“Mystery is the catalyst for imagination”  -J.J. Abrams

*Ahem!*  SQUEEEE-AAW!  Is this thing on?  I have a confession to make.  I am a RISK fan.

Yes, yes, I know.  Despite all my hoopin’ and hollarin’ about “real” board games, and European style strategy, and complex abstracts… RISK will always hold a special place deep in this gamer’s heart.

In my rather sizable board game collection, I have two editions of both CITADELS and  WAR OF THE RING (my favorite games ever.)  I have two different versions of both CARCASSONNE and SMALL WORLD.  Two different editions of WIZ-WAR (soon to be three.)  Hell, I have at least three different CHESS boards.  But RISK?

I’ve got six.

Board games have always been a part of my life.  I have very clear memories of playing BATTLESHIP with my Dad.  Or OH, WHAT A MOUNTAIN! with my younger sister.
But RISK… RISK was the first “adult” game that I remember seeing people play.  The first game that, on some instinctive level, I just knew was somehow bigger.  That was somehow too much for me to handle at that young an age.  I must have been only about five or six the first time I saw my older brother and four or five of his friends getting the game set up.  I watched them all setting up their little plastic Roman Numerals like things were about to get serious (this was the early 80’s when Risk pieces were brightly coloured plastic I’s, III’s, V’s and X’s.) – like they were hunkering down for the long haul, preparing for some epic struggle that would conclude only after I had long since gone to bed.  I knew something big was about to happen, and man, I wanted in.

“You are about to play the most unusual game that has appeared in many years.  It is not difficult, but because it is so different, you will find it worthwhile to read the rules completely through before starting play.  No attempt has been made to teach strategy, as each player will develop his own as he becomes familiar with the game.”
-Introduction to the original Parker Bros. edition of the Risk Continental Game. (1959)

Back in the 1950’s American board game publisher Parker Brothers had a deal with French manufacturer Miro.  The two companies would frequently license their titles to each other for sale in their respective countries.  In 1957, Miro came to Parker Brothers with a game invented by a fellow named Albert Lamaorisse.  Monsieur Lamaorisse is perhaps best known for being the director of a film called “Le Ballon Rouge” (“The Red Balloon”) something that I know I was made to watch in my 8th grade French Language Arts class.  But more to the point, the game in question was called LA CONQUETE DU MONDE and after over a year of playtesting and tweaking, it was released in the US as the RISK CONTINENTAL GAME.  And now more than 50 years later we have seen countless variations and skins on the game, each with its own small tweaks.  Want to use the RISK ruleset to fight out the Clone Wars from the Star Wars saga?  Want to use your little plastic armies to decide which pantheon of Gods and Goddesses from the Ancient World will rule supreme?  How about fighting over the moon in the 23rd century?  All of these and more are available.

But all of this is history.  That’s not what I’m here to write about.  Today, I want to talk about the future.  RISK LEGACY.

“Well, this is new.”
-Introduction to the Hasbro/Parker Bros.  Risk Legacy (2011)

Coming to hobby stores this November is RISK LEGACY.  (To be released everywhere else in the world as RISK EVOLUTION, but let’s not get me started on that, shall we?)
So what’s so fancy about this RISK?  The board looks like a pretty standard issue RISK world map, but without any names on the continents.  That may be your first clue.  Actually, upon opening the box and tearing the shrink off the board, you’ll notice a label on the back of it which requests that the players SIGN their names to the board, stating “We, the undersigned, take responsibility for the wars that are about to start, the decisions we will make, and the history we will write.  Everything that is going to happen is goiing to happen because of us. ”

And that’s the core of what’s about to happen.  Here’s the hook.  The game is designed to be played as a campaign, a series of 15 or more games with some pretty high stakes on each outing.  You see, during gameplay, and especially immediately after each game, the board will be marked.  With stickers.  And pen.  Permanently.  Some of the cards will be altered.  Some will be destroyed.  Ripped up.  Thrown away.  Every decision you make could alter the game board, or the strength of the factions, or the value of any given territory or continent.  Cities will rise and fall and the names of the victors will forever be etched upon the surface of this new world.

