Monday, September 26, 2011

Board Game Review - Risk Legacy

Since Risk Legacy was announced, Internet prognosticators have had a field day of bitchery. I have seen completely ignorant responses vary from calling it a disposable game to saying that Risk Legacy is Hasbro's blatant attempt to steal money from stupid fans. These claims are based on the worthless knowledge one gains by using the same website as someone who knows something. As my good friend Sam Jackson likes to say, allow me to retort.

All those people are slack-jawed, stooped-gait, mouth-breathing, drooling idiots who have absolutely no idea what they're talking about in any way, shape or form, and their arguments are based on conjecture and an obsessive-compulsive desire to treat their board games as if they were priceless collectibles, rather than boxes of cardboard that will be worth less than ten dollars by this time next year.

I have played the game eight times now, and can confidently say that Risk Legacy is the most exciting game release since the turn of the century. It changes everything about the way games work and is more fun than I can remember a game being in more than a decade. If I did rate games, it is with no hesitation whatsoever that I would rate Risk Legacy as the number one game I have owned since I started playing games.

I will now attempt to address some of the blatant, knee-jerk ignorance I have read to date. First, I have seen more than one graduate of the Internet School of Self-Importance announce that Risk Legacy was asking us to destroy the game. That is a load of horse manure. You will destroy elements of your game as you play, but for every element that you throw away, you'll add two more. You're not ruining you're game, you're building it, and the decisions you make will shape your world to make it different from every other copy of Risk Legacy. Your board will not just have different names. It will be functionally original to you. When you finish a game of Risk Legacy, you will leave your permanent stamp on the game.

Creation is not a solely additive process. Sometimes, for something new to be created, something else must be destroyed. Consider, if you will, the creation of the Michelangelo's David. This amazing work of art was created from stone, and that stone was removed, chiseled away, and for the purpose of being a useful cornerstone, effectively destroyed. There was considerable destruction in the creation of such a work of art, but in the end, something amazing was created. Risk Legacy might not be a classical sculpture, but after you play it a few times, it will begin to be your own personal creation, and it will take on a bizarre and rugged beauty full of nuance and memories.

Allow me to answer the assclowns who say that Risk Legacy is disposable. After you play Risk Legacy a handful of times, you will be less inclined to dispose of it than any other game you own. You will unfold the board, see the changes you have made to it, and laugh as you recall the events that created this world. You'll remember the enormous missile exchange that altered the world forever, or the hilarity that ensued when you named your first major city. You'll think back on epic battles, sweeping maneuvers, and bold moves that fell short. You would no more dispose of a game like that than you would dispose of your family photo albums.

And the concept that you can only play fifteen times? Completely, irrevocably absurd. After fifteen games, you're probably about finished with the wildly game-altering changes that could occur - but you've still got a copy of Risk that is better than any other Risk ever made. Once you've played fifteen times, what you own is as replayable as any other game you own. You don't complain about Agricola being disposable, do you? And you can't ever change that game! The first time you play Agricola, the rules will be exactly the same as the fifteenth time. You can't say that about Risk Legacy.

A friend was concerned that if he played Risk Legacy with me, I would have a decided advantage because I had already experienced all the wild twists and turns the game has to offer. This concern was wrong on so many levels that it will take a couple paragraphs to answer them all. First, of course I'm at an advantage. The same friend is an expert at another game we both enjoy, and he wins three out of four times because he knows the game better. Nobody complains that Puerto Rico is flawed because the guy who has played fifty times always beats the new people.

Second, when the big events occur and new envelopes are opened, the sweeping changes affect everyone at the same time. Sure, I could attempt to position myself to take advantage of a change I know is coming, but not only would that probably hurt me more than it helped, it would also be incredibly difficult to engineer on my own. To add to that, there's no guarantee that the upcoming change will actually be in my favor. There's every possibility that decisions made in the spur of the moment could alter the world and hamstring me for every game from then on. It happens. And it's awesome.

Third, consider a movie with a surprise twist that nobody saw coming. Who would you rather be, the guy who has seen the movie a dozen times and knows exactly what to expect, or the guy who is about to have his jaw hit the floor? Me, I would rather be the one surprised. I would rather be the one discovering amazing new developments in Risk Legacy, the one who has no idea what's in the hidden box and who gets to be delighted at the brilliantly unfolding story.

