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Can the Board Game 'Risk' Predict the NCAA Tournament Better Than the Experts?

I don't know anything about college basketball. But I do know the rules of the board game "Risk," and for the purposes of my Sweet Sixteen picks, that'll have to be good enough.

In lieu of actually educating myself on the ins and outs of collegiate hoops, I devised a system using the game that would actually make filling out the rest of my bracket enjoyable.

First, I converted the four regions to continents: South (South America), East (North America), West (Europe), and Midwest (Africa). Granted, from a geographical perspective, making North America the "East" seems incorrect. But any serious Risk player will tell you that trying to conquer Asia is a fool's errand. I don't care how good Florida's seniors are -- they're not going to be able to hold Kamchatka and Ural simultaneously.

From there, I placed the higher seeds in the most remote territories. It would be incumbent on them to roll the red dice and conquer the underdogs en route to the Final Four. Troops were assigned as the inverse of the seeds -- e.g. Virginia (1 seed) had 11 units, while Dayton (11 seed) had just one garrison:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 7.44.10 PM

After each turn, the winning teams had their troops replenished to their original levels and were moved (literally) closer to the championship game in the Atlantic Ocean between Brazil and North Africa.

The initial setting of the board lead to some interesting Roads to the Championship™:

  • Virginia -- UVA started in Alberta, having to beat Michigan State in the perilous Rocky Mountains before facing the winner of Iowa St.-UConn on the Yucatan Peninsula. Would their vaunted heads-up defense prepare them for the climate changes?
  • Louisville -- The Cardinals were in the unenviable position of defending East Africa, with rival Kentucky to the north in Egypt and Tennessee's one garrison in the Congo providing little buffer between them and Michigan's forces.
  • San Diego State -- The first rule of war is never invade Russia in the winter. I know it's technically Spring as of last week, but that's not much comfort to an Aztec team a long way from home.
  • Wisconsin -- They made the Elite Eight. But in a classic battle of American North vs. South, Wisconsin (Northern Europe) couldn't muster a single winning roll against Arizona (Southern Europe), losing 10-0.

Ultimately, as you can watch in the video above, Michigan State was the only upset, and they rode that momentum all the way to the finals against in-state rival Michigan, a game they won without benefit of the red attacking dice or a great rebounding game. Their final path to victory was Western United States->Central America->Brazil->North Africa.

Check back on April 8 to see how I did compared to these guys.

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