Risk: Legacy expands conceptually from Albert Lamorisse’s 1957 canon-boardgame Risk (originally released as La Conquête du Monde). While recognisably the same mechanics and objectives sit at its core, designer Rob Daviau expanded it into one of the more original games of 2011. The most discussed element is that each game alters the game board in an irreversible and unpredictable manner, influencing all future games. As such, at the end of the fifteen-game “campaign” your gameboard will be a singular expression of the players’ identity. It’s arguably best if players enter similarly ignorant, because of this. In a real way, it’s a strategic-level boardgame with spoilers.
Risk is a game you either Love or Hate or have feelings between the two poles or have no feelings about at all. If you’re reading this, it’s unlikely you’ll fall into the latter category. No game with cannons sits as prominently in the populist boardgame canon. You probably know how to play it. Even if you’ve never played it, you probably think you know how to play it.
You conquer the world by killing everyone. The more terrain you have, the more armies you get. If you control a whole continent, you get extra armies. You gain cards when you gain victories. You swap sets of cards for even more armies. Each set leads to increasingly more troops, adding an apocalyptic element to the game. Battles are fought by simple dice rolls, comparing results, and losing armies until someone either gives up or kills everyone.
All these core rules remain in Risk: Legacy. The oddest thing of Risk Legacy is that for a game that’s as groundbreaking as it is, it’s got something as familiar as monopoly sitting at its core. It’s as if the Apollo missions involved tying a bunch of rockets to a Penny Farthing.
That’s Risk Legacy’s big limitation. There’s some core rule changes which make Risk a lot more palatable to a more sophisticated palette, but it’s still Risk. It’s a game with inertia worked into it. It has player elimination, on a game by game basis. The influence of luck will have our teutonically-aligned friends shuddering.
An individual game, according to the box, takes an hour or two. This will depend on your group. A lot will be depending on your group. We’ll talk about this later, and we’ll be talking about it a lot. If the board changes according to the player, this creates a feedback loop. Players are always important in games, but in Risk Legacy they’re also the game designers. It’s a The Wisdom Of Crowds Game, in terms of game balance. We’ll get to this.
Assuming you want to hear it, and you may not. Knowledge is power. It is also spoiling. Even reading the back of the book can be argued a spoiler for Risk Legacy, when it’s about the odd thrill of discovery and the world becoming something you had no idea of.
Of course, as any review, half of you will have already played this, in which case, OPEN ALL THE BOXES IN A FRENZY OF OPENITUDE.
This is also a very Risk Legacy attitude, but we’ll also get to that.
In other words, what’s on the box both suggests what’s coming, feeds the imagination and also acts as odd encouragement. At least for all the groups I’ve talked to, the boxes almost become missions. Players will connive and conspire to tear them open. Sometimes, if almost all are open, they’ll conspire to not do it… but, even then, the urge to pretend you’re five years old and it’s the first Christmas Morning you’ve ever been excited for tends to take over. Even if you suspect it’ll be bad. Especially if you suspect it’ll be bad, because bad is always funny.
Flicking through the rules is also gets the “someone has got me presents and I don’t know what and I am so excited that I may just pee myself for the fourth time today” feeling. The rules have gaps in them, or other sections surrounded by a dotted line to imply that something – perhaps stickers – go over them. The rules are upfront stating that they will be mutable. How they start is not how they’ll end. All this is fundamental to the excitement of Risk Legacy.
The core differences to the rules are its victory conditions. As well as wiping everyone out, you’re able to (and much more likely to) win by capturing four red stars. You can earn Red Stars in game by mumblemumblemumbleirrelevantfornow, but possessing a player’s capital counts as one, including yours. Until you win a game, you get a free red star. That means in the first games, you need to gain two other capitals to win. This shortens the game enormously.
Depending on the group, of course. I know one group who claim to have at least four hour games every time.
Us? At least a couple ended in twenty minutes.
There were two reasons why our Risk Legacy games ended a little on the brutal side.
