Risk: Factions (XBLA)

Review – Risk: Factions

Board Game/Strategy

These dice are WMDs.

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Rich

If you can get past the ridiculous number of twin-stick shooters and puzzle games on Xbox Live Arcade, you’ll find that one of the best genres on there is the converted board game.  With great titles like Carcassonne and Catan offering all the fun of their respective cardboard and plastic variants but with the CPU doing all the adding up at the end, it’s a genre that translates rather well.

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Yank general looks to take over the world. +1 for realism then.

The latest addition is Risk: Factions which is based on the original Risk game but now offering the brand-new Factions rule-set on top of the Classic mode.  The game itself is all about global domination.  Think America but with less excuses about WMDs and terror organisations living in Dr. Evil style cave lairs.  In Classic mode your objective is to reinforce your territories with troops and then expand your empire using dice rolls, tactically gaining advantage by adding more troops than the territory you are attacking has.

The Classic mode is basically a big dice game and not much else.  Luck plays a big factor in success even if the odds are heavily stacked against certain outcomes happening and tactics generally tend to be limited regardless of who is playing and the current state of the board.

After a few cursory games on this mode you’ll soon be ready to check out the Factions Mode and this is where things improve immeasurably.  Factions Mode opens up with an excellent animated cutscene, mirroring the mid-90s cartoon style of Powerpuff Girls and Dexter’s Laboratory.  This cutscene, and the few that follow, give a semblance of plot – some nonsense about cats attacking zombies – but they are consistently funny throughout and a real pleasure to watch.  Think America getting knocked out of the World Cup.

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Three sixes. Number of the Beast and a good way for cats to wreck your shit.

Once you get past that nonsense you are into the game which has a much-changed rule-set from Classic Mode.  To win in Factions you need to capture three objectives on a map.  These range from taking your opponents’ capital cities, capturing a number of continents (or just specific ones) or controlling resources on the map.  Capturing any territory during a turn gives you a star card that you can trade in for more troops – holding onto these and trading a few in at once will give you even more troops – whereas capturing an objective will give you a bonus reward such as more dice to roll during battles, extra troops and even the ability to convert the territory of your choice.

It’s all very nice and entertaining and presented with tons of charm, making the game instantly likeable.  To its credit it has a much better tutorial than other games in the genre which makes the game very easy to learn.  Some would say ‘easy to learn but hard to master’ but actually that’s not the case and here’s where things get a bit sticky for Risk: Factions.

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Lurk

Secondary Review

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of board and card games, so Risk being released on the Xbox Live Arcade had me from the start. Board games have a great advantage on XBLA, simply because you don’t need to spend an age setting up the game and won’t lose any of the pieces. Add to the fact there’s no need to gather your friends round if you want to play, because of AI or real people over Live.

This comes with original Risk and the Factions variation. In the Factions variation you can play through a story that involves Cats, Robots, Zombies and Yetis. As stupid as that sounds the story mode is quite a lot of fun, with some funny cut-scenes that explain the story.

The AI is incredibly easy to beat, which really kills any kind of challenge to the game. The only reason to play the story mode is to unlock maps for online and achievement points Graphically the game is very crisp and clear. During the factions game, there’s some very nice animations when attacking and defending, though you can skip this by quick attacking if you want to.

This is a game that only comes to life online and even then there are problems with the net code, causing people to get booted from games along with it generally feeling a bit slow. I’d have to recommend the game for fans of this type of game, though only if you want to play it online.

Secondary Score: 7/10

When it comes to winning, the key is to keep your focus on the objectives.  Given that it only takes three to win outright, this is what you need to be going for and given that the objectives change between maps, it’s worth keeping an eye on them.  Aside from that, stack your frontline with troops (you can manoeuvre your troops at the end of your turn so the smart thing to do is to move them to your exposed territories) and then hope the dice roll your way.

During battles you can actively choose how many dice to roll and will then see the battle played out at the bottom of the screen in a similar style to the cutscenes but after a few goes of that, I imagine most players will press X for the instant ‘Fast Battle’ option due to the incredibly sluggish nature of the game.  Given that all the computations can be performed in a microsecond, Risk seems to slow things down at every possible opportunity, throwing in animations where you don’t need them, taking an age to switch players and lagging on online (occasionally stopping, forcing you to quit the match entirely).

One missed opportunity is evident as soon as you look at the name of the game.  The factions, whilst amusingly portrayed in the story, play exactly the same with no additional abilities or weaknesses.  A few adjustments there could have given the game far more tactical depth as well as some much needed variation.

Also, for a game with such initially lovely presentation, the in-game visuals are incredibly badly thought out.  The viewing angle on the map makes it difficult to pick out objectives on the various territories and continent names have to be highlighted using the RB button rather than just being there.  Likewise, zooming in on a territory requires highlighting it (not always easy given that the highlighting effect is very weak and the layout of territories means it can take a couple of attempts to move your cursor onto the right one) and then clicking in the right analog stick.  Every other game of this type just uses the right stick to freely zoom in and out without clicking.  These interface choices don’t make the game unplayable in any way, but it’d be a much slicker experience if they thought about things for a while (or just nicked Catan’s entire interface).

That said though, the game is particularly charming and fun to play.  Sure, it’s not a patch on Carcassonne or Catan but fans of the genre will enjoy it and concerns about the easiness of the game aren’t too big an issue given that the whole thing seems geared towards multiplayer in the long-term anyway.  It more or less justifies the 800M$P price tag but the real value of the game depends on how many buddies you’ve got on your friend list who also shell out for it.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 5/10

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