Risk occupies an interesting space in the modern boardgaming world. Part of that staple of games that appeared to exist in nearly everyone’s living room regardless if anyone remembered buying them or not, Risk was often the first game of conquest that most of us played. Like Monopoly, Life, and Clue, Risk is often seen as outdated simply because of its membership in that group, but there’s reason enough that the classics became classic. Risk may have its issues, but the amount of simple entertainment that it can bring, especially to younger gamers just entering the wide world of wargames, is something that can’t be ignored.
Risk also has an element for customization to it. The core rules, adding units based on territorial control, maneuvering to attack enemy territories in succession, and the 3 attack and 2 defend battle dice, work fairly well to abstract all sorts of broad conflicts. Its success and relative simplicity seem to have birthed an incredible number of sequels and spinoffs. Unlike the retheming that happens with other classic board game spinoffs, like Monopoly, Risk games tend to include at least a few new mechanics to change gameplay up significantly. There is still a lot to love about the core Risk experience, and some variants have really gone out of their way to try something different, so I thought Risk and its successors deserved a Meeple Mountain Top 6.
6. Risk Classic (2-3 hour playtime)
It’s important to pay due respects to the classics. Risk isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. It may be simple, but the core mechanics present players with interesting tactical decisions and, if played correctly, games don’t take very long at all. This is improved with the revisions that Risk has included in the past few decades, including mission cards. When players play towards an objective, rather than to wipe each other out, the game can be much more entertaining as a deduction element enters into play. Is your friend pushing hard to reach Ukraine because they think it’s the best plan, or is it part of the last mission they need to win the game?
Risk isn’t perfect, but everyone should probably give it a try at least once. There is a bit of entertainment solely in playing a historic board game, but the game itself holds up. Just make sure to play it by the rules. As with Monopoly, Risk suffered from a severe case of ‘childhood house rule syndrome’.
5. Risk 2210 AD (2 hour playtime)
Risk 2210 AD adds a lot of small mechanics to help smooth out the issues many have with classic Risk. By adding the moon and underwater facilities to the map, Risk 2210AD sidesteps some of the traditional strategies that dominate classic Risk. The inclusion of commanders, command cards, forbidden territories, and a turn limit add tactical depth, helping to round out the strategic choices available to each player. This makes for a better overall experience than the original.
4. Risk: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim (90 minutes to 2 hour playtime)
Set in the land of Skyrim, Risk: The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim adds some interesting roleplaying elements into a fairly standard game of mission-based Risk. These elements actually do go a long way to improving the base game, and fighting over iconic locations from The Elder Scrolls is a personal joy. Each faction has a hero figure that can move independently around the world, battling each other, dragons, and granting bonuses to their forces as they fight separately. Fleshing out a hero is fun as you gather armour, weapons, battlefield affecting spells and eventually dragon shouts. Even if the war isn’t going particularly well, using your hero to slay a dragon, earn a powerful shout, and then move on to give aid to beleaguered warriors helps create fun narratives each time you play. A focus on mission completion keeps games snappy and goes some way to removing player elimination as a concern. Just remember, the Stormcloaks were wrong.
3. Risk: Godstorm (2 hour playtime)
Risk: Godstorm mashes together a lot of the excellent bonus rules found in other Risk titles and uses them to create a rapid fire battlefield experience where death is not the end. Fought over a mythical map of Europe and North Africa including a sinkable Atlantis, Godstorm includes the usual battles over territories and ‘continents’ and extra victory conditions like relics and control of the underworld. Fallen soldiers have a chance to see battle again in the depths below, battling over altars and crypts and potentially earning a place back on the surface. As with most spin off Risk titles, Godstorm attempts to shorten the playing time by restricting the game to five epochs, ensuring that the battle of attrition doesn’t drag on forever. As with Risk 2210 AD, Godstorm also takes some territories out of commission each game leading to different strategic situations. An excellent take on the classic formula.
2. Risk Express (30 minutes)
Designed by legend Reiner Knizia, Risk Express packs all the strategy and dice chucking fun of Risk into about as tiny a package as possible. With seven dice and regions represented with disc (or cards, depending on version) players take turns attempting to invade regions by meeting dice face requirements. Dice contain pictures of soldiers, canons, cavalry, and generals. Regions will have set requirements in rows, like 2 generals or 5 soldiers. If, after a roll, a player can complete a row for their chosen invasion target, they can place the dice on that row (rows must be completed in one go). They then reroll, attempting to fill the other rows to capture the territory. If they fail to roll well enough to fill a row, they remove one die and reroll, either eventually capturing the territory or running out of dice.
It’s an incredibly simple premise but works so well to create interesting strategic situations where players must judge which territory to attack in a turn, knowing that each territory has its own victory point value, and that controlling a full continent’s worth makes those territories immune to further attack.
The simplicity of Risk Express has given way to a myriad of fun rereleases and rethemes, including a variety of homemade Print and Play versions as distinct as Super Mario and Pokemon themed. It’s exceptional for a quick playing game, and exceptional for Risk.
1. Risk Legacy (1 to 2 hour playtime depending on parameters)
It almost feels like Risk: Legacy has no business being as good as it is. Notably the first Legacy game, Risk: Legacy excels with a slow ramp up as the 15 game campaign progresses. At first, victories are accompanied by minor map changes like cities, but quickly develop into more drastic changes. Nuclear weapons become common, map spaces are permanently changed with both positive and negative effects, and each player, in general, gets to make their mark on the map. To keep this spoiler free, things continue to become crazier until, by the end of the campaign, everyone involved gets to feel part of a unique story in a unique world.
The best part is that the shattered world that everyone has created becomes both a relic of past good times and perfectly playable for random games of risk. While other Risk iterations will let you fight over Middle Earth or Skyrim, Risk Legacy lets you fight over your own world. It’s a unique feeling for a gaming group, and well worth the reasonable cost of entry. Risk: Legacy is the height of Risk gameplay.
Risk games, no matter what variety you choose, can always be a good time if the table is ready to chuck dice and launch assault after assault. There are plenty of more strategically detailed wargames and plenty others that better cater to interesting conflicts, but Risk and its successors have a certain charm all their own.