So that's my answer for all the jackanapes. For those of you who haven't made snap decisions with virtually no information available, I'll go ahead and tell you how this wild ride actually works. Don't worry, I won't spoil any of the surprises.

Risk Legacy operates on the theory that every game you play should affect the games that come after it. Decisions you make in one game will irrevocably change the game from then on. Snap decisions made for short-term gain will create permanent alterations that you may regret for the next twenty times you play. And whatever changes occur, they'll happen because of decisions you made. This isn't just randomly changing. It's changing because you changed it. When you play Risk Legacy, you've got a stake in it.

There are lots of ways that this works. The most notable example is that the winner of each game will sign the board, often with a nickname or catch phrase. The winner gets a reward for winning, too, which could be anything from founding a big city or naming a continent to destroying a territory card or erasing changes that were made before. Then the losers get their rewards, which are basically just smaller cities or making some territories more valuable.

But that's not the only way the game changes. When certain events occur, like a player getting eliminated or nine minor cities being founded, you open up an envelope that completely changes the game. I told you I won't spoil it for you, but suffice to say that once you open an envelope, your game will change forever. And since there are six envelopes in the box, that's six chances for your game to make a wild left turn that makes everyone learn the game all over again.

You'll change the game as you play, too. You might be under attack and decide to create a bunker - but that bunker is permanent, and next game, someone else might be in there. Or you might need a territory badly enough that you inflict an ammo shortage on the land, only to find out next game that you just can't hold that territory long enough to get your continent bonus because your own people can't get enough bullets.

As the game goes on, more and more developments will occur. The map will change. The factions will change. The rules of the game will change. And every time there's a change, Risk Legacy becomes more fun. This is why it's so ridiculous to read complaints about destroying the game - after five or six games, you'll have so much more game than you started with.

Now, the biggest complaint I've ever had about Risk in general is the time investment. Even the new Risk, with objectives, still take a while. And I'm not going to pretend that Risk Legacy will never go long, especially if nobody is particularly aggressive. But this is the first Risk I've played where I've ever finished inside 45 minutes, and it's very rare to see one go over an hour and a half.

The reason you can finish a game so quickly is because the winning conditions are different than they've been before. To win the game, you need four victory points. You get one point for each HQ you control (including your own), and if you haven't won the game before, you get one handed to you for free, just for showing up. This means that in a game with all new people, you're halfway to the win before you put down your first recruit. And that makes the game go pretty darn fast.

Of course, after a while, most people will have a win under their belts, and so you would think the game would slow down. However, as the game changes, more ways to earn victory points will be available. Once again, I can't tell you what they are, but suffice to say, they're a lot of fun, and add new dimensions to the way you play. They also keep that break-neck pace that makes Risk Legacy both the fastest version of Risk and the most fun I've had playing a board game in as long as I can remember.

I could keep going, and regale you with stories of sudden assaults, surprise comebacks, desperate gambits and legendary failures. But you don't need to hear about my stories. You need to pick up a copy of Risk Legacy, gather some friends, and create your own amazing tales. Don't worry about the resale value of your game. Don't get worked up about permanently changing things. Relax, roll some dice, laugh your ass off and kill a whole bunch of people. Once you start playing Risk Legacy, you'll be forced to agree that this is not just a whole new way to enjoy a game. This is the most fun you'll have for a really long time.


3-5 players

Reinvents board gaming
Every decision has the potential to change the game forever
An exciting, thrill-packed ride
Exceptionally impressive production
Ridiculously well tested
Insanely fun

Not out until November

You'll have to wait to get your hands on Risk Legacy, but believe me, the wait will be worth it. You're going to have more fun with this game than you even thought was possible.


Anonymous said...

The only thing I'm worried about is that the game might feel like it's conning you into buy another copy when you've gone through the campaign? Would it be easy for them to create "start over packs" that let you start over from the begining cheaply?

Digiconda said...

If the experience actually reached the point of being "worn out" I think I would be inclined to buy another one, show a different group of friends and start the whole experience over!

