk
It's too random.
I suspect this is true if players are not communicating with each other and trying to get other players to make suboptimal moves, but if players can scheme and make alliances, I feel that tilts the game towards a test of persuasion and strategic thinking a la Diplomacy. I've definitely seen on multiple occasions an older player convince a younger player (often a younger sibling or cousin) to ally with them, and use that alliance to gain a lot of power, only to then back-stab the younger player at the end and claim the victory for themselves. However I also suspect that older, more sophisticated players will more-easily understand the long-term implications of having a particular player gain too much power, and so they may be more likely to switch alliances to make sure that no particular player gains too much power, and they may be less likely to so-thoroughly burn bridges with the other players that they would not be able to ally with those players later. In other words, they may play less emotionally, and thus be less susceptible to the miscalculations that come from playing emotionally, and thus may result in the game losing its strategic / persuasive dimension and only having its random dimension remaining.
It takes too long to play.
I think this can be a fair point depending on the situation you're in. If everyone who is going to play understands how long the game will take and is OK with that, then there's no problem. But if you're playing with people who've never played before and don't know how long it will take and will get bored or pulled away from the game before it can complete, then sure, that's going to be a problem.
There's player elimination, at which point those people don't have anything to do.
This is a fair point if you're in a situation where there's nothing else to do. But if you're playing in a home where you have videogames, a ping pong table, and other activities, this is a non-issue. So I guess I would say: just be aware of this issue, and judge for yourself whether you're in a situation where the players will have some other fun thing to do or not.
Also: although I've never done this, I suspect house rules can be devised to keep the other players active in the game.
The game doesn't technically end until one player has capture all territories in the world, but it's often clear who the eventual winner will be long before that.
Chess has the same issue. Just end the game when it's clear there's a winner. If the person who seems to be losing wants to fight on, let them duke it out, it'll be fun for the winner.
The game doesn't have a good method for dealing with players leaving the game while they still have armies on the board.
This can be worked around with house rules.
The game isn't very fun with fewer than 4 people.
I agree with this point. So people just need to be aware that they should really only play the game if they have 4-6 people.
What things do people not complain about but could still make the game better?
What are the smallest / most-simple changes to the rules that would improve the game?
How could you make Risk less random?
Why exactly is Risk considered to be so random?
People often decide starting territories by dealing out the deck.
Another variant has people take turns placing their armies on different territories, but people often avoid doing things this way because it takes more time.
The dice rolling is the biggest target of scorn.
You could have people bid at the beginning of the game.
You could have less dice-rolling. On the other hand, I like how the extended dice-rolling can make a big battle FEEL epic. You get these situations where a person will be "on a roll" and will keep rolling well, or will keep rolling poorly, and it adds a lot to the drama.
Problems with reducing randomness:
Randomness is always traded off with knowledge of some decision tree (like in chess). IMO one of Risk's nice features is that a new player can have a reasonable chance of winning the game. In poker and chess you get crushed as a new player until you learn a whole host of heuristics and unwritten rules. That's not fun.
How could you make Risk take less time to play?
It may be worth looking to other games for inspiration.
Why exactly does Risk take so much time to play?
When the active player is thinking instead of attacking.
Dice rolling. You're dealing with dozens / hundreds of armies, and each roll of the dice only eliminates up to 2 armies (b/c the defenders can only roll two). So you end up rolling the dice a lot.
If you don't use the cards or don't have trade-ins increase in value as quickly as the manual recommends, you can end up with a sort-of stalemate situation where things go back-and-forth without anyone being able to gain enough of an advantage to force a victory.
Possible rules to speed up player thinking:
Each player has 10 minutes to make all of their moves. If they run out of time, they forfeit and their armies become defense-only.
(optional) At the beginning of each round there's 5 minutes for people to discuss things.
Possible rules to speed up dice rolls:
Dice rolls are to be done via computer. If both players agree, the entire engagement can be calculated at once. Otherwise it proceeds one roll at a time.
(There's actually a "Risk Dice Roller" Android app. I haven't tried it.)
