Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's August - time for a game of Risk

Back in the old days before air conditioning and these new fangled computer things were all the rage the middle of August was prime time for long games of Pinochle, Risk, Stratego or Monopoly on the picnic table out under the apple tree. If Carl S came over we always played pinochle but otherwise the board games were the favorites. And Risk was the favorite among the board games, which was fortunate because most of us learned a lot more about world geography from Risk than we learned from Sister Mary Stickwielder.

We learned, for instance, that Australia was the best continent to control because there was only the one entry point from Siam to Indonesia. The player who ended up in control of Australia after the initial war of all against all was almost always the eventual winner if he controlled himself and simply patiently built up a super massive army in Siam, fighting only enough to conquer either China or India each turn to get a risk card and then leaving one sacrificial army in that country for another player to take to get his risk card.

While the struggle for Australia was going on another struggle would be going on for South America, which was the consolation prize since it had only two entry points to defend.

The two or three or four players who found themselves driven out of both Australia and South America had to fight and exhaust themselves uselessly over North America, impossible to defend with its three entry points. Or else they had to retreat to the out of the way places like Siberia and Yakutsk or South Africa and Madagascar to play a waiting game of slowly building ever larger armies defending useless territories that no one else would have reason to attack.

Then things would settle down to a war of nerves as armies piled ever higher and the players with Australia and South America began slow inevitable expansions, conquering one country at a time until the stalemate cracked open when one of them decided he had the means to try to take and hold North America, or Asia or Africa. That's when Ukraine and Middle East started to come into play. Ukraine was key to holding Europe or defending Asia while Middle East was key to holding Asia or Defending Europe. Many more Risk armies fought and died in Ukraine and Middle East than ever died in any ten of the other countries on the board except on those rare and usually insane occasions when someone decided to try to crack Australia with a massive death or glory attack involving all his forces. But usually it came down to Ukraine or the Middle East as either the tinderbox or the site of the armageddon battle that had to happen before it was time for lunch or supper.

Just like now, only in the real world, for yesterday Ukraine told the Russkis that it would not permit the Russian fleet at Sebastopol to leave port to attack Georgia, a country so small that it isn't even on the Risk map. Georgia is an undefined part of either Ukraine or Middle East depending on how you squint your eyes when you look at the Risk map. Even on the real world map Georgia is so tiny a country that its hard to find. A little tiny sliver South of Russia, East of Azerbaijan and North of Turkey and Armenia, a sliver that is drawn differently on different maps depending on the date they were drawn.

The Russians have been slyly and more or less quietly taking over a couple of parts of Georgia for the past ten years. The parts the Russkis have been taking over are Ossetia and Abkhazia, slivers so small that they're hard to find even on real world maps unless you blow them up real big. Blow them up with a magnifying glass I mean, not blow them up with the hydrogen bomb or two that would easily suffice for either of them.

Well, for the past couple of months the Russkis have been secretly building up a little pile of armies near Georgia, and all the while they have been patiently giving the Ossetians some surplus guns and rockets and stuff to shoot at the Georgians with. This finally got to be like way too much for the Georgians, so they decided to kick some serious Ossetian ass with a little pile of armies that they have been patiently building up.

So that brought us up to 8/8/08, a day so auspicious to the Chinese that they moved the start of the Olympics to coincide with it. Well, it turned out that 8/8/08 was also special for the Russkis, for that was the day, when the whole world was looking at folks singing and dancing and swimming and acrobatting and such in China, when they decided to start their pile of armies toward where it could kick some serious Georgian ass, something they proceeded to do while the smiling president of the Russkis was the Olympic swimmers along with the smiling president of the North Americans and the smiling presidents of the Australians and the Africans and the Europeans.

Now you can imagine the history and state of the game. Russkis tickle Ossetians. Ossetians kick Georgian ass. Georgians kick Ossetian ass with their little pile of armies. Russians kick Georgian ass with their bigger pile of armies. Ukrainians, who have a pretty big little pile of armies of their own, warn Russians that they will not permit Russia to kick Georgian ass with their navy. And the Ukrainians can do this because the Russian navy in the Black Sea is all based at a port which is sort of controlled by Ukraine. Who thinks that kind of shit up? The designers of the Risk game would never have been so stupid or careless as to put one country's navy port in a whole other country, if there were navies in the Risk Game that is.

So, it's mid August and the great Risk game is underway just like in the old days. No one knows whether the Russians will be a bit peeved and decide to kick serious Ukrainian ass with the moderately big pile of armies that they haven't been using to "adjust" the set of Georgian buttocks. And no one knows whether the folks who have a middle sized pile of armies in Europe or the folks who have a big pile of armies in North America will decide whether now is the time to risk it all.

And don't even think about what the folks who have the great big pile of armies in China are thinking after seeing the Russkis do a great big number two all over the Olympic moment they've been looking forward to for ten years. Even like a million years ago the Greeks were courteous enough to kick no ass and do no number twos on one another during the Olympics. "Thou shalt kick no ass during the Olympics" is like one of the oldest international laws ever invented, right after "Thou shalt not bogart another king's main squeeze until after you stick a sword in his gut" and "Thou shalt not make like mincemeat out of another king's ambassadors and then get cute and send them back to him baked in a pie."

But I have digressed. We were talking about Ukraine and Middle East and Ural and Afghanistan on the Risk board, the equivalents of Ukraine and Georgia and Ossetia and Abkhazia and Azerbaijan and Russia and Turkey and Iran and Iraq and a whole bunch of other little countries on the world map with all its pretty colors and neat borders.

Did I mention that after August comes the Fall and then the cold Winter. And a middle sized oil pipeline goes through Georgia while a lot of big honking oil and gas pipelines go through Ukraine. Oh, and did I also mention that Risk was a great game for it's day but it was already out of date even in the 1950's and 1960's. By then an even better game had been invented, a game that Matthew Broderick selected when he hacked into the big defense computer during that movie, a game called Global Thermonuclear War.

But surely nobody in the real world would play that game. We're far too civilized in this day and age for war games in the real world.

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