Manufacturer: Hasbro Number of players: 2-6 Ages: 10+
Risk is superb, easy to understand, yet complex and fairly different every time you play. There's strong replay value, though it's best played intermittently as it does lack some long-term variety. Over-familiarity can breed contempt.
The game and gameplay
Risk is an absolute classic. It’s had numerous updates over the years. There’s also some Risk board game spinoffs starting to emerge, as manufacturers realise that collectors are multiple-purchase customers.
Risk is a boardgame of world domination for 2-6 players. It's probably best described as a strategy wargame. Though the chance element does have a major impact on the outcome, a good tactician will consistently beat a weaker thinker.
The world is divided into six continents: North America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and Australasia. Each continent has its own color scheme.
There are 42 countries or states, with the smallest continents containing just four each and the larger ones having many more. Each country or state is represented on a Risk card; there are two additional Joker cards in the deck of 44.
Each player receives an equal share of the Risk boardgame territories.
Turns begin with re-inforcements based on your holdings on the board. Bonuses are awarded for holding an entire continent: the larger the continent, the greater the bonus for holding it. Any player who forms a set of Risk Game cards may also cash it in for a powerful one-off extra troop boost.
Players can attack a neighboring state or country using one of their armies. This battle is represented by throwing dice. The attacker can throw up to three dice versus the defender's two, while the defender wins any tied scores. If the attacker destroys an entire army, he then occupies the new territory with a portion of the attacking army.
And that's it! Risk is a simple concept, with plenty of room for creativity and strategic thought. What has made Risk a boardgame classic is its flexibility. One player's ideas of a winning formula will be very different from another's.
The key is retaining entire continents, as the bonuses are so valuable. Because this affects the balance of power so much, it's very common for a Risk boardgame to become an exercise in shifting loyalties. Not to mention tantrums and temporary fights among friends!
Players without a continent are liable to gang up on the one player who has, in the hope of prolonging the game and giving themselves a greater chance of winning. A player can be feeling pretty smug at the end of his turn, but devastated by a series of attacks before he rolls again.
The smart, but dull, way to play is to grab a continent and dig in, using the new bonuses from each turn to defend and gradually expand. But it's a slow way to win; even granite-like players will eventually grow tired of sitting and waiting.
After all, the game is called Risk, not Avoid Risk! Former rocks, who are tempted out of their shell to attack from a position of seeming invulnerability, often lose their stronghold and the game.
What makes the Risk boardgame such an interesting game is the chance to overthrow a powerful enemy. A set of cards awards up to ten bonus armies, which can really swing a balanced power struggle in close games.
A strong, slow buildup process can come crashing down if the patient player hits a poor run of dice rolls, or is ganged up on by well-placed enemies who cash in a set at just the right moment.
No game survives generations of players without being very strong and well-designed. Risk is a boardgame with plenty of variety for such a basic concept. There are many ways to play and win; each game begins differently thanks to the random element of distributing cards; the natural inclination to team up with different factions during the game adds to the game's strength as a social exercise, which is vital to any board game's popular appeal.
The dice system for settling battles feels fair and balanced. Strength of numbers usually, but not always, wins the day. Just like a real war.
Older versions of Risk used tokens for the armies. The relatively recent introduction of plastic miniatures to represent infantry, cavalry and artillery, while weird and fiddly at first, was a stroke of genius. I dare you to resist lining up your troops in neat rows and formations while you wait!
They're a pain to remove from the sprues when you first buy the set, though, and you’ll be performing the Heimlich maneuver on your cat when she chokes on a green soldier you dropped on the carpet last weekend.
Risk the boardgame has few faults, but they are worth mentioning. There's a tendency for players taking Australasia early to dominate the game, as it's the equal smallest continent (with four states), but the only one to have a single point of access, making it too easy to defend.
New rules have been introduced over the years to inject some variety into the gameplay, including a one-edition third entry point to Africa, to make it more tricky to hold onto, that vanished at the next update.
There's no escaping the fact that over-exposure to Risk will lead to players becoming tired of it. Games have a deja-vu feeling after a while, especially if you play with the same group and never see new strategies at work. You're also going to have to budget a big chunk of time for each game, as more experienced players realise that the best way to give yourself a chance at winning is to stockpile and defend, rather than go on the offensive too often.
Risk the boardgame won't disappoint. It shows how a simple concept can be compelling and addictive, crosses age and sex boundaries (though men are probably more "into" world domination as a concept) and will offer plenty of replay value. It won't be everybody's idea of a good time, but the vast majority of thinking gamers will love it.