Written by Dave Shapiro
A brand for a company is like the reputation for a person. You earn reputation by doing hard things well.
– Jeff Bezos
Worldwide there have been more than 50 Risk titles. Hasbro recently released the third Star Wars themed Risk game and of the many incarnations of Risk, Star Wars Risk has nothing in common with the classic game other than those four letters in the title. However, Star Wars Risk is a good game; it is one of the best games released this year and certainly one of the best games Hasbro has published in many years. This is a gamer’s game.
I enjoy Risk games and it was inevitable that I would pick up the game especially since it is so inexpensive. (Toys-R-Us carried it for less than $25.) The components are typical mass market but I have played with much worse. Then I read the rules and was startled.
Inspired by Queen’s Gambit
The further I got in the rulebook, the more familiar the game seemed. Suddenly a eureka moment – Star Wars Risk is the old Queen’s Gambit from Avalon Hill. Queen’s Gambit was a well designed, card driven wargame. Players would select order cards and then alternate play. There were four battlefields and what occurred on one would affect the progress on the others. It was fairly complicated and is today, one of the quest games for collectors due to the small print run.
Hasbro has taken that concept and shmoozed it into something that is more fluid and more accessible. The game moves very quickly; once familiar with the rules a full game will easily play out in less than 60 minutes (versus 2+ hours for Queen’s Gambit). There are still order cards with multiple options, but the options have been reduced. The board is comprised of three maps and these too have been reduced compared with the original. With all that has been hacked away, is this even the same game? Is it any good? Yes and yes. The essence of Queen’s Gambit remains; what made it great is still there – what has been eliminated was not significant.
Variety of Choices
I believe that what makes for a great game is providing the players with a variety of choices, all of which they want to do, and then limiting the number of choices a player can make each turn. In addition to this the two players have asymmetric goals. The Rebels are attempting to destroy the Death Star; the Empire must destroy all Rebel ships. This action takes place on the main – central board. On one of the side boards is the battle for the shield generator that protects the Death Star. On the third board, there is a battle between Luke and Darth Vader and tracks for the Millennium Falcon and the Executor ships. From a hand of six cards, each player selects three and these are then played, in order, with players alternating action cards.
As your opponent’s strategy is not known until card play begins, you must attempt to counter his (unknown) action while advancing your own winning strategy. For example, assume I am playing the Empire and I believe the Rebel player will attempt to attack the shield generator. I select a card that permits me to place storm troopers to protect the generator and then two additional cards that allow me to attack Rebel ships. The Rebel player has selected to have Luke battle Darth Vader on all three cards. In this case my storm troopers will simply sit, I can make my attacks on the Rebel ships and my opponent will have his three attacks on Darth Vader. What occurs on one board can affect the other boards. If Luke should eliminate Darth Vader or (worse) turn him to the ‘good’, the Rebel player will be allowed additional orders (drawn at random) that same turn.
This results in a game that is tense yet fluid. The rules never interfere with the play of the game; you will not be searching through the rule book for interpretations of the rules or odd situations. There is a tremendous amount of gameplay in the box.
There are many people who are not fond of Risk – do not be turned away by the name. This game has nothing in common with Risk other than it has a board and there are dice and cards in the game. Even the die rolling is different from Risk as it is lifted from the Axis & Allies system.
Though there are rules for team play so that four players could play, this is actually best with just two players. It is easy to teach and yet offers a plethora of choices. It is deep but plays in less than an hour.
This is the best game Hasbro has published in a long, long time.
Note: there is a deluxe edition at double the price (The Black Series). Some of the cardboard tokens have been replaced with plastic units. The game itself remains unchanged.