Risk: Black Ops
I was fifteen. Gangly. Pimpled. Wrapped in an outmoded flannel shirt, rocking a bad haircut and even worse glasses. So hesitant, so unsure.
But he was persistent. "C'mon, just try it," he wheedled. "We'll do it after school. I promise, you'll love it."
He was the love of my life/month. He knew I liked Rush and R. A. Salvatore, and still he sat next to me at lunch; he knew me better than anyone. Surely he wouldn't steer me wrong; surely he'd only suggest something I would, in fact, love.
That day, after school, we went to his house. His parents weren't home. Fumbling, smiling nervously, he led me gently by the hand to his basement, and then - that's when it happened.
That's when the little bastard made me play Risk. I still haven't forgiven him.
Risk. The plodding mastodon of the board game world. Most of us shudder at the name, getting glassy-eyed and slack-jawed like gamer possums playing dead. Break it out, and good friends start eyeing the room for nearby exits. Family members start inventing chores and urgent to-do lists. Only the naÃ¯ve allow themselves to be sucked into a game; only the most die-hard of grognards can play it to completion.
And for good reason: Risk is a chore. The Game of Global Domination - which ends only when one player conquers the entire world - inevitably devolves into a never-ending superpower tango. Two ridiculously overpowered players, having knocked out all others, dance across the board endlessly: One player attacks, the other retreats; then they switch. This goes on for hours. It's about as exciting as watching the tide roll in.
Hasbro has attempted to sex up Risk before, releasing Star Wars and Lord of the Rings tie-ins, a playable mythical pantheon in Risk Godstorm, even the futuristic Risk 2210 A.D. But most of these variants try to freshen Risk by adding more rules, making the game more complicated - and less accessible.
The truth is, old-school Risk needs to be euthanized. Put out of its misery. Sent to the Great Board Game Closet in the Sky. And thankfully, that's just what Hasbro intends to do.
But don't worry. They've got something much better to take its place.
Hasbro will soon introduce new rules and components for Risk, designed to make the game sleeker, quicker to play and more accessible. It'll be a full restart of the Risk universe, a new Risk for a new generation.
At a recent get-together at rabbit's, I got a chance to try out the new ruleset firsthand with Risk: Black Ops, a limited edition promo version created by Rob Daviau (the same guy behind Risk 2210 A.D.).
The basic game mechanics have been left unchanged. You still deploy "troops" (in this case, little colored markers) to territories across a world map. You still attack your neighbors and defend against aggressors by rolling dice. And you still get cards, which you can cash in to get troop reinforcements. But the new rules offer two major improvements: Objectives and a revamped resource system.
Objectives are missions varying in difficulty, from Minor Objectives like "Control Europe" to Major Objectives like "Take Over Ten Territories in One Turn". There are twelve in all, although in a given game, you only play with eight randomly selected ones (four Major and four Minor).
Under the revamped rules, players only need to complete three Objectives to win the game. No more endless two-player tango: Just three Objectives, and you're done.
Each Objective also offers a randomly drawn Reward for its completion, which varies in value depending on the Objective's difficulty. Minor Rewards (for the Minor Objectives) bestow benefits like additional troop maneuvers or guaranteed cards, while Major Rewards (guess which ones those are for) offer juicy bonuses like an extra die for attack or defense.
What's great about the Objective system is that you still get all the things that made the original Risk worth playing - strategy, alliances, wholesale military destruction, etc. - but with a shorter time commitment. Now, instead of taking six hours, a game of Risk only takes one or two. For example, my group completed two games, one in one and a half hours, and the other in just fifty minutes.
Also, with random Objectives, the game changes every time you play. Sometimes you draw Objectives that make the game about stealing resources from your enemies. Other times, the focus becomes making targeted attacks on specific territories. And still other times, it's about pulling off quick, sweeping conquests.
The new rules also introduce a more complicated resource system. In old Risk, success hinged simply on how many territories and continents you controlled, but now the new Capitals and Cities make resource management a more complex affair.
Each player gets a Capital during the initial troop deployment; controlling your own Capital gives you bonus troops to work with, while controlling someone else's Capital gives you their bonus as well. Cities, which are randomly distributed during the initial set-up, also give whichever player commands them more troops to deploy.
Therefore, Capitals and Cities become critically important in building large armies and staging certain attacks. Controlling them is even the basis for some Objectives. All this makes for tenser, more strategic gameplay.
Black Ops didn't just play better - it also looked better. Art director Lindsay Braun completely overhauled the Risk look, and now the game is - dare I say - sexy. Sophisticated. Modern. With clean lines and crisp black and gray themes, the game board looks more like something you'd put in your 360 than on your dinner table, and the rulebook looks as if it were ripped from some military commander's field notes. This new art is hip, smart and inviting.
Yes, I know a game isn't about its looks. But in this case, one glance at the box art was motivation enough for me to overcome my high school trauma and give Risk another chance. Playing with such an attractive board made me feel less like some be-braced adolescent huddling in a basement and more like a mature, cosmopolitan adult.
That said, the Black Ops design is just for the pre-release version. When the new Risk hits stores, it probably won't look quite the same (although the rules won't differ at all). Still, Braun did give her assurances that at the very least, it will look very similar.
Inevitably some old-school Risk fans will hate the changes made to Old Ironsides. But grognards need not worry: Hasbro included an insurance plan for you. Just like in the previous Risk variants, you can still play "Classic" Global Domination with the new board and gamepieces.
So if, like me, you've avoided Risk because of bad past experiences, then consider giving this new, more evolved Risk a shot when it comes out. This ain't your Daddy's Risk anymore. Or, for that matter, your high school boyfriend's.