Live Through This

Risk-y Business

How a friendship was destroyed…by a board game.

Illustration by Ruby A.

This is a tale of how the board game Risk 2210 A.D. destroyed one of my most treasured friendships. In retrospect I realize that the friendship was already doomed, and would have ended anyway. But if we’d never played Risk, it might not have ended so horribly.

Josiah was from Alaska, and one summer he invited my friend Nico and me to come live with his cool hippie parents in Fairbanks. Nico was the one I officially considered my best friend. But it was Josiah who could make me laugh like no one else in my entire life. He had a bizarre sense of humor; it was very pun-centric and spazzy and rambunctious. Nico, on the other hand, had a calm, Swedish demeanor that perfectly rounded out our trio. A typical scene would find Josiah and me rolling around on the floor in hysterics while Nico quietly read a book about heirloom tomatoes. The three of us hung out all the time. We even went on a cruise together. I imagined that after college we would live together forever.

First picture, L-R: Josiah, me, and Nico. Second one: Nico, me, Josiah.

Before I talk about the game that fractured this halcyon trio, it’s important to establish that Josiah had a very serious, longstanding crush on me. I was aware of this at the time, but I chose to take no action. This wasn’t because I didn’t like him. I did like him, a lot. But I also liked things the way they were. I liked being in a state of suspended enamorment—a crush that lasts forever, and yet goes nowhere. I think it was a precautionary measure—I knew the two of us were going to blow up one day. I just didn’t expect it to be over a game.

It’s been five years since our summer of Risk, a summer we both buried as soon as it was over. But I emailed him for this story, and he emailed me back, and now we’re finally, finally going to hash out what we did to each other, and whether we can ever play Risk again.

The Game

Josiah, Nico, and I had played tons of games before—card games, board games, video games—and we’d never once fought or had problems. But Risk 2210 was different.

Risk 2210 A.D. is a futuristic version of the classic board game Risk. In classic Risk, the board is a political map of the world, and the goal is to dominate territory and eliminate all other players. Risk 2210 uses the same basic format, but it’s set in the future, and contains Command Cards that open the game to a wider range of strategy (there’s an Invade Earth card, for example, that allows you to attack your opponent from the moon, dramatically altering the balance of power in a single play). The game involves complex strategy, diplomacy/deal-making between players, and, potentially, ruthless backstabbing. A single game can go on for days. It can take over your life.

The trouble started when Josiah invited his childhood friend Shanti to play a game with us. Shanti was a very sweet, noncompetitive guy. No one expected him to be a major player. But here’s what happened: Shanti did whatever Josiah told him to do. In one crucial turn (which I documented obsessively in my journal), Shanti refused to attack Josiah’s forces in the Pacific, even though they were weak and wide open. Instead, Josiah persuaded him to attack me in South America, even though that made no tactical sense. But Shanti was so sweet and trusting that he did whatever Josiah wanted, which gave Josiah an immense advantage over Nico and me. In retaliation, Nico and I started strategizing moves together to take Josiah down. And that’s where our friendship began to deteriorate.

MAGGIE: So this was the beginning of the end. You shamelessly used Shanti to target me and Nico, which I considered to be cheating.

JOSIAH: It was not cheating. I was merely playing my opponents’ weaknesses.

MAGGIE: And there’s our basic conflict: Sneaky vs. Stickler. You liked to bend the rules, and I didn’t. All your moves were “technically” legal, which drove me insane. Nico wanted to stay out of it and remain neutral, but I made that pretty hard for him.

JOSIAH: You were BFFs, so yes, it seemed he was implicitly on your side. Heck, I probably would have been on your side if I had to share a room with you every night, for fear that I’d wake up with a pen in my jugular if I wasn’t!

MAGGIE: I was so furious, I didn’t even want to speak to you. And that’s pretty awkward, giving the silent treatment to the person whose house you’re living in. I was refusing to go upstairs because you were there, so I forced Nico to hang out with me in the basement. It must have been really weird for you, being excluded by your friends in your own house.

JOSIAH: Being left out sucked. I can’t think of any more mature words to use than “sucked,” but that’s appropriate, as it was a very immature situation. We were 20-somethings acting like 0-somethings. I remember you and Nico would dress up and play Monopoly loudly while I was trying to sleep. I don’t know how you managed to make Monopoly loud, but you did.

