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'Risk' video game doesn't improve much on classic board game
A screen shot from "Risk" by Ubisoft, the video game console version of the classic board game. - photo by Jeff Peterson
The board game Risk: The Game of Global Domination has been around for a long, long time almost 60 years, in fact making it a bona fide classic in most peoples books. So its understandable that this electronic version of the game from Assassins Creed publisher Ubisoft, which is available for PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360, doesnt mess with the basic formula.

It offers the same turn-based strategy gameplay, map layouts and rules (specifically, the updated 2010 ones) that longtime Risk fans will know and love but with a few features that might justify a purchase, depending on the player.

However, there are also a few things about playing Risk as a video game that might still make the classic board-game version a better choice overall for a lot of people.

First, the positives: Unquestionably, the best part about playing Risk as a video game is that it can be played whenever. As any board game aficionado knows all too well, the biggest obstacle to getting a round of something going is usually other people either them not wanting to play or just not having other people around, period.

Not so with this. In addition to local multiplayer (i.e. on the same TV) that supports up to five people at once, its also possible to play against people remotely online with a Ubisoft Uplay account and an Internet connection. That can be friends or even just strangers through an online league match system.

Theres also the option to play against up to four A.I. players. This means that anytime someone gets an overwhelming hankering to play Risk, they are not completely dependent on those around them.

Despite being kind of limited, another welcome feature is the option to choose between a few different gameplay modes and customize certain rules. Again, there is not a huge amount of customization available, but, for instance, the option to change the rules from World Domination (conquering as many territories as possible) to Capitals (going after specific enemy locations) does add a bit of variety.

Finally, the presentation, although a bit bland (especially compared to 2010s downright wacky Risk: Factions for Xbox 360 and PS3, which allowed players to command hordes of zombies, robots, yetis or cats), is nice enough, simulating a high-tech war room with a holographic map and a helpful A.I. named IRIS. Nothing too fancy, but it gets the job done.

Unfortunately, though, it cant help but feel like there is something lost in translation when it comes to playing a game as barebones as Risk on a video game console. Drawing a card, rolling the dice and moving the pieces all either happen automatically or are done with the press of a single button, making it feel less like playing a game and more like watching a game being played.

Thats especially true in online matches and against A.I. opponents. Whereas a normal game of Risk would involve lots of smack-talking, taunting, etc. that helps fill all the dead time waiting for other players to finish their turns, theres nothing to do in the video game version except watch the same animations over and over again. Even with a fast A.I. feature, that can take a maddeningly long time.

In an online league match, players are completely at the mercy of their opponents. If the opponent decides to take a bathroom break or make a sandwich mid-turn, there is nothing to do but wait it out or forfeit.

Also, as ridiculous as it might sound, in the absence of a physical game with tangible dice that can be held and examined, its surprisingly easy to become paranoid about cheating, like, say, when ones attacking five-squadron army is completely decimated by the A.I. opponents lone squadron ... multiple times in a single game.

That kind of frustration is part and parcel with luck-based games like Risk," but when the only thing there is to get frustrated at is an icy A.I. character, it takes some of the fun out of it.

Ultimately, fans of Risk might find that the positives, especially the ability to engage with fellow Risk junkies around the world in online matches, might outweigh the negatives. For most players, though, if it came down to a choice between the tried-and-true board-game iteration of Risk versus this, the former would probably make for a better overall experience.

Game: "Risk"

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360

Price: $14.99, digital download

ESRB rating: E for everyone
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