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 naïve 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.


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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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Comments

I'll have to give this a try. I fondly remember playing risk for hours on end in junior high school. I still can't hear the name Kamchatcka without thinking, "hey, that's a strategic location!"

I don't think the Objective system of Risk is new... My parents bought a new copy of risk ~7 years ago that had this objective system in it- usually the goal was to eliminate one of the other players or control Africa and Australia or something like that, but it made games go a lot quicker.

shidarin wrote:

I don't think the Objective system of Risk is new... My parents bought a new copy of risk ~7 years ago that had this objective system in it- usually the goal was to eliminate one of the other players or control Africa and Australia or something like that, but it made games go a lot quicker.

mine had that too. also.. i dont think i could play with little blocks the army mans made the game semi-entertaining for me while i was waiting on other players to take their turns

I love Risk, but usually we ended up drawing a line in the sand and counting territories when we had had enough. This sounds like a good iteration.

The PC version of the game also has objectives.

I believe the Objective system has been used in European versions of Risk for decades (called "Secret Mission Risk", according to Wikipedia). But in American versions, it hasn't really appeared until now.

Yeah, "Hidden Objective" risk was a variant for a long time. THis is very different. In HO, someone can drop a card halfway through the game and say "I win" - which, while entertaining, can obviate strategy. This is entirely in the open, with competition for objectives and real battlefield advantages (extra dice, airfields, etc.) In any given game, there will be 3-4 different viable ways to get three objectives.

These may sound like subtle differences, but it's actually extremely different in terms of how it plays and in terms of the strategies involved.

I have a secret mission version that's at least 5 or 6 years old, and I definitely didn't get it from any speciality shop. I think it came from Toys 'R Us. Makes for very interesting games. Especially when players forget about the mission and accidentally finish it... 10 turns before the current one.

I'll have try one of these new fangled versions. Traditional Risk has earned a warm place in my heart, though. A couple of times a year I'll get together with some old buddies to kill an afternoon (and a bottle of nice single malt scotch) trying to take down the seamlingly endless columns of Nazi armor.

I have a secret mission version that's at least 5 or 6 years old, and I definitely didn't get it from any speciality shop. I think it came from Toys 'R Us. Makes for very interesting games. Especially when players forget about the mission and accidentally finish it... 10 turns before the current one.

Yeah, the 40th Anniversary Edition has Secret Mission Cards.

While this sounds interesting, it doesn't seem any less complicated than Risk Godstorm or 2210. 2210 was actually a very refreshing variant to tradtional Risk, and didn't seem to introduce much more complexity than adding leaders. Oh and the five turn limit. That was huge.

WAY less complicated than 2210. The cards/money/leader/moon systems all require rethinking your strategy. Don't get me wrong, I *love* 2210, but it's far from a casual game. This new Risk, while not "casual," is much more approachable and easier to get, if only because it's not an elimination game. A 5 player risk of Black Ops won't devolve into a 2 player smash fest for the last hour. It's over way before that. People *can* be eliminated, but usually that's right before the natural game end, or actually is the game end, as when you eliminate someone you get their resources, their rewards, and any objectives they've obtained.

I got a chance to play Black Ops at Rabbit's as well. This game has me super-excited. Its on my must have, aching to play more of it, list. After only a single play I really do think it a gaming masterpiece.

Risk is incontrovertible proof that dice are rigged. Unfortunately I can't play the game because I get too angry

The Missus and I got Lord of the Rings Risk for Christmas from my parents a few years back.

There are two modes of play; regular rules on the Middle Earth Map, or Ringbearer mode where one side tries to distract the other side long enough for the ring (which is a non-playable character) moves toward Mount Doom. Brings the player's attention to specific places that are imporant to control.

We still haven't played LOTRR, because we got sidetracked by Heroscape, which we also got that year for Christmas. At my last count we have... more expansion sets that I care to count (we can't get any more because we literally don't have room to store them)

By the way, Heroscape is also proof that dice are rigged. And in Heroscape you have to roll half a dozen at a time. How they all know to give me the wrong result is beyond me, but my wife doesn't seem to have that problem.

I wonder how this version can be implemented in our Risk'opoly games.

Women taking over the Earth! Run for it!

*jumps out window*

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

We still haven't played LOTRR, because we got sidetracked by Heroscape, which we also got that year for Christmas. At my last count we have... more expansion sets that I care to count (we can't get any more because we literally don't have room to store them)

Your time and money are being very well spent!

There's a Risk clone in a Facebook app now called "ATTACK." For a pretty simple web interface, it's isn't too bad.

