Approximately 3,720 to 1
Confession time: I don’t much care about Star Wars. It isn’t that I have any animosity towards the series, it’s just that lightsaber duels and brown hoodie-robes weren’t a particularly big part of my childhood, so I paid about as much attention to all this talk of the Force as I did to anything else where words like “Naboo” were thrown around.
Some might argue that my apathy towards all things Star Wars undermines my ability to review Star Wars Risk. My response is that I’m probably the one person capable of explaining the game to those who don’t know what Star Wars is all about. So let’s get started!
This is Star Wars Risk, which somebody might have once compared to the Holy Roman Empire — as in, neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Except that Star Wars Risk actually is about stars and war, just not about Risk. Alright, fine, nobody has ever compared Star Wars Risk to the Holy Roman Empire. Until right this minute, so deal with it. The point is, this is nothing like Risk. And that’s a good thing, because Risk is a terrible game.
The backstory is somewhat convoluted, so I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say, the bad guys have built a doom orb in the sky, except this is their second doom orb, and yes they’re starting to sound like a broken record to me too. The good guys want to blow it up, kicking off a climactic three-way battle for the fate of the Force, which is a viral infection in your blood that gives you magic. This unseen Force has become unbalanced, and thus the doom orb must be destroyed. It isn’t supposed to make sense. That’s part of the appeal.
Okay, so Star Wars Risk presents a battle across three different fronts. The first and main front is in space, between the insurrectionist fleet — which has a combined-arms navy of awesome spacecraft and talented pilots — and the squadrons of vulnerable wimpy ships and amateur space-jockeys that have been hastily cobbled together to defend the doom orb. This side of underdogs just wants to wipe out the upstarts and protect their doom orb, but unfortunately there are about a zillion enemy ships.
Now, this is where Star Wars Risk starts to get somewhat interesting. See, it might sound totally unbalanced. To destroy the doom orb, all the upstart team has to do is get some ships into position and roll a six, and one weird explosion complete with an expanding ring of fire later and the doom orb is toast. But! The second front is down on the planet of Ender, where a big shield generator is protecting the doom orb. It’s a jungle down there, and an obvious metaphor for Vietnam to boot, where the good guys (or are they?) make friendly with the locals after being invited to a huge party, and together they destroy the shield generator.
Meanwhile, the third front is a fencing match between a farmer named Luke and his absentee father… which is a spoiler, sorry. This is a nail-biting standoff, but the coolest part is that it takes place on the doom orb itself. What happens if you blow up the doom orb while Luke or his dad are still aboard? The game ends when that happens, so I don’t know.
The way Star Wars Risk handles all these options is particularly clever, each side getting a deck of cards that show two or three actions apiece. You draw a hand of these cards, figure out which three you want to play that turn, then alternate turns with your opponent by showing your selections and resolving one of the revealed actions. Maybe one turn you’ll flip a card and decide to make an insurgent attack on Ender, rolling a handful of dice to see how many spaces you move towards destroying the shield generator. Then your opponent has evildad whap his son with a lightsaber — “whizzbap!” your opponent will probably say, mimicking the sound effects of the movie. Then back to your turn, where you’ll be presented with a choice between moving a squadron of ships and attacking or some other action. And so forth.
What makes this system so cool is that you’re locked into your selection of cards, but each gives you some leeway in what you can accomplish. And while certain fronts might sound useless — especially the family counseling taking place aboard the doom orb — they’re actually pretty vital to the war effort. Certain small victories let you add extra cards to your order stack, giving you a bunch of extra actions at the end of the round. If Luke and his dad reconcile, for example, the rebel player gets to add a whopping five cards. If either side totally clears a space-sector of enemy ships, they get one. These are added at random, meaning you don’t have full control over their result, but can often swing the momentum of the fight into your favor.
The result is a multi-pronged battle that plays fast and probably feels very much like the real thing. Exploding an entire fleet marker with your doom orb can be enormously satisfying. Gurgling “It’s a trap!” when that happens to you isn’t quite as fun, but at least it makes the sting of defeat a tiny bit duller.
Problematically, the game seems rather unbalanced in favor of the rebels, probably because they’re the supposed good guys and people would feel let down if the doom orb wasn’t destroyed. At the very least, it often feels like one side has all the interesting options while the other is mostly about blocking them — sometimes literally, as is the case down on Ender, where the doom orb side just makes advancement towards the shield generator incrementally tougher.
Then again, Star Wars Risk isn’t meant to be taken particularly seriously. It’s about quoting lines, making sound effects, and acting out some of your favorite scenes from the Star Tours Disneyland ride. It’s about goofing around in a familiar universe, and letting your kid control the rebel side because they’ve been persuaded that anarchy is somehow preferable to rule of law, probably because you’re so stubbornly unyielding about that 7:30 bedtime. And then it’s about letting them win.
And for that, it’s perfectly wonderful. Live long and prosper.