Wednesday, 16 May 2007

"But it's STAR WARS Risk!"

"All I'm saying is that they should know we're not
down with having the victory dinner at the Sushi Barn"

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away lived a French guy named Eddie Lamborghini. He fought in the Werewolf Wars against the Nazi mechanauts and grew tired of fussin’ and feuding so he made some lame-ass, Academy Award winning film called THE RED BALLOON, about a titular red balloon that did some very red balloonish things like floating and popping. Somehow this made children realize that war makes people die. Anyway, at some point he decided that he missed conquering countries in the name of French bread and ooh-la-la so he decided to make a board game about the subject whereby one player could amass a gigantic pile of pieces and then proceed to rule the world from an island fortress called Australia. Andy and Larry Parker of the famous Parker Brothers (who would later go on to direct the MATRIX trilogy) played the game at the first Gathering of Friends in 1957 and decided to publish it just to piss off a bunch of spielfrieks. It, my friends, is the game that would become RISK. Some 5 million family funroom fistfights and countless tossed boards later, it remains popular even today through a variety of incarnations including several themed editions including RISK: THE BATTLEFIELD EARTH EDITION, TERMS OF ENDEARMENT RISK, and RISK 2002-2210AD: THE IRAQ WAR.

Alright, so I don’t remember the story off the top of my head. But it goes something like that.

A few days ago, F:AT’s own FRANKLIN COBB posted a great article about asymmetry which somehow made me remember this new-ish STAR WARS RISK: ORIGINAL TRILOGY edition that has been floating around. A friend of mine (who appears to have vanished) called Duke was a playtester on it, and I recalled him telling me about how it had three factions (Rebels, Empire, and Hutts) with different goals and an assymetrical setup. So I decided to give it a shot since it sounded fairly interesting even though I’m not a big supporter of the RISK system for the usual reasons- for one thing, I played it too much when I was a kid and for another even the gussied up varieties RISK 2210 and the LOTR editions didn’t really excite me all that much since they pretty much fell into the same patterns and routines that plagued the original game. You know, the whole bulldozer thing followed by 3 or so hours of trying to scrape together more than three guys to fight back…anywhere. Sure, there were nifty things like cards, leaders, and timers but I thought they still fell short if only because there’s little reason to play a 3 hour game of LOTR RISK when you can play WAR OF THE RING in the same amount of time.

The short answer after a test play of the new STAR WARS RISK is this. WOW. Hands down, this is the best RISK game published to date. It’s a streamlined version of the CLONE WARS version from a couple of years ago but it’s even more stripped down, direct, and smartly redeveloped. It won’t change your mind if you’ve already decided that you hate the game on a fundamental level because of the somewhat archaic combat system that forces a 30-unit strong army to march down a funnel in threes or the inevitable turn when somebody gets a giant pile of reinforcements and lays waste to the whole board. I think the game compares favorably to NEXUS OPS in terms of depth, playtime, and fun and I’m happy to say that, despite the clucking disapproval of Robert Martin and other observers who couldn’t believe I was stooping so low as to be playing RISK in public, it’s one of the better games I’ve played in recent weeks.

If you don’t already know how to play RISK at this point, then chances are your F:AT credentials aren’t in order and I’m not going to go through the mechanics here- it will be your responsibility to play a remedial game of it so you can see where everything from AXIS & ALLIES to TWILIGHT IMPERIUM came from. Suffice to say that all the usual mechanical suspects are here- territorial control, trading in sets of cards for reinforcements, getting bonuses for holding regions, and the attacker rolls a maximum of three dice to the defender’s two- just as God and Eddie Lamborghini intended. Of course, it all occurs this time in the STAR WARS milieu so instead of our world we get a map of the Star Wars galaxy. And for the first time in what seems like forever, it is the right and proper STAR WARS galaxy that doesn’t contain any Gungans, Neimodians, Clone Troopers, or terrible fireside love scenes. That’s right, this is the real deal. So here we have what is pretty much the first real Original Trilogy STAR WARS grand-scale light war game- it’s not as rich, detailed, and sophisticated as WAR OF THE RING but it hits the right notes and it may even make you remember the good things about the license for a change.

