Follow Up Tuesday – Risk

Risk-BoxRisk is one of those games that almost everyone has tried, wanted to try, or heard stories that kept them from trying. A few of the former group love the game while others hate it. The latter group not willing to risk falling into the second half of the formers avoids it at arms length. Why is this? What make Risk a game that players will either love or hate? Lets answer all that and more.

Released: 1959
Designer: Albert Lamorisse and Michael Levin
Plays: 2-6
EPT: 120-240 minutes (lets be honest we’ve all played those 4+ hour games)

Since the game’s initial release Risk has refused to leave the war game market and has had many alternate versions made; some to more critic acclaim than others; with Risk Legacy taking the game world by storm. As is always the case with core games we are not going to look at the alternates, rather just the original classic.

For the few of you who have managed to alienate yourself from familiarity with the game let us give it a quick summary. Players each take on the roles of a new world power with the goal of taking over the rest of the world. On a player’s turn they increase their army size as dictated by the number of countries and continents they hold, potentially aided with the cashing in of bonus cards as well. The active player will then declare war attacking their neighbors in hope of spreading their military influence throughout the world until they can no longer thin their army in good conscience; after which they can move armies to adjacent territories to reinforce locations as needed, note they must always leave at least 1 unit on a given territory. This goes in turn order with players attacking and rallying until one force is named victorious.

While Risk was released well before my time it was a revolutionary idea at release. A game in which players will use strategy to position and maneuver, similar to chess, but will then decide their fates by rolling dice. Risk lives up to its name; everything comes down to chance. A bad die roll can destroy an empire while a fortunate die roll will establish one’s control for many turns to come. It is this risk that makes the game as intense as it is.

The game uses the few mechanics it utilizes very well (with one exception). Player’s receive bonus troops at the start of their turn depending upon what territories/countries they control. The game thus awards not only traditional area control but adds the necessity of a strategic defense and potentially strong alliances. Players get additional bonuses for controlling all the areas within a continent making a second more powerful tier of area control which will often cause great conflict and force a spread defense. While moving armies about between area to adjacent areas players must leave a remainder of their army behind thus weakening their advancing force and also reducing their own future defenses. These mechanics force players to constantly be aware of the potential risks they will face as they seek advancement. A player who turtles, however, hiding in their hole will often find they slowly get whittled away.. unless they are in Australia.. then they will end up winning…

Adding set collection to the game in the form of cards which players draw at the end of their turn after successfully invading new territories further adds strategy as players can turn in completed sets for additional troops; doing so, however, increases the number of troops the next player will receive thus potentially causing more harm in the future than aid in the present. By then merging die rolling into the combat system the designers found a way to almost balance the game between more experience players than less experienced players. The attacker will always have a higher probability than the defender under optimal conditions in which the attacker has more or equal units; dice, however, don’t always follow the expected probability which often leads to intense roll offs with hair pulling unexpected finales; which while entertaining can be equally frustrating.

So where does this game go wrong? It sounds thus far like a great war simulator. That is exactly the problem. It is not uncommon for players to take attacks too personally (I am known to hold a grudge for the duration of the game; other players, however, carry the grudge over to the next game or even non-game life). This is especially true when a player breaks a truce or eliminates someone.

Player elimination; the reason this is a follow up review. PE is another detriment to the game. While BGG claims a playtime of 120 minutes that is often not the case. Players who are on near even strategical footing can draw a game into and over the 4 hour mark often having eliminated all other players in the first 60-90 minutes leaving the other 1-4 players to watch a 2.5 hour battle or leave and seek supplemental entertainment.

So lets get personal. I was introduce to Risk at a very young age. The game was in my dad’s collection and my brother and I wanted to try it; there were too many small pieces to keep us away (sorry born Ameritrasher). Admittedly my dad could have crushed us easily but he willingly made non-strategically-advantageous moves while also teaching us better strategy until we could hold our own. Often he would attempt to weaken the two of us equally to minimize the time between our eliminations. When we then taught our friends we were not so nice; after a quick elimination my brother and I would duke it out until inevitably I would often end up defeated; a good 90-120 minutes after our friend’s defeat. Often the friends would have simply gone home by that time; why they came back for another game is beyond me.

Picking the game back up in high school and college I found the strategical footing more balanced and the games more competitive and enjoyable; until one game in which I found myself down to a single man in a single territory. Luck was on my side and I managed to somehow come back and win the game. I have not played since; though that is more because other games have filled the void; mostly 4X games such as Twilight Imperium or other war games such as Axis and Allies or Memoir ‘44.

Looking at game play the game struggles in a few areas that stood out for me; predominantly pacing. One players turn may take mere seconds while another players may take drastically longer. While often players are engaged during another player’s turns in defending this is not always the case and can lead to the non engaged players experiencing a lower enjoyment; this also holds for the player elimination as the players who last longer will often have enjoyed the game more.

The mechanics, however, I enjoy greatly as outlined above. The visuals will Carry upon which edition is being played as newer edition have fancy minis while older versions have plastic bits, while a bookend edition has small wooden cubes. These aspects lead to Risk scoring a 5.75/10. The score has dropped greatly as other games filled the void and admittedly the experience of each play is different making it hard to get to the table as sometimes the game will play great and others it will crash terribly.
Visuals – 1.5 // 2
Skill/Luck – .5 // 1
Pacing – 1 // 2
Theme/Immersion – 1 // 2
Mechanics – .75 // 1
Fun Factor 1 // 2

I cannot stress enough how this game is sometimes great and I have many friends who love it to death… or to elimination as the case may be… but there are many other games I would rather get to my table that I feel accomplish the same feelings at a better return on investment of time for all players.

Tomorrow on Worker Wednesday we will take a look at Agricola; the granddaddy of all Worker placement games. Until then you can find us on social media at:
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