"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
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.