Possible rules to reduce stalemate situations:
The default rules tackle this possibility by having the value of trading in cards increase quickly after a certain point. From my vague memory, I don't really like the game as much when it's played this way. I've had more fun with the long, drawn-out games.
Just have the game take a set number of turns, and the winner is the person who controls the most territories at the end of the game.
Problems with making Risk take less time to play:
IMO one of the best features of Risk is the tension and changing fortunes (people coming back from almost being beaten), wallowing in despair or feeling an extended high when you're winning. It may not be possible to build the necessary tension to make the game memorable if the whole thing only takes 30 minutes.
Another thing is that it would seem to take away from the extended conversations that people can have.
How could you keep all players involved in the game until the end?
Why exactly do players not stay involved in the game to the end?
The typical reason is that they get eliminated.
Honestly being eliminated doesn't NECESSARILY have to make players lose interest; they can still have a personal goal of preventing the person who eliminated them, for example. In Counter-Strike it can be fun to watch the rest of the round even after you've been eliminated.
Another thing that happens is that a player can be made very weak, to the point where they don't have a good chance at winning, at which point they can lose interest.
Possible rule to fix player elimination:
Players can be brought back into the game somehow.
The downside of this is that the game may end up in one of those neverending back-and-forth situations.
Possible rule to fix player elimination:
There could be some kind of second-game or meta-game for the eliminated players.
For example, in some variants of 'tag', once you're tagged you turn into a zombie or something that needs to go and tag other players.
Possible rule to fix player elimination:
Just by making the game faster you could make player elimination less painful. For example, Counter-Strike is popular despite having player elimination because the players don't need to wait more than a few minutes before being able to play again.
Problems with keeping players involved until the very end:
If you have a mechanic that allows players to rejoin the game, and you don't have some kind of hard limit on how long the game goes (eg a set number of turns, or a limited supply of resources), you could end up producing lots of stalemates.
How could you make Risk more fun when you just have 2-3 players?
Why exactly is Risk less fun with 2-3 players?
A big part of Risk is the diplomacy: making alliances, back-stabbing people, trying to get other players to hate each other. You just can't get that kind of interaction if you don't have enough people. It's like trying to get that distinctive sound of a choir when you only have one other person with you.
Another issue is that each color doesn't typically have enough armies to cover 1/3 or 1/2 of the board with the "normal" number of armies that you'd see at the beginning of a 4-6-player game. Typically in a larger game of Risk you'd have a large "interior" of 1-army countries, with the majority of your force at your borders. Once you punch through your opponent's main force, it's typically a clean-sweep through the rest of their territory.
Possible rule to make Risk fun with 2-3 players:
Add some kind of new diplomacy mechanic that makes a 2-player game interesting. Require some kind of trading or bartering or discussion.
Possible rule to make Risk fun with 2-3 players:
If you only have 2 players then you don't have any kind of diplomacy element (unless you add some new mechanic which makes that possible). If you don't have any diplomacy mechanics, the game will essentially be a drawn-out roll of the dice (ie no skill) unless you add some kind of skill / decision-tree elements (like in chess).
- No continents allowed - reserve forces at sea - cap on armies - everyone is neutral - multidimensional Risk - nuclear war - alien invasion
My ideas for rule variants
The concept: figure out some way to combine Risk and chess, like how the Total War series combines grand strategy with the tactics of individual battles.
Problems to be solved:
One obvious problem is that chess games take a while to play, and so if you're playing a chess game for every battle the whole thing will take far too long.
Another obvious problem is that the relative and absolute strength of the two sides of a battle in Risk can vary greatly, while in chess the two sides always start off equal. And chess games become unequal very quickly because pieces can dodge attacks, whereas in Risk armies can't dodge the threat of being eliminated. So if you wanted to have the relative number of pieces on the chessboard for the two sides correspond to the relative size of the armies on the Risk board, you'd need to modify the chess rules to lessen the advantage of the larger side.
Random Rules Risk
The concept: Figure out some way to make the rules very different between games, while still making it easy for people to reason about, and still making it fair for everyone. Some official Risk variants have random elements (like randomly removing certain territories from the game), but I think it could be taken much further. One simple example to start with would be, "Have access to the rules of 24 different simple Risk variants, then roll some dice to pick one of them, and play that variant." That's just a simple example of how to make it more random.