As I’ve already mentioned, the factions are the Empire, the Rebels, and the Hutts. Each faction has a unique goal (a definite improvement over the usual “take over the map” scenario) tied to the theme and entirely appropriate to their place in the story- the Empire has to simply wipe out all the Rebel forces, the Rebels have to locate and destroy the Emperor, who hides in an Imperial base, and the Hutts have to take 10 of the 13 green-haloed resource planets. The Empire is disadvantaged by going last but they start with more troops and a clear focus from the first time- not to mention the planet-destroying Death Star which also acts as a practically impenetrable defensive barrier to any planet it occupies. The Rebels only have to eliminate the base containing the Emperor to win the game but they have to find it and since the Empire only places one out per turn it can be a difficult search- and the bases let the defender roll d8s. Both sides have to police the Hutts because their goal is the most direct and easiest to win- it’s not uncommon for the Hutts to win in the first two or three turns if the Empire and Rebellion aren’t careful. There’s some really dynamic asymmetry going on in the game with each faction dealing with different goals, different challenges, and the constant need to keep the others in check.

Of course, the last several RISK titles have all had action cards and even some unit variation and the OT edition is no different. Each faction has its own deck so they match up perfectly with the types of play each requires and there’s plenty of theme offered in terms of effects, film stills, and flavor text. A card has three functions so a neat hand management aspect works its way into the RISK formula as well. The cards have a stated effect as well as a silhouette of a ship- fighter, bomber, or capital ship. A card can be used for its effect or it can be exchanged in a set for extra reinforcements just like in every other edition of RISK but the card can also be used to build the ship pictured. Ships basically provide die roll modifiers to attacking and defending armies- fighters give a re-roll on 1’s, bombers add +1 to the highest die, and capital ships let the army replace a d6 with a d8 for maximum death-dealing potential. The ships add another strategic layer to the game not only in terms of when to buy them, but also where to place them for maximum efficiency and best use.

Needless to say with the Hutts tossing bounty hunter cards, Star Destroyers converging on Endor with a legion of Stormtroopers in tow, and X-Wing fighters leading the attack on the Death Star there’s plenty of theme here that will certainly excite even the most lapsed STAR WARS fan. There’s even a Force track (now Midichlorian free!) that shifts between light and dark, conferring extra cards and bonuses to the Rebellion and Empire respectively. The different goals, like the Rebels gunning for a one-in-a-million shot against the military might of the Empire, bring a lot of excitement and drama to the table and there is definitely a diplomatic/power brokering element that the Hutts’ presence engenders. And the specter of the Death Star, which is activated by Imperial card play and requires a summed roll of 18 (that’s three sixes without modifiers) is a constant threat to the entire galaxy.

There really isn’t much that STAR WARS RISK: ORIGINAL TRILOGY EDITION does wrong other than the usual faults that any RISK title has, but those faults are much less egregious in a game that lasts in a 45-75 minute range. What’s that you say? Impossible? Am I giving this figure in “Michael Barnes Time”? It’s no exaggeration, this is a game that can play to completion in around an hour and it still manages to provide a full, well-developed narrative without excess. Sure, you don’t get the level of detail and richness that a game like TWILIGHT IMPERIUM has but it’s definitely a good alternative if you are looking for a space conquest game that is more accessible and immediate both in terms of time commitment and complexity. This is a game that you can get pretty much anyone to play, if only because of the theme or the familiarity of RISK.

I do have to say though that my biggest disappointment with the game is that it is still RISK- you’re still going to see things happen like one Gamorrean Guard holding off 10 AT-STs due to crap rolls and it really feels like a missed opportunity to match a great theme to a more interesting game system. If this game had been designed with, say, the NEXUS OPS system at its core it would likely be one of the coolest games ever made and definitely the best STAR WARS game ever published. However, this is a game that is made to appeal to the “Sheeples”, as those decidedly un-snobbish BGGers have called mass-market game buyers, and the RISK name ensures a lot of units sold so it’s hard to fault smart business decisions. Regardless, if you’re willing to give RISK another shot in a completely modern and excitingly thematic edition then I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy in STAR WARS RISK: ORIGINAL TRILOGY EDITION.


Ken B. said...

Clone Wars Risk was really a pleasant surprise. Another one from Rob Daviau and company.

I've yet to get Original Trilogy to the table. Gotta do that soon. Nice write-up.

