Quirk and colour added to the classic board game
If you’ve ever played a game of Risk, and have fond memories of fiddling with board pieces and making-and-breaking truces over a drawn out skirmish, you wouldn’t think it an ideal candidate for an Xbox Live Arcade conversion. Risk: Factions makes a mockery of that assumption, and repackages the classic war game in a streamlined – but no less enjoyable – package.
It’s still Risk, but if you’ve never experienced it before, the goal is to capture territories and defeat your opponent by removing
them from the map. Each territory you occupy has a soldier count which plays an important part in attacking and defending, but dice rolls ultimately determine how well you fare. There’s a lot going on and it can be intimidating at first glance, but the opening mission of the campaign breaks it down nicely. With only five missions (one for each faction) the campaign is a little light (and the push-over AI eliminates any real challenge), but depending on how the war unfolds, missions can last a while. If a battle drags on and you need to split, you can pick up where you left off next time.
These campaign missions add contextual capture points to each map, giving you something more to think about strategically, and are made available in multi-player once you beat them. The missile silo on the first map, activated by capturing three of the four barracks that are scattered about, gives you a bonus attack roll in territories close to the silo. A dam that can flood an entire continent and a volcano that could erupt on any turn make appearances on later maps, and it adds another strategic level that the original board game doesn’t have.
Interspersed between the missions are animated cut-scenes that lay out the story and characters; there isn’t much to the plot, but they’re fun to watch as an introduction to the general of each faction. The leaders of each (humans, cats, robots, zombies, and yetis) are all rather quirky and reference historical figures in one way or another; it’s far more vibrant than it would have been with generic armies constrained by history.
Outside of the campaign, you can participate in local or online skirmishes. There is a mishmash of options and settings you can toggle to create the rule set you want, and you can even play classic Risk (if you can handle the concept of yetis and zombies waging war in Great Britain). Local play works just fine, and the Xbox Live support is technically sound. The potential problem comes with poor sports quitting when the going gets tough, but if you play with friends or manage to find a good set of players, you’ll enjoy it to its fullest.
For all it does in recreating the good things about the original, the real appeal of playing Factions is in the quirky and humorous art-style. A neat battle animation plays out at the bottom of the screen when opponents engage each other, similar to what you
find in the Advance Wars games. The sight of soldiers clutching a shotgun wound as they go down sounds a little extreme in the context of the wider art style, but the charm of the animations prevents it from ever approaching anything too sinister or mature. Some of the factions, like Generalissimo Meow’s cat army, have more ridiculous (but equally appreciated) attack animations like a high-pitched screech or the expulsion of a nasty fur ball.
Following in the footsteps of Catan and Carcassonne, Risk: Factions is further proof that board games are still fun and can be adapted to become enjoyable video game experiences. Factions goes one better than its predecessors by offering not just an enjoyable emulation of the board game experience, but also a unique audiovisual identity that gives it the feel of a slightly demented Saturday morning cartoon. Veteran players will appreciate the variety of options and settings and beginners will find the streamlined game more accessible. Apart from the trappings of being a board game – mainly the dependence on dice roll luck (which can sometimes seem stacked against you when playing the AI) – Risk: Factions does what you’d expect, and it happens to do that very well.