Play for money
Everyone puts in some amount of money to start, say $5 or $20 or something like that.
Alternative: maybe allow players to enter different amounts of money in exchange for certain things. For example, players could bid on every territory. I'd need to think out the implications of this.
The remaining players can agree at any time to end the game and divide the winnings between them however they wish.
If one person is able to eliminate all the other players, he gets the entire amount.
Realistic movement restrictions
Only allow players to move armies some restricted number of territories per turn, say 1, or 2, or 3.
Allow more varied movement by ship
Have the income of territories vary
You could maybe even roll a die at the beginning of the game for each territory to determine what income it will provide for that game. That would allow for a lot of variety in the game.
Remove continent bonuses
Allow players to move through other players' territories
Perhaps the biggest difference is that battles are all-or-nothing: if you win, you keep your entire army, and if you lose, you lose your entire army.
Your additional armies are placed automatically.
It seems like there's some preference for placing them on territories that are adjacent to enemy territory, but you still end up with a lot of your armies on internal territory.
There are no continents or continent-like bonuses.
There are no critical paths between different sections of the map (a la Iceland).
Your armies have a maximum size (six dice).
Any armies that cannot be placed for lack of space are kept in reserve and placed once space frees up on the board.
Attackers and defenders both get one die-roll per 'army' (die) in their respective territory.
I believe defenders still win ties.
Combined with the one-die-per-army rule, this makes defending advantageous relative to attacking, which is basically the opposite of Risk.
There are no cards.
I like the random starts.
I like how quickly you can play an entire game.
I like the AI.
On the other hand, some variation in playstyles might be interesting.
There's an early-game, a middle-game, and an end-game.
You want to:
not attack in the first few turns. You'll probably be left with one or two larger armies after everyone else has gone. Just let those armies get bigger.
Once your army is large enough, make your way to a position towards the center of the map, with as-few-as-possible ways to attack you (a la Australia in Risk).
Once you're out of the way but towards the center of the map, just sit tight and try to get your armies to six dice each, and then build up a reserve of dice.
Once your existing armies hit six dice and you have reinforcements in reserve, feel free to grab an extra territory per turn, such that the existing army and the new territory will both be topped up to six dice.
As you get down to ~3 players (you and two 'major powers'), you want to use your position in the center of the map to attack whichever opponent is stronger.
Your goal is to have the two other players attack each other, while you slowly expand while maintaining such a powerful army that your opponents won't want to attack you.
Once it gets down to 1v1, it's a war of attrition: if your opponent has more territory than you, you want to attack, focusing your armies on doing the maximum damage possible (i.e. not losing dice rolls). Aim to have each of your armies destroying armies ~1-2 dice smaller than them.
This is the point at which you may need to start behaving the way you see the AI behaving: just going all-out every turn. Except you want to deliberately aim to destroy the biggest-possible armies that are smaller than yours.
You should also aim to keep your enemy's larger armies from being able to reach your armies, by leaving a one-territory buffer (a territory held by your opponent's dice where their army is smaller than yours).
Apparently this has a bunch of rule changes to try to fix "problems" with the original version of Risk.
Only five players (classic Risk seats six) Addition of water and moon territories Addition of commanders (land, naval, space, nuclear, diplomat) Command card decks corresponding to each of the five commanders Players earn and spend "energy" to obtain commanders, cards, space stations, and to activate some command cards Players can roll an 8-sided-die in some instances Armies are not acquired through card trading The game is only 5 years (turns) long; the winner is the player with highest score at the end of the last year Players bid energy to determine turn order rather than following the same order determined by a dice from the beginning of the game.
If you're reading this, in 99% of your games your goal is to avoid fighting.
Experienced players are also usually well-practiced enough to know when it is necessary to launch a coordinated, multi-party attack that keeps the strong player down without extending/eliminating any other 1 player's force too much.
Competitive games of Risk have 6 players. No one will let you hold North America or Asia until there are 3 or less players... they're just too big and valuable.
