TEG: Independencia - Risk in the ‘New World’
Conscience is the best and most impartial judge that a righteous man has.- Jose de San Martin
There are four bastions of Risk in the world. The US has Risk, Italy has Risiko, Brazil has War and Argentina has T.E.G. ( Plan Táctico y Estratégico de la Guerra Strategy and Tactics for War). Each of these Risk strongholds has developed a family of games that employ the core mechanics of Risk but have tweaked them in such a way that the games result in a different experience. Independencia is no exception.
The game was released to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Independence from Spanish rule. The game is published by Yetem. It is my intent to compare the game with the classic version of Risk as well as describe the experience we had while playing. It is important to note that there is actually a trivia component to the game that we eliminated prior to placing the first army on the board. This was done for two reasons: it would have required a tremendous amount of time to translate all of the questions and it simply does not fit in a Risk type game. (It might be acceptable for educational purposes but not in our game group.) In my view, this did not detract from the game in any manner.
For those who are not fluent in Spanish then there is some translation to be accomplished however, to play the game this is minimal. Someone will have to translate certain sections of the rulebook as the game rules are not identical to Risk and usually a single line on the Mission/Event cards will require a cheat sheet. There is a significant amount of historical information on the various cards but the portion that affects game play is boxed and is usually just a single line. For someone who does not read or speak any Spanish I believe that with Google Translate or Bing it would require about one hour to translate the necessary information. Please do not be hesitant because of a perceived language barrier.
Where the four different families of Risk games differ is in
1. how many dice the defender can use
2. how set of cards relate to reinforcements and
3. redeployment; the free move.
Each family of games employs a unique version of these and even a small change can result in a very different feel to the game. I have played TEG, Risk and Risiko but have not tried War (yet). There is enough in common among the three families that anyone familiar with one can easily begin playing one of the others with a few simple instructions.
The original TEG game celebrates its 36th anniversary this year and a special edition is (or has been) released. Independencia employs the basic TEG system but applies it to a completely different map. Where TEG is the original Risk, global map with 8 additional territories, Independencia is a map of ‘the new world’. There are 56 territories and six regions (equivalent to continents) on a map that appears as if it might have been drawn at the time of exploration. Everything is there, in roughly the proper place but it is slightly off, slightly twisted, much the way so many antique maps appear.
The object of the game is to have accumulated the most points at the end of the final round. Points are scored for completing missions, controlling cities and regions (continents) and for the number of leaders active on the board at the end of the game. (Controlling territories without controlling the entire region does not enhance your final score.) This is similar to the scoring method found in Lord of the Rings Risk.
Independencia has a more serious feel to play than Risk. There are fewer of the dramatic sweeps across the map as can be common in some Risk games. So often I have seen players march out of Brazil, fly across Africa to end in Australia. Though there are sweeping moves in Independencia, it does not seem to happen as often. One reason for this is that unlike Risk where players receive their reinforcements at the beginning of their turn, in Independencia, there is a reinforcement phase. All players receive their reinforcements for the turn at the same time. In Risk it can be common for some players to receive their reinforcements, attack and deplete their armies so the following player faces fewer armies. Not so with Independencia; you begin the turn with everyone relatively strong each turn.
A second reason for the diminished appearance of the dramatic sweep across the board is the terrain. There are areas where terrain literally funnels movement and these territories tend to grow in defensive strength. A player may want to sweep from Peru into Cuba but that is very tough based on the terrain he will encounter. Properly maneuvering your armies requires some practice and familiarity with the map.
I found that I was forced to consider downside of attacks much more than in Risk; it was important that I did not leave myself vulnerable. Ah, you say the same is true of Risk and in one way it is however, Independencia rotates the starting player for each round. I had to consider that one of my opponents might be able to attack twice before I could respond. For example: assume I was the first player this round. The player who plays immediately after me has the opportunity to attack me this turn and then, because the start player rotates, he will play before me on the next turn. He will be able to attack me twice. In the first game we played, I knew this was the situation but I did not consider the consequences as I should have. I learned, it did not happen in any subsequent games. Personally I enjoy when these types of considerations are forced on a player; it adds depth to the game and the decisions that must be analysed.
One of the most challenging aspects of the game is trying to develop a strategy to retain control of a region (continent) as the map is very fluid. Terrain aids in blocking some paths of attack but should an opponent break through, all can be lost. In classic Risk, Siam is a key point to defending Australia. There are several similar points in Independencia. Where the conflict arises in attempting to plan out a winning strategy is that completing Missions is worth 15 points for each Mission completed where controlling a region (any region) is only worth 10 points at the end of the game. You desperately want to conquer and control regions in order to gain extra reinforcements but at what cost. Every army placed for defense is not available for attacking. For reasons addressed below, it is vital to understand that Independencia favors the defense. (This is true of all TEG games as well as games in the Risiko and War famiies.) One must be extremely careful about placement of this precious resource.
There are historical leaders in the game that aid in accomplishing missions as well as modify the die roll but they are not overpowering as in Godstorm. In order to complete a mission, you must move a leader to the proper territory. A leader enters the board in a territory you control, in a region the leader was associated with historically. Unfortunately, where he enters may be a significant distance from where he needs to be to accomplish your mission. This is very reminiscent of the Leaders and missions in Lord of the Rings Risk. It requires another level of planning; it works but can be frustrating. More than once I saw a leader approach his goal when an opponent attacked the territory where he sat and, of course, he went to his eternal rest.
