One of the strongest links in all of drug culture is that between the mentor and the young. The gentle introductions that these troubled adults give more innocent teenagers (or pre-teens) to the world of criminal drug abuse are subtle, and the foundation upon which a whole new generation of business can sustain itself. I have always thought it the same with nerd culture. Except without the criminal activity. And the guns. And any appearance of being socially cohesive or cool.
Ok, so it's not that much like it at all. Point is, straight out of uni, an older male friend of mine took me into his garage and pulled a well-worn box off the shelf. His eyes gleamed with mischievous joy. 'You have no idea of what I'm about to introduce you to,' he said. And indeed, I didn't. There was a cardboard box, and a fishermen's set of tupperware drawers with a dozen mini compartments perfect for holding all the necessary paraphernalia. He was so happy.
The game was Risk: 2210 AD. I hadn't even played normal Risk. But the push towards being an 'advanced' or 'mature' player made me want to skip the child's game and get to the really hardcore stuff. Previous to this introduction, my experience with board games had been short affairs. Uno, Monopoly and Yahtzee were just a few of my favourites. It had never crossed my mind to get friends round and devote an entire day to board games. All of that was about to change.
In Risk: 2210 AD, you combat other players in taking over a vast apocalyptic landscape. The basic mechanic that lies at the heart of all Risk games remains the same (dice rolls), but 2210AD encourages another layer of strategy by introducing a complicated infrastructure of opportunities for you to boost your chances. You can purchase commanders that will allow you to take over water territories, or even space. A desperate player can purchase a nuclear commander, allowing them access to a range of weapons that are guaranteed to mark foes with absolute devastation, but can easily backfire and ruin your own territories.
It's a wonderfully clever game, and over the course of the first summer and many others to follow, we played it about eight hundred and seventy-two times. Like all good drugs you felt like you'd been hit by a truck afterwards, but this wouldn't stop you from eagerly accepting another round.
In the last few years, the Risk licence has eagerly gobbled up a number of big name brands and gradually expanded its universe. Godstorm is a less compelling game but equally challenging. You're a specific God, and you can gain the right to access other powers as you attempt to take over an ancient landscape. We tried our best to get addicted, but we kept returning to 2210.
It's been a while since my last Risk game, and I can say I'm probably better for it. My eyes are clearer, my relationships are easier, and I don't wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat after dreaming I've been swimming in an endless see of '1' dice rolls.
I can see myself disappearing inside this vortex very soon, however, as I was recently gifted Risk: The Walking Dead. Pleasingly designed after the comic, not the TV show, the art and design of the whole piece is stunning. What's more, the interior design of the gameplay mechanics themselves are tough and addictive. The Walking Dead is far more reliant on chance than other iterations of Risk that have come before it. The start of every turn triggers an 'outbreak' where a horde of zombies can randomly appear in any territory. This chance mechanic makes it near impossible to get a sustained foothold in the game, which can be easily achieved in Godstorm and 2210 and steer you towards an inevitable victory. In The Walking Dead this is impossible, and it makes the playing field all the more even. Interest is sustained by 'event' cards, which will give you optional missions on your turn and grant you rewards. Most brilliantly, if a human dies at the hand of a zombie, you then have to roll to see if the human returns as a member of the undead. Awesome.
I can't say I recommend Risk, because it feels illegal to do so. I'm surprised there aren't Community Service Announcements warning young people away from it. It's because of Risk, after all, that I'm now fanatically interested in Dungeons and Dragons and a whole host of other board games that require at least an entire afternoon and the sacrifice of a significant relationship to play. The rush is irreplaceable, however, and it's only a matter of time before I introduce a new young friend to my garage, and pull a well-worn box off the shelf...