Figure 1. Start Up Screen
Risk, the classic war strategy board game developed by the French and first brought to market by the Parker Brothers back in 1959, is still selling strong (move over X-Box!) and considered by many as one of the best war strategy games of all times. For those of you who are not familiar with Risk, the object of the basic game is to conquer the world by defeating all opposing armies. I won t go into the details of Risk here, but the game is easy to understand while difficult to master. At the same time, even those who are considered Master Risk Generals often fall victim to bad luck and lose the war just like in real life.
The only real problem with Risk, at least for me, is that I can never seem to find enough people who are able to spend the hours typically needed to play a complete game. The solution, as one might expect, is to make a computer version of the game. Better yet, make a PDA version to allow Risk playing anytime, anywhere. Fortunately, BliT Games thinks the same as I and have come out with a Palm OS version of Risk called Aggression. In this review, I ll discuss Aggression as installed on my Tungsten T (TT). Note that due to compatibility issues between Aggression and the screen shot software I use (ScreenShot), the screen shots provided in this review are from those provided by BliT Games web site (who claim they are from a Clie NR-70). Brian will also be tossing in a few comments who played in the same environment.
Aggression comes with two files one includes code that is common to all Palm OS PDAs, while the other is installed depending on the screen resolution of your device (i.e. 160 x 160, 320 x 320, or 480 x 320). Note that Aggression currently only supports color PDAs no B&W versions are available, but BliT Games indicate that this is to be addressed in the near future. Following my usual installation procedure, I first installed Aggression on my TT internal memory, then moved it over to my external card before playing. After playing the first game, however, I noticed that the device-specific part of Aggression (over 700k) remained on my internal memory. A quick check of the user s manual (a nice 15-page PDF file) confirmed my fear that something was amiss I had met the first of what I would soon discover to be many compatibility issues with Aggression.
My application launcher is Zlauncher apparently there is a compatibility issue between Zlauncher and Aggression that results in my not being able to completely run Aggression from external memory. I next tried another application launcher, Launcher X, and found that I could not run Aggression with either of the two Aggression files on external memory. I was, however, able to run Aggression from external memory using MegaLauncher. After running into two compatibility issues, I decided to poke around BLiT Games web site to see if I could find a work around them. I was pleasantly surprised to see that BLiT Games was up front in discussing known issues and work-arounds for many of the issues (including the application launcher issue I just discussed). If you are concerned about compatibility issues, then I recommend checking out the Issues page at BLiT Games. After checking out this page I must say I was impressed with BLiT Games for being up front and actively working the issues (which they indicate are mostly the shortcomings of software other than Aggression).
After tapping on the game icon on my palm desktop, I am brought to the Aggression start-up screen shown earlier in Figure 1. For first time players, a tap on the start up screen brings you to a calibration instruction page that states that it is EXTREMELY important that you CALIBRATE your pen . I would advise all users to heed this warning. Aggression does require pin-point accuracy and an inaccurate stylus will result in frustrating play.
After calibrating my stylus, I then proceeded to set up my game in the Game Set-Up screen shown below in Figure 2. As with Risk, you can have from 2 to 6 players with some of the players acting as neutral countries. Players who are not neutral can be either human (i.e. you) or a computer opponent with an artificial intelligence level ranging from Beginner to Advanced. In all my years of playing Risk, I ve never liked Neutral countries (hey even the Swiss have their own agenda!) so I generally pick a few advanced opponents and then set the rest to either Beginner or Medium.
Other options shown in Figure 2 below the player selection area are grouped into three main areas. The first two, Random Start and Quick Populate, allow one to skip the normal pre-game mode of taking turns selecting countries and placing troops by letting the computer do this for you. I like this option (something you can t do with Risk) as it tends to make for a more challenging game.
The second group of options applies toward the game play itself. Max Twelve means that any one country can hold a maximum of twelve troops. I really like this option as it better reflects real life (No million man armies sitting Down Under waiting to pounce!) and requires better strategic thinking. Limit AP values limits the Aggression Point maximum (i.e. Risk card set turn-in value) to 40 guys. Like the Max Twelve option, Limit AP values tends to keeps things somewhat realistic and hence, a good thing. Limit Undos limits the maximum number of undos to three per turn by a single player (only useful for multi-human games involving spineless wimps!).