Firstly, for the first ten or so games, we have the movement rules wrong due to a particularly obscure reading of the manual. This allowed armies to move with more speed than they really should, or at least more logistically efficient than they should.
Secondly, one member of the group was a cheery beserker, and in Risk Legacy, if you hang with beserkers that bad influence thing your parents warn you about tends to happen.
Let’s say one player decides to do an early big attack, for whatever reason. Maybe someone’s left their capital a little undefended. Maybe they’re just pissed off over something in the last game. Hell, maybe it’s an actually tactically strong move. Doesn’t really matter. They do the attack, and one of two things happens. They get the capital, and they win the game (Fairly unlikely) or one or both of the sides ends up with depleted forces. This means there are now two capitals with only a little troops guarding them. The other players do the math, and now it’s much more likely a sudden strike will win the game. Someone goes for it. They either do it and succeed (more likely than the first guy who tried it) or they fail… and now there are three sides with depleted forces, making the lure of an attack and the chance of a success higher each time.
I say this not against the beserker… but a note of how the dynamics of the people involved will determine the shape of the game. If people are reticent about taking a risk for a win, and most people in the game are of a similar bent, the game will last a much longer time. This is obvious, but it’s also key. The players change the game, and when the players will change the shape of the board, this is a feedback loop. The board will be an autobiography of the people involved.
We’ll get to that shortly.
There was another quirk of player balance that fed into our campaign. One player, somewhat oddly, never seemed to quite grasp the core concepts of Risk. When it’s a game that primarily is won by taking opponent’s capitals, this tends to lead to one capital that is relatively easy pickings. This also speeds up the game, and starts the feedback loops moving in a different way. Taken to an extreme, this can lead to one player being underpowered, but we’ll talk about that later. It’s a game where having a weaker player in the mix will add a heavy “who can best predate off them.” By the end, I came close to doing the ultimate patronising gesture and dropping a line saying “Hey, dude – these are absolute core concepts of Risk and how you should evaulate a good move from a bad one” but I couldn’t quite do it.
Here’s the basics of Risk. I know if, for example, this was published on a boardgame website that these ideas will be picked to shreds and mocked intensely, but I thought that some of these concepts may help you perform a little better in Risk. This isn’t everything, natch, but you’ll do better if you thought about this stuff a bit.
1) Generally speaking, you win Risk Legacy by having more troops than your opponent.
2) There are three main ways of getting troops. One is trading in victory cards. The second is based on the number of regions you own. The third is owning an entire continent.
3) Until you reach 12 regions, you only get three reinforcements. As such, expanding the area you control has no reward whatsoever until you hit 12. Unless there’s a good reason based around limiting someone else’s movement, it’s more likely you’re just spreading out your forces and making them more easily killed.
4) Same with continents. Spreading out to own 9/10ths of a continent doesn’t matter. Get it all or it’s a waste of your time.
5) You get a card from a victory a maximum of once a turn. You swap cards for troops. This is the single most sure way of getting more troops. A game winning position will normally be created if you can get the 30-troops-at-once situation. However you can only get one victory card per turn. Get that victory card per turn.
6) I’ll say that again, but louder: GET THAT VICTORY CARD EVERY TURN. Unless there’s something pressing happening, you get that card. If you don’t and they do, you are falling behind in the arms race.
Putting them all that together, unless you can get one of the easily-held continents like Australia, South America or (harder) Australia, you should win one battle a turn to get that victory card. Find the nearest province to yours that has a single defender. Crush it. And then end your turn. Unless you can gain a continent or hit 12 provinces (or prevent your opponent doing so) any further battles will deplete your resources for no material gain whatsoever.
More so, while region and continent bonuses can be removed by invading a place, the only way to stop you spending your cards is by completely wiping you out (in which case, the cards are added to yours). The latter makes it doubly important you don’t weaken your forces with unnecessary wars, because if you have cards and only limited forces on the board makes you an incredibly attractive target for everyone else.
The short version is “Unless there is an immediate reward for an attack, do not do that attack.”
