Risk: Legacy

The Disclaimer

I wouldn’t consider anything in this review to be a spoiler, and I’m about as spoilerphobic a guy as you are likely to meet. But spoilers are in the eye of the beholder, so caveat emptor. If you are really worried, skip the section entitled “The Playtest”.

Why does a board game review requires a spoiler warning? Read on.


Beastmen wrasslin’ robots. What’s not to love?

The Hook

Every once in a while an extraordinary idea galvanizes the board game community. Dominion, for instance, introduced (or, rather, refined) the idea of a game centered on deck building, and dozens of games utilizing this mechanism have since been released. Before that it was the idea of “worker placement”, pioneered by the seminal Caylus.

Risk Legacy, the newest version of the classic war game, is built around such an idea, though it would be more accurate to describe the premise as “polarizing” than “galvanizing”. Reaction to the announcement of the game ranged from accolades to derision, and spirited debates abounded months before it was published. But no one, not even that game’s fiercest critics, could deny that the central conceit of the game is extraordinary–and perhaps even brilliant.

Here’s the hook: as you play Risk: Legacy, the game changes. I don’t mean in the conventional sense of gameplay evolving as players become more experienced; I mean the game literally, physically changes. The components include an assortment of stickers, which players use to irrevocably alter play: stickers affixed to the board forever enhance or mar the topography, stickers added to cards permanently revise their value and utility, and so forth.

But wait, as they say: there’s more. The rules frequently ask–demand!–that players take up Sharpies and annotate the board, to name continents, record events, and immortalize victories by scrawling their John Hancock on the “Winner’s List”.

Some events require that cards be removed from the game. This is not uncommon–many games ask you to “take cards out of play” by setting them aside or returning them to the box; only in Risk: Legacy are you told to do so by ripping them into confetti and then tossing them in the trash. The horror.

The upshot of all this is that, after your first game, you are playing on a board unlike any other in existence, with cities positioned according to your whims, locations named by your opponents, and cards customized per the preferences of your game group. And that’s just the beginning. The Risk: Legacy box contains a number of sealed packets and compartments, which are only opened when specific conditions are met (e.g., a single player wins his second game). Opening a cache may introduce to the mix new cards, new stickers, new rules, and even new pieces (maybe! I don’t even know!). The game was designed to be played at least 15 times, preferably with the same group of people.

It’s difficult to overstate how anathema this is to many gamers, for whom even minor wear on the edges of a card is a travesty on par with the Hindenburg. The idea of defacing cards on purpose has some railing about the impending tsunami of “disposable games”, even though Risk: Legacy is, to date, the only game featuring this innovation.

Me? I’m a sucker for a gimmick. I had to have it.


Sealed packets introduce new elements into the game as milestones are reached

The Game

Risk: Legacy is … well, it’s Risk, albeit Risk with a science-fiction theme and a 100-word backstory so ridiculous that it was apparently dashed it off in the moments before the game went to press. As in the original, the map depicts Earth divided into 48 Territories, into which players place Troops. On a turn a player selects a Territory he occupies and commits a number of Troops to attacking an adjacent space owned by an opponent. Dice are rolled and Troops are removed; when the defender’s Territory is vacant the attacker moves in and can continue his conquest. At the end of a turn in which a player took at least one Territory he receives a card, and these cards may later be redeemed to receive bonus Troops.

That’s what’s the same; the biggest difference between Risk: Legacy and its progenitor are the victory conditions. In the classic Risk, a player only wins after systematically eliminating all of his opponents and controlling every Territory on the board, a process that typically takes three or four or seven hours. Here, the goal is simply to obtain four Red Stars. Each player begins play with a Headquarters, and ownership of an HQ is worth one Red Star. Much of the game revolves around the battle for these HQs, as control of four–regardless of to whom they initially belonged–wins the game.

There are, of course, lots of additional tweaks to the original design. But the game is much more Risk than not.


We watch in irritation as J. prepares for war

The Playtest

Four of us gathered Sunday evening to break in my copy of Risk: Legacy; we conscripted our host’s 13-year-old daughter to fill the fifth position.

I am, and always have been, a fan of Risk, even though I dislike the player elimination and find the playing time to be entirely too long. Some of my fellow players are less charitable to the original game. But we all enjoyed this latest incarnation.

