In many ways this is the game that started it all. It is many people’s first ‘wargame’. Risk sets the basic foundation in rules that most other wargames are built on. There are many things going on here: geographical areas, armies, turns, attacker, defender, controlling areas, movement, rolling dice to resolve combat, reinforcements that grow based on the territory you hold. That is a lot to take in if you just graduated from Trouble and Monopoly.
Many veteran wargamers like to scoff at Risk. It is often used as an insult: “What kind of rule is that? We might as well be playing Risk!” Compared to our advanced and sophisticated palate, Risk seems pretty crude looking back. Don’t discount this old, simple, quirky gem. In many ways, Risk is the gateway drug into our hobby. New kids learn many of these basic concepts and then yearn for something more. Something more advanced, more accurate. The new guys have to start somewhere. You can’t start college at age 5. You have to work your way up through elementary and high school first. I think our hobby could actually benefit from more simple, introductory games like Risk. I also urge you old, crusty grognards (like me) to grab a copy of this classic and play it with kids. They are the future of the hobby we all enjoy so much.
Why do veterans have such an aversion to Risk? For all it’s great achievements, there are some, well…. objectionable things. As you grow into more realistic and accurate games, things start to bother you about Risk. Here is an example: Where are the navies? What? My armies just magically float across magic dotted lines? Really? Now we all sacrifice some realism for playability but come on! This was one of our primary design goals for Supremacy 2020: remove the ‘objectionable things’. We wanted to keep it simple and accessible to new players but also make it enjoyable for veterans. This makes Supremacy 2020 especially well suited to bridge the gap between novices and veterans. Something we can all play.
So, how does the new Supremacy 2020 compare to Risk? What ‘objectionable things’ did we remove? This is a great question to explore:
Let’s start with the magic dotted lines. Supremacy has navies. The navies carry your armies to other continents. You can land anywhere you want to invade. You can also defend against an invasion with your navies. Another fascinating thing you can do with them is Blockade. This allows you to effectively shut down the economic production of an area, if you control the seas around it. Navies can be very powerful. If you control the seas, you can strangle the enemies economy to a standstill and virtually invade and strike him anywhere at any time. Very powerful stuff but also very simple in terms of rules.
The next improvement is very subtle. To the untrained eye, they both just look like game maps with a bunch of random areas drawn. That actually maybe true for Risk but for Supremacy 2020, an incredible amount of research went into the map. How much of an area can ground troops cover? How far can they move? We actually analyzed campaigns from WWII thoroughly. (The most recent major war to gauge from.) What did nations fight over? Where did they deploy? Compare a real map of the world to the game board. You will notice that some major ‘warping’ has occurred. We sized areas relative to their interests and importance for fighting. Places like Africa and South America are much smaller. Europe has been blown up greatly in scale to give players room to place massive piles of armies.
What are the natural barriers created by deserts, rivers, mountain ranges and weather zones? What are the infrastructures in place that are able to support the movement of logistics and primary avenues of attack? We actually started with a map designed to accurately simulate WWII, complete with terrain, cities, rail lines and weather. This was too complicated for Supremacy, so most of these things were later abstracted out and simplified. The work was still worthwhile and its impacts are still felt. Fight a few campaigns back and forth across the Supremacy 2020 map. It ‘feels’ right. It is hard to put your finger on exactly how or why. This is the intangible result of all this excellent research.
How much time in the real world does a turn of Risk actually represent? Hmmmmm…… Well, let’s calculate from the activity. Since I can attack from Austrailia and fight all the way across Asia, through Europe, across North America and down into South America all in 1 turn with my 18th century armies, I guess it must be about 10 years long. So, I get to continually attack you for 10 years before you get a chance to respond? Yes, it’s pretty absurd if you actually do the math. Not even remotely possible compared to anything in the real world. This is the type of thing that makes many veteran wargamers shutter. (or worse)
Ok, so what does Supremacy 2020 do? How long are their turns? They are abstracted like Risk. There is no exact definition. The turns are meant to be ambiguous and floating according to activity levels. Judging from the campaigns possible, I would say from 6 months to a year and a half.
The key difference is that activity is matched to real military campaigns possible. How much ground can you take in 1 attack? Players are pretty closely limited to what could be accomplished in the real world. After the attack, both sides can reinforce. Then the defender can counterattack. This is huge. Players trading blows results in a balanced and accurate campaign.
Supremacy 2020 also accounts for logistical restraints. You can’t just fight every turn until you have no men left. You must pay for every attack with a set of resources. This takes logistics into account. You also can’t fight all the way around the world in 1 turn. You would run out of supplies. Another concern is building new forces. You need those same supplies to build. Yes, ponder the strategic implications of that. Every attack you make is a set of new armies you will not be able to build at the end of the turn. You have to strike a balance between supplying the forces you already have and building new forces. Tricky.
The production in Risk is not scaled to areas. Each area counts the same. So, the Congo and Madagascar are worth the same as eastern USA and northern Europe. The really big and valuable production works out to be mostly random dumb luck: Reinforcement cards. Who goes first? Who got what bonus? Who could wait one more turn before they play cards?
In Supremacy 2020, the economic game is a whole game unto itself. As simple as it is, it is very realistic. You get Company cards. Your cards produce vital strategic resources: Minerals, Oil, Grain. You can trade these on the market for profit. You will also need them to build and attack with. The trouble comes when we both pull big oil cards in Saudi Arabia. Or you pull a big card in my country. If I control the area, I can seize it. And yes, the cards are sized to the real world. Saudi Arabia has big oil companies. South Africa has big mineral companies. The Midwest USA has big grain companies.
One of the biggest problems Risk has is victory. It is zero sum, winner take all game. Six players sit to play. Five of them are losers. Only 1 person wins. The only way he wins is to take everyone out of the game. How much fun is a game that you are knocked out of on the first turn? Then it continues for hours. It doesn’t matter too much by the end. Almost everyone but the winner, end up feeling like they were cheated somehow.
We struggled with these same issues while developing Supremacy 2020. It’s the same game really. Risk with nukes. So we were faced with all the same problems. How to overcome them? We debated this for a long time with play test groups. We experimented on many different types of systems. In many ways, Supremacy is even harder to balance because we have ICBMs! Ok, we nuked half the planet into radioactive ash. Everybody loses. What?! After playing for 4 hours everybody loses? What kind of game is that?
It took a long time, a lot of hard work and debate but in the end we have something very special. You don’t win in Supremacy 2020 by destroying or conquering everybody. You win by finishing with the most points. You got nuked out on turn 2? Ok, it can happen. No problem. Just record your points and sit tight. You can still win! The game will likely be over by turn 4, so you don’t have to wait too long. It cost lots of points to nuke targets, so you need to have a big point lead before you push the button. Nuking the enemy will put them ahead of you in points if you are not careful.
So how do you win in Supremacy 2020? You build the biggest and strongest Superpower on earth. –Or more accurately: You are the biggest and strongest Superpower when the game ends for you.
Don’t get me wrong. We don’t mean to slam Risk. We love Risk. It is a classic that is still very relevant and useful today. You have to start somewhere. Candy Land isn’t realistic either but you need to learn the concepts of pieces, turns and moving before you can play other games. You can’t go from Candy Land to World in Flames. It’s too big of a jump. We need games to lead players through levels of complexity and sophistication. Risk is the extremely important first rung on the ladder of wargames. Supremacy 2020 makes the perfect next step.