WAY less complicated than 2210. The cards/money/leader/moon systems all require rethinking your strategy. Don't get me wrong, I *love* 2210, but it's far from a casual game.

Oof. I forgot about the cards. It's been a while. Between that and the power chips, I guess it was more complicated than I remember. You'll have to forgive me. We've been playing the Storm of Swords variant to Game of Thrones lately, which makes 2210 seem relatively simple by comparison.

I love Risk:LotR and I just got Risk: Godstorm from tanga.com a few days ago. I'll definitely have to pick this up for an hors d'oeuvre until my elder son comes of age and I finally adjust my wife's palette for main dishes such as BattleLore and Twilight: Imperium.

Sweet.
Looks like i won't be playing much more custom rules A&A.

Hey all.

Rabbit told me that there was a preview of the new Risk up here (thanks). If you've got any questions about the game, I'll try to answer them. Just to address some comments above: this is different from the mission Risk version that's been in Europe for a long time. And it is simpler than 2210AD.

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

The Missus and I got Lord of the Rings Risk for Christmas from my parents a few years back.

My sister did, too. I think the "Ringbearer" mode is an attempt to address games dragging on; the ringbearer eventually hits Mount Doom and the game ends. Unfortunately, the game has some really powerful "luck of the draw" cards that make sound strategy somewhat less important.

Anyway, my wife loves Axis & Allies so I always thought Risk looked nice and simple as an alternative! She could really easily turn into a board game geek if I pushed her a little... too bad I'm so busy trying to drag her kicking and screaming into video games.

Misleading/false advertising. Just when it was getting good...

Welcome to the board, Rob! I have a couple of questions:

Why did you decide on geometric shapes for the units?
When will it be released?

3 questions, Rob;

Will the name stay the same?

Will there be any substantial differences between the promo and the final version?

When is it due out?

Thanks, and welcome to the board:)

So when does it get released on XBLA?

buzzvang wrote:

Welcome to the board, Rob! I have a couple of questions:

Why did you decide on geometric shapes for the units?
When will it be released?

Black Ops is the promotional/bootleg/pre-release version of the re-boot of Risk, which will be out, for sale, this summer/fall. This refresh replaces the Risk that is on the shelves now. Black Ops has the same rules as the Risk reboot but its own graphic look and pieces. Black Ops will not be sold but will be given away starting in about a month or so. The pieces in Black Ops are from one of the earliest Risk games, back in the 1950s or 1960s. We wanted something both classical and mysterious.

jonnypolite wrote:

3 questions, Rob;

Will the name stay the same?

Will there be any substantial differences between the promo and the final version?

When is it due out?

Thanks, and welcome to the board:)

Black Ops is just the promotional version of the new Risk.
The only differences between the two are aesthetics.
The new Risk will be on sale in about 6 months or so.

robdaviau wrote:
buzzvang wrote:

Welcome to the board, Rob! I have a couple of questions:

Why did you decide on geometric shapes for the units?
When will it be released?

Black Ops is the promotional/bootleg/pre-release version of the re-boot of Risk, which will be out, for sale, this summer/fall. This refresh replaces the Risk that is on the shelves now. Black Ops has the same rules as the Risk reboot but its own graphic look and pieces. Black Ops will not be sold but will be given away starting in about a month or so. The pieces in Black Ops are from one of the earliest Risk games, back in the 1950s or 1960s. We wanted something both classical and mysterious.

I believe you might be thinking that the geometric bits will be in the final 'for sale' version. It is my understanding that the wooden bits exist only in this bootleg preview version and that the new risk will in fact have plastic sculpted minis.

rabbit wrote:

In HO, someone can drop a card halfway through the game and say "I win" - which, while entertaining, can obviate strategy.

I love games with "I Win" cards. Even if I have to make them myself.

Has anyone ever played Castle Risk? A friend of mine used to have an old copy of Risk (used little stars for troops instead of figures) with Castle Risk on the other side. It was just a map of Europe and a lot more fun than Risk (which I wouldn't really consider fun at all).

doubtingthomas396 wrote:

Some HeroScape stuff.

I agree with you about everything you said. I just got this and have already started sweeping up expansions. As for the dice, I'm not talking to them right now. I played a 1v1 scenario using the tundra expansion on Sunday night and got my ass kicked. By the end of the game, I had rolled a total of 5 hits against my opponent. He had rolled 20 and the storm had rolled 13. GAH!

KaterinLHC wrote:

At a recent get-together at rabbit's ...

Did you get a RabbitCon shirt? It's probably better than the one I made with marker and a Hanes tagless 100% cotton undershirt. But mine's from the future: RabbitCon '12. Actually, I kinda want to make one just like that now and wear it to GenCon.