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Posted on Nov 18, 2011 in Boardgames

Risk: Legacy – Boardgame Review

By Charlie Hall

Risk: Legacy. Boardgame Review. Publisher: Hasbro. Designers: Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis. $60 (Retail), $45 (Online pre-order). Release Date: Early December.

Manual Available for Download here.

Armchair General Ranking: 95% (Editor’s Note: Normally this score is saved for the end of the review. However, there are spoilers in this article, and gamers wishing to avoid them should buy the game and read the complete review later.)

Passed Inspection: A wild departure from the 1959 classic, this game rewards brute force and clever play equally. The experience of destroying cards, permanently removing powers from the game, and writing on the game board is unlike any game that has come before. Inside the box is a world that will become uniquely your own.

Failed Basic: No sealable trays for armies means that every time you use the built-in handle to transport the game the pieces will get mixed up. Gamers without a dedicated gaming group will find a hard time getting all the gritty, vindictive joy out of this wargame that they otherwise could.

My first play session lasted nearly 8 hours, and spouses had to forcibly restrain us from starting a seventh consecutive game. It’s that good.

Scattered across multiple internet forums are indignant screeds against what designers Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis have done with the venerable Risk franchise. After 10 games, and more than 12 hours playing it, I can tell you right now that this may be my favorite iteration of the ‘50s-era game ever made.

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Risk: Legacy forces players to do things which disrupt the standard formula, things which completely upend the conventions of board gaming. You will tear up cards and throw them away, you will scar the land with permanent handicaps, and you will deface the board with a Sharpie many times. What it creates is a living world with a dynamic map, factions with evolving powers and goals, and players with persistent clout and rivalries to match. The result is a tense game, as quick as it is brutal, with a complex set of victory conditions that reward thoughtful play.

The presentation of the game is excellent for the price point. Ribbons hold the box lid open on the table, and a seal of warning stops the buyer short the first time they open it. “What’s done can never be undone.” Thankfully, the stickers and other included components are hearty enough that they can be removed and reapplied if they are misaligned.

My first play session lasted nearly 8 hours, and spouses had to forcibly restrain us from starting a seventh consecutive game. It’s that good.

The first notable departure from vanilla Risk comes in the way the game is won. Instead of conquering the entire world players must capture four Red Star tokens. Each player starts with a headquarters (HQ) which is worth a token, so controlling your own HQ and another player’s counts as half the points required to win the game. Additionally you can buy tokens by trading in Resource Cards, earned through conquering a territory on your turn. Other ways to earn tokens are unlocked as the game progresses, and this process of discovery is at the heart of the second difference in this version.

When you first open the game box there are six sealed compartments and as you play, events will occur that require you to open the compartments. Inside each is an evolution in the game, and players will go so far as to change the game’s manual with alterations and additions to the core rules.

Four of the six secret compartments we opened through the course of play.

Many video games no longer bother to come with a manual, but Risk: Legacy takes advantage of the fact that you need to read the instructions to indoctrinate you into its lore. Instead of playing anonymous Napoleonic-era forces the factions here are entirely new. The Die Mechaniker are a heavily armored group of space marine wannabes, while Imperial Balkania seems to field troops crossed between English Redcoats and Emperor Palpatine’s personal guard. The sultry Saharan Republic’s vaguely Mediteranean troops ride around in dune buggies, the Enclave of the Bear on giant bears, and Khan Industry’s Starship Troopers alongside broad, wirey mechs.

Each faction is a persistent character in your world. Before the first game is played you must permanently add a starting power to each faction. You and your fellow players can collectively decide how each faction will play, a decision that will color a faction’s strategy forever. Faction cards clearly show space for at least four powers, and as packs are opened more powers will become available. In this way, no two sets of factions will be the same. Your copy of Risk: Legacy will have a very different Die Mechaniker than mine.

The amassed legions of Imperial Balkania were the first to commit genocide, wiping the Saharan Republic from the face of this earth. Unlike some previous versions of Risk, players’ armies are not limited to the number of units in each color and sculpt. Run out of Balkanians and supplement with another unused army, bottle caps, or coins.

As packets are opened the game itself changes, even as the factions do. One of the compartments asks that you open it only after a faction has been eliminated. In my group there was a kind of blood lust in the early games to see who would be the first to wipe out a competitor. In game four a player went out of his way to make it happen. To everyone’s surprise the eliminated faction was made stronger as a result and in future games had an advantage over us all. We’ve yet to eliminate a faction since, fearing the repercussions.

In traditional games of Risk each side starts out with the very same capabilities. Clearly the factions in Risk: Legacy change that, but as each player wins a game the player himself or herself is granted boons which will carry over from game to game. When you win a game you get to sign the game board, and each time you sit down to play you will be granted one missile for each time you have won on that board. In my world one player has five missiles, one for each time he trounced the rest of us. Missiles allow him to convert any die rolled to a six. Ally with him and he can help turn the tide of your battles. War with him and he will bring those same missiles to bear against you.

The ability to change fortunes in battle are not all that is granted to winning players. At the end of the game perhaps the winner wants to name a continent. Get out the Sharpie and go to work changing Austrailia to Awesometonia, where that player and only that player will get +3 troops instead of the traditional +2. Or perhaps he’d like to found a major city in one of the territories he controls at the end of the game instead? He can whip out a sticker, affix it to the game board, and prevent everyone but him from starting in that territory for all time. Cities are given a value, from one to five, which count towards the total number of territories you control when calculating your recruits at the beginning of a turn. The results are continents, like South America, with multiple cities and multiple bonuses for one player alone. Risk: Legacy allows players to entrench themselves in their favorite gambits to an unprecedented scale.

