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.
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.
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.
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.