Reviewed by Debbie Pickett
World domination on a tabletop
Risk is a dicefest - there's no denying that - but it is at least a classic dicefest, one of the first of its kind. As such, it has moulded so many other grand-scale warfare games that its mechanisms seem almost simplistic compared with its descendants.
Many editions of Risk have been produced over the years, with the standard version containing plastic figures of infantry, cavalry and artillery and a brightly-coloured map board, and a deluxe edition in more muted colours and featuring metal pieces.
The rules seem to have not been modified since the game was invented around 1960. The aim of the game is to dominate the world. Each player begins with single units (represented by infantry figures; to save congestion on the map, the cavalry figures represent five units and the artillery ten) in a number of provinces around the world. Then, on your turn, you receive a number of extra units based on how much of the world you already control (with bonuses for controlling entire continents). These can be placed in any provinces you already control. With concentrations of units you can then invade neighbouring provinces.
Battles are determined entirely by die rolls; for large armies attacking small ones, the rolls favour the attacker, but if the sides are even the defender has a slight edge. When the last defender of a province is vanquished, the attacker moves in, and can then attack again.
Your turn ends when you cannot or do not want to attack further. You then get a change to regroup your armies before the next player gets a turn. If you captured a province from an opponent you draw a bonus card from a deck; you can redeem sets of these for extra units on a later turn.
And so play goes, until one player is all that is left, or if you are playing with the secret mission cards, one player has achieved the stated conquests (such as 'North America and Australia').
The mood of the game changes depending on the number of players (up to six can play). With three or fewer the game comes down to rolling dice and the luck of the draw of bonus cards. With more players, the art of diplomacy becomes more important, as you and an ally agree temporarily to avoid conflict so that you can both face a common enemy.
Risk can drag quite a bit, especially in the mid game when players are evenly matched and dug into their territories. Once a player gains the upper hand is it usually tough to catch up, since the rules favour the player in front. Ganging up on the leader is perfectly normal in Risk.
While the premise of Risk is very violent - world domination - this isn't really a wargame. There is a complete lack of realism in the game, indeed if it were not for the map of the world the game would be quite abstract. There are several variants that attempt to address this, as well as at least one third-party expansion - Risk 2042 - that adds different units.
Several ideas in Risk have subsequently appeared, distilled, in later games (for instance, the removal of luck and a heavier focus on politics in Diplomacy); conversely, many games have elaborated on the simple rules of Risk. As a game, it probably leaves a little to be desired, but its heritage is a very rich one indeed.