Given that starting position matters so much, any continent besides NA and Asia you have a strong position compared to your competitors in is worth going for.
Australia: Australia is an excellent continent to be in. You gain armies slowly, so you stay under the radar. You don't have to go through a continent anyone else is trying to hold when you exit, so you can expand slowly or attack just one person without provoking others. One border so it's easily defendable.
Africa: First of all, Africa has just one border. Other answers have said it has 3... but that's just wrong. You see, if you station all your troops in Egypt, no one can attack you. If Brazil takes one of your countries, you show no mercy and take out a sizeable amount of their armies, same with Europe. Basically, you can station all your armies in one country and have access to defending each border, which will easily prevent aggressors from taking away a country within the continent. You also have tons of exits, so lots of flexibility and ability to attack who you want. Like Australia, you gain armies slowly, and can stay a bit under the radar.
Europe's very much a hit or miss continent to build in. You get a ton of armies which is great, but it can make you an early target once the big wars begin. If you're in Europe, your goal is for fighting to be held off as long as possible, so you can slowly amass a dominant army before anyone else. You're basically hoping someone else trips up and provokes another player's anger so that you can gain an army lead.
Personally, I advocate storing nearly all your armies in Northern Europe, with some in Scandanavia.
It's a risk-reward strategy.
The risk is that your source of strength is surrounded by your own armies, so they're not mobile. In the right game, sophisticated opponents will never take those countries until they can defeat you, stranding your large army helpless to conquer the world. In practice, that rarely happens though.
South America: You have very little outlet to fight... you'd have to go through Africa causing a war, or all the way through North America and Asia to fight anyone else of consequence. OK to hold, but very restraining as well.
For those curious, what happens to the other 2 players in competitive games (who don't get one of the four above)? There's 2 successful strategies:
Hold 90% of a continent, usually North America. No one will let you own it, but they will let you have all but 1 or 2 border territories of it. You usually get 1 extra army, and you have a base.
Amass all your armies in one place (usually within Asia). If you play your cards right and are largely peaceful (plus that overwhelming force should be quite a deterrent), you can effectively wait out all the other players (letting them fight it out) and swoop in and grab a continent when the time is right.
Don't split your forces and keep your force mobile. This means don't spread out your force among all your borders... minimize that. You want to be mobile. You need to be able to punish any attacker to your continent with devastating force. This is best done by having nearly every army in one territory. At the same time, keep it mobile. Make sure you never own territories surrounding your massive force that would make it difficult to move on the attack in the area you want to.
Of course do the basics... get a card each time, take out an opponent holding cards worth more than the armies it would cost (if you'll survive the round), etc.
He talks about probabilities but seems to not have the level of real-world experience that Josh has.
This was one of Alex’s (at Player’s Aid) favorite wargames.
Waterloo Campaign 1815
Advice for winning
The rules are set up so that the French basically start with a 5 VP lead, because it’s very easy to trace a path from one of the B hexes at the bottom (French) side of the board to one of the B hexes on the top side of the board (which gets them 5 VP). It seems like the best way for the English to deny those VPs would be to have units sitting on top of those B hexes on their edge of the map. But the English only have two HQs, whereas the French have three, which means that the English could have trouble guarding all three of those hexes.
Advice from the manual:
“You will find that the Prussian army is vulnerable to a massed French army if Wellington cannot put counter pressure on the situation.”
“In general, the French army was probably a notch above the British and their more flexible organization gives them more maneuver units than the British. This is a key factor on how the French army might prevail in a stand-up battle against the Anglo-Allied army if the French player can bring more Attack support to bear.”
“Ney and Grouchy both performed poorly in this campaign. They are included to give the French operational flexibility to spread out while Napoleon is in Battle mode. When they are near Napoleon their battle star represents them as an extension of Napoleon under his direct command. When they are operating independently and in battle mode you will note that they have only a two and not a three range. This nuance when coupled with the HQ placement rules means that they are essentially only able to support a single attack with their star.”
I remember someone in their BGG review saying that the way to win as the English is to conduct a fighting retreat.