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've played a fair bit of Castle Risk, many many moons ago.

Where are you guys giving these away? Gencon/Origins?

Allow me a moment to get jealous of anyone able to attend Gencon or the aforementioned, much more exclusive, Rabbitcon.

McChuck wrote:
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.

Alas, I did not get a RabbitCon shirt. This year, they stopped making them - too many rabble and riffraff had managed to get their hands on one. I guess TPTB wanted to protect the "purity" of RabbitCon.

Hi, Rob! Welcome to GWJ, and thanks for helping to answer questions.

*looks up*

Risk?...

*goes back to Dice Wars*

I think I could find room on the shelf and in my heart for a shiny new game of Risk. Not like Life is going anywhere.

Dice Wars cheats!

jonnypolite wrote:

Where are you guys giving these away? Gencon/Origins?

I believe they are just hand selecting friends of the company and media sources/board game reviewers to send copies out to.

My friends banned Risk from our lives, mostly because we logged 24 hours on one game and ended up sabotaging each other to end the game, which only really pissed off one person, but all of sudden that person had the moral compass of a saint, scolding us for our less than dignified behavior.

My brother chased me around the house with a battle axe after one and a half games of me wiping the board with him. He has since learned to stop playing when he starts to get angry.

Stengah wrote:

My brother chased me around the house with a battle axe after one and a half games of me wiping the board with him. He has since learned to stop playing when he starts to get angry.

Sounds like your Risk was playing with people with melee weapons near to hand.

McChuck wrote:

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).

I actually still own Castle Risk. It is indeed better than Risk, though my board game friends are all snobbish and insist on playing German board games instead. :\

Looks pretty sweet. That black box design is awesome in its simplicity. Looks like I'll be hunting ebay for one of those babies!

I'm going to have to give this one a try. I tried to get a Shadowrun game started here, but another dork hijacked it to play the board/card game Munchkin. It's basically a big spoof of pen and paper role playing games. Anyone tried it?

My friend has Space Munchkin. We've been meaning to play it for a long time now, but the only time there have been more than the two of us to play it was when we were with the wives, and they have no interest in it.

And now it's going to bother me because I can't remember his GWJ tag.

How is Space Munchkin different?

It's.... set in space?

I seem to recall playing Castle Risk a few times. The objective was pretty fixed so you didn't waste hours trying for each and every continent. I personally thought the original game was fine, as long as you could learn how to bow out when the hours went too long.

The over-the-board diplomacy was the best part, "I won't attack you if you don't attack me," strategies that usually ended in betrayal and massive fist fights. We had a regular Sunday Risk game at my local pub one summer. You can imagine the infamy one can attain after having taken over the world and attempted to consume all of its tequila.

Humm, Interesting. I guess after I get some friends to finish an Axis and Allies game we have left languishing for some time I might check this out.

All I can say is having played Risk: Black Ops at RabbitCon in my vintage RabbitCon T-shirt is it totally rocks. It is so obviously Risk but without the tedium and hours and hours of back and forth. As a true fan of 2210 which took Risk to a new level of strategy and complexity, I must say the the Risk Reboot has really taken the original implementation (which I like Kat could not stand) and created what amounts to an hour of board gaming nirvana.

Having swept across Asia to conquer my 10 territories in one turn and then to my surprise not being decimated and removed from the game the next turn was a treat. In 2210 or Classic Risk such a move is almost a guaranteed game exit. You are naturally overextended and have no backup whatsoever and alliances only take you so far. But in the world of Risk:Black Ops, it is often in other's interest not to wipe you from the board since it does not advance their position on any given objective. This fact alone truly extends the game play to all the players, because everyone is in it until very near the end.

A great job by Rob (welcome to the board) and Lindsay.

All hail the death of classic Risk. Long live the Risk:Black Ops Reboot and its older sibling Risk 2210.

I raise a pertinent question: How hard is the Keep Africa campaign in Black Ops? In classic it was impossible.

I must say, your Ten Territories in a Turn Conquest was quite thrilling. Especially since you pulled it off with just 16 troops. The stuff of gaming legend, there.

KaterinLHC wrote:

I must say, your Ten Territories in a Turn Conquest was quite thrilling. Especially since you pulled it off with just 16 troops. The stuff of gaming legend, there. :)

He came out of Alaska and Australia like a storm, and lo my troops did fall before his might.

McChuck wrote:

I raise a pertinent question: How hard is the Keep Africa campaign in Black Ops? In classic it was impossible.

The dynamic has changed. It is easy enough to keep Africa in order to gain a specific objective, at which point you really don't care if you lose the continent. It's all about short term occupation rather then long term domination.

Imagine the paranoia spread around the board. You'd have no idea what the objective card the player across from you had tucked under his stack. I could imagine that the moment a player held a continent like Africa for even half a turn that there would be a scramble to dismantle it immediately.

That is effectively different from the original in that Euro-Asia was the only continent most players did not want to see controlled by one army.

I can imagine the suspicious banter around the table too, "Why is it you want Brazil so badly that you'll lose all your men to obtain it?"

The game at least represents a more accurate global economical level, and is more realistic in the paranoia scale of global strategy. Noam Chomsky eat my shorts, roll your dice, and find your defeat in Iceland with Bobby Fischer!

