When I started this blog I promised I would talk about new games and old games and, for me, they don’t get much older than Risk. Now I know that recently there have been some revisions to this classic, but I’m not talking about those. Specifically I’m talking about what I consider to be the golden era of the game, that would be the copy I own and it looks like this:
The Concept behind Risk is that you are an evil dictator, not satisfied with the dozen or so countries you have already subjugated, which are spread out seemingly at random across the globe. So you must set out on a massive land grab, butchering your neighbours until at last you own the perfect combinations of land or you have completely eradicated your foe.
Depending on the edition depends on what you get but in general.
- 1 Board
- 1 Rules Manual
- 1 Deck of Territory Cards including 2 Jokers
- 1 Deck of Mission Cards
- 5 Dice (3 Red, 2 Blue)
- 6 different coloured armies
The beauty of Risk is that you can walk into almost any charity shop in the Uk and pick this game up for less than £5 and that’s a lot of stuff for a fiver. My copy still has the price tag on it, £2, admittedly it’s missing the odd soldier, but their are still enough components to field all six armies (some of them are still on the sprue.)
Again component quality really depends on the edition. Certainly there is nothing wrong with the quality of my edition, but it’s not worth raving about. I do prefer the men, horses and cannons to the new Arrows, if only because they are easier to handle and fit into the territories.
Risk is best played with Missions, World Domination simply takes too long and players are knocked out and left hanging around while the remaining two super powers duke it out. Missions shorten the game time and generally keep all players in the game until the end.
I have played some of the newer (not the 2008 revised) editions and the missions have been somewhat watered down. But I love the classics. Conquer 24 territories, Conquer 18 Territories with 2 Troops in each, Destroy the Black Troops, Conquer Europe, Australia and a third continent of your Choice etc.
We played this game so much in our teen years that we knew the missions off by heart and could guess the opponents mission by the territories they had claimed. This led to a metagame of bluffing where people would take countries they didn’t need as misdirection. Plus, let's face it, Australia was always worth taking if you could.
Playing the Game
At the start of the game you receive a number of territories (Dealt from the deck) and troops based on the numbers of players. You also each receive a mission card. Each player places one troop in each Territory they own. Then in turn each player places one troop in any territory they own until all the troops are deployed.
This take a while and is rather tedious, my group just used to dump everything onto the board. This worked well for us as we concentrated on our objectives, rather than our opponents troop placement, but if one player waits for the others to deploy then you’re probably better off using the official rules.
Now that all the troops are on the table, collect the Territory Cards, add the Jokers and shuffle, now you are ready to begin. The turn has three steps.
- Receive Reinforcements
- Tactical Move
Receive Reinforcements – For every 3 territories you own you receive 1 Reinforcement. You always receive at least 3. If you own all the territories of one continent you also receive a bonus number of troops. Finally you can trade in cards to receive extra troops. Either 3 of the same (men 4 troops, horses 6 troops, cannons 8 troops) or 1 of each for 10 troops. Jokers count as any type for this purpose.
Attack – You can attack any number of times during your turn. Only countries that share borders or are connected by a dotted line can attack each other. You may never attack with a territory with only a single troop as one troop must always remain behind to protect the Territory.
To attack you roll a number of red dice equal to the number of troops you are attacking with (upto 3 although you can attack with more) the defender rolls a number of blue dice equal to the number of troops he declares as defending (upto 2). You then compare the highest and dice, if the attackers die is higher a defender is removed, if it is a draw or the attackers die is lower then an attacking troop is removed. You then compare the next highest die and repeat these steps. An attacking die can only eliminate a troop if it is paired up with a blue die. So, even if you roll 3 dice, you can only kill a maximum of 2 troops.
If troops remain in the territory after your attack you can attack again, possibly with fewer troops, or you can retreat which is another word for not attacking.
If the last defender is removed from the territory then you must move troops into the new territory. The minimum number you can move is the number you used to attack. You must always leave at least 1 troop behind.
If you took at least 1 territory you may now draw a Territory Card. Each one has either a Man, a Horse or a Cannon on them and these are used for determining reinforcements. Also you may only have 5 cards in your hand at any time and you only draw one per turn regardless of the number of Territories taken.
Tactical Move – Finally you can move 1 group of troops. Depending on the edition, this is either, any number of troops from one adjacent territory to another or any number of troops from 1 territory to any other territory it can reach without moving through an enemy occupied territory. Why you were limited to one of these moves always baffled me.
The game then continues in this fashion until one player succeeds in his mission. In some editions you need to hold the objective for a turn before you can declare victory.
Risk hasn’t hit the table in many, many years. The last time I played was a 6 player game back in 2006. There are many reasons Risk is less popular now than it used to be. Firstly we used to play Risk as a way to wind down after playing a miniature wargame like Warhammer or Lord of the Rings. Those games are now less frequent and so is Risk. Also, when I want to play a game of conquest, I’d rather play something like Warhammer Invasion, which is ultimately more fun and has more depth. Finally, a major problem is player count. Often times now I only ever play conquest/war games two player and Risk is a poor two player game.
But, for what it is and the price you can get it, Risk is a fun game. That six player game I played? I went all out in the first turn and took North America, but I was left with just one troop in each territory. However, through clever deal making, lies and misdirection, I out-lived two other players. In fact, I would have lived longer, had the winning player not had to Kill all the Black Troops (that was me).
When you have a group of players who know the game, who barter and beg and plead, the game can be a really memorable experience. Technically, that doesn’t make it a good game. I knew throughout that 6 player game that I would never make a comeback, if for no other reason than I would not be “allowed” to.
At the end of the day Risk is one of those backwards, stuck in the mud designs that refused to change (until recently). Had the game adopted new mechanics such as technology trees, resource management, innovative combat then maybe it would be a great game. As it is, it’s a cheap evenings entertainment.
The best way to experience Risk is not on the table top but on your PC. Risk II was an excellent simulation of the board game, but it actually took the game further. They introduced the idea of Same Time Risk, where each player would plan out all of his attacks in advance and then the computer would resolve everything at once. This meant that you could attack a country from several places at once for a strategic advantage. Overall it was a more tactical game, which took into account higher troop numbers when attacking and defending.
Ultimately, for me, Risk II is why we stopped playing the board game. AI meant you never had to play two player, different play options kept things interesting and Same Time Risk kept things tactical.
Will Risk ever hit the table again…? Maybe, but if it does it will be for nostalgic reasons more than for the game itself.