Other groups I’ve talked to have had a player who is clearly better than the other ones, which causes everyone else to get a little bitter about their chances of winning and the relevancy of their continued involvement. This is actually a problem with the game, but it’s not the one you think it is. This one is actually about the misconception of what Risk Legacy actually is about. There’s a reason why I’m using “campaign” in quotation marks, and it isn’t that I’m pastiching really annoying people on the Internet.
But still – if i was to critique Risk Legacy’s design it’d be that its claim-capitals-to-win lead to victories often feeling like they weren’t made by a player playing well – but rather player predating on another player playing badly. It’s a small but significant difference.
Anyway – back to the rules.
Other major changes include the addition of factions, where each player takes the part of a specific group with their own abilities – but that’s fairly common in games. It’s not those well-explored mechanical flourishes which is causing the excitement and/or gnashing of teeth. It’s the Legacy aspect. During each game, the board and components alter – and (the controversial, inspiring aspect) is that the changes are permanent. That sticker you’re putting on the board to show where a city is? That’s not moving. That’s there forever, and is a permanent part of the strategic considerations.
This changes everything, not least because everything changes.
Firstly, and perhaps most traditionally as its akin to any campaign game, it adds a longer term consequences to your decision. An early game, I’m in a position to place a sticker on the board that improves the defenses of anyone in the region (And, in case you’re worrying, this sticker description is printed on the board, so you’d know about this the second you opened the box). I’m in isolated Australia, and an army is coming crashing at me. It gets through my front line, it claims my capital and the attacker wins the game. I’ve got enough cards in my hand that if I survive, I can gain a counter-attack. His attack isn’t too overwhelming. If I get an edge on my defence, my chances aren’t bad. So, I should play the sticker and boost my powers, right?
Wrong. That would mean those defenses would be sitting in the bottleneck into Australia for every game from now on. Owning Australia is already one of the strongest opening positions, and anything that made it even stronger for whoever was sitting there wasn’t a great idea. Yeah, fantastic for me this time out, but having to deal with it for all the other games wasn’t worth the cost.
You’ll note an aspect to that – which is that for all the choices in the game, it tends to balance. For example, take the faction cards. At the start of the game, you have multiple options for each of their special powers, and the players have to decide which will be permanently affixed to the card. What is your board’s Saharan Republic or Khan Industries like? So what happens if you discover you’ve made one faction more powerful? As the game opens up, ways to limit that. If one faction is clearly too good, a group action ends up pushing against it. At the absolute worst, if one faction is better than the others, choosing it is a swift route to being the primary target of everyone else on the board.
The multiple options for each faction’s abilities is also your first experience of the destructive, transgressive thrill of Risk Legacy. Two stickers are on the card. You choose which one is going to be the faction’s ability. And then, you rip it up. The other one will never be used. No turning back.
This is Risk Legacy’s Dylan goes electric moment. It’s the one which caused the strongest response. Destroying the components meant that the game couldn’t be replayed.
You’ll go through the fifteen games, use out the components and then have to biuy another one. Wasn’t this a cheap con to make you buy the game multiple times? Of course not. At the absolute worst, if it was everything they said it was, it was an awesome con to make you buy the game multiple times. In practice, that’s not it at all. That’s a misunderstanding of what Risk Legacy is. It turns the game into a unique experience. You buy a copy of Risk Legacy. By the time you’ve finished, it’s yours.
That’s what it feels like when you tear the cards in half. There’s a sense of ownership akin to being able to drill holes in a house wall and not worrying about what a Landlord thinks about. The signing of the back of the board by all the players is the start of it, but that first rip of a card is where it starts to feel like something else. The Psychological impact of this can’t be underestimated. Breaking the taboo, we rushed onwards. You have to write on the board to name your cities, for example. That was only the start. Soon our board was covered with questionable graffiti, the apex of that particular trend being when at the final battle in Eastern Cananda for a game the defending players’ nose exploded spurting blood as I won the game. To commemerate the victory the loser put the bloody handprint on the board. I’m looking at the dried blood now. This is our game, in a real and CSI-identifiable way.