MAGGIE: Oh, I remember that. We would dress up like billionaires and play these theatrical characters.

JOSIAH: And I was never invited to join you. Whenever I went to the basement I felt like an intruder in my own house. I tried to navigate your anti-Josiah or Josiah-indifferent moods by letting you come to me. The problem was that I was OBSESSED with you and wanted to hang out constantly, “Just youuuuu and IIIIIIIII….” So I was battling this irrational desire to be around you with rational thinking that I’d just be making things worse by being around you. The irrational side usually won out.

The Chaperone

At this point, Nico was winning almost every game, because Josiah and I were so busy brutally sabotaging each other. Nico’s calming presence kept the tension at a manageable level for a while. But around mid-July, the games had gotten so intense that Josiah’s dad started playing with us, with the unspoken understanding that he was there to keep us from fighting too horribly.

MAGGIE: This is where it starts to get embarrassing. We were so out of control that we needed a parent to referee our behavior.

JOSIAH: Fighting in front of my dad was SO awkward, and I think this is one of the reasons your she-who-yells-loudest style of argument bothered me so much.

MAGGIE: THIS IS THE NATURAL REGISTER OF MY VOICE. I can’t believe we’re having this argument again. You always think I’m yelling at you, but this is just how my voice sounds!

JOSIAH: But I was worried that my dad would think you were way cray cray angray (which you probably were anyway).

MAGGIE: Well yeah, I was definitely angray. My entire journal from that summer is like a catalogue of your every obnoxious move: “Josiah showed his Nuclear Command Card to everyone but me. I despise him.” “Josiah used his Frequency Jam just to spite me. I despise him more than ever.” “If Josiah knew how much I hate They Might Be Giants, he would probably play them incessantly because he’s that much of a brat.”

JOSIAH: I was definitely turning my unrequited nonstop infatuation into tabletop rage. I just wanted to decimate you.

MAGGIE: I remember getting in these bitter fights. Like, the kind of fights that should have ended in us pushing the game over and furiously, passionately making out.

JOSIAH: If only… Basically every second of every day that summer I wanted to spend passionately making out with you, especially during the bad times.

MAGGIE: What the hell was wrong with us? Why didn’t we just stop playing Risk and start making out?

JOSIAH: Well, it would have been awkward with my dad there.

MAGGIE: True. It also would have required one of us to set down our precious pride for five seconds in order to make the first move. And that was never going to happen.

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30 Comments

  • MissKnowItAll October 5th, 2012 7:29 PM

    wow.
    My first relationship ended over playing “Tomb Raider”

  • Moxx October 5th, 2012 7:46 PM

    I really like this! thank you for writing it,
    I can relate to this so much… one of my best friendships was ruined (by both parties) in a similar way. you can see it coming, but… you wait, and then it’s much, much too late to save.
    I wish we had been less stupid, it probably would have saved us both many headaches. I hope one day we can talk about it again like you did with Josiah. but ever talking again would be good too :c

    On a not very related note… I -wish- I had people to play board games with! There seem to be no people anywhere near my age who play at all.

    Would anyone in NYC be interested in playing D&D?

    • AliceinWonderland October 6th, 2012 11:39 AM

      Oh my goodness. Do not engage me in a game of D&D. You will be immediatley sorry you did.

  • ickyteenagegirl October 5th, 2012 8:28 PM

    wow this was so good!
    i’m not really a competitive person, so when things get too intense while playing a game I usually just let the other person win so that i can avoid any conflicts.

    …but the route you guys took made for a much more interesting story.

  • christinachristina October 5th, 2012 8:49 PM

    Okay, this AND Jenny’s piece today are two of my favorites, ever, on Rookie. Way to Friday, ya’ll.

  • Maddy October 5th, 2012 9:02 PM

    Wow that is really interesting! I can’t believe you guys were in your 20s. Now I really want to play Risk (either, never played) with someone, not to destroy our relationship, but to have a super strategic game. But the setup in the photo looks killer…

    Also, Drippy Dan is creepin my out majorly. And like, all the other ones.