Risk Legacy's description had me from the outset; after your review Drake, I'm even more excited about getting it. (BTW - Great review, one of your best. I hadn't seen one of your reviews in a bit and was getting antsy for some sarcasm. :)

As I type this, it occurred to me that I might use this at the middle school where I teach. I've wanted to play a more complex game with my students, but many of them are easily put off by anything with depth of thought. But, many know Risk and this game would give them a personal stake in "seeing it through to the end", Shoot, I'd let all of them sign the board and the winner sign the place of honor. This has the potential to be a real long-term, meaningful, hit! I envision a photo diary of triumph and despair in a photo album along side the game for future student groups wherein the legacy is continued with a new copy of the game every year. [Wow, that spewed forth, thanks again for the great review!]

Matt Drake said...

Anonymous, that's not even remotely a concern, unless you love watching the world develop so much that you want to do it twice. Because once you've completed your epic journey, your copy of Risk Legacy will be the best game of Risk you'll ever own. It will be one of the best games you own, period. No need to buy a second copy. Your finished masterpiece will be better than the new copy, anyway.

I wouldn't buy a 'start over pack' if they offered it. I wouldn't even accept a review copy. There is no way I would do anything to revert this game back to its original state. It's so great now, and after I play it another ten times, it will be even better. A reset button would be unthinkable.

If you painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, would you want a can of white paint as a do-over? If you built the Taj Mahal, would you bulldoze it so you could build it again? If you wrote War and Peace, would you burn the manuscript so you could go back to the first page?

Digiconda, that's actually a great idea. There's a spot on the back of the board where everyone who plays can sign their names (mine currently boasts eight names). The big winner signs the front, but everyone has their name on the board. If you used a different copy every year (or semester), you could really get kids to commit to the game. You would have them eating out of your hand, too.

I only hope more games do this, and do it this well. It's such a fantastic concept, and in this case, executed to perfection.

Anonymous said...

Awesome. So awesome. I'm so glad you reviewed this.

Maybe you can answer this one question: is it really no big deal if a new person comes to play? I know you basically answered this but still, once my friends and I have 'created' our game, is someone else going to be able to realistically sit down and play, or are the rule changes so immense that you 'had to be there?'

Also, do you mind if I ask if it's advisable to play the same faction every time? Or is finding that out part of the fun of the game?

Thanks for this great review!

Ken said...

I had already set down 3 pre-orders earlier this month (wife, brother and friend copies for Christmas). Based on your other reviews, I feel like I made a good decision.

Thanks for finding a good game to review as well, not many of those lately.

Matt Drake said...

Rather than explicitly say that new people can definitely join in (though they can, so I just said it), I'll give this real-life anecdotal evidence:

You can play a maximum of 5 players.

The back of my board has 8 signatures.

Game #6 was won by a guy who had never played before.

I haven't played the same faction every time, but you will probably end up naturally gravitating towards the same guys. My son, for instance, has played the same group every time he played. But I like to experiment, so I have tried nearly all of them.

Paulo Marques said...

That's not a review, that's a bitchfest against people with a different opionion.
And comparing Risk to the Sistine Chapel?
If everyone earned your wages, maybe I'd see your point, but I don't.

Unknown said...

Nightwish if you read everyone elses disparaging comments about this game then it is almost nessesary to have a review this strong for it if you actually like the game. Also have you never heard of hyperbole before. If you have followed Drake in previous reviews you would know he is over the top in most of his review either for the postitive or the negative. This one stands out because he really believes this is an awesome game and stands above others that he has test in recent memory. It makes me interetested to try it if could ever get a gaming group together instead of just the one guy I regularly play against.

Dungeon Master said...

"Great for finding out if I reviewed Carcassonne; not so great if you're looking for Risk. What am I, a genie in a bottle?"


Old tricks.

I've spent my hard earned money based on your reviews before and have never been led astray. I'm going to put money on this one too. Thanks for doing the work.

Unknown said...

Is Risk Legacy going to be worth a damn with only two players? We get a bit of play out of our regular Risk, and a fair amount of the the LoTR:Trilogy edition with neutral armies. Curious if we should drop money on Legacy, because I really like the concept, but it'd really only get any serious play with just the wife and I.

