I'll admit it, I'm not the world's biggest board gamer, but thanks to XBLA I've logged in a lot more time with Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride than I would ever have been able to do parked in a chair around the kitchen table. Now I can happily add Risk: Factions to my handful of board game standbys.
Factions is the classic strategy game of territory capture, re-imagined with a PopCap-like sense of whimsy and goofy lightness. It jettisons the usual world map for fictional territories ruled by five factions—humans, robots, zombies, yeti, and kitties. The dice roll mechanic still putters and whirs along underneath it all (including those sometimes maddening, random, progress-crushing rolls), but now the surface is populated by such units as temples (which allow capture of distant territories and armies), hangars (which control missiles), and dams (allowing the player to flood adjacent territories and drown armies). In Factions, win conditions now revolve control of the new units and bonus dice rolls, making Risk less a brooding game of patience and stamina, and more a fast-paced game of capture and hold. The package also includes classic Risk.
The somewhat abbreviated, five-mission single-player tutorial game isn't long, but it does a great job of introducing the new units and gameplay style, and opens up the Faction maps for online or skirmish play. Of course, playing online with strangers isn't entirely risk-free (get it!), as there seem to be a lot of folks who drop out when they're in danger of losing, thus stalling the game.
The Factions variant is done with a nice bit of humor and the conflicts are staged with cartoon-style, E-rated intensity. You can choose to skip the dice rolls or watch as faction armies face off with some rather amusing animations. The packaging is all rather silly but the game is addictive and the AI does a decent job if actual humans aren't available.
The upbeat sense of humor extends into the writing and voice acting, but the repetitive music will get switched off pretty quickly. Sounds and animations for the new units and battle sequences are well done. In addition to the weak musical soundtrack, my other gripe was a lack of speed control and no way to skip quickly through the AI-controlled turns. Waiting while four computer players plodded through their recruitment, battle, and maneuver phases meant a lot of switching to other, less tedious activities while the AI was doing its thing.
At around ten dollars, Risk: Factions provides a lot of gameplay and another motivation for ditching the tabletop for the console. A nice sense of humor and some solid concepts grafted onto a proven formula help a 40-year-old classic turn into something snappy and fresh.
Continuing the trend, which tabletop games would you like adapted to the virtual format? Do you want classic gameplay or revamped schemes? Send a roll of the dice to us on Twitter @Gamers_Hell