Don't let the clucking tongues worry you. Deep inside, they want to still have their Rancor and Skiff toys and have C-3PO beat up Darth Vader because they didn't know any better when they were kids and then the schoolyard laughed at them like "what kind of loser hasn't seen Star Wars?" and then you have to make up some thing like you saw on TV where they were going to have 3P0 be this killing machine but they changed it for the kids because it was too violent but of course they said this was a bunch of bullchips so then a fight broke out and you got kicked in the shin but at least you did bloody that one kid's nose...

So see? Those guys obviously have issues. And they're jealous. And someone is in need of some deep therapy.

Jack Hill said...

I'm not sure that you should diss the Risk dice system. That is the one bit that actually works from the original game. I think if you work out the odds, a 3-2 battle ends up being about 50% losses from each side on average.

That is about what you want. Enough that there is no massive defender advantage to keep people attacking, and not stilted enough so that you still get those "300" types of moments.

They could have created a system with more special powers during combat, but it would both slow down and complicate the game.

Compare Risk to the wonky battle system in Age of Mythology. Which would you choose?

Michael Barnes said...

I'm not really dissing it per fact, I think that the system creates a lot of fun drama- it's wonky and sometimes infuriating, but I like when one guy kills twenty. I know a lot of folks who HATE that, which is why I brought it up.

Robert and I were talking about RISK and he made a good point...bringing in a massive army and only rolling three dice takes away a sense of scale. At least AGE OF MYTHOLOGY let you roll a million dice if you were attacking with a million creatures. It's a different kind of drama, I guess.

Oh, BTW. Never tell me the odds.

Ken B. said...

3,720 to 1?

I've personally witnessed the "two kills 10+" defender thing. I HATE IT.

With Star Wars Risk (and all the other Risk variants) you can stack the odds where it counts, either with leaders/ships or cardplay. BIG time difference.

With Risk, it's just toss the dice where it makes sense and hope for the best. Bleh. Vanilla Risk needs to be taken out behind the barn and shot. It's obsolete.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Can anyone compare the Clone Wars edition against Trilogy (time seems to be hinted at to start with).
I am up to get one of these, Trilogy sounds like it has its nose in front due to time (likely to be accepted at more tables) and this good write-up, but would buy both if Clone Wars is suitably different (and great to play) to Trilogy and standard Risk (I have the 40th anniversary edition with metallic troops which I can't bring myself to sell ... damn those shiny bits).

Jack Hill said...

Regarding Clone Wars:

At the core, they both rely on Risk dice. Ships work the same, and the object for the rebels is a similar--take out the Emperor kind of thing.

Original has an overall Force Track that changes the usefulness and availability of the action cards as it swings from light to dark.

The other changes is the third player--which is huge, and the chrome like the Death Star. You all lose the Proposition 13 stuff.

Pat H said...

Risk could definatley benefit from a proper makeover rahter than fidling with theme redressing. Re-do the house first and then the patio.

At it's heart Risk is an Ok game that spearheaded an industry. Risk needs a "Risk Deluxe" version to present some innovative and new elements. Then you can re-dress theme and add meat to a new system with the "Risk" tag.

This really is a cash in on the Star Wars license for what .. the third or fourth time? Soon the demographic for these products will all be wearing depends but still playing Star Wars in the lunch/social area at the "home".

A better game for the same "holder of licenses" would have been "Nexus Ops: Star Wars" which would offer more flexibility and would sell.

Battleboard and a shitload of dice with all of the card bearing modifiers, oooohh. No glowing Darth Vaders though.

Michael Barnes said...

Proposition 13

Wasn't that the infamous "Gungan Regsitration Act"?

Jack Hill said...


Nexus Ops Risk or a Risk plus would never sell.

That was tried once with Castle Risk, and it did not do terribly well.

Star Wars Risk sells because it is Star Wars and slightly because of Risk. No one has ever really heard of Nexus Ops, so they might gain a couple thousand sales.

Hasbro needs 50,000 customers to sell a game. We don't matter.

The themed Risks have actually mostly been pretty thorough reworkings. The only core concept that remains is the dice thing.

The UK got Narnia Risk Junior which wasn't really Risk at all. (It did use a very A&A-like dice system, but is more of a children's game, and not really worth it for gamers, unless you are a Richard Borg completist. )

Pat H said...

