The Classic Global Warfare Strategy game that made our Top 20 by accident.
Players: 2 – 5 Best with: 3 – 4
Age: 10+ GN Age: Teen
Game Type: Board Time: 1 – 8 hours
Publisher: Hasbro Year: 1957
Game Play: Troop Placement, Strategy, Territory Control
Score: out of 12
This will probably be one of my harder reviews to write. It’s easy to write a review for a game you love, and it’s kind of fun to write for a game you hate, but this game is neither of those. It’s just sort of meh. My totally abridged review of this game would be: Risk, yup, it’s a game.
Sadly, this attitude does not reflect the significance and importance of the game. The history and the relevance of Risk are far more interesting than the game itself.
Risk was invented in 1957 by French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse. Its original title was La Conquete du Monde (The Conquest of the World). It was released in America in 1959 as Risk: The game of Global Domination. Risk was and is immensely popular and was inducted in to the Games Hall of Fame in 1984.
Risk basically created a new genre of games. Almost every war simulation game owes its creation to Risk. Axis & Allies, Memoir ’44, Kemet, and virtually every game made by Avalon Hill all exist due to Risk. Even games like Catan and Ticket to Ride owe a debt to Risk. Risk is such a popular idea, that over 40 variants of the game exist, including, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and even Rick & Morty.
The game itself is easy enough. Each player begins with enough troops to evenly divide the world into equal shares. For example, four players would each start with control of ¼ of the world. Each player in turn chooses a territory and places one troop to claim it. Players continue to claim territories until they are all claimed.
Additional troops are added to strengthen controlled territories. These troops should be placed in areas with good defensive or offensive positions. Usually, these are one in the same. Once the world is divvied up the war/game begins.
Each turn consists of three phases. First, you place additional troops based upon the number of territories owned. Second, you use your troops to attack any adjoining territories that belong to other players. Third, you may fortify any one territory with the troops from a single territory you control. Play continues until one player controls every territory, and thus the entire world and is declared the winner; the winner of an empty shell of a planet, decimated by war, and plagued by death and destruction. Congratulations!
I could go on describing game mechanics and battle resolution and blah, blah, blah, but let’s get to what makes this such an average game in today’s age.
First off, the game may start out equal, but it quickly becomes unbalanced. In the world of Risk, the strong get stronger and the weak, perish. Invariably the game devolves into one of two scenarios.
1 – One person, due to some lucky dice rolls, jumps out to an early lead. He quickly seizes control of a continent, which grants him even more troops. This puts the game into a death spiral, where he will get stronger and stronger and the other players have no chance to catch him. Once one player seizes two continents, that player will win. The rest of the players just have to plod along waiting for the inevitable defeat.
2 – Due to bad dice all around, no one gets the upper hand. The game become a long, boring, grind; wearily taking over a territory, only to lose another the next round. Rinse and repeat. Over and over.
Either way the game is just not fun to play. And that is its greatest sin. No matter the strategy, no matter the outcome, Risk always feels like a chore.
Speaking of strategy, there is only one. Might make right. Forget creating choke points, forget secure borders, and forget alliances and diplomacy. The only thing that matters is he who has the largest army, wins. While this sort of aggressive, combative philosophy is probably the best, and maybe the only, way to win real wars, it does not make for a very entertaining game.
And how entertaining is Risk when playing with your kids? It is not entertaining or fun when playing with my kids, I’ll tell you that. My 10-year-old absolutely refused to attack his Mom. They both got stuck in a choke hold between Asia and Australia, with this weird sort of détente. Neither could move and they just stockpiled troops at the border.
Meanwhile my 12-year-old immediately violated the alliance we made and attacked me in a vain attempt to invade South America. Then he got traumatically upset when I retaliated and decimated his forces. I should have eliminated him then, but I relented to show him what would happen when you take it easy on someone. We spent the whole game going back and forth, with neither side winning, nor anyone having any fun. This zero-sum-gain type of experience, while certainly a good life lesson, does not make for a good game.
You’re probably asking yourself how this game made it onto our Top 20 list. At the time we made our Top 10 lists, from which the Top 20 arose, this game was brand new to the boys, and Andrew was intrigued by the battle aspects of the game. He was stumped to come up with a 10th game, and put this on his list because it was fresh in his mind. I know that if we made those lists today, Risk would not be on it. I also stand by its inclusion on the list. Like any classic, it deserves a place on your shelf, but I guarantee that you won’t play it much.
Risk is an interesting and historic game with a lot of parallels to real life and warfare. The game should be taught to teenagers, and when played with like-minded, aggressive adults, the game might be at least tense and exciting, although still probably not fun. Plus, a game like that could go on for hours or days. Ugh, who has the time for that nonsense?
But for a young family of casual gamers Risk feels cold, cruel, and cut-throat; not very good adjectives for a fun family game night. Depending on the child the game is either too hard, too tedious, too mean, too repetitive, too long, or just too futile.
Perhaps that is the grand lesson of the game. In the end, real warfare, like Risk, is an exercise in excruciating futility, filled with naught but bitter defeat and hollow victory, unrelenting, unsatisfying, and ultimately unnecessary.
As always, never get involved in a land war in Asia, and Game On!
Take risks. If you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise. – Author Unknown