Like the family board game that serves as its inspiration, Risk: Factions is all about rolling dice. Even though developer Stainless Games has freshened up this dining-room classic with kid-friendly armies and a handful of gimmicks geared to speed up play, the core game is still based on crossing your fingers and throwing dice. So you need to have a lot of tolerance for random results to stick with this 800-point Xbox Live Arcade game for long. The new rules, frills, and charismatic cartoon personality don't compensate for the lack of strategic depth, and poor artificial intelligence makes for a disappointing experience when playing solo.
At first glance, Risk: Factions looks like an all-new take on the decades-old Parker Brothers game, with comic-strip armies and a trendy attitude more in your face than the staid board game best known for plastic cavalry and throwing dice to take over Kamchatka. You have two ways to play: regular Risk and the Factions offshoot that mixes things up, most notably with five armies apparently chosen for their kid-friendliness. Instead of leading bland Napoleonic troops around a map of the real world, you fight in fantasy lands with cornball US soldiers, laser-blasting robots, ravenous zombies, furball-spitting cats, and furry yetis. Matches have been jazzed up with new rules and a somewhat greater focus on tactical planning, so you can now win games by completing objectives such as taking over enemy capitals and conquering continents. New map features emphasize this even more, with cities, resources, and buildings like temples giving you the ability to draft additional troops and even bring enemy armies over to your side. As a result, games can be speedy, with a full five-player match typically wrapping up in around 30 minutes.
That said, the new boss is pretty much the same as the old boss. The focus of the game is still on massing armies, attacking provinces, and rolling six-sided dice to decide battles. Factions don't come with any special powers, making them just as interchangeable as the old Risk's cavalry and cannons. So even though this game doesn't look much like what you've probably got sitting in a box in the closet right now, with cool animations showing things like the cats of Generalissimo Meow spitting furballs at the M16-toting zombies of Colonel Claus Von Stiffenberg, matches are too reliant on luck. The slight strategic layer offered up by the new terrain features, buildings, and victory objectives doesn't make much of a dent in the random combat, which still bogs down when you hit a stretch of bad luck in rolls. Factions may move along more quickly than in classic Risk, but it sure doesn't seem like it when you see a stack of 20 units mowed down by a trio of defenders because you suddenly can't roll anything good to save your life. Luck being so paramount can also torpedo strategic successes. You can do everything right, lay down air bases in perfect spots, capture a temple and start brainwashing enemy armies…and still see it all come crashing down due to a few bad rolls.
There is not much variety to liven up the action, either. The solo Factions campaign is a mere five missions long (one per faction). These short and easy missions can be wrapped up in no more than two or three hours. After this, you've got a choice between custom matches against one to four AI opponents or going online with Live for multiplayer action. Neither is a great option. Poor AI hampers solo matches. Enemy factions don't attack effectively or properly recognize the importance of big terrain features like the powerhouse temple. If you take control of a temple, you're basically unstoppable, because the AI doesn't know enough to throw everything at it to stop you from using its killer ability to take over an enemy province every round. Multiplayer should be better with smarter human opposition, but there seems to be a real problem with players dropping out in mid-game. Not one of the many matches we played was completed without players rage-quitting, typically as a result of a bad couple of dice rolls. Perhaps there is a core of serious Risk fans playing the game, but we weren't able to find them.
Despite its cheerful attitude, updated rules, and reasonable $10 price, the absence of depth makes Risk: Factions suitable mainly for fans of the original board game who like keeping things simple. Therefore, it's an OK diversion when you want to while away an hour or so on a rainy afternoon without thinking too much. But the game doesn't deliver enough challenge or variety to keep you interested for very long, especially in comparison with other, better XBL board game fare, such as Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride.