Game Review: RISK LEGACY

Write on the board, tear up cards, destroy the world- this is a completely new RISK.

Risk. Besides Monopoly, it’s perhaps the most-played board game of all time. You probably have one rotting away in the bottom of your closet, so why should you drop cash on another version? But Risk: Legacy is no simple reskin of the game; it’s a completely new edition. One which lets you and your friends slowly change a persistent world over multiple games and is, without hyperbole, a contender for the most innovative board game released in years.

At its core it’s the same Risk as ever- you’re still trying to conquer the world by force. Every turn you’ll place a number of little plastic figures representing your armies, you’ll attack neighboring territories, and then redistribute some troops to defend yourself the best you can against your enemies. Attacking is the same as ever and only involves five dice at the most- a max of three for offense, two for defense. You both roll at the same time and compare the top numbers, the defense wins any ties, and you remove one or two troops accordingly. It’s simple, it’s fast, it works.

Risk: Legacy has five different factions to choose from, ranging from the bear-riding savages of Enclave of the Bear to the Road Warrior-esque members of The Saharan Republic. My personal favorites are Khan Industries, futuristic soldiers who come with mechs. All the factions play the same out of the box and each has a unique plastic soldier representing a single unit and a larger one (tanks, mechs, bears) that represents three units. Before your first game you'll get to modify each faction’s card with a starting power. Each faction card has multiple blank color-coded spots where powers are placed, and you’ll get two powers to pick from at first. The dilemma here is that both stickers go in the same space so you have to choose one power to stick onto the card... and rip the other one up.

Yes that’s right- ripping up cards is a part of the game here, and just the first step you’ll be taking towards having your own completely customized game. You better not be afraid of marking up your board because you’ll be writing directly on it, putting stickers all over the place, and generally changing the whole thing forever. Win a game and you get the honor of signing your name on the board and possibly naming something. In my game Australia is called Marmel, there’s a city called Jurassic Park in the Eastern United States and another called Slime City in Southeast Asia.

In a world where gamers seek to keep things mint forever, sleeving every card and doing their best to keep their games as pristine as possible, it’s quite refreshing.

The rules have undergone a few slight changes and one is to its most basic- how to win the game. Rather than play till someone has completely taken over the world (although that will certainly net you a win) you’re playing to be the first to get four red stars. Each player starts off with one red star token in their hand and also has a headquarters which counts as one, essentially giving you two red stars right off the bat. Take over two of your friends’ headquarters and you’ve won the game. Alternately, you can trade in four cards (still gained by conquering a territory during your turn) for one red star. It makes for a faster, more tense game, one that encourages fighting at every turn and is generally playable within 45 minutes to an hour.

I never thought I’d be reviewing a board game and have to worry about potential spoilers, but here we are. When you open Risk: Legacy one of the first things you’ll note is a series of sealed envelopes taped to the box that tell you when they should be opened. For example, one envelope states that it should be torn open when a player has been completely eliminated from a game, another when a player uses three missiles in a turn. When a condition is met, you open the envelope and find cards that will completely change the game.

Think I’m kidding? There are sections in the rule book that have grey boxes around them to show where future stickers go, adding new rules or modifying old ones completely. Rules aren’t the only things to be found, but half the fun is finding out just what’s in there. Greatest (or perhaps worst) of all is a sealed envelope hidden under the tray in the box that says simply “DO NOT OPEN. EVER.” It’s pure nerd-bait.

There are a couple of components to the game you get right out of the box that I can talk about. One are the missiles. Win a game and sign your name on the board and rather than a red star you’ll start the next game with a missile, which can be used to change any single die roll in the game, making it one larger or one less. I once used one to great result and completely screwed over a friend who was on the verge of winning. (He took it out on me in the next game.)

Another major new component in the game are scar cards. These have stickers that are placed directly on the game board and influence rolls. For instance, before a strong attack on your territory you can play a Bunker scar sticker which gives you +1 to your highest defense die. This is a permanent feature: once the sticker is on the board that territory will always give that bonus to any troops occupying it. On the flipside there’s an Ammo Shortage scar that does the opposite: gives the defender a -1 to its highest die. Because of this South America is weak and quite hard to hold in my game, as both Venezuela and Brazil have ammo shortages. (Note that if you win a game you have an opportunity to remove a scar by placing a blank sticker over it.)

As you play more games, populated cities will pop up, more scars will appear from sealed envelopes, and certain factions will start to flock to certain locations as they start to found cities and get bonuses for taking over continents. There’s space on the board for the signatures of 15 winners--whoever has won the most by the end gets to name the world, and then you have a completely customized version of Risk to play forever.

Of course one concern for people is what happens after you’ve played all 15 games and everything is on the board and everything’s named? Well, the way I figure it, if I played 15 games and enjoyed them that’s a bunch more than I’d usually play a single board game. Plus, I’ll have a copy of the game that’s different from every other one in existence. You can’t complain about that.

But how does it play? Well, a whole lot like Risk. No matter how much you plan things it all comes down to the luck of the dice, and a few bad rolls can ruin all your plans. Besides the thrill of crushing your enemies and seeing them flee before you, Risk: Legacy gives you the thrill of discovery as you open each new envelope and uncover what’s inside, and then play a game with the new components. Note however that I haven’t opened every single envelope, and that two sections of the tray are still sealed that could contain more than cards- new figures or other things to play with, on top of the new cards and rules? I have no idea and can’t wait to find out. The conditions for opening these envelopes are cleverly spaced out so that you’ll have to wait a while to see what each ones does. I’ve been pulling the game out every time friends come over, and this from someone who never thought he’d play Risk again.

But then again, maybe you want a game that’s more complex than Risk. That’s certainly a valid concern, but Risk is popular for a reason: it’s easy to pick up and anyone can learn it. World domination is never not thrilling, after all.

If you’re looking for a good starting point to jump into designer board games, here it is. Change your world.