So I promised this review a couple of weeks ago, and then we decided to play more games, so I postponed. This review is based on five plays of Risk: Legacy. (Note that this link is to the BGG page on the game because Hasbro has released an awesome game with no official web presence.)
Risk:Legacy is the newest, and in my opinion coolest, incarnation of the venerable Risk franchise. Now, I’ve never been a big fan of Risk. I always felt like the game dragged on forever and usually ended with the dice rolling poorly for me in critical moments. (This may, of course, say more about my luck than the game itself.) More recent incarnations of Risk–especially the movie-themed variants–have addressed the length issue by making victory dependent on something other than controlling every country, but I still felt like the game relied largely on luck.
I’m not sure that Risk Legacy changes the luck factor all that much, but I still found myself enchanted by the game. After some time to think, I figured out why. It’s a game that levels up. Like my fascinations with World of Warcraft, Dungeons & Dragons, and even Progress Quest, I’m a sucker for things that let me level up. That little thrill I get when I gain a new level and get to do something new keeps me coming back for more.
In Risk: Legacy, you start with a typical Risk map and five factions, like any version of Risk. But then, before you even play the first game, it levels up. Each player chooses one of two powers to attach to a faction. The unchosen power gets tossed in the trash. (In fact, you’ll wind up throwing away a good number of the game’s bits.) Every player also gets a Scar card. During the game, you can help it level up by playing your scar on a territory. The scar has a sticker that gets placed on the territory indicating its effect, and the sticker is permanent. From now on, that territory is scarred. The initial scars either lower your defense roll by 1 or increase it by 1.
These scars point to the second reason I love this game. My game of Risk is not your game of Risk. The decisions you make about playing scars are dependent on both short-term strategy (i.e. how do I keep my opponent from attacking me from North Africa every turn?) and long-term effects (i.e. do we really want to make Southeast Asia easier to defend in every game we play?). In our game, for example, North Africa and China are ammo poor, meaning that they defend at 1 point less. In your game, other territories might bear these scars.
For my group, there’s a high sense of ownership for this game. With other games, the owner owns the game, and there’s no sense of impropriety in playing the game with anyone. But with Risk: Legacy, it’s owned by the group. We signed the board when we started, laying claim to the wars that follow. I can’t imagine playing the game outside of my group. Adding someone else’s decisions to the game permanently would seem like a betrayal of the players who signed the board. If you don’t have a permanent group of 5 players to play with, I’m not sure you would feel the same sense of ownership.
This sense of ownership leads to some interesting game choices. The game continues to level as you play it. Each time someone wins, they get to sign the board, and from then on they get a tactical advantage in future games. Players who haven’t signed the board get to start with one extra victory point (you need four points to win the game). The winner and the losers who weren’t eliminated also get to change the board at the end of the game, adding cities, naming continents, increasing the value of resource cards, removing scars, etc. when certain events happen, like the first time a player is eliminated or when all minor cities have been placed, you get to open sealed envelopes. In the envelopes, you get more things that change the game–mission cards, new scars, rules changes, etc. In other words, your game levels up. All these cool additions lead to some interesting choices. It’s the only time I’ve ever played Risk where one player was begging for another player to eliminate him from the game, just so we could see what was in the new envelope.
So, is there a downside to this new Risk? Well, all the new cards and stickers do increase some of the randomness of the game. And I’m not sure how fun the game would be with only three players. (The absence of 5 players would mean that some factions would miss out on power upgrades at certain points in the game.) And eventually you’ll run out of new envelopes to open, and the game will achieve a sense of stasis. Then you’ll still have a unique version of Risk to play, but without the leveling component, I’m not sure the game would continue to hold my interest for long.
So is it worth $50+ for a game that you’ll only play about 15 times? I say, yes. It’s too bad that Hasbro doesn’t seem to be supporting this game with future print runs, so I could buy another copy when we’ve exhausted the options in this one. But, like deck-building games, this seems like a game type that could see new versions in the future by other enterprising companies.
An interview with the game designer at Men with Dice.