When Strategy Gets Into My Dreams

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  • The night I played the strategy game ‘Risk’ online for the first time, I went to bed with my mind whirling. There was so much to take in… Which continent was the best to capture and expand from? How do you effectively move forces around the board? What do you have to do to win? It’s always mentally rewarding to start getting your head into a challenging new game by trying to work out the parameters and optimum strategies, thus gaining a more thorough understanding of the game.

    I didn’t get much sleep that night (not deeply, anyway). And when I did nod off, my mind wondered about how to play Risk. My dreams were incepted. The Risk map was my consciousness, and my mind was all of the players. I played a game of Risk against myself, with numbers and pieces moving around. I was learning.

    That night I dreamt of other things, too—social worries and the usual trifles of the night. Yet, something was different. Social interactions played out on the Risk board. Friends communicated by touching neutral borders and fell out by expanding too far into another’s territory. Disputes were settled and hierarchies defined on that brightly-coloured Risk board.

    I’ve always liked strategy games. I used to play chess when I was young and had a good few years playing poker online during the internet boom. For those who are not familiar with the game, Risk is a classic board game that is now also available on consoles and as an app. It’s all about global domination, but it’s not simple, and it’s not about being aggressive.

    If anything, Risk is about NOT getting involved in disputes and battles unless absolutely necessary. Let your neighbours fight while you quietly gain power and control without opposition. Aggression is a key strategy in poker, whereas Risk requires that you are extremely selective about whom you attack and how you expand.

    Aside from being a numbers game (meaning that players build up large armies, which they use to attack opponents’ lesser forces and gain territory), Risk is also intensely psychological. It’s about making alliances (spoken or unspoken), gaining respect rather than enemies, and breaking the power balance, each with impeccable timing in order to win the game. You have to be patient and subtle, and I really like that.

    It was a while after that first night of Risk that I decided to play again. I mean, I got a really bad night’s sleep that night. I pondered and deliberated until the early hours of the morning and then fell asleep and dreamed about nothing but Risk the whole time. I was worried that I would have to put up with my Risk dreams whenever I played.

    When I did get round to playing again, I found that I had improved since the last time. They do say that dreams can help you to learn, and it seemed to be working. I thanked my mind as I secured my continent and won my first game. And that night I dreamt strategy again, but less intensely this time. Maybe one day I can dream my way to becoming a master.

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