  • allyishere October 5th, 2012 9:51 PM

    I AM DYING THEY ARE SO CUTE

  • jenaimarley October 5th, 2012 9:58 PM

    This happened to my family!
    Risk is banned from our household now.

  • wolnosc October 5th, 2012 10:05 PM

    This reminds me so much of Jo and Teddy from Little Women!

  • Capt.Melina October 5th, 2012 10:21 PM

    I absolutely loooove this story! It made me smile a lot!!

  • pinmq October 5th, 2012 11:37 PM

    i am so glad this was written! awesome story, maggie! :)

  • daisyparakeet October 6th, 2012 12:12 AM

    I hope you gamersl have managed to channel all this passion into productive pursuits. Great fun to read!

  • softersoftest October 6th, 2012 12:53 AM

    What a great ending, and story in all of course.

  • Sputnick October 6th, 2012 12:53 AM

    This is in my top 25(ish) favorite Rookie articles ever.

  • Mary the freak October 6th, 2012 7:26 AM

    This was so perfectly written. So so so perfectly. I am still totally caught in this story. This is definitely one of my favourite articles EVER. And I love the ending.
    Also, the setup in this picture looks so freaking, creepy, complicated, strategic and awesome and totally like it could destroy a friendship. I never thought a game could be that dangerous.
    Love,

    Mary

  • Hanbanan October 6th, 2012 8:06 AM

    I very much enjoyed this piece, but I felt like a big part of it was missing– I’d be interested to hear from Nico on his feelings from that summer!

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 30th, 2012 12:39 PM

      Ooh, I like this idea! I bet Nico would have some very interesting anecdotes to add.

  • NotReallyChristian October 6th, 2012 9:15 AM

    apparently when he was young my Dad was a killer Risk player …

  • Serena.K October 6th, 2012 11:26 AM

    i really, REALLY enjoyed this. definitely one of my favorite rookie posts ever. (also, every person in it has a really cool/interesting name. it’s almost like you planned it!)

  • AliceinWonderland October 6th, 2012 11:42 AM

    This whole article is basically my entire family, though we’ve graduated from Risk to a game called Diplomacy. That game will TEAR YOU APART.

    • jessie77 October 7th, 2012 1:35 AM

      ohmygod diplomacy we played that for a week in history and those were the most intense brilliant lessons of history i will ever have!!

  • Quarts_and_frogs October 6th, 2012 11:55 AM

    I love this article, its so well written and it certainly captured my interest, especially since I love playing risk. The way you describe your relationship with Josiah reminds me of my relationship with one of my guy friends (I’ve had a mondo-humongous crush on him for a while) and how we always act this way when playing video games, though it’s never escalated into hatred.

    Anyway, great article, one of my new favorites.

  • girlswithsecrets October 6th, 2012 1:45 PM

    I’d like to see this as a movie.

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 30th, 2012 12:39 PM

      Wow. This would make an AWESOME movie!! :D

  • pinky October 6th, 2012 1:54 PM

    Board games and video games are dangerous territories for friendships! My best friend and I are both very competitive and one of the biggest fights we’ve ever got into was over a couple games of Pokemon stadium on the N64. He trashed talked me, I crushed him two games in a row, I had never beat him at a video game before so it was a big deal. I’m talking full out avoided each other and didn’t talk while the rest of our friends had to put up with our fighting. We made up fairly quickly but it was a big deal for us not to talk even for a night. In the end, I know to never play Pokemon stadium with him again, because this stuff is a big deal.

  • TheGreatandPowerfulRandini October 6th, 2012 3:24 PM

    This was such an intriguing piece of writing.

  • bethleeroth October 6th, 2012 6:41 PM

    okay, this is hilarious.

  • emile October 8th, 2012 10:46 PM

    “toasting my heartmallow to a nice gooey golden brown one moment, then plunging it into the fire the next” is quite possibly the best thing i have ever read.

  • Emilie October 11th, 2012 1:11 AM

    risk is DA BOMB- me and my friends have had to set a 4 day post-game no talking rule, and have banned some from playing. Funnily enough, we’ve never actually finished a game because some one always flips the board by the end

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 30th, 2012 12:37 PM

    Reading this was a blast! XD