There’s a curious tradition in the App Store where the official licensed iOS version of a beloved game tends to get one-upped by an unheralded rival. Think how Scrabble has wound up playing second-fiddle to Words With Friends. Or Skee-Ball—it’s a fine game and all, but savvy iOS gamers prefer Ramp Champ.
The tradition lives on with the iPad release of Risk. Electronic Arts has done a decent job of bringing the classic board game of global conquest to Apple’s tablet. But Risk isn’t going to make you forget about Affogato’s demonstrably superior Strategery any time soon.
Like the iPhone version before it, EA’s iPad implementation of Risk is a faithful recreation of the board game. You can opt to either manually select the territories your army possesses or have the game randomly assign you territories. Then, when its your turn, you draft new troops, attack your enemies, and fortify your holdings, as you attempt to conquer the world one territory at a time. You can play up to five computerized opponents or five human rivals via pass-and-play mode. You can also take on human opponents via local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth; that mode supports up to four players. A host of options let you customize the game to your liking.
Risk manages to pull off the rare feat of slavishly recreating the board game on the iPad while, at the same time, missing some of the little details and likely irking the game’s most ardent fans. For starters, none of the territories feature the old Risk labels, so current generations will miss the thrill of battling over the likes of Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and Kamchatka. Risk for the iPad also uses soldiers to represent the game pieces, not the Roman numerals I grew up using with my old Risk board game. What purpose do Roman numerals serve if not to use them to assemble massive Risk armies, identify the copyright dates for major motion pictures, and quickly refer to Super Bowls?
If you’re going to replace my beloved Roman numerals with toy soldiers, at least use those icons to liven up the battles in Risk. Alas, apart from some cool sound effects and a stirring music track, there’s very little effort put into the skirmishes—you tap a button, you hear some gunshots, and the obliterated army disappears from the map. There are no animations, no graphical flourishes, and no evidence of any creativity. This is a consistent theme throughout Risk, which fails to use the iPad’s touch interface for all that it’s worth. Get ready to do a lot of tapping… and not much else.
It is hard to play Risk on your iPad and not come to the conclusion that the very similar Strategery handles nearly every aspect of gameplay better. Strategery doesn’t limit you to local online play. It uses randomly generated maps to keep the game interesting and challenging. (So much for my strategy of using the countries of Oceania as my base of operations.) And if you own multiple iOS devices, Strategery comes in a single version that runs on both the iPhone and the iPad. Electronic Arts offers separate versions of Risk for the Apple’s assorted iOS devices.
Risk for the iPad isn’t a bad game—just an uninspired one. Devoted fans of the board game will doubtlessly be pleased just to have an iPad iteration. But I find myself dwelling on how the developer really missed an opportunity to take Risk in an exciting new direction on a device that should inspire innovation.
[Macworld.com executive editor Philip Michaels thinks that whoever controls Siam controls the world.]