Remember that phrase: Our game, as it’s a key one I’ll come back to.
The third is the concept of a plot twist.
Stuff happens. You weren’t expecting it. Your heart flips. The word reshapes. Reality expands.
Hard to talk about.
If you’re using this as a buyers guide, I hope you haven’t read that. Suffice to say, as we gaped around at each other, I was aware that this was a sensation I’d never had in a lifetime of gaming.
Risk Legacy is mainly discussed as a campaign game. This isn’t true, and I didn’t really realise that until I’d finished the fifteen games.
And now we’re on game fifteen. The climax. It all comes to this.
There’s two contenders to get the most wins. Griddleoctopus and myself. I’ve got five victories, he’s got four. The winner takes it all, if you take “all” to mean “gets to name the world and wins the whole campaign.”
The question is raised…. what happens if Gril wins and the final results are drawn?
The now sticker-filled rule-book is examined.
It’s a roll off.
It’s not a straight roll off either. For each continent you’ve named, you get plus one to the roll. Naming a continent is one of the options you get when you win a game. Gril’s named three, with worryingly Reichian names. I’ve named one. I suspect if any of us had realised that it was actually important in the long run, we may have been a bit quicker on the gun.
(In passing, special credit for The Bearlord Sorrel renaming Australia to “New Zealand.)
The campaign comes to this, then. If Gril wins, it’s a roll-off with him getting +2 to his number.
So, logically enough, all I have to do is to stop Gril from winning to win.
It’s Risk. As mentioned in a previous box, you can completely fuck up someone else’s chance by simply throwing all your forces against theirs in the opening. I just need to do that, and the world’s mine.
Do I do it?
This has been a year’s gaming, and ending it in the mean, shitty play is a dumb-ass offensive thing to do. We’ve come together as humans across the year. Guys I didn’t know, I know, and if this is to be the end of our world party, it’s going to be a party.
I play to win.
Inevitably, Gril wins.
We roll off.
I roll a one.
The campaign is over. A year’s effort and scheming and imagination is decided by something that’s basically a coin-flip.
What a waste of time.
You may think.
If you were missing the point.
Risk Legacy isn’t a campaign game with a “winner”. The section on when the fifteenth game ends goes out of its way ever saying “the winner gets to name the world” rather saying “the player who has signed the victor’s section of the board the most times gets to name the planet”. Yes, there’s a reward for getting most wins, but it’s not being “winner” in any way that you’d think.
This is the last piece of Risk Legacy’s radicalism, and the one that’s most easily overlooked. That, as gamers, we’re used to the concept of campaigns, and games stringing together to form a larger picture made us understand Risk Legacy through that filter. The point of the chain of gains is result in a larger victor.
Risk Legacy isn’t that. It was never about that. Risk Legacy is the process of creating a world. Risk Legacy is about generating a game.
Because when you’ve finished the fifteenth game, what you’re left with is a customised board that plays unlike anyone else’s on Earth. You’re meant to carry on playing games with it. It’s not even that the board is set in amber after fifteen games – there’s no victors alterations that get to be made to the board, but any remaining stickers will find their way onto the board in future play. Hell, if you were really leisurely, there’s a chance you haven’t even opened all the boxes or packets, and they can all be opened.
It’s Risk Legacy’s big lie. I’ve watched threads of people coming to tears over who is the “winner” of their game of Risk Legacy, and they’ve missed the point entirely.
We finished our fifteen games, and had our world, five-fingers of fingerprints, as made by the five players. I could write fiction based around what’s on our board, and the mythology therein. I know what it’s like to live in its Corporate neoFascist South America, in fear what could come out of the radioactive wastes of North Africa. I know about the fortress states in Italy and Greece, watching to their south nervously – and the 90s videogame hell that is Berlin. Hell, and there’s mystery that lies off the coast of New Zealand and what it means for us all. I mean, I couldn’t write high literature about it, but I’ve bought RPG supplements with far less evocative places.
