|Publisher: Sillysoft Genre: Strategy & War|
|Min OS X: 10.4|
November 22, 2005 | Michael Yanovich
So there it is in front of you, laid out like a piece of global cake which some kid has coated in a seemingly random assembly of pastel frostings. A simplified international battleground complete with scores of armies, firework-like explosives and an uncanny degree of déjà vu. This is Risk. I mean...Lux.
This truly is the first game review that can be summed up in just two words: shareware Risk. Now you all know what the game is about, so letís get into details.
Excuse me, what did you say? Yes, you in the back of the room. Great. We WOULD be visited by the one guy who has never played the Parker Bros. classic board game. In a nutshell, Risk is one of the simplest turn-based strategy games ever. You vie for land, and the more land you control, the more armies you get the next turn. Take complete control of a continent and you get bonus troops each turn. Combat outcome is determined solely on the basis of a roll of the dice, so theoretically a sole defender can wipe out 18 attacking armies, though the odds are against it. Whoever conquers the world first wins. It really is that simple.
Now there is an officially licensed version of Risk out for the Mac, though Risk II is (I believe) OS 9 only, and is no longer offered for sale on Macsoftís website. The game was a PC port and rife with problems, especially concerning internet games. If the host lost the game and dropped out, well, the entire game quit for everyone else. But the single player game did have some decent features that were not part of the original Risk game.
So what sets Lux apart from Macsoftís version? Not a huge amount. It doesnít have the extra Risk II feature set, which included a clever option that allowed simultaneous attacks from multiple territories, but it has a greatly improved internet gameplay option. In other words, the online games actually work. Plus, as a nice change of pace, Mac users can play against both PC and Linux players. And the final, biggest feature—and potential flaw—is the ability to play on maps other than the standard Risk map. It even has a built-in map editor that allows you to easily create and share your own maps with other Lux players. Itís a great idea, but in practice it has several flaws caused by some of Luxís shortcomings.
GameplayBacktracking a bit to the gameplay component, there are no real surprises here. The game plays like a standard Risk game, though it has plenty of options for unique variations. You can change the number of bonus units per card set, give players time limits, and adjust how the game starts: do you pick your own territories or are they randomly assigned? The interface is basic point-and-click, and the AI has several strategy types to choose from, ranging from ultra-defensive to ultra-aggressive and every variation in between. Donít expect clever thinking from the AI as much as pre-programmed strategies, but the more difficult AI players can be a challenge to beat.
Thereís nothing special about the audio, but thatís not what this game is about. I quickly turned off most of the sound options and kept music going via iTunes instead. Likewise, the graphics are straightforward and bare bones, meant to convey information without getting in the way.
Except—and hereís where Luxís strength also showcases its weakness—for many non-standard maps. Lux comes with a small assortment of maps and a built-in mod manager for adding other maps, and there are dozens of them available. Like any game that allows maps to be easily created with a built-in map editor—and yes, Mac users have access to this as well—these homemade maps range from unplayable to excellent. Luckily, the mod downloader has a ratings system, allowing players to give maps anywhere from 1 to 5 stars, a useful addition for navigating the sea of map options. A recent contest, Luxtoberfest, allowed players to pick the crème of the crop, as well. (Details can be found at sillysoft.net/contests/ for those interested.)
The problem is that many of these maps can be fairly complex, featuring dozens of tiny territories in the same screen space that would normally be reserved for just one. Itís frequently an exercise in frustration to simply select the desired territory, and trying to discern which tiny land masses can attack which other ones is even harder. I lost track of the number of times I built up a defensive perimeter to protect my holdings and a computer opponent snuck right through an invisible gap in my wall of armies. To make matters worse, Lux offers no way to zoom in, nor is there a way to show clear borders and attack options. For the Risk map that most of us grew up with, it doesnít really matter. But for new, complex maps—especially in timed games—itís a quick trip to extermination. A method to clearly show and select these tight spots, like a zoom feature, is sorely needed.