The final set of options have no real impact on game play. Initial Screens results in the instruction screens that popped up the first time you play the game to reappear. These screens do not pop up again after the first game unless you check this box. Reset Help shows basic game playing tips. Advanced Defaults activates Random Start , Quick Populate , Max Twelve , and Limit Undo to represent the game settings experienced players would set I tend to agree. After completing the Pre Game Setup phase, tap Start Game and you re ready to select your starting countries (unless you selected Random Start ), place your troops, and start the war.
Figure 2. Pre Game Set Up
Game Set Up.
Aggression really shines where it counts most graphics and great game play. After setting up the game I am taken to the game play screen that is similar to that shown below in Figure 3. I say similar, because before actually playing, you first need to disperse your initial force amongst your starting countries. As with Risk, each player takes a turn placing one troop in a desired country until all troops are placed. In Aggression, tapping once on the desired country places a troop.
Following troop placement, the game begins as shown in Figure 3. Note that this view, known as Beautiful Mode shows the playing board in a nice (shall we say beautiful?) topographic map of the world. While nice, it can be hard to tell exactly what is going on in each country especially in difficult lighting conditions. Fortunately, BliT Games is right on top of this and offers two additional views Opaque and Continent.
Figure 3. “Beautiful” Game Screen
Opaque view, activated by tapping the O button at the bottom of the screen and shown below in Figure 4, is more representative of the classic Risk board design and IMO, much easier to play with.
Figure 4. Opaque Game Screen
The Continent view, activated by tapping the C button at the bottom of the screen and shown in Figure 5, shows the continent outlines, AP values of each continent, as well as the routes connecting each country. Unlike the other two views, Continent View only displays while pressing the “C” button release the button and you are returned to the view you were originally in. For you veteran Risk players who know the continent values and routes by heart, the Continent View is of little use; but a nice touch for newbies. When playing on my TT I found the opaque view works best though I also use the Beautiful view when I m in the mood for something different.
Figure 5. Continent View
Regardless of the View, the information presented outside of the world map area remains the same. Using Figure 4 and starting at the top is displayed the Turn Number, Aggression Point Value, Player name, and the action of the current player. Below the world map, starting at the top left corner and working clockwise are the Info Bar, Info Grid, Help Box, Turn Control, Display Controls, Tap Mode Controls, and the Move Bar. The Info Bar provides a brief status description and tells what you are doing placing troops, fortifying, being attacked, etc. The Info Grid provides a nice spreadsheet summary of total territorial gains (or losses), total troops, continents owned, and Aggression Points. To the left of each parameter on the Info Grid is a small triangle – click on the triangle shows how much the parameter value has changed in the last turn (e.g. how many countries you gained or lost last turn). The Info Grid triangles are extremely small however, and it was here where I really understood the importance of a finely tuned stylus. Below the Info Grid is a Help Box that provides on screen tips (I didn t find these very useful I prefer the manual). To the left of the Help Box are the Turn Control Buttons: I shows/hides the Info Grid, Undo undoes your last move, and tap Done to complete your turn. Next up are the Display Control Buttons: Tap & Hold the C button to get the Continent View (Figure 5), the I button toggles the Help Box, while the O button activates the Opaque View (Figure 4).
The Tap Control Buttons located on the bottom left corner of the screen were, to me, the most important buttons on the entire screen as they control how you play the game. To attack a neighboring country, you simply tap on the country you own that has the attacking army, then tap on an adjacent enemy country. However, the amount of troops you use and what happens immediately following the battle depends on your attack mode which is determine by the Tap Control Buttons. If the JD button is selected, then you are in Juggernaut Mode and all available troops attack and then remain in the conquered country upon victory. If the X1 button is selected, then you are in Control Mode as you only attack with one troop at a time. Upon victory, only one troop is placed in the conquered country and you are then free to attack another country with the troops remaining in your original country who did not participate in the original attack. If the JS button is selected then your are in Juggernaut Save Mode , which conducts a Juggernaut attack until there is only one enemy troop left in the enemy country. I prefer this mode of attack as it maximizes your odds in attacking, yet provides a nice pause before committing all your troops toward occupying the to-be conquered country. The M button is supposed to allow you to mark a territory of interest to remind you to deal with it at a later date. However, I really did not find this useful and thus never use it.
