Unless you have been on an expedition to an alien world with all communications lost the past year, you will be aware that Britain voted to leave the European Union, far-right wing movements are springing up all over the continent and tensions between European nations are at a post-WWII high. Well, it’s seems gaming giant Hasbro predicted the Europeans’ spiral into the dark ages, using it as the basis for a reworking of their classic game Risk.
Risk Europe is a game of feudal conquest that most definitely isn’t your classic Risk game. Hasbro have previous of releasing spin-offs to their intellectual properties that aren’t really the same game, as demonstrated with Risk Star Wars Edition that I previously reviewed back in November. Risk Europe falls into the same trap, where the title of the game is very much misleading.
Where the concept is definitely rooted in Risk as a game of global – or in this case European – conquest, everything else is very different. The object of the game is to be the first player to claim seven crowns, and this is achieved by taking or capturing cities and using resources to buy crowns. Eight of the game boards cities come with unique special abilities that assist the player who controls the territory. Each of the two to four players takes control of a different coloured faction, each with very unique and distinguished 22mm plastic miniature troops of four different classes; footmen, archers, cavalry and siege weapons.
The game is card driven, with each player having eight identical cards in their hand, all with two possible actions on them, similar to Risk: Star Wars Edition. The options the cards provide are; to tax controlled territories, gaining gold; spend their gold on recruiting troops or crown cards; and finally various options to expand or move their forces in different ways. Some of the cards also carry additional bonuses.
Players select two cards to play per round, placing them face down in front of them. The first player turns over their first card and follows the action of their choice, with play going clockwise before returning to the first to play their second card. Once all cards have been played, the hand is refreshed. With the dual options on each card, it is very likely that from time to time players will change their action in response to their opponents. This makes the game feel more real time and very reactive, a massive bonus over traditional Risk.
Also different from Risk is combat. It isn’t resolved as soon as players enter an opponents territory, again reinforcing the idea of reacting to others actions. Instead it is resolved at the end of a round, with the first player carrying out their encroachments first. While dice rolling is still fundamental in resolving battles, the different units have different abilities and all come with specific dice check rules. This method dramatically reduces the luck factor, with an army filled with higher ranking units easily able to out power the smaller rabbles of a last line of defence. Battles are also fought to conclusion, no withdrawals or retreats, which puts far greater cost on unit. Too much expansion will leave the aggressor is a much more vulnerable position. Each player is given a reference card that explains the combat so it is easy to keep track of. On top of this, there is an option to build a castle in a city, reinforcing the last line of defence in that only an army with a siege weapon can attack it.
Naturally, at the heart of any game bearing the Risk name is the player interaction, encouraging diplomacy and cunning, alliances and backstabbing. That has always been the fundamental strength of Risk, and when that is packaged into something more deep, strategic and engaging you really are onto something special.
It is well know that Risk is a very polarising game for those engrossed in the tabletop world due to the luck of the dice massively drowning out the strategy. However, it can be argued it is as widely recognisable a game as Monopoly, Guess Who, or the like, so by coming under the Risk brand it may carry more mainstream appeal? Or it’s maybe just a case that at its core it is technically an evolution of Risk so carries the name? Whatever inspired Hasbro’s decision making in naming this game, for me it feels very misplaced and without question detrimental to the perception of the game, turning away hardened gamers who loath the Risk mechanic, and disappointing casual gamers who get a much more advanced, strategic and complex gamethan they were expecting.
And that is ultimately a real shame, because Risk Europe is a damn fine game.
No doubt it has flown under the radar a bit and failed to get attention and respect it rightly deserves, and I can’t help but feel that the name alone has done that damage. Maybe if it was called “Conquest Europe” or something of the like, with a very small strap line below saying “a Risk evolution game” if deemed utterly essential then it would have shed the stigma associated with Risk and been a more prominent release.
This is a clever, light and engaging game that has enough about it to appeal to all gamers, and even serve as a gateway game for new comers. It has great replay-ability with additional, advanced game modes and offers multiple paths to victory. It takes the player interaction, arguable the very best mechanic of classic Risk, and enshrines it is something truly worthy.
Not only that, but it’s quite easy to source a copy for around £20 right now, and for that you get a lot of game including some first class components to play on a rather massive game board.
No question about it, Risk Europe is better than Risk. Much better.
So check it out.
NEXT WEEK: I’m going to revisit board games as art, with a look at a tough co-op game with arguably some of the most amazing components ever seen in a board game!