I said "Nexus Ops: Star Wars" - not "Nexus Ops: Risk" as that wouldn't make any sense.

Michael Barnes said...

This really is a cash in on the Star Wars license for what .. the third or fourth time?

No, I think it's like the second time after those Burger King glasses...they really need to get with the program and realize that there's a market for Star Wars-branded products.

Sure, it's a cash-in...but the designers obviously gave a damn about making a decent game and also making sure that it looked and felt like Star Wars. Of course, Rob Daviau is involved and he's really done more to get "sheeple" (hardy har har) playing better games than any of the Euro designers, that's for damn sure.

433 said...

I have hated all other Risks (save the original) until this one came along. Myself, Brian, and Bryan played it over at Corey's house with him and his wife. It was a really good time.

robartin said...

First, I'm over Star Wars. It's just a cartoon for kids now. Maybe that's all it ever was.

Second, the Risk system sucks. Ever wonder why does Risk takes forever? Because your massive army only gets to throw 3 dice. A proper game like Dragonlords gives you a die per unit.

Shellhead said...

In my twisted worldview, Star Wars and Risk occupy the same niche: I loved them until I hated them.

When we were ten years old, my best friend bought Risk at a garage sale, but it didn't come with a rule book. We made up rules from what my friend remembered, and pretty much got it right. We played it a lot, and got some friends to play, too. Funny thing, though, we had seemed to have an unofficial house rule that games were never played to completion. Once your last remaining guys were trapped in South America or Australia or wherever, you were expected to swear like a sailor and flip the board in anger. Come to think of it, that was much more fun than playing out the tedious and inevitable endgame of Risk. A few years later, I discovered better board games at the same shop that was selling D&D stuff to my gaming group. After that, I completely stopped playing Risk.

A couple of years later, Star Wars came along and rocked my world. (The impact was somewhat diminished later that summer when I went off to Boy Scout summer camp for a week with a book called The Hobbit. Running around in the woods and shooting arrows at targets during the day, while reading about the dangers of Mirkwood Forest at night was an even more meaningful experience than watching Star Wars on the biggest movie screen in Indy.) The Empire Strikes Back was even better, but those goddamn Ewoks ruined the whole franchise for me. I have not watched a Star Wars movie in over two decades. In fact, I have successfully avoided everything related to Star Wars since then, except for one very enjoyable afternoon playing that excellent Epic Duels game.

So despite my love of AmeriTrash games, the chances of me playing Star Wars Risk is very close to zero. It sounds pretty good from this review, I gotta admit, but there are so many other games that I would rather play instead.

Ken B. said...

You're SUCH an Amerisnob, Robert.

Aarontu said...

I looked for this game back when I was in high school, but sadly, it didn't exist. I almost want to go buy it now, even though I know I probably won't ever play it, but it just looks so cool! The box art is just perfect. It definitely looks like the best game in the RISK series.

Michael Barnes said...

Yeah, they definitely went back to the well on the looks like 1981 all over again.

Don't listen to Robert...I'm not supposed to make this public, but come to find out he doesn't like _any_ games other than DRAGONLORDS (of course), GUERILLA, and DRAGON DICE. And he probably wouldn't like that if he weren't getting a huge, thousands-of-dollars paycheck from SFR.

ironcates said...

I've seen somebody get nothing but bombers and make it nigh impossible to stop/kill them. Even with a huge army. I think he had 4 bombers and would only roll one die. So, he had a guaranteed 5 but 5 out of 6 times it was a 6 or better.

The battle was awesome he was already beat down to a small army maybe 5 figs total when he got the bombers and he must've killed a dozen armies before getting killed.

Mr Skeletor said...

Thank God somebody finally released a star wars game.
I hope they do some action figures next.

G Haggerty said...

Can anyone compare the Clone Wars edition against Trilogy...

Clone Wars edition has only two factions (Republic and Separatist) of two armies each.

Republic wins by eliminating all the Separatist armies or conquering the planet where Darth Sidious is camped after Order 66 is called.

The Separatists win by eliminating the Republic armies.

The Order 66 feature is the main difference between the two games.

After each Separatist player turn, Sidious moves up one space on the numbered Order 66 track. The numbers on the track show the (increasing) d8 die roll range for a successful subversion of the Republic clones.

