Friday, February 13, 2009

Domination (a.k.a. Risk): Research Findings

Last month, I wrote about Domination, a free, open source implementation of the classic Risk board game of world conquest. For the past few weeks, I've played Domination against several automated opponents at a time on various game maps, and by now I've optimized my strategy so that I almost always win.

Considering that I routinely lost when playing Risk against the neighborhood kids when growing up, this is quite a turnaround! If I ever meet them again for a titanic reunion battle, we'll see whether my new strategy holds up -- or whether it's too much attuned to the A.I. program in Domination. I suspect the latter.

Our youthful strategies featured a general preference for capturing and defending continents, which earns you extra armies, as early as possible in the game; and double-defending all occupied territories, whether crucially located or not. We eventually came up with three basic rules for success:

1. Always move forward each turn.
2. Always attack your strongest opponent.
3. Michael is always dangerous.

While Rule 3 likely remains valid -- knowing Michael as I do -- my new strategy calls the other two rules into question. Moreover, the new strategy is cards-based, not continents-based. For those unfamiliar with the game, Risk cards are earned throughout the game and can be traded for escalating numbers of reinforcement armies as the game progresses. Crucially, if you eliminate a weaker opponent, you capture his or her Risk cards. It turns out that this is key to victory, especially if you can eliminate an opponent later in the game when Risk cards can be traded for dozens of armies. Thus, the new strategy:

1. Pile most of your armies on only one or two remote outposts at the start of the game, the better to survive early onslaughts. Don't worry if opponents capture your more thinly defended territories.

2. Early in the game, only attack and advance far enough to earn your one Risk card per turn. Forget about capturing a lot of territories or a continent; it usually spreads you too thin.

3. Later, whenever possible, use your one or two highly armed territories, plus new reinforcement armies that you get from trading in Risk cards, to launch an attack that eliminates a weak opponent in order to capture his or her Risk cards. Repeat.

Having developed this winning strategy, I'm happy to offer it to you for your gaming success. I ask only one thing: whatever you do, don't tell Michael!


  1. I used to play Risk on a regular basis with the same assortment of sober, not sober and sober but impaired friends. My [intermittent] success was built upon another rule, which only works with live contestants: cut deals constantly and when attack is imminent... go to the restroom. The brilliance of this strategem was that a) nobody dared break a deal for fear of consequences at the next game, b) "out of sight out of mind" combined with limited attention spans meant that going to the restroom provided protection once deals ran out. If only our national leaders could learn the strategic value of the potty break...

  2. I think I see where you're going with this, Dr. Bob...if the French had merely excused themselves for a moment in 1940...



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...