After you have conducted your attacks, the final step of your turn is to fortify your countries. To do this, simply tap the country you want to move troops into, then tap the source country, and then tap the destination country once (if in Juggernaut Mode) or once for each troop you want to move (if in Control Mode). An additional measure of control is provided in the Move Bar located above the Tap Control Buttons. Using either the left/right arrows or the slide bar, one can control how many troops will move with each tap on the destination country. After conducting your one fortification move, tap the Done button and the next player begins his turn.
The game ends when one player has conquered all countries. I ve played Aggression for about a month now and it generally takes me about a half-hour (~40-50 turns) to complete an entire game. I ve found the computer opponents, especially when set to Advanced , to be extremely challenging (and these games can take almost an hour). My only complaint during game play is that I even after stylus calibration I need to occasionally re-tap to hit the desired country or game control.
If you love Risk, you ll love Aggression as it faithfully replicates the classic game. BliT Games has a real winner here, but they do need to work on the compatibility issues to make this a Great Game. It would also be nice if they could work on the required stylus accuracy, as calibration alone by the user will not eliminate the stylus accuracy problems that I experienced.
In addition to the software compatibility issues mentioned earlier, I found Aggression assigns its own functions to my function buttons (calendar, address, todo, and memo) while playing Aggression. The D-Navigator button did retain its default function, however, and upon exiting from Aggression all my function buttons were back to normal.
Upon exiting Aggression before completion (using either my D-Navigator Button, or the Home silk screen button) and then returning, Aggression does return me to where I left in the game. One thing I would like to see, however, is the ability to save a game in progress and then start another game. This would allow me to start a game with another human, then play a game myself before returning to finish the game with the human partner. I would also like to see IR support to allow each human to play on their own machines.
While playing Aggression, the menu is only available from the silkscreen menu button reasonable but not the preferred solution for us TT owners (i.e. would prefer to access the menu without sliding open the silkscreen area). As shown in Figure 6, the menu allows one to start a new game, resume a paused game, calibrate your stylus, and provides game rules and additional information about the game and its developers.
Figure 6. Menu
Worthy Computer Opponents
Flawless and Quick play on a Tungsten T PDA
Robust Game Controls
Kudos to BliT Games for being up front and honest about compatibility issues (and quickly solving most of them) and recommending stylus calibration
Compatibility issues (See BLiT Games Issues page)
Stylus calibration recommended before playing (minor, but an extra step)
Loss of function button functionality during game play (functionality returns after exiting the game, however)
4 (out of 5)
[Brian} 4 (out of 5)
Yes but check compatibility first
The Bottom Line: Excellent graphics and challenging computer opponents make for a fun & convenient Round of Risk . I highly recommend purchase, but only after trying it first to ensure compatibility with your system and installed third-party software.
[Brian] I didn’t have any compatibility issues, as I was running the default TT application launcher at the time. I found the install and gameplay to be very smooth, so for people using Palm’s launcher, you should be fine. As for the gameplay, BLiT has done an admirable job getting something designed for a large wide screen onto something as small as my TT. The game is one of my favorites that will follow me to new devices.
My favorite thing about it is the ability to set the level of difficulty and the fact that I can’t win every time using the same settings. Each game is truly unique, making for a lot of thinking on your feet. If you like Risk, you need to download, and pay, for this game right away. If your a casual Risk fan, but like strategy games, you should get the trial and see if it works for you. One last thing, BLiT has released a few fixes and upgrades, so their dedication to continued product support is good to see.
bargainPDA.com readers will get a 30% discount on this game through 9/21/2003 when using the following code at Handango: FF4FCD. It’s good for 1,000 uses, so go nuts.