RISK: One of My Favorite Games On Business

I was in a Barnes and Noble this past week for lunch and saw a display of board games.  I noticed that one of my favorite games was on sale: RISK.  I learned about RISK a long time ago when I was in 4th or 5th grade (maybe not so long ago) and have had an affinity for it since then.  Now the game exists on the current consoles so I play it with my sons from time to time on our Xbox 360.

The basic premise of the game is you are a country at war with other countries and the object of the game is to take as many territories as you can.  The game board is a map of the entire world and you get resources to add to your war arsenal every time you take an enemy’s territory.  There are many strategies you can employ to accomplish this goal but the main objective is to beat everyone on the board by brute force.

Most of the time that I’ve won I used a simple but direct strategy:  find an anchor point geographical that has limited channels of access, conquer territories to protect those channels, and fortify those territories until the next assault.  Repeat the process until to win enough territories.

Another strategy I use is to hold off on trading my cards in for resources.  Every time you take a turn and conquer a territory you get a card that has a territory map and either a cannon, horse, or soldier on it.  Based on where you are in the game you can trade in a combination of 3 cards with different emblems on them for more soldiers.  The longer you wait to trade in the cards, the more soldiers you get to deploy to your occupied territories.  On one turn I’ve been able to get as many as 70 troops to deploy which allowed me to sweep through an entire continent and win the game.

The battles that occur are based on rolling a number of dice based on the number of troops you are sending to fight.  Of course the highest numbers rolled wins for either side and that means you lose a troop for every number you roll that is lower.  Sometime I would have 9 troops and attack a territory with 2 troops, totally overwhelming them and adding their territory to my collection.

What’s the point?

A lot of entrepreneurs and businessmen I’ve researched said that one of the games they played growing up was Monopoly and the game basically taught them how business works as well as how deal making and negotiations come into play as tools.  As that thought crossed my mind I was wondering if there were any parallels I could derive from the game of RISK that would be similar.  Here is what I came up with:

1.  Find an anchor point and build a defense from it

When you are looking to start a business or enter a new market you have to find a part of that space where you can get in, establish yourself, and begin to build an ecosystem around where you are.  You need to own the channels you are leveraging into your market space and you must defend them until you build enough momentum to expand your reach.  When resources are at your disposal, build a strong defense because you will be attacked in the future.

2.  Only fight the fight you can win

When you are taking territory in the game, your probability of success is higher when you have more resources to bring to the battle than your opponent.  If you are going to go into business enter the market and industry where you have the best chance for winning.  You have better chances for winning if you have the right resources and the right strategy.

3.  Watch your competitors and their strategies

I’ve seen games where an enemy has 3 territories and was about to be defeated (once you take all the territories from a player that player is out of the game) and they trade in their cards, get 70 troops, and conquer 2 whole continents.  How where they able to do that? When a player does not fortify their territories as they expand they create a path of least resistance that a larger army of troops can march through and capture.  When you are entering an industry or market you have to watch what your competitors are doing while you execute your strategy.  You have to make sure that you don’t leave any market share or customer base open for a competitor to steal from you.

4.  Only use available resources when you absolutely need them.

I try to save my cards until later because I know I’m going to need resources for a focused strategy push through the board.  If you can conquer territory without using as many troops as you have access, then do it.  If you can start your business without needing a big loan or venture capital to get it going then do it.  Bootstrap as much of it as you can until you need to make that final push.  Then trade in your cards – relationships with investors, credit with suppliers, customer referrals, so you can get what you need for the next push into the market.

5.  If you can launch an attack from different fronts – do it.

Sometimes I have 2 territories near one that is occupied by an enemy.  I may have 4 troops in one territory, 3 troops in the other, and the enemy has 6 troops in the territory I need to conquer.  It would be difficult and even suicide to attack the territory with resource less than the enemy has.  So I split up the attack between both of my sets of troops.  I attack with one set then switch to the other set until I win.  In business you can do the same thing.  Don’t attack the market with just one set of strategies and one focus point.  Sometimes you have to attack the market from multiple angles in order to gain more ground.  You may have to use different resources to get the job done.  As long as you can replenish those resources and you gain the market share you are after, then you can evaluate your performance for the next opportunity.

6.  You Can’t Win if You Don’t Play

I guess the reason the game is called RISK is because at any time your decisions can make or break you.  You learn to take calculated risks based on what you are trying to accomplish and in reaction to what your enemies are doing to win.  Sometimes you are going to lose and sometimes you are going to win.  However you cannot expect to win the game if you don’t play.  You can see people play the game, you can read the manual, and you can watch videos to learn.  But if you never sit down and play the game you can never say that you’ve won.  In business and entrepreneurship you can read all the books, go to all the seminars, and network with others all you like.  But after all of that if you don’t start your venture, begin building a product or service, talk to customers about their pain points, you will not win.  You have to get in the game so make the decision to get into the game and learn it as you play.  I don’t know anyone who read books on RISK or Monopoly and became experts without playing.

I will continue to play RISK for fun and try to win every time.  I only hope that my sons don’t read my post and learn how to beat me.  Don’t let your competitors in your market do the same thing.

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