The miniatures are top notch, considering the game comes with over 275 of them.

You would think that this would unbalance the game in favor of a single player. But, while it makes that player more powerful it also makes him a bigger target. And as more packets are opened more opportunities to win the game via subterfuge and deception are revealed. Oftentimes a smaller, less numerically superior force can win in an unexpected way. It’s these shocking wins where Risk: Legacy works its magic. Even if you only have a handful of armies on the board there is still a chance of winning the game, and even if those final armies are killed off you can re-join the war if there is an open territory on the map.

This is a hard game to review, because so much of it is hidden at the start and to share it all here would be to ruin the game for you. What I can say is that the very best way to experience this game is with a small group of friends who can meet regularly to discover its secrets together. An established gaming group, or one hoping to establish itself, will get so much more out of this game than a bunch of random players will. The complexity of the rule set builds in a way that will be very challenging for newcomers past game five, while the lore created by playing the game will enrich future sessions for a small group of players.

Perhaps the best endorsement I can give this game is to say how excited I am to buy it for my family. Even after unlocking five of the six packets myself I’m looking forward to sharing this game with my niece, nephew, uncle, and father in law. Over the next few years we can build a new world together. And perhaps that’s the most amazing design element of this game, the fact that through the destruction of these factions you create a world that is unique for you alone, and I can’t wait to share that experience with them.

Solitaire Suitability (1 – 5): 1 (Poor)

About the Author

By night Charlie Hall is a writer for Gamers With Jobs (www.GamersWithJobs.com). His relevant interests range from pen-and-paper role playing games, to board games and electronic games of all types. By day he is a writer for CDW Government LLC. Follow him on Twitter @TheWanderer14, or send him hate mail at charlie@gamerswithjobs.com. He, his wife, and daughter make their home in far northern Illinois. This summer you can find him crouched over his newly built PC, or prowling the vendor floor at GenCon in Indianapolis digging up new and exciting games to play and stories to write.

10 Comments

  1. Will the game still be fun after you have played through it all and unsealed all the packets? or would you have to buy a completely new game and start over for this game to be fun?

  2. I can honestly say that only having 2 packets left to open, (A and D) My group and I are simply amazed by how well this game has played out so far and we can’t wait for the final games to set the world in stone. From there, it’ll be game after game of fond memories and bittersweet moments relived every time we play. After a few games, each member of the group wants their own set of the game so we can make a few seperate worlds and play out each one differently. It’s a wonderful game for friends, groups, families, gamers, fans of risk, and even people just getting their feet wet.

    • Chris your comments have got me stoked to continue the game play. Glad to hear things are still interesting later on after more is revealed.

      We’ve got a dedicated group of 4 that should be able to see it through until the end. I actually took notes after the first round to make sure I didn’t repeat the same mistakes! I’ve become a raving fan after only 1 round (http://www.infobarrel.com/Top_5_reasons_to_pick_up_RISK_Legacy), can’t wait for more!!

      I liked the armchairgeneral.com review because it points out what other game reviews have missed: the game has a good sense of balance, and makes it difficult for one person to run away with the lead. Some ppl just didn’t get that.

  3. If you are able to create worlds, then are able to put economic constraints into the game? Such as agriculture, political intrigue within the individual factions, presidential elections, public opinion, economic downturns, rationing of consumer goods, or possibly even alien invasion from other planets.

    In addition if we can create other worlds, is it possible to create a game in which whole worlds fight each other for interstellar domination?

    If the answer is yes to both questions, that would be so interesting.

    • NO, it would one of the greatest board games of all time!

  4. I purchased the game in March and have played 7 games with a group of friends. The game is fun in that every war is unique in play and even setup. The element of the unknown make the game worth playing again to see what can be released against those which stand against you and world dimination.

  5. Our group of 4 to 5 is now at game 8, after 3 big nights of gaming, as in 9pm start and…. well… 3am finishes. Before Legacy, if you told me we would start another 2 hour game at 1am, I would have laughed. Now it is just the way we roll…..
    The board is scarred and has a long story to tell – From being dedicated to our factions at the start, the most important play now seems to be which faction to go for – every faction enables a different attack plan on our now highly modified board.
    I thought the concept looked good – but in reality it is an evolving experience that has got all of us back into board games from our xbox sessions – Even after the first 15 games, the extended game play this version brings will have the game in good use….unless we get the itch to destroy the world all over again!
    Just buy it, rope in a committed crew, and embrace the story you will create.
    (Have I mentioned I quite like this game??)

  6. It sounds great but what your telling me is that after 15 games, you can’t play anymore on that board? I want to buy it really bad but is it worth that for the price tag?

    • Short anwser : Yes

      Long anwser: If you play it with 5 players and share the cost between them its 45/5 = 9$ each. Meaning that you’ll pay 9/15 = 0.6$ per game per person. Each game is around 1h30m meaning you pay 0.6/1.5 = 0.4$ per hour of playtime (per person)

      Compare it to movies, compare it to videogames in general its a pretty good deal.

      Plus you can still play games after the 15th. The rules of those games will be carved by the way you played the first ones.

      If your friend has another Risk Legacy and also played the first 15 games then playing in his bord is different then playing on your board. That is the magic

  7. Ahem… 7 packets. ;)

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