Risk Legacy is a game generation system, relying on the wisdom of crowds to balance it. It’s game design lego – the modern school, where the pieces are strongly themed, but lego none the less. In other words, it may make something about Batman, but it’s your Batman. It’s not about winning. It’s about creation.
Gril took the pen and named the world.
He called it The World Of Super Best Friends.
That’s Risk Legacy.
It’s entirely magical.
Risk Legacy is a game about creating a game. It’s about creating a world. By the end of the fifteen games, that’s what you’ve got a – fully realised place an a fully realised game to play in it.
My job is writing pulp fiction. I could write pulp fiction set in our little alternate Earth, with the cultures we created and the terrain we warped.
The biggest is the nuke mechanism. At the start of the game, each player has a free red star, meaning they only need to get three more to win the game. If you win one, you replace that with a nuke. A nuke is primarily used to force a reroll on any die. You gain one nuke for every victory you claim.
The “You” here is tied to the player, rather than the faction you were playing. So, if a player wins a lot, they have a lot more re-rolls than the less conquering heroes. At the end, I had five nukes and poor old Tom had a single one. This is a significant weakness.
More so – if we get back together with the completed board, he will always have one nuke to my five. As that the nukes-balance is only decided by those who write on the board’s victory part, that’s never going to change. Tom probably would have been better, for the long term balance of the game, to have never won a game, and kept the free-red-star. And taking and player the game with new people? They’re always going to have a red star, and I’m always going to have five nukes.
There’s a few more mechanics that are tied to the specific player rather than a faction or area – Capital Cities, Naming Capitals – and they often feel like a sop to the more traditional campaigning aspect of the game. They work well enough in the fifteen games, but are strongly limiting the possibilities for the board after you finish.
In other words, for all its brilliance, Risk Legacy feels a little like the gawky amphibian launching onto land from the pre-cambrian seas. It’s only right at the game’s conclusion does it fully show its cards about not really being about the competition at all, and some of those mechanics along the way sit poorly with that more egalitarian end-point.
In some ways it’s lucky: those who are tearing apart Risk Legacy, trying to work out how best to use it in their own designs have multiple ways forward. Some will lean into the more traditional campaign. Others will go into the board-design-by-improvised-play model.
And maybe – just maybe – this gawkiness of the post-”campaign” board was the point. This is a game which deliberately asks you to show disrespect to the board and its rules. There is one point where it dares you to defy its explicit orders. Maybe that’s the takeaway? That, yes, as written this doesn’t work.
It’s your game, after all.
We started playing our game in early 2012.
Quinns, knowing that he’d never be able to play any game that demanded that length of commitment that didn’t involving running and/or nets, asked if I’d review it when I’d finished it. I said sure.
The game takes until early 2013 to finish.
And then I prioritize work, sleep and orgasms over writing it, as I’m crap.
Hey, you opened the box. I didn’t say there was always good stuff in the boxes.
That could go for Risk Legacy too – a key element of the game is the slight trepidation in opening on. It’s always cool stuff, but you have no idea whether it’s cool good stuff or cool bad stuff. Hey, I’ve turned a joke box-out into a proper bit of a review. I’m a genius. This review was well worth waiting two years for.
I opened it.
I found this…
A surprise, and shared humanity. Very Risk Legacy.
Thank you, Tom.
Basically, Risk Legacy is a Dylan goes electric moment in boardgame history, and my natural urge is to grab you by the throat and say “PLAY THIS IF YOU CARE ABOUT GAMES IN THE SLIGHTEST”, and then release your throat and apologise for the assault in an attempt to stop you calling the police. I’m not sure the natural urge is right. I suspect whether you play Risk Legacy or not, you’ll be playing games infused by Risk Legacy’s ideas soon enough. And the real legacy in that will be this.
It has received much attention
You go read those boardgamegeek threads, and you can imagine them heckling JUDAS! at the stage.
I love Risk. I refuse to be snobby about it.
Here’s the thing: more than any game I’ve played in recent years, the people who you play with shape it, because their natures as people will shape.
I kinda regret this.
The big problem is simple.
The final box.
The world building aspect should be leaned into.