La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World) was designed and released by respected French film director Albert Lamorisse in 1957. He sold his game to Parker Brothers two years later and it was rebranded as Risk: The World Strategy Game, becoming one of the biggest selling and instantly recognised board games of all time.
By the time Parker Brothers was bought by toy giant Hasbro in 1991 for around $516 million there was only one variation on the classic war game released in the form of Castle Risk. However, Hasbro have milked the intellectual property to death with over 35 different versions since 1999, many of them licensed editions, including Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Mass Effect, The Walking Dead, The Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chronicles of Narnia, Transformers, Doctor Who, Halo, Metal Gear Solid, Battlefield, Plants vs Zombies and many more.
I do enjoy Risk – I grew up playing it – but there is no denying that it is heavily steeped in the luck of a dice roll. Countless times massive armies have been halted in their tracks by a pithy line of last defence due to nothing more than a run of bad dice. It removes the skill element and devalues any strategy within the game. At times it can be an insanely frustrating experience.
Risk 2210 A.D. was the first to address the unbalanced luck factor, but it was the arrival of the ever-evolving, organic Risk Legacy that set a new benchmark for a game that dramatically divides the board game community. The legacy edition saw the world evolve and change, with unique races and powers. While maintaining the fundamental dice-rolling mechanic, it felt more balanced due to the evolution of the world and races, creating a mesmerising gaming experience, enriched in drama. It is simply is the greatest version of Risk about.
News broke in the summer of 2015 that Hasbro were, unsurprisingly, releasing another Star Wars Risk game to naturally tie in with the release of The Force Awakens film. Naturally, no one in the gaming community paid much attention at what on the surface seemed to be nothing more than another money-spinner for Hasbro.
Yet the game that arrived was not what was expected. It was a Star Wars game that had nothing to do with The Force Awakens, actually based on the concluding episode of the original trilogy, The Return of the Jedi.
And perhaps more eye opening was that Risk: Star Wars Edition (2015) was most definitely not a Risk game. It was something completely different.
What was served up was essentially an updated, alternative take on Hasbro’s 2000 game Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit which was based on Episode One – The Phantom Menace. In this well received title, two players face off by fighting the four battles from the end of The Phantom Menace film; the battle on Naboo’s plain, Amidala storming the palace, the lightsaber duel between the two Jedi’s and Darth Maul and the space battle above the planet.
Risk: Star Wars Edition (2015) features the final battle from the original trilogy, with one player playing as the Rebels and the other as the Empire. They must simultaneously deal with the quest on Endor to bring the second Death Star’s shields down while managing the ongoing space battle around it and the (spoiler alert!) father versus son battle aboard it. It is possible to play as a four player game, with a two on two setup, but to me that feels overcrowded.
Unlike traditional Risk, there is no defence dice, and the five (not three) attack dice are more ability check dice. Actions are also determined by a deck of cards for both the Rebels and Empire, with players selecting three cards from their hand of six and putting them face down in the order they wish to play them. Starting with the Rebel player, they turn over their top card and select the action they wish to take, with each card featuring two or three possibilities. A number of dice are rolled for certain actions, with a check value (for example 4 and above to score a hit) required for certain actions or attacks. Play passes to the Empire player to play a card, and this repeats until all three cards are played. Each player draws three cards to replenish their hand and the process restarts. While the tie fighters are all the same, the Executor and Death Star offers variation in attacks for the Empire while the Rebels have three ships (X, Y & B Wings) that all have different stats as well as the Millennium Falcon.
The ultimate goal for the Rebels is to take down the Death Star’s shields and destroy it before the Empire wipes out all their forces. While the Luke’s standoff with Darth is not essential to winning for either side, it offers the possibility of bonus action cards being played which can be hugely beneficial.
The key is balancing the three battles at once.
While the Rebels start with a set number of ships, the Empire can spawn from a larger pool of tie fighters from the Executor Super Star Destroyer. If the Rebels manage to destroyed the Executor then the Empire’s ability to deploy more troops is removed. The lightsaber duel is easier for the Empire to win in theory, but more bonuses are available for Luke winning. The battle on Endor is a priority for the Rebels in order to win, but the Empire fighting to delay it prolongs their efforts.
The end result is a very tense and engaging mano a mano battle that plays in at around 45 minutes. The theme is fantastic and captures the tension of the iconic film. While it is possible for a quick and decisive victory due to the minimised luck factor of the dice rolls, it is much more strategic and balanced usually going to the wire. Many times, victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat by a favourable run of cards and dice.
As a Hasbro game, the components look the part but definitely feel a little cheep. Though with a retail price of around £20, it’s acceptable, with a special mention to the tie fighter shaped game board. There is a “black series” version that has upgraded components, replacing the board printed death star and the cardboard Millennium Falcon and Executor with models and the storm trooper tokens for mini figures. However, at more than double the price (RRP £50) I’m not sure its worth the price difference.
There is no denying that this is definitely not a Risk game; it’s something different, more balanced and more refined. The fact it bears that title is something that causes me confusion. Sure, pulling it under the Risk banner increases mainstream appeal, but will they be pleased when they discover it isn’t really Risk? Also, its very title will turn many hardened gamers away based on their loathing of Risk. In not establishing what it truly is, I wonder if its jeopardising it’s potential market? I only discovered it’s true nature through another review five months after its release, putting it on my radar. Before then, it was firmly on the “Do Not Open Ever” list.
Either way, Risk: Star Wars Edition (2015) is a very enjoyable two player game that will appeal to hobby gamers as well as casual gamers. It’s not tarnished by the heavy luck factor you’d imagine given the name, and it makes for a more rounded, strategic duel. It’s easy to learn, quick to play and, most importantly, is thematically perfect of the Star Wars world.
I just wish Hasbro called a spade a spade.
Kickstarter Campaign of the Week
This week, I’m going to draw your attention to a game campaign that has really warmed my heart. The Forest Dragon is the first game designed by Rory Hodgson from Falkirk, Scotland. It is a simple card based exploring game where players turn cards over at random and follow the actions on it. Resource cards are kept and are worth points, but monster cards can take them away. Its up to the player how many cards they want to turn over using a basic push-your-luck mechanic, before returning home with their spoils.
Not sold? Well what if I told you Rory is only nine years old and has designed and illustrated the game with the help of his little brother Ben. Brought to Kickstarter by their father Jon, a board game artist in his own right, this is a wonderful story of the passion of a fledgling board gamer being allowed to blossom and venture into board game design. Pledge levels start at £15 and the target has already been met, but I want to bring it to TNC’s readers to spread the word even more. Have a look at the campaign page for more info. And as we say in Scotland, gaun yersel Rory!
NEXT WEEK: With Christmas almost upon us, I take a look at some amazing stocking fillers under £10.