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

Zen Mutty wrote:

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?

Skimmer.

The Article wrote:

There are twelve [Objectives] in all, although in a given game, you only play with eight randomly selected ones (four Major and four Minor).

The Major and Minor categories pretty much take care of your short-term vs. long-term Objective concerns. Minor Objectives are things like "Control Europe" and "Control 1 Enemy Capital" - they're easier and take less time to achieve. Major Objectives, like "Control 2 Continents" and "Control 11 Cities" are harder, and naturally take more time to complete. Since you play with both Minor and Major Objectives in a given game, you do get that mix of short term vs. long term goals.

Very nice, and aye what a skimmer I am!

You know I can't decide which is more sexy.

The Game.
The Fact that four girls were playing Risk.
The artistic photo of pieces.
That nice kitchen and great table.

I can't decide.

Sexy kitchen? I think you just eliminated the girls Kilroy

Hate to break the illusion, but there aren't actually four women in that photo. But I'll be sure to tell Bill you find his torso both feminine and enticing. I bet he'll be pleased.

I'll hold on Hidden Objectives at this point I think. The girls have that down pat- and the guys who would think other guys are girls are quite metro.

Even with 12 objectives the game would be stunted, I would love a run against any of you developers. Obvious objectives do not make for a great strategy game. I think I'll stick with my old school Castle Risk and wait for the next generation of guys trying to run away from strategy game theory. Of course...I'll miss the little army men and cannons.

Hey it's not like I knew that fourth person standing wasn't a girl. I made a guess. I guess I guessed wrong. I extend my apologies to Bill if takes offense.

KareinLHC wrote:

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.

Not to disagree with you Kat, but the as I remember, I hadn't even thought of completing the objective until midway through the prior turn. I was actually focused on a different objective when I realized i had a shot at the big 10 due to extra mods that where unexpected originally. So I waited for two players and then went on my rampage. If you saw it coming, kudos to you.

Maybe it was obvious to everyone else, but i don't think I am that bad a Risk player. I actually had two choices of objective and decided to try and knock off the harder one first. Either way, I agree that people are focused on their own objectives which allows others to go after their objectives somewhat unabated. What comes out of this is very short term tabletalk alliances. This is assuming the realization of the opponents intended objective before his/her turn.

Overall though I must disagree with Zen Mutty as to the stuntedness of the game. there is plenty going on and it changes game to game. I also think that a the classic world domination strategy will not often work especially with experienced players. By the time you have reached Total World Domination, others will have picked up the somewhat easier to complete (versus world domination) objectives.

On N'Gai Croal's Level Up Blog, he wrote an interesting article about Risk: BlackOps crediting and quoting our very own Kat's article here on GWJ.

N'Gai's Article

He discusses EA's known ownership of the Hasbro video game rights and the EA Casual division. He talks about the benefit of bringing a game like Risk and other Hasbro properties to market in the video game world via EA's Pogo site, as well as XBLA, PSN and Wii VC.

Zen Mutty wrote:

Even with 12 objectives the game would be stunted, I would love a run against any of you developers. Obvious objectives do not make for a great strategy game. I think I'll stick with my old school Castle Risk and wait for the next generation of guys trying to run away from strategy game theory. Of course...I'll miss the little army men and cannons.

I see your stunted and raise you and Advanced Squad Leader - most awesome strategy games I know involves known objectives, and hidden, random objectives (I'm thinking things like Ticket to Ride) often result in gamers throwing up their hands about how they're not "real" strategy games. Chess. Go. Almost all chit-games. Acquire. Catan. They've all got obvious objectives. Occasionally they have a hidden component - the cards in Risk or Catan.

I'm curious what "great strategy games" your thinking of that have completely hidden objectives. I'm not being a douche, I'm genuinely sitting here looking at the shelf of games in my closet and trying to come up with some other than Ticket to Ride and Transamerica where the objectives are unknown.

I think by the time the "new" Risk comes out they're going to have to call it "Risk: Black Ops," otherwise everyone is going to go to stores asking for "Black Ops" and the 16 year old Target employees are going to say, "Wuh?"

Draco wrote:

I think by the time the "new" Risk comes out they're going to have to call it "Risk: Black Ops," otherwise everyone is going to go to stores asking for "Black Ops" and the 16 year old Target employees are going to say, "Wuh?"

A valid point, but it depends on how marketing handles it. Hasbro could get away with 'Special Ops' or something else, as long as it is marketed correctly. The thing to remember is that there is a very short list of people who will receive a copy of Black Ops. Also many people may go into Target or Toys R Us and say where is the new Risk, not realizing or remembering to even mention Black Ops. the only way that I see a real problem for Hasbro is if the name Black Ops is picked up by the broader media machine and gets that name out in front of a much larger group, then you might have a real issue. All of that beinig what it is, I really like the name Black Ops or Spec Ops or Special Ops and wouldn't mind seeing one of those hit the shelf.