As mentioned above, one of the areas where the Risk families differ is in the regrouping (free move) mechanic. Independencia limits the redeployment of armies to an adjacent space and the redeployment of a leader to two territories. There are occasions where I found myself attacking a territory, not because I wanted or needed it, rather it helped to move my leader closer to where I needed him in order to complete a mission. However, where Risk allows the redeployment of only one group, Independencia allows you to redeploy all groups with the limitation just described. It is a more realistic approach to redeployment and I enjoyed it. A player has more control over his battle plans.
Reinforcements are calculated for each player at the beginning of the round. Players receive half the number of territories they control (rounded down) plus any region (continent) bonus plus any sets of cards. In classic Risk there were infantry, artillery and cavalry depicted on the territory cards. (The Risk revision in 2008 changed this to stars.) Independencia has four items pictured on the cards: a ship’s wheel, a quill, a cannon and crossed rifles. In order to form a set a player must have three of the same item or three different items. In addition to this, a player is allowed to submit only two sets during the entire game! TEG employs the classic Parker Brothers schedule where each set grows in value. With this two set limitation, it is critical to time a set submission. Waiting just one more round can significantly increase the reinforcements awarded. It adds another dimension to the game. The decision as to when to submit a set can be very tough. Unless there is some very fortunate player who is running away with the game (something I have yet to see), you desperately need more manpower. The layout of the map is so very open that more units are used to defend areas than in classic Risk. In addition to this there are sea routes that offer a ‘back door’ to many of the regions; meanwhile, you want to arrack. One of the players in our game group suggested that the placement of reinforcements was the most critical aspect of the game; an incorrect placement could be more damaging than losing a battle.
The map has terrain such as mountains, desert and swamps that affect movement and attack. There are passes through some mountain areas and sea lanes that tend to funnel movement. This too reminded me of Lord of the Rings Risk and until a player learns the map (or pays attention during the game) it is possible to thwart your own plans. War gamers will have no problem with this but those die hard Risk players may have difficulty adjusting to terrain.
I want to be clear that in Independencia has many mechanics found in Lord of the Rings Risk however, the two games play out completely differently. I am including the references to LotR as it may help to picture what is being described. In no manner am I suggesting that one of these games is a re-themed version of the other.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, the game had a trivia component that we did not include. Based on a recommendation from a very wise person who was familiar with the game; he recommended we simply award each player a card each turn. These game or event cards provide some small effect usually tied to some historical event. There are cards that represent pirates, Napoleon, the British invasion, drought and many, many other events (42 in all). In many cases the card simply allows the player to reroll a die while in other cases it increases the cost to attack across a sea lane or closes the mountain passes due to snow. None are game changing events but they do add a nice touch to the game. Though the cards were modifiers, the titles and accompanying information (not required to play the game) made the game theme seem much more real.
TEG uses the combat mechanic originally introduced in La Conquete du Monde and employed in all Risiko games. The defender in Independencia is allowed up to three dice on defense. This results in increased difficulty in depriving an opponent of a territory as the defender wins ties. Coordinating your attacks is very important as the defender has an advantage.
If you are knowledgeable about the period or if you can work through the Spanish, it is very interesting to see the game unfold as this was during the same period as Napoleon’s rise (and fall) and the War of 1812. This is the first game in a long, long time that enticed me to begin reading more on the history of the period. Though it has the Risk component, I believe even war gamers would enjoy the game as there is sufficient historicity to the play to make it a learning experience. However, if you require complete accuracy, know that this is not a simulation.
Is this Risk? Yes but it is deeper than the standard game and has a war game feel to it. This is not beer and pretzels; it is a more serious endeavour. Is it fun...absolutely. IIn every game we have played so faar, there has been as much debate, negotiation, shouting and whining as in every other Risk game I have played. If some asked what I would compare it to, I would suggest Risk: Napoleon (the campaign version) or Academy Game’s 1812 crossed with a bit of Lord of the Rings Risk. This is a challenging game that works well as a lite, multi-player war game. It is one of the more enjoyable Risk games in my collection. If you are serious about Risk and would like a slightly deeper challenge, I strongly recommend Independencia.
The playing time in our first game exceeded four hours but that was due to the unfamiliarity with the map and major, (really big) screw-ups in not adjusting to the separation of the reinforcement phase from the attack phase. Last night we played two games back to back and completed the evening in 5 hours. For me, one of the signs that a game is good, that it is intriguing, that it piques my interest, is how often I check the time. During sessions last night, I was stunned when the games had ended and I saw that five hours had passed. Now that is a good game.
Finally, I have had the opportunity to play the game as a two player event. As with Academy Game’s 1812, it works but eliminates any discussion; it becomes very Chess-like. I don’t think any Risk works very well as just a two player event with the exception of Balance of Power which was designed specifically as a two player game.
If you like Risk, 1812 or other lite, multi-player war games, I highly recommend TEG: Independencia.
(The game is only available in Argentina however, dealing with Yetem is very easy and they serviced my order very quickly. There are many Argentine gamers on BGG and I have found them to be exceptionally helpful.)
One final note: some Risk games use wooden blocks, some use plastic stars or Roman numerals, some have molded figure. Independencia uses colored discs for armies. This is not a problem playing the game in anyway whatsoever. However, it is inevitable that one player will set a cup to the side and attempt to flip some of his armies into the cup as the units reminded me (and others) of the components for Titddly Winks (a game from our childhood.) I guess you could consider that you are getting two games in one box.