When either Separatist player calls Order 66, every Republic planet gets a die roll. If the roll is equal or higher than the current space on the track, the clones on that planet join the Separatists.

The Republic's compensation is that Sidious comes off the track and must be parked on a planet, becoming a game-ending target.

G Haggerty said...

I've seen somebody get nothing but bombers and make it nigh impossible to stop/kill them. Even with a huge army. I think he had 4 bombers and would only roll one die. So, he had a guaranteed 5 but 5 out of 6 times it was a 6 or better.

The +1 for bombers isn't cumulative: each bomber can only add 1 to a single, different die.

To use three bombers (the most you can have) you'd need to roll three dice and each die would be +1.

Anonymous said...

Risk and all of it's variations, for lack of a better word: suck.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

The Trilogy edition may be a bit rare across the pond in the UK, plenty of Clone Strike editions on eBay but not Trilogy. And now since USPS have discontinued their surface shipping parcel rate it is a bit too expensive getting larger games from the US (via eBay or Trades).

Ken B. said...

Yeah, that shipping thing sucks. That's not going to make it any easier for you guys to get games.

Tom Hazlett (Southernman) said...

Luckily I just nabbed a Fortress America off eBay at the beginning of the month so it got shipped (someone in the Atlantic now) for $26 - need a bank loan to get it over via airmail now !
Card games and such may be OK if you are Trading or get them for a good price but the big box games will be staying over on Uncle Sam's side of the pond.
But it all depends on the person and how much they want the game - sold 'Doom of the Eldar' and 'Union Pacific' to USA types recently and they both paid airmail rates to get them when surface mail was available for just over half the price.

Michael Barnes said...

Well, it looks like RISK is the AT Contingency's MONOPOLY...

I definitely understand why folks don't like it but it's also a situation where the game is incredibly influential and it's really the game that launched thousands of other games- if only because some kid played it and decided that he wanted to design a game like it without its flaws.

As far as you lapsed SW fans...I understand that too, Lucas has pretty much destroyed the franchise because he has absolutely no clue as to what made the original trilogy so special and apparently there's no one at Skywalker Ranch willing to say "no" to him. And it's really unfortunate that the scrappy, somewhat ragged chutzpah of the first films was replaced by almost unbelievably egregious and crass marketing. Sure, licensing is one of the things that made SW what it is _from day one_ but that doesn't foreclose on the fact that the original films were at least worthy of hundreds of action figures, bed sheets, and C3PO cereal- especially when you're a kid and in love with it.

SW was a huge part of my nerdly upbringing and I can still watch the original trilogy and love it just like I did when I was 10. I'm just 31 years old, but I already have come to understand what the old timers meant when they said "they don't make 'em like that any more".

Joel Abbott said...

I really like Star Wars Risk. Enough to get my own copy. The only place I found it is at Toys R Us for $27 (I also checked WalMart, Target, and K-Mart). This price was just too expensive for me to impulse buy it, but I'm probably going back today to pick it up.

After playing this game last week, I got to thinking about how well the game told a story, and, like Michael said, how the imbalance of the game makes it so much fun--with every player trying to achieve a different winning condition.

I got to thinking about how I could totally remember the 'story' of the game, and where the shift occurred that enabled the Empire to sweep the board and win. Then I tried to compare that to the last time I played Ticket To Ride. I couldn't remember any details about playing TTR. There wasn't a story, no turning point, no drama, no significant conflict, no meta-game.


On a completely different note, using the metaphor of Star Wars Risk actually helped me in my relationship. Basically, last weekend, my fiance had all of these plans: go look at wedding bands, pick out thank you cards, update the registry. Anyway, on Saturday morning I slept very late, and she got all angry at me for not jumping out of bed and cheerfully accompanying her on all of these errands. It was a silent, icy ride to the mall, and in my head I realized that at that moment, she and I had different victory conditions. She won by telling me how disappointed she was that I didn't care enough to wake up early, and I won by just shutting up and not fighting her back or telling her she was unreasonable. So, regardless of how stupid this story is, the metaphor that I incorporated by playing Star Wars Risk actually helped me to justify not fighting fire with fire. And by not jeapardizing our relationship, we both win.