Risk 2: Risk Harder: Son of Risk
I spent $30 at Target last night buying Risk: Battlefield: Rogue, a poorly named, poorly marketed, poorly manufactured tie in to Electronic Art's massive first-person shooter property. I barely found out about the game. I work at EA and didn't hear about it, it wasn't on Amazon, it wasn't on Target's site, and it wasn't on Hasbro's site. Hell, the BGG entry doesn't even have a proper cover photo, but is a photo taken by someone in a warehouse or something.
This all sounds like a really bad idea, but I'm not going to lie -- I'm really excited. Of the board games I played before my current, modern outlook into the non-Hasbro games, Risk was my favorite. Yes, it takes too long. Yes, you might get screwed really early. But, the game is pure and it tells stories of betrayal, defying great odds, or merely conquering the world after a quiet, yet massive build up in Japan.
This post isn't a defense of Risk. I did that for Monopoly and see no need to re-theme that article. Instead, I want to briefly touch on what Risk: Battlefield: Rogue offers and the sheer potential and coolness, as a designer, of modifying such classics.
Who are you, you Rogue!
This new Risk features a lot of really compelling elements.
- Six double sided modular boards (like those in Mice and Mystics). More scenarios and more sandboxy.
- 4 sets of really neat soldier minis, of which there are 4 sculpts: Assault, Engineer, Sniper, and Support. If I hate the game, I'll use them for a proto!
- A pile of custom dice! What's really neat is that there is the standard attack and defense die, but also upgraded attack and defense die for use when you have a tank, or are attacking from cover. This is a really neat way to represent a unit's power or superior position.
- There are helicopters and tanks.
- There are special powers you can draft mid-game.
- Before every battle, combatants play up to 3 of their cards face-down. This introduces some luck mitigation and hand management to the mix.
- You draw more cards based on your territory holdings.
- The game has 3 tiers of difficulty, so that it works with really base-level gamers, or more advanced folks like myself.
- Every class of soldier slightly augments your capabilities. Recon (snipers) let you shoot farther. Engineers heal your tanks. Assault soldiers can hit and run.
I've only read the rules, but there is a lot of really neat stuff here, all built onto the a.) choose how to move and b.) choose where to attack simplicity of Risk. Best case, I just added a fun game built on an engine I love. Worst case? I just received a ton of ideas on how to make a classic better. The balance and scenario design might just be atrocious.
Note: The components are generally sub-par. The box lid was stickered on all 4 sides and I ripped off the label somewhat just getting it open. The dice are indented blank dice with stickers, like the ones I buy for prototypes. The cards feature no art and are bare bones graphic design with some really simple icons. The minis are really slick, and the cardboard is fine (punchboard is mostly punchboard), but the components, especially coming from a company as big as Hasbro, are a tinge budget.
Why Risk Still Matters?
Risk has some really simple elements that build great experiences. Attackers roll more dice, but lose in the tie. Keep attacking? Push your luck? There's also the entire social game. Remember that first time when you were a child and your friend said "Hey -- if you leave me alone in Africa, I'll not push into North America." You felt clever. Granted, less so when that same friend punched you with 20 soldiers in a betrayal that would surely repeat itself for years to come.
Instead of raging against Risk, perhaps the goal should be to steal some of these elements and revise them in a better, more modern engine?
Some of my favorite games are clearly inspired by Risk. The excellent 1812: The Invasion of Canada and 1775: Rebellion take pushing dudes on a map, teamwork, and knowing how hard to push in an attack and just make the entire package more interesting, more strategic, and perhaps most importantly, shorter!
The designers and Academy really did some smart things, such as adding custom, symbol based dice instead of the numbered pips. They put little tweaks (based on the faction) into the dice rolls, and added slight variability in the cards. They also varied the classic, well-understood movement mechanic in ways that are very clear to players.
Risk spawned Risk Legacy, which hopefully is just the tip of the iceberg in a fantastic and long-lived legacy genre. One of the designers just announced Seafall in cahoots with Plaid Hat Games. Think for a moment how this designer took a few classic mechanics, even the classic map, and built a game with memory and history, a game that grows and organically changes.
One of the reasons I created the Classic Game Re-Mix Design Challenge (which ends Tuesday) was to see how people design within very strict constraints, their own nostalgia, and the expectations of thousands, to make something fresh and cool.
Risk Legacy does that. I think Risk: Battlefield: Rogue might do it. 1812 does it as well.
Finding the completely unique, original idea is like finding a unicorn. Well, not that hard -- it's actually possible to create a unique idea. But if you've designed for a while, you know how long you can stare at a wall fruitlessly with your favorite album just looping endlessly. It's difficult. Instead of sitting still, you may find a spark and learn something by re-envisioning a classic. Perhaps not even to sell, but just as an exercise to get your mind going.
Be that classic Risk, or Scrabble, or Euchre, don't overlook the benefit of letting something else give you a head start so you can focus on creating something unique and special. Not always, but sometimes.