Games of Risk ... and Insurance
Risk is a game of world conquest. You win by eradicating your opponents. In Germany, it is cast as a game of world liberation, a marketing angle which must have saved the manufacturer some public relations grief.
My favorite real-life game, of course, is Insurance, which might also be referred to as Risk. The board game and the insurance industry have much in common.
Risk is played in rounds, akin, if you will, to years in the insurance industry. Successful Risk players accumulate territories; successful insurance companies accumulate profits. When setbacks occur, one hopes to have piled up sufficient depth to be able to withstand the onslaught. There is only one catastrophe in Risk from which recovery is not possible: flood, caused by someone knocking over his drink. Those parallels work well enough with Insurance.
In the board game, as in the world, big is beautiful. Strategy matters. Looking ahead is paramount, as is correctly estimating one's abilities. Defense is important. Timing rules all (as it does in everything from humor to sex).
The board game and the world can throw players horrendous curve balls. I once lost 22 rolls of the dice in a row, the equivalent of a 1-in-1,000 year event. I have seen insurance companies suffer from similarly unlikely odds. Like them, when the going got tough, I was liquidated.
There are, of course, differences between the board game and the real world game. For one thing, in reality, Risk matters.
In the board game, one's reputation is at stake, but not one's money. In Insurance, apparently, the reverse is true. If I lose at Risk, all it costs is some ill-natured ribbing (I play with my peers, overgrown adolescents all). In Insurance, it takes real skill to get wiped out.
In Risk, staying alive and playing well tend to lead to victory. In Insurance, one company may emerge as the market leader, but it will never force all its opponents out of the industry. Even being AIG is apparently no guarantee of success.
I have never understood why the board game I love was called Risk. The names World Conquest or Genocide would be more accurate descriptions, although perhaps less saleable to the kiddies.
It is called Risk, however, because there comes a point where one might be strong enough to knock out everyone remaining in the game, and declare victory. If you go for it and succeed, you win. If you've over-estimated your powers, you get to watch the last three hours from the sidelines before issuing demands for a rematch.
Several computer versions of the game have been manufactured, roughly simultaneously with Insurance becoming a fancy computer game.
The computerized versions of Risk are universally awful, since the artificial intelligence has not yet been created that can outthink a guy like me, or even a six-year-old child (make your own joke). Playing the computerized games is like dealing with the rating agencies, accounting boards and regulators. They never win, but they sure mess things up.
If you think you're any good at Risk, why not invite me over for a game? I'll crush you like a quiche in a 10-ton press.
ROGER CROMBIE is a Bermuda-based columnist for Risk & Insurance®.
October 1, 2008
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