Area control is one of my favourite board game mechanics. I love the visual spacial nature of these strategy games. From classics like El Grande and Carcassone to Through the Desert, Iwari and Imhotep, I can’t get enough of them.

The most well known example is probably Risk – where players position troops in territories around the world, then fight each other for control of those territories in an ultimate bid to rule the world. (Although Risk itself is probably my least favourite area control game, because of the focus on combat, which leaves me cold.)

But have you played Aggression? It’s a 2-player pencil & paper game that, on the surface, looks a lot like Risk, but dispenses with the actual combat in favour of interesting strategic decisions. Here’s how you play.

You’ll need a piece of paper and two pens or pencils of different colours. 

Iwari from Thundergryph Games

A completed map

Map Making

The first stage is to create the map. You can do any number of territories in any shape. But I think it’s common to use about 20 territories. You can create the map together, or one player can do it solo. Some territories will border many others, others have fewer neighbours. Both are strategically interesting. Try to make the regions interesting shapes, with a varying number of bordering countries.

I’ve labelled each region, but you don’t really need to do this when playing.


Now players start to allocate troops to different regions. Each player has a total of 100 troops to deploy over the whole map. Nominate a first player. Starting with the first player and taking turns, players choose an empty region (with no troops in) and write a number in the region – indicating the number of troops they are allocating there. As you allocate troops to different regions on the map, keep a note of the number of troops remaining. 

Keep going until each player has deployed all 100 troops. It is possible that one player runs out of troops while the other has many left – they can then take successive turns, allocating troops across any remaining regions as they wish. There may still be some empty regions. 

The game state at the end of the deployment phase

After the first few attacks


Now it’s time for the actual aggression. Again, starting with the first player, players take it in turns to choose a region where they have troops and attack a neighbouring region, occupied by the other player, where there are fewer troops. The attacking player always wins – there’s no prolonged combat. Cross out the region that you have conquered – this region and these troops are now out of the game. The attacking region is always left intact – suffering no damage and able to fight another battle

Players continue like this, alternating turns until no more regions can be conquered. If one player runs out of options, the other may make successive turns until they too have run out of regions to attack. 


The player with the most regions under their control at the end of the game wins. Regions you attacked (and wiped out) do not count. So in my game shown below, Blue wins with 5 regions as Red only has 4. (You don’t need to write down the moves when you play. I’ve included the moves in this game so you can follow it if you wish.)

Why I like it

Oh it’s so simple, but so fun. There’s a lot of strategy for something so simple. Each time I play (and usually lose) I want to play again – believing that by copying the strategy of my superior opponent will help. Of course, it doesn’t as they adapt to my position like a wizard – spinning me around in circles of logic and scratching my head. 

There are benefits to playing first – as you get first pick of key regions, and you get to make the initial attack, but there are also benefits to going second. As second player you can respond to the troop allocation so you add just enough to a neighbouring region to trump it. 

End of game

Players are encouraged to place high numbers of troops to maintain dominance, but also to spread troops more thinly to take more regions initially. A player may ignore all the areas around a highly enforced region, giving them little to attack (as happened in the game shown). There’s an interesting question about whether it’s better to commit a high number of troops in the early deployment or save them to respond to the later state of the board. 

As you’re deploying troops you’re playing out how the attack phase will run. Most of the interesting decision making comes at the deployment stage, but playing out the attacks is still fun… and your opponent may surprise you or pull off a move you didn’t preempt.

Have a play, send me your photos and let me know what you think.