I knew I shouldn't have put "Black Ops" in the title. Curses!

KaterinLHC wrote:

I knew I shouldn't have put "Black Ops" in the title. Curses!

You could have called it special really limited edition, I can tell you the name, but then I'd have to kill you Risk.

I'm likely to get this game, but this also strikes me as the kind of thing that could play quite well on XBL arcade.

cmitts wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:

I knew I shouldn't have put "Black Ops" in the title. Curses!

You could have called it special really limited edition, I can tell you the name, but then I'd have to kill you Risk.

With all the objectives left on the table for all to see the name Black Ops is kind of insulting to SpecOp sneaky bastards everywhere. How about Risk: ThugLife

{and so the man walked on...unable to let go of his Hidden Objectives...}

{and so the man walked on...unable to let go of his Hidden Objectives...}
rabbit wrote:

I'm curious what "great strategy games" your thinking of that have completely hidden objectives. I'm not being a douche, I'm genuinely sitting here looking at the shelf of games in my closet and trying to come up with some other than Ticket to Ride and Transamerica where the objectives are unknown.

I am too!

I will pay handsomely AND bow down at Rob Daviau's feet to get a copy of this!

Zen Mutty wrote:

With all the objectives left on the table for all to see the name Black Ops is kind of insulting to SpecOp sneaky bastards everywhere. How about Risk: ThugLife

I actually think that having the objectives open completely counters your above statement. You have to be extra sneaky in order to pull off your objective, without your opponent realizing you are attempting it and hopefully, for you, completing the open objective that you have secretly (i.e. Hidden) decided to complete.

Zen Mutty wrote:
cmitts wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:

I knew I shouldn't have put "Black Ops" in the title. Curses!

You could have called it special really limited edition, I can tell you the name, but then I'd have to kill you Risk.

With all the objectives left on the table for all to see the name Black Ops is kind of insulting to SpecOp sneaky bastards everywhere. How about Risk: ThugLife

{and so the man walked on...unable to let go of his Hidden Objectives...}

I'm just stunned that, never having played the game, you still think you know more about how it plays out than anyone else.

rabbit wrote:

I'm curious what "great strategy games" your thinking of that have completely hidden objectives. I'm not being a douche, I'm genuinely sitting here looking at the shelf of games in my closet and trying to come up with some other than Ticket to Ride and Transamerica where the objectives are unknown.

I am too![/quote]

Let me start by stating that obviously the original and current objective of Risk was and may always be world domination- get the broom Pinky. The Hidden Objectives were added as a variant rule meant to speed up game play. It helped to make the game very short for the first few runs, but as the Hidden Objectives were seen over and over eventually the game grew longer as much more experienced players could read the telltale signs of an opponent attempting to complete one. Offering the exciting thrill of table-wide paranoia which I feel is a much more lucid view of global domination strategy.

To answer a fellow Grinder and the CEO's challenging question about other games that have Hidden Objectives attached to the singular goal, in this case World Domination, as in any form or variant of the game Risk I think that a calm contemplation of the grand history of strategy games would shed a little light.

Chess for a quick start obviously has an exponential amount of Hidden Objectives all attached secretly in ones mind during the first few minutes or many late hours it may take to either capture the king or force the opponent to submit and resign. That statement of hidden mental objectives is qualified above:

cmitts wrote:

...You have to be extra sneaky in order to pull off your objective, without your opponent realizing you are attempting it and hopefully, for you, completing the open objective that you have secretly (i.e. Hidden) decided to complete.

The game Clue requires a player to play the part of the murderer and the Hidden Objective is to throw off ones opponents, this is also true of any form of Murder Mystery game.

The game Balderdash gives someone the immediate Hidden Objective of lying through their teeth about the meaning of words. Of course over time someone would know the real definition of all the words so the strategy isn't as random and exciting as Risk.

The simple card game Hearts has the Hidden Objective of either giving away or collecting any suited heart card or the Queen of Spades either by throwing them down to trump someone or by passing them to an opponent.

And of course the game of dating....Hidden Objectives galore!

In 1959 when Hasbro and Albert Lamorisse developed the game Risk it was as a product to be bought by as many people of the world as possible. The game Risk has achieved that. The variant list since 1989 is incredible. Including recently the Risk: Transformers, and a year before that Star Wars: Original Trilogy Edition.

Avalon Hill did an incredible job with Risk: 2210 A.D. and I still love digging out Risk Godstorm.

My criticism is based on my memories of the game, my experience with the past variants of the game though I wasn't lucky enough to play test Risk:ThugLife, and an insatiable love of anything strategic. I get as much of a thrill from playing a laborious strategic game like Risk as I do playing Sam Fisher choking out tangos in a Splinter Cell game or as Agent 47 clutching a fist full of fiberwire. It's a difference in preference.

I think marketing trends must have shifted.

