Saturday, January 20, 2007

Risk: Why I gave up games

I just learned that George W. Bush and I have something in common: in our college days, we both were avid Risk players. I finally gave up the game for my own mental health, but the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to be playing it on a much grander scale.

For those of you not familiar with the board game Risk, it's an American version of a French game called "The Conquest of the World." The board is a map of the world, with continents divided into regions. Each players have markers, which represent armies, and cards, which represent the various regions. Without getting into detail, the objective is to conquer the world.

I often used a defensive strategy, building up my armies in Australia, which could only be attacked from one country, and then going on the attack after the other players had exhausted their armies against each other. I started taking the game seriously. Much too seriously. In a game in which your friends are your enemies, the line between the game and the personal is too easy to cross--at least, it was for me. I stopped playing Risk and have tried to avoid games. I'll play Scrabble, but I don't play to win. I just play to get some unusual word, like syzygy, even though I'd have to use blank spaces. (I've never gotten to spell syzygy in Scrabble, but perhaps someday I will.)

George W. Bush was apparently very good at Risk. But playing the game, even too seriously, risks only a friendship. He's now playing Risk with real armies, and risking real lives. And he's not even particularly good at it.


Alexandra S said...

It would be very nice if we could just limit the Prez to one little furnished room with all the games he wants. I wonder if he even realized that the war in Iraq actually isn't a game and that those pawns he is shuffling around are actual people. It could be worse though-at least thats the only thing you two have in common!

Peter said...

The problem with Australia is that it is worth only two armies, and the next logical step is all of Asia. (Though, if you get the puple cards early . . .) I like to hold Africa with three armies, one of them on the Middle East to dissuade anyone with designs on Asia.

But playing the game, even too seriously, risks only a friendship.

I don't know. I got my sister to break up with a guy when we were all teenagers by exposing him as a sore loser during a game of Risk. Everyone thanked me later, and Risk has become a part of family lore.

It is addictive.

Stacey said...

Hi there! I was surfing the net and read that you went to St. Luke's in Philly! I am a parishoner there (joined in '06) and I love it there!
Love your blog too. Check mine out- I'm another liberal!

steve said...

Alexandra--Not a bad idea about GWB.

Peter--I don't remember exactly how I did it, but I can remember massing dozens of armies in Austraila while holding places like Kamchatka and Sibera with just a few. For some reason, nobody wanted to mess with East Asia--the initial battles were for Europe and North America.

Stacey--I'm glad you found St. Luke's. It's certainly one of the best things about Northeast Philadelphia. If you dug that far into my blog, you must have seen that the start of my hoped-for novel is the Sunday after Epiphany. It's a holy day that doesn't get much notice, though the appearance of Christ to the Gentiles (in the persons of Zoroastrian astrologers) is the first sign that Christianity is to be a faith not limited by ethnicity. So I was impressed that your blog celebrated Epiphany. You might want to check out slow reads and the cassandra pages (both on my blogroll) along with Fr. Jake Stops the World (

two_dishes said...

This is really ironic.
Back in 2003, when the war drums were beating, I was specifically thinking "Haven't these people thought about the strategic aspects of this? I'm just a Risk player and on purely strategic grounds this seem the wrong way to control the Mideast."

Though a peacenik, I can think like Henry Kissinger and weigh the whole Realpolitik thing. And I am astounded that the current administration can't even muster a good game of Risk apparently. These tedious old fools!