We first learned that EA / Playfish would be bringing RISK: Factions to Facebook back in June of 2011 at E3. There, we had little more than a trailer to go on, but after EA's Summer Showcase in July, we learned more about the game via producer Spencer Brooks. "We're going for total ownage here," Brooks said then of the in-progress title, and it shows in the game's final product. We've had a chance to go hands-on with the game's closed beta in preparation for today's launch, and we even had a chance to talk to Spencer Brooks one-on-one about how the game has finally taken shape.
For those familiar with RISK: Factions (it's already available on Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and PC), the gameplay here is incredibly similar. Players begin with just the Human character type, or Faction, and can immediately take to the battlefield against zombies and cats. The game's maps are both literal and creative, with a shrunken Earth being your starting playground. Starting troop formations are randomized for each game's four players (which can be either real people or difficulty-specific AI), and it will then be up to you to take over the entire map by wiping out the three opposing armies.
Each territory on the map requires at least one troop to maintain, but you'll be allowed to move troops across territories once per turn, and add new troops to your formations from your own personal supply. These troops can be won by completing missions or as rewards for winning matches, but are more readily available through training buildings back in your Base. Once you feel a particular territory has enough troops to attack, you'll simply click on another territory to attack it trough the roll of the dice.
Attackers, for the most part, will roll three dice per turn, while defenders roll only two. For each dice you roll that has a higher number than your opponent, you knock out a single troop in the enemy army, and vice versa (ties are in favor of the defender). You can continue attacking as many territories as you'd like in a single turn, so long as you have the troops available to do so. To begin with, however, you'll want to stick with attacking only those territories that have far less troops than yours.
As you wipe out your enemies piece by piece, you'll gain access to various special weapons, like the famous Donkey Cannon from the game's promotional material. These bonuses offer boosts to individual dice rolls, give you extra dice to roll and so on, with specific boosts being available for the different factions in the game. The Book of the Dead, for instance, allows Zombie troops to regenerate after dying in battle. Since troops are limited (again, mostly to how many you can generate over time back at your Base), these extra troops can turn the tide of battle back to your favor. Items like the Waffle Cat, says Brooks, are "almost unstoppable if you get down to [a] 1v1 situation."
Speaking of your Base, you'll be able to access this at any time to claim your troops from items like Marching Grounds, Musket Ranges and so on, again, with different items being available for different factions. These items produce different amounts of troops over longer and longer periods of time, but as the game's matches (even multiplayer matches) are turned-based (or asynchronous), there's nothing stopping you from leaving a game for a few hours while your troops recharge (just watch out - multiplayer games time out after 24 hours of inactivity on the part of the active player).
If you're playing entirely against the computer, each game will last only as long as you'd like it to (normally less than an hour), while multiplayer matches can last much longer than that, especially if your friend isn't currently sitting at the computer and you have to wait for them to return. While the game used to rely on an energy system, this has been removed so you can play indefinitely, provided you have enough troops to constantly supply your territories in battle. When speaking of the previous energy system, Brooks says the development team "felt it was overly burdensome to the players. We felt it was a convention that didn't fit the game." Brooks also emphasizes how real the multiplayer is in RISK: Factions, when compared to other Facebook games in the strategy genre, like Zynga's Empires & Allies, which offers one-sided social gaming, with no actions required of one player.
"RISK: Factions has real multiplayer," Brooks says. "If you play a friend in multiplayer, it's really that person. It's not an abstraction, or the stats of the player, it's actually the person. We wanted to keep the competitive DNA of RISK alive when we brought it to Facebook. Winning and losing when you are really playing your opponents is much more meaningful, and it's core to the RISK brand. Other strategy games on Facebook tend do nueter PvP by eliminating or reducing the decisions and input of your opponent."
As you play against other real-world players, you'll see your stats on the leaderboard change accordingly, but it's a much more complex system than one simply tallying wins and losses. "It was important to us that your placement on the leaderboard was defined not only by wins and losses, but by the caliber of opponents you played," Brooks said. "If you play against players that are rated beneath you, your rating will go up slowly. If you play against opponents who are better, your rating goes up faster. I can't think of another Facebook game that is doing that."
In our time with RISK: Factions, we've found a game that seems wholly complete, with social features allowing you to visit your friends' Bases (and increase the output of their buildings) and monetization coming in the form of purchasing special troops or weapons, along with speeding up the production of items on your Base. With everything being established however, that doesn't mean planned updates aren't in the works. "We have a TON of updates planned!" says Brooks. "New faction objectives, new weapons for all the factions we released, new game modes and tournaments." Going into further detail about the tournaments, we've learned that they will mostly be for bragging rights, but might also include exclusive in-game items as prizes. In terms of the new gameplay modes, the objective based gameplay of the console / PC version of RISK: Factions will be added in the future. "We've also been working on [a] capture the flag / king of the hill mode that's really fun."
Unfortunately, strategy games often have a hard time catching on with the -Ville gamers on Facebook, but Brooks says the game's "art style, humor and tone" give the game a wider appeal. "Being a strategy game, it's going to have more targeted appeal to core games. We think all those gamers that say, "I wish there was a 'real' game on Facebook" are going to love RISK: Factions."
Click here to play RISK: Factions on Facebook -->
Have you been anxiously awaiting the launch of RISK: Factions on Facebook? Have you already tried out the game? What do you think of the classic brand's transition to the social gaming space? Sound off in the comments.