The once methodical patient player became the punchy anxious player seeking instant gratification. Indeed Secret Mission Risk appeared in England first and then much later in the United States in 1993. I can see why any game driven by market research would opt for the faster game. One way to achieve that must have been to delay or negate the long-term strategy and add short term strategies. That way the people get what they want faster.

So I think on evenings when the guys and I get together for a long evening I will obviously be pulling out my old European version of the original Risk. However I can bet that when the wives are whining we'll opt for a quick fix of Risk:ThugLife. Much like coffee, scotch, beer, and chewing gum it is a matter of taste. My taste and the tastes of most fans of Risk will vary I am sure. However, those random people that I have talked to about the variant Risk:BlackOps have already opted to play with split objectives and cards face down. Either way we all win.

Wow, I guess we just have different tastes. I don't really consider Balderdash or Clue to be games of deep strategy, nor do I concede your point with Chess - having hidden *strategies* for achieving an objective is just good play - maximization of deception. But the goal is most certainly known, and indeed part of the reason Chess has become such a dominant strategy game is both the simplicity of that goal and the resources at both players disposals, in addition to the fact that proven (known) strategies can be studied by both players, leading to a metagame of known information.

I also don't think length has much to do with it in either regard.

However, those random people that I have talked to about the variant Risk:BlackOps have already opted to play with split objectives and cards face down. Either way we all win.

A) You already play with the cards down in this new ruleset.

B) Just a heads-up: there are only 12 Objectives in the box. If you have more than 4 players, splitting up the Objectives among you so that you can accomplish 3 a person might be difficult.

C) All said and done, this new version has enough pieces and cards to be quite flexible. I mean, it already allows an option to play old-school Global Domination, so I think you'd be able to play exactly the way you describe and still have a darn good time.

I'm even more confused about your objection to the game now, Zen, since you seem to have redefined "hidden objective" to include all kinds of games with plainly open objectives.

Quintin_Stone wrote:

I'm even more confused about your objection to the game now, Zen, since you seem to have redefined "hidden objective" to include all kinds of games with plainly open objectives.

I have absolutely no objection to the game whatsoever. I'm merely being critical of one aspect of Risk:Black Ops that is, of course as KaterinLHC explained, completely flexible. So I must concede that my point is a matter of personal taste and not by any means meant as an open attack on the game itself. I don't enjoy whole sardines out of a can, but somebody does.

rabbit wrote:

...nor do I concede your point with Chess - having hidden *strategies* for achieving an objective is just good play - maximization of deception. But the goal is most certainly known, and indeed part of the reason Chess has become such a dominant strategy game is both the simplicity of that goal and the resources at both players disposals, in addition to the fact that proven (known) strategies can be studied by both players, leading to a metagame of known information.

I also don't think length has much to do with it in either regard.

I am rated at a low 1950 under the USCF and although I am nowhere near the level of a Grandmaster I can assure you that having Hidden Objectives is a vast part of most middle games. I'm sure you have had the delicious experience of setting up a fork between a king and a primary piece using one of your knights whilst hoping your opponent wouldn't notice. Sure the intent is obvious if the player is watching, so in that sense the intent isn't hidden, but the planned objective is secreted away for perhaps two or three moves.

The length of the game depends on the type of match. Many tournament games played by world famous Grandmasters have lasted a very very long time- boring to most folks including myself but exciting for the players involved. The movements and strategy of winning the game provide for a very high number of combinations so many of them in fact that they are still discovering new methods of play to this day.

The time spent obtaining the main objective of any game is the key ingredient to many great games and whether the strategy is short-term as in Baldurdash, or long-term as in Axis & Allies, it is still present.

So to wrap my own hyporbole up I think that a patient player enjoys the old school long-game Risk and a player that prefers a quick game (i.e. has a life.) would/will prefer having objectives hidden or not. I think the new variant of the game has obviously provided for that so we're all happy as clamato.

I'm just fending you turkeys off my patio with a little stick.

The new version of Risk is out on the shelves now, $22 at yr local TRU or Target. Not as schmancy as the Black Ops version, but with cool arrows for the Troop markers.

I don't know if the bottom of a fallow thread will get this any publicity, but those who were desirous of a copy of Risk: Black Ops may want to check out the Risk Onyx Edition (B&N only). It's got an all wood 31" by 21" board with the territories glossy black, all wood tokens (cubes for the armies rather than the arrows), and fancy cards. I must admit, it's an impressive package. I just hope it fits on the closet shelf. I picked one up at my local store today, and they had a good pile of 'em.

Personally I enjoyed the two or three day epic battles, unless someone's mom "put the [in progress] game away."
We used to mix it up a bit with scenarios like "Defend the Motherland" where you had to hold the Ukraine.
Sounds fun, but this guy will continue to hunker down south of Siam.
Old School Risk ftw

Hadn't seen that, but yep: that's black ops through and through! Sweet!! Want!