Matt Drake said...

Wade, I am really sorry for you, because Risk Legacy requires at least three players. Two is not even remotely feasible. I've played it with three, four and five, and it's fun every time, but you really can't do it with two.

Sorry, man. This one won't work for you at all.

Peer said...

Its a review and a bitchfest against other opionions THAT are not based on playing the game.
I cant see anything wrong with that. There is a difference between theory and praxis, you know.

Anonymous said...

1. I disagree with one point, and it's not much of a point, but it is a point: If you sit at a table with someone who has played it before, you are on equal footing. This is wrong. If someone has put a city down, they can use it as a starting point, straight away, and nobody else can. That gives an immediate 1 to 2 territory advantage, so you are at a disadvantage if you sit down with a box that's been modded.

Beyond that, SPOT THE FUCK ON. Great, great game. Great. I don't think it's the best I've ever played since I started playing, but it is one of the most original.

Great review as always.

Matt Drake said...

Sure, but if you want to cancel that bonus, all you have to do is A) place before them, and B) put your HQ next to their city. Now they can't start there, and on your first turn, you're going to grab their city. Now the bonus is your bonus.

Modifications to the board can give bonuses to specific players, but all you have to do to deny that bonus is take that spot.

Andrew Wodzianski said...

I too, have invested many a dollar on MD's reviews. My first purchases; Nexus Ops and Risk Star Wars Original Trilogy. OF COURSE I'M GOING TO BUY RISK LEGACY!!! WHHHOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! WOOT WOOT WOOT! RISK! CAPS LOCK! THANKS AND KEEP ON REVIEWING! WOOT!

Chris Cisne said...

His name was Nightwish, Pete...with a W ;-)

But yeah, this review turned my thoughts around on Risk Legacy.

Especially since the closest thing I have to an actual gaming group (a couple of old friends back in my home town) first started gaming in our teens with epic games of bog-standard Risk, which seemed so good back then.
So having an incentive to go back to Risk and run a 'campaign' which actually creates a new kind of game would be awesome on too many levels.

Tl;dr - thanks for making me spend all my money. Guess the kids can fund their own college courses...

Anonymous said...

I've done a lot of looking at this game, and I guess the thing I'm most curious about, are the different factions. I read about those in the rule book online.

Does each faction really get totally different possibilities? Like, do they share some possible powers, or does each color get completely different sets of advantages to pick from, at the start? If it involves any super spoilers, you don't have to share... but is this going to make picking a side really, really tough? =/

Wiz-War said...

Thanks for the great review, Matt. You were the first person I thought of to read a review of this newest version of Risk since you are such a self professed fan of the game in general.

If only there was a version of this for LotR Risk, I would be on cloud nine. I may have to reverse engineer this concept to fit into LotR Risk at some point.

I too base many of my purchases on Matt's reviews where possible because he is a person who appears to like having fun when he plays games, first and foremost. While I enjoy a good abstract brainburner myself on occasion, my main gaming goal reflects the social fun aspect and I collect games which allow that goal to be realized.

Risk: Legacy definitely appears to fit within that criteria.

Debbie said...

I can't wait to get this for my husband and sons for Christmas. I think they are going to love it. Thanks for the review! When I heard about it on the radio I knew it was going to be the perfect gift...

Anonymous said...

My awesome wife gave me my Xmas copy early. Unfortunately my regular game group can't meet up until next week! Agh! a whole week more of wondering what is in those envelopes?!?!?! Thanks for the awesome review - this game is shaping up to be everything I was hoping for!

Anonymous said...

Risk Legacy is a broken game though. It perpetuates the same person into wiinning because they have multiple missiles which no red star is worth. Territory cards become nothing but dumb luck because one card can be worth so many troops. Most of the events perpetuate the player who is winning to a further elevation of power. In all truth the designers were very short sighted when they made this game by removing most of the strategy for pure chance.

Matt Drake said...

Anonymous, you're clearly an idiot. Risk Legacy is the best game I played last year. I haven't had this much fun with a game in more than a decade. All I can think is that your shorts are twisted up because you lost a bunch of times in a row.