It's Not A Game

Herman Rand, on the long walk from the train station to Huntington Village, is unsure if he can even find that backstreet shop again. Blatant rip-off, The Postman, Kevin Costner, brand new DVD, wouldn’t play. If the price wasn’t so jacked up it wouldn’t matter, but local Wal-Mart now had it at nearly half the cost. By luck, second time round the block, he finds it next to the Italian deli, inconspicuous store front, as if intentionally hiding from customers.

There’s no-one but the clerk inside. “You’re selling faulty goods, this doesn’t play.”

Sales assistant glances at the box. “Region 6, Chinese import, clearly stated. Think before you buy.” Pointing at, pinned to the wall, what appears to be a board from the strategy game Risk.

“What’s that got to do with it? Don’t get funny with me.” Herman getting irritated.

“This shop specializes in non-region 1 DVDs. If you look at the CCA region map, and look again at the Special Edition 70s Risk board on the wall, 6 DVD regions, 6 continents in Risk and that board aligns with the DVD regions exactly, industrial Japan having pretty much conquered Europe at this time. But there’s no problem, here’s your money back, just next time read the label before you buy.”

Embarrassed at what he now sees as his mistake Herman takes the cash. “Thanks. Played Risk all the time as a kid, it takes forever; never saw a game to the finish. I wish I still had a set.”

“Check out Toy Soldier, odd sort of consignment store on Main Street. Last week the place was packed to the rafters with Risk games, all different years. Oddball owner though, constantly repeating ‘the game never ends’ or something like that.”

Herman spots Toy Soldier on the way back to the station. Childhood nostalgia tweaked, he steps in, finding a furtive-looking guy grabbing goods off the shelves, throwing them into a large crate, one of several scattered around in various states of undress.

“What do you want?”

“You the owner? I wondered if you had any Risk games? Guy in the DVD shop said you did.”

“Big online seller recently, as soon as something sells more stock arrives, no franks on the packages, no idea where it comes from. Another delivery came yesterday the same way but this time containing some documents and a compliments slip. All the slip said was quit while you’re ahead. So it’s all on discount today. On that shelf there’s a 1957 French version, Conquest du Monde. Look closely and you’ll see Israel’s border exactly matches that following the Six Day War.”

“So er… what? It’s not really from ‘57?”

“Is that what you think? Did you know that the African regions on Risk match the European divisions agreed at the Berlin Conference of 1885 almost exactly? No big deal perhaps given the game post-dates the event, but that’s not where it ends, or more significantly begins.”

He shows Herman a battered wooden board inscribed ‘Eroberung der Welt 1795‘ with the same Scramble for Africa borders Herman knows from history class, or from playing Risk, suddenly he isn’t sure. Then another board marked L'Europe Conquest 1904, showing Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.

“Produced over a decade before the Austro-Hungarian collapse. Poland’s border? Exact Curson line. Then the packages that arrived started to contain papers, more and more leaked text.”

He takes down a folder scattering several documents: a hand drawn map, apparently on Nixon’s office notepaper, detailing the division of America into East and West in the event of extreme civil unrest, a map in an unfamiliar vertical script showing arrows reaching from Mongolia into the Korean peninsula, a letter from the Rothschild Group proposing, in the event of financial collapse, a partition of the European Union into Northern, Western and Southern regions (no mention of Great Britain), a memo signed Don Cheney or maybe Dick Cherry, proposing a solution to the problem of Afghanistan and Iran which involved a merger of the two and moving borders wholesale to the North.

“The Risk board depicts the world as an undirected graph, territorial nodes linked by edges, each vertex a point of choice. The board may be used for retrograde analysis of what has passed, or optimization of what may pass. Game theory for the elite, used over centuries to dictate the division and re-division of the world. Occasionally a mistake and the cabal’s secret strategies leak from their world to ours. If it looks like a board game, all we see is a board game, yet for you and me it’s not a game. What better disguise can there be?

“Last week this alternative version of Risk Solitaire arrived, Universal Postal Union Special Edition. Just one global region, all blue, no sub-divisions. Player throws a dice to initiate minor rebellions; the game task is to suppress them. But I’m rushed today. Here, take them all, no charge.”

“Amazing collection. Someone had a lot of fun putting that together. But I only wanted one game. I can’t carry that big pile to the station.”

“Didn’t you listen? You still think all this is just a game? Could be this moment is all or nothing, for you, for me, for everyone. And you would just walk away?” Getting agitated, eyes jutting further and further forward, Herman expects them to pop out of their sockets on stalks.

“Look forget it, I’ll just leave it.” Herman rises to his feet.

“If not for me then for humanity, take the Solitaire, please. Risk, it never ends, of that I’m sure.”

Herman takes the board and heads out the store, turning south towards the station as two trucks pull up. No name on the side, just a logo, five messengers, one a Native American, dancing around a sphere. Several security guards step out of the van, some circling round the block, others through the front door of the shop. Acting like toy soldiers, Herman thinks, but hey, isn’t that the logo on the solitaire board?