Risk Legacy: Earth #00016592
People who like Risk fall into one of three categories:
(A) Those who flavor their poison with a heaping dose of nostalgia. It’s okay, I’ve done it too.
(B) Those who are wrong and/or new to the world of board games.
(C) Those who like Risk Legacy.
Risk Legacy has been out for a while, and I’ve avoided talking about it because to talk about it is to, well, ruin it. Still, it’s been out for almost two years, and its creator, Rob Daviau, has recently announced SeaFall, a spiritual successor that will have the benefit of being born apart from the series-mishandling clutches of Hasbro. Which is to say, it now feels like time. Time to talk about Risk Legacy, about why it’s possibly the single most innovative board game to come along these last couple decades.
Though be warned: while this first installment won’t spoil anything important, future accounts will chart my group’s course through Risk Legacy’s fifteen successive battles, and may very well become more illuminating than someone looking to experience Risk Legacy for themselves might like. This is a game best experienced firsthand; this series is for everyone else, who knows they won’t get that chance. You’ve been warned.
The Board Game Box Review
Opening the Risk Legacy box is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, anything you’d expect.
It’s not only the fact that the box is like a suitcase for lugging dirty money or a dirty bomb, complete with carrying handle and those little fabric joints that only permit it to swing open to a ninety-degree angle. And it’s not only the sticker seal you have to break to get it open, the one that announces “NOTE: What’s done can never be undone,” as though an airport mishap swapped your luggage with some Pandora person’s.
Mostly, it’s the swollen packets taped to the lid interior, the ones with cryptic messages like, “Open when all 9 minor cities have been founded,” and “Open when one person gets to sign the board for a second time.” It’s the pair of containers in the bottom of the box with similar instructions, though even more alluring: “Open when someone is about to place 30+ troops on the board and has a missile.” It’s the way the game board is stamped with a unique number, and the way it asks you to sign a pact on its backside, taking responsibility for the wars you’ll wage across its multicolored continents.
It’s somewhat eerie, like it’s taking you to task for playing a violent game while reveling in the beauty of the carnage at the same time. The one thought going through my head when I first opened that box was, This is Hasbro?
Before Your First Game…
Risk Legacy asks you to dive into the deep end first. Instead of being content letting you lay it out on the table and settling in for three hours of the dull old classic we all know and love to hate, Risk Legacy begins by making you put stickers all over things.
That’s right. Stickers. Each of the game’s five factions gets one of two upgrades, things like “At the start of your turn, place one troop in each territory that has a HQ you control.” Suddenly, its teams are transformed from mere green or cream into recognizable factions like the Enclave of the Bear or the Saharan Republic, and they come with matching (and surprisingly thematic) abilities.
You also have to add little coin stickers to some of the otherwise-familiar territory cards, changing some locations into more desirable real estate. While most cards will only give you one coin, useful for cashing in later for extra reinforcements, suddenly Irkutsk and Argentina are the hottest spots in the world with two coins each, and Madagascar’s got three. Or maybe you’ll put coins onto territories in the middle, to engender conflict. Or embrace symmetry, spacing out the coins so that all continents bring their own opportunities. Or wherever.
Scars Scar the Land, Sometimes Strengthening It
You might think that other than the unique setup, not much would happen in the first match. You’d be wrong.
Most of the time you’re playing a fairly straightforward game of Risk — though in this case it’s nicely abbreviated, a contest for a handful of victory points instead of a world-dominating grind, meaning each game lasts closer to forty minutes than three hours. In addition, each player is dealt a “scar” card. Scars are unique modifiers that mess with the board and create hardpoints or weaknesses depending on which scar sticker you put down.
In our first game, my goal was to lock down as many continental barriers as possible. To do this, I stole a bunker from the Saharan Republic in Egypt, locking down the quickest T-junction corridor between Africa, Europe, and Asia. I also placed another bunker in Alaska, ensuring that pesky Imperial Balkania wouldn’t be able to dominate the continent for bonus reinforcements — and, more importantly, wouldn’t be able to push into my precious Asian territories.
To make matters worse for the inhabitants of North America, Ontario ran out of ammunition right before an attack from the Saharan Republic, decreasing the value of the defenders’ dice rolls and paving the way for Saharan dominance of the first match.
The really cool bit is that these scars will stick around (ha!) forever, permanently altering the landscape and informing your strategic options.
Discard Your Inhibitions
I sort of wonder if anyone’s ever picked up Risk Legacy on accident. Like on the assumption it’s just another Risk with a fresh coat of paint, the way the last five hundred Risks have been. Maybe that person picked it up because he loved Risk as a boy, because back in the ’50s, Risk was pretty much the Only Game. And maybe that person took it home to share with his son. Imagine how confused that guy must have been opening it up and discovering all the insane stuff they packed into the box. I bet that guy had an aneurysm when the game first told him to tear up one of its cards and throw it in the trash.
Tear up your cards? Yep. Risk Legacy will make you do that. In addition to being a much more interesting version of Risk, Risk Legacy is doing its damnedest to tear down your boardgamer OCD. That impulse that makes you sleeve your cards, and prohibit drinks on the table or cheese-puff dust on your friends’ fingers, and stack your boxes in just the right way so none of the lids begin to collapse — Risk Legacy wants to kick those tendencies right in the nuts. Not only are you basically ruining your board with every single sticker, you’re also ruining it when it forces you to tear up cards. Risk Legacy is deaf to your sobs.
It’s exactly as liberating as it sounds.
If any single detail could sum up the genius of Risk Legacy, it’s that blank list along the left edge of the board, fifteen items deep. Winning a match has long-term repercussions. In the case of our first game, when the Saharan Republic swept from Africa through South America and then into the Balkanian capital in Ontario, Steve decided that Africa was now and forever “Miranda,” and in the future any of his attempts to dominate that continent will result in an extra reinforcement, though only for whichever faction he’s controlling. The rest of us merely “held on,” so we all founded a minor city — Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, Liano in Great Britain, and New Vatican in Southern Europe — therefore beefing up the reinforcement value of those territories in the future.
And that’s just the first game! Next time, we’ll take a look inside of one of those tiny envelopes, and watch as the game evolves into something ever-more unique.