Additionally, inside the box are four sealed envelopes and two sealed compartments, each of which will only be opened when certain game conditions are met.  Inside are new rules, new components and… who knows what else?

When I first read about this I thought it seemed gimmicky.  Then I read the official solicitation from Hasbro and thought they might be on to something.  A lot of questions immediately arise, but most of them were quickly answered.  Yes, the “campaign” such as it is, is intended to be played over a series of fifteen games.  And after about 15-20 games, all modifications to the game board or components will have been made.  However, at that point, you’ve now got an utterly unique version of RISK, that has a rich back history of wars, feuds and betrayals.  And because you lived through it, you are personally invested in it.

I think it’s worth reading designer Rob Daviau’s designer notes at Boardgamegeek.  Of particular note is the fact that the germ of the idea behind the design was the desire to “up the ante” on the decision making process of a board game.  In most games, and RISK in particular, every decision you make during game play is important, but what if every decision was really important?

We have been lucky enough to have a pre-release copy of RISK LEGACY here at the store, and along with a hand-picked group of players, George and I have been playing every Wednesday night for over a month now.  Simply put, it’s amazing.

The ability to permanently alter the game board means that each individual game cannot truly be played as such.  Every action and decision will have ramifications over the course of the campaign.  And of course, I’m not just talking about stickers here.  Anybody who’s ever played RISK knows that it’s as much a game of diplomacy as one of dice rolling combat.  So when player Geoff Sprague (representing the Khan Industries faction) offered me a truce in the first game, only to betray me later on… well, that’s had some consequences.  Many of which are still being played out four games later.  It didn’t help matters that when Geoff signed the board to notate his victory, he utilized the provided extra space for a bit of smack talk by simply writing “I offer you a truce.”

And those sealed envelopes?  J.J. Abrams, film director and creator of the “Lost” TV series, gave a talk at the TED conference a few years ago, which speaks to the power of mystery.  (It’s about 18 minutes long, but it’s also worth checking out: Click here.)  He makes a point that mystery drives creativity.  And that’s exactly what happens.  RISK LEGACY seems custom-tailored to create a play environment that encourages free form storytelling and narrative building.  Something that you really don’t see in board games outside of Adventure style games like TALISMAN or RUNEBOUND, but in those games obviously, the players are following a pre-written story instead of coming up with their own stuff on the fly.

The other thing is that those envelopes provide a sense of momentum to the games that would not otherwise be there.  Each one provides a brief narrative explanation for the new components in them, and while usually the contents supplement existing rules-sets, sometimes entirely new mechanics are introduced.  So not only is the board changing, but the way the game actually plays out is altered, sometimes even modifying win conditions.

It would be difficult for me to overstate just how exciting these past few weeks with RISK LEGACY have been.  There is yelling and laughing at the table, and there is discussion of strategy and diplomacy throughout the week leading up to our Wednesday night game.

There has been a bit of controversy surrounding the news of this game.  Many hardcore board gamers balked at the idea of ripping up cards or writing on their game boards, suggesting that it was just a marketing scheme from Hasbro.  To them, I say: get over yourselves.  I’m gonna go on the record here and say that RISK LEGACY is every bit as revolutionary as MAGIC THE GATHERING was when was first released.  Yeah, I said it.  I’m not suggesting that it will necessarily have the impact on the industry that MAGIC did, but it is -that- fresh and new.  An utterly new way to approach a board gaming experience.

-Paul Alexander Butler is the Store Manager of Games and Stuff and organizes the shop’s Tuesday Board Game Nights. [Card.Board.Box] is his monthly gaming column for GamesAndStuffOnline.com.  He is currently hibernating with his fellow brothers from the Enclave of the Bear plotting the overthrow of the Khan Industrial Machine.  The Citadel will not fall.

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