In which the author bumbles his way into a controversy, without really being aware of what had transpired.
Some days a fella can back himself into a corner without even knowing it. Apparently the new version of Risk, Risk Legacy, is a groundbreaking experiment in creating a durable narrative in game form. Who knew? The game is played in a fashion where the act of playing it changes the game in a fashion that becomes permanent. Stickers are placed on the board, permanently altering it. The board becomes marked as conquest occurs and cities are taken over and renamed. Secret envelopes come into play as the game progresses, with instructions to continuously alter the board, or cards, or whatever. Even to the point of ripping cards in half and throwing them away. The stated intention of the designer, Rob Daviau, is that you and your gaming group will be creating your own game narrative during the process, a specific campaign local to that time and that place and that group of people. At the end of the game you’ll have an extremely unique and individualized experience, and you’ll be able to appreciate the game even more because you’ve made it something truly yours.
Undeniably, by his own admission and the rules themselves, you’ll also have a game that cannot be reset to zero. Forever after, your Risk Legacy game will bear the marks of that single session or group of sessions that resulted in your individualized game. Now, is that a good thing or a bad thing? Results seem a little uneven from the feedback I’ve been reading. I do know that for fifty bucks plus, my initial reaction was something along the lines of “yeah, you can keep that. Thanks. It’s still RISK”
Now, if I had only shut up about it, it would have ended there. But nooooo, I had to comment on BGG.
I first heard about Risk: Legacy on one of the five or six podcasts about gaming I listen to on a semi regular basis. The podcaster sounded incredibly dubious about a game that changes permanently as its played, and I picked up on that. Further investigation and reading up on the game on the Hasbro site didn’t make it seem any more attractive, and I was cynical. So I ended up doing something I never do, and that’s rate a game without playing it around the middle of September. I gave it a one with some strong language berating Hasbro for attempting to pick our pockets in such a blatant fashion:
- Rating based upon preliminary rules read, and general disgust with this idea. Am I the only person in the universe that thinks this is a moronic notion? You’re purchasing a commercial game (presumably at today’s hefty prices) to play a campaign that basically alters the original game to a state where it is unusable for a second game? Ask yourself how big of a moron Hasbro takes you for. This is either genius or a cynical cash grab by Hasbro, and I won’t bother revealing which one my money’s on.
Now, if I had rated Risk Legacy with a N/A, I doubt I would have heard any more about this– I pretty much forgot about it back in September, when I wrote that comment. Life moves on and there are other games, and I couldn’t be bothered with the matter any more; it’s only boardgames, right? Wrong.
Around the end of October, I got an email from a producer at NPR, Travis Larchuk. Travis was interested in interviewing me about “the Risk Legacy controversy”. Hmmmm? What controversy? So I called him back, and he explained that a flame war had been brewing about this Risk Legacy thing, and could I give him some comments? Whoops. I didn’t want to get blindsided so I read ahead a little bit to see what had been going on since I had last paid attention. Me rating it a “1” without actually playing it was frowned upon– and I had to admit, that did seem intellectually dishonest, at least a tad maladroit, so I did retract the “1” and changed it to “N/A”, but left the rest of my earlier cynical response ride unchanged. Reading some of the responses, and then blog posts, really didn’t sell the game any more than it had earlier, but I did get to sample some delightful prose from bloggers who somehow mentally transposed being bloviatng vulgarians with the notion that they had something profound and witty to say.
As for those people who couldn’t escape the conclusion that permanently marking up and destroying bits of a game was, somehow making it impossible to reset, or destroying the original game state:
“All those people are slack-jawed, stooped-gait, mouth-breathing, drooling idiots who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about in any way, shape or form, and their arguments are based on conjecture and an obsessive-compulsive desire to treat their board games as if they were priceless collectibles, rather than boxes of cardboard that will be worth less than ten dollars by this time next year.”
“I have seen more than one graduate of the Internet School of Self-Importance (yes, he typed that with a straight face. read on!) announce that Risk Legacy was asking us to destroy the game. That is a load of horse manure. You will destroy elements of your game as you play, but for every element that you throw away, you’ll add two more. You’re not ruining you’re game, you’re building it, and the decisions you make will shape your world to make it different from every other copy of Risk Legacy.”
(one of the better examples, from a blog called “Drake’s Flames”)
Harsh, I suppose, but the lad does have a right to have an opinion. As mentioned, I did the right thing, of course, and explained in the comments that I had redacted my rating to N/A because that hurts BGG’s rating system to rate an unplayed game as a “1”. And then I called Travis back to do the interview thing. You can hear the whole thing right here. My responses were truncated. We talked for about a half hour real time and this is pretty much the little nuggets of wisdom that actually got used:
(NPR Morning Edition November 25, 2011)
I suspected it would end up like this. I have been interviewed about gaming before and it’s always a shocker to see how little of what you say gets retained– and I think Travis wanted a negative response to be presented. The story doesn’t work as a controversy without a designated Mister Cranky Pants, and that’s me, I suppose. Actually my real reaction at that point has been one of amusement. It’s genuinely funny that people have become some overwrought over this game. I think this is really the first time I’ve experienced, albeit somewhat after the fact, the effects of a virtual crowd of pitchfork wielding villagers on Boardgamegeek. It’s been an interesting event, and it’s given me a chuckle.
My friend Todd Goff asked me if I had changed my mind since I had posted my original knee-jerk response back in September. Honestly, I’m of two minds. Listening to Rob Daviau on the NPR show certainly gave me insight into what he was trying to achieve with Risk: Legacy and I sneakily admit I admire his attempt here. The anecdote about Colonel Mustard being the killer three times in a row was perfect for achieving that purpose. I understand that players do create an individualized game narrative through the act of playing. But still, that narrative is only good for those individual players, for that time and that place. With Risk: Legacy you can’t recreate it, and I strongly suspect one group’s wonderful epochal game experience won’t translate at all well to a different group picking up the same, marked and changed game. So in the end, yeah, it’s about creation and destruction, and whether you think that is genius or not genius. I think it’s different and interesting, but no, I wouldn’t purchase the game for myself, but I would like to play it with someone. It’s still Risk. But as I said to Todd, I’d be more than happy to assist someone else permanently create their own gaming narrative with their fifty dollar copy of Risk.