Zen Mutty wrote:

Imagine the paranoia spread around the board. You'd have no idea what the objective card the player across from you had tucked under his stack.

I'm not sure if you are referring to the Hidden Objective version of Risk here or to the new Black Ops. Assuming it is Black Ops, all objectives are in the open for all players to see and attempt to achieve. You need to have three in your possession to win the game. So while all the players are attempting to convert them, the natural play of the game gives you and others the opportunities to convert.

The key point being at the end of your personal turn you collect the objective card if you succeed. Therefore, no one has the opportunity to dismantle what you did before your success is noted and the card collected. This is the reason you can over extend on your turn, but not be eliminated by the subsequent player turns prior to your next turn.

I massed at the start of my turn in Alaska with all my earned armies (like 18 total) and ran through Asia like S$%^ through a goose, had one army in like 17 territories at the end. A sure recipe for elimination in standard Risk or 2210, yet I only lost a few territories over the next turn, since attacking me was counterproductive for the other player's efforts in achieving objectives for themselves. Hope that clarifies the objective gameplay a little.

[/quote]

I'm not sure if you are referring to the Hidden Objective version of Risk here or to the new Black Ops. Assuming it is Black Ops, all objectives are in the open for all players to see and attempt to achieve. You need to have three in your possession to win the game. So while all the players are attempting to convert them, the natural play of the game gives you and others the opportunities to convert.

[/quote]

The only problem I see with objective cards splayed out for all to see is that in that scenario you just described the rest of the table would know what your own objective was and be compelled to dismantle your objective whilst attempting to complete their own. Knowing your opponents objectives makes it easier to thwart him- that simple.

If the effect of getting an objective is immediate then what you have on the table is a free for all not a strategy game. Of course you might have those that would border up entrances to country defined objectives but why??. Either way making a bid to capture the objective would be noted by the table if you failed, and if you succeeded you might be overextended, but still it'd be a free for all. It might as well be Hungry Hippos.

The Hidden Objectives in the former Risk variant added a bit more of a mystical quality in that you had no idea what the other players objectives were but could only guess using your knowledge of the game.

I think that Risk v2.0 Objectives as they have been described will find that a steady table side rule at almost any match will be that objective cards be face down and split up.

My own problem with Objectives hidden or not is that unfortunately it is always possible to complete all the objectives in any 3+ card Objective oriented game of Risk by simply playing the classic strategy of dominating the world. The objectives are nothing but mere distractions from it in the long run.

I guess Risk has to either step into the complex world of Axis & Allies and get it over with or remain as simple as a game about world domination can possibly be. Of course then it'd be called Chess or GO.

The only problem I see with objective cards splayed out for all to see is that in that scenario you just described the rest of the table would know what your own objective was and be compelled to dismantle your objective whilst attempting to complete their own. Knowing your opponents objectives makes it easier to thwart him- that simple.

One would think so. But in practice, it didn't work out that way at all. Sometimes players in my group got so caught up in what Objectives they were trying to accomplish that they forgot about what the others were doing - one person managed to get 7 Cities toward a "Control 8 Cities" Objective before anyone noticed what he was doing.

Also, knowing which Objectives another player wants to accomplish is usually entirely separate from being able to stop her from doing so. We all knew cmitts was going for the "Take Ten Territories in One Turn" Objective. But none of us could stop him. We fell before his mighty Alaskan armies.

Rather than making things more simplistic, having open Objectives actually makes the gameplay feel more urgent. You get the feeling "I've gotta Take Ten Territories in One Turn before someone else does!" and so on. Keeps you on your toes. I like that.

ETA: Rob points out something I didn't mention in the main article; once an Objective is taken, it's out of play for good. So there wouldn't be three people all trying to take Africa one after the other; once Africa's taken, it's taken. The end. Again, it lends a sense of urgency to the gameplay. You have to take Africa before everyone else does, and if you fail, then you've wasted all those resources.

I think there is a bit of confusion as to how the objectives work. There are 8 objectives on the board and all of them are available to all players. So there isn't my objective and your objective. Its a competition to see who can complete an objective first. Once one player completes an objective, it is taken off the board and is claimed by that player. Now it doesn't matter if that objective is done by another player -- it has already been claimed.

I think there is a bit of confusion as to how the objectives work. There are 8 objectives on the board and all of them are available to all players. So there isn't my objective and your objective. Its a competition to see who can complete an objective first. Once one player completes an objective, it is taken off the board and is claimed by that player. Now it doesn't matter if that objective is done by another player -- it has already been claimed.

That makes a lot more sense.

Are the 8 objectives the same every time or is there a myriad of them that could be dealt at the beginning of any given game? Basically, are the same 8 objectives present in every game?

I like the urgent nature of the new game but once again I'm going to call Hungry Hippos on the effectiveness of single-turn victory objectives as a fix for the laboriously long original Risk. A game containing both long-term and short-term objectives would make more sense. Example Theory: A player unable to complete short-term cannot reap benefits and might throw the long-term goal out the window...etc. I only say this because the game is based around world domination.

I liked Castle Risk, unless you pulled out England as your HQ. The unfair advantage in that version of the game was that the player owning Russia was land-locked, and the player unfortunate enough to pull England was screwed.