We played the game three times in a row, in the space of perhaps two and a half hours. Early games go quick; until a player has won at least one game he begins with a free Red Star in addition to his starting HQ, and therefore needs only two more points to win. (The length of future games increase as, one by one, players require three Red Stars beyond their starting HQ for victory instead of two.)

The “gimmick” of the game–that of altering the components as you play–has real strategic implications. Early in game one, for instance, I applied a “bunker” sticker to Greenland, which gave the Territory a defensive advantage; as a result, Greenland became a good place for a player to hunker down in the second and third game. Another player used stickers to increase the value of the China card, turning the corresponding Territory into a resource coveted by all.

As one of my opponents observed, the brevity of the game lends itself to bolder play; if you take a gamble and fail, you will only suffer the consequences for another 20 minutes or so. In other words, this version of Risk actually encourages its namesake, and the game is more exciting for it.

We opened our first sealed packet at the end of our third game, to reveal new cards and rules. I won’t describe them, but I’ll confess to looking forward to our next match, eager to see how they affect play. The premise of Risk: Legacy–that of a game that evolves as you play it–appears to work exactly as intended.


Because my opponents wanted to start in China, and the rules disallow starting in a Territory with a sticker, I founded the city of Skruyu.

The Verdict

My policy is never to review a game until I have played it at least three times. In one sense I have fulfilled this obligation, having played Risk: Legacy thrice Sunday night. In another very real sense, though, I’ve only played a fifth of the game. With rules, cards, and pieces entering the game over the course of 15 plays, I still haven’t experienced everything it has to offer.

Given my previous statement, that I like Risk except for the player elimination and the long playing time, it stands to reason that I would enjoy a version of Risk that has neither. And I did, quite a bit. I remain unconvinced that my enthusiasm won’t wane before we reach game 15, though. An alternative peril, since the game is designed to be played by the same group week after week, is that I will want to play through to the end, but that one or more of my colleagues will eventually beg off.

Of course the “evolution” element is designed to address this, to goose the replayablity of what is at heart a pretty simple game. Whether it succeeds remains to be seen–we have another play session on the books for next Sunday, and I will report back after.

If I make it through game 15, what will I do with Risk: Legacy then? Maybe just toss it out; by that point the board will be covered with graffiti, the cards will have been defiled and destroyed, and, for all I know, I may be instructed to set fire to the box at some point. You might think that $50 for a game you’ll only play 15 times is a total rip-off, and many are making this very argument. But honestly, 15 plays ain’t bad for a game, especially one that can provide a unique experience. I don’t regret my purchase yet and, based on what I’ve seen so far, do not anticipate doing so.

You can find more information on Risk: Legacy on its Boardgamegeek entry, and even read a PDF of the rules online. Risk: Legacy is available on Amazon, Funagain, and elsewhere.

The Update

Rob Daviau, the designer of Risk: Legacy, responds via Twitter:


@ Thanks for the review; glad you are liking the game. The backstory took me at least 20 minutes, thank you very much.
@robdaviaugamer
robdaviaugamer


@ (Actually, game theming is deliberately vague to allow each group to fill in the history and details as they see fit.)
@robdaviaugamer
robdaviaugamer

Rob discusses his inspiration for the design in this NPR story.

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18 comments.

  1. I think $50 is cheap if you look at it in terms of playing with the minimum 3 players and making it to even 8 games. At that point you’re already down to about $2 per person per game.

    Try taking two friends to the movies 8 times and compare that cost.

    Do I want all my games to be disposable after 15 plays? No. But I’d play one now and then if it sounded like a worthwhile experience. My only real concern is the waste. Are the troops and board biodegradable by any chance?

  2. Do you think you’ll end up opening ALL the envelopes?

  3. This sounds spectacular. I can’t wait to try it! I love the idea of an evolving game.

  4. Sans the destruction of cards and irrevocable changing of game elements, it reminds me of American Mah Jongg, with a new card every year with new possible hands, to keep players from getting too good at building certain killer hands.

    The next step for this game is expansion content, to keep the surprises coming. Although logistically I imagine it would be tough accounting for all sets of end-game board/card states.

  5. if I could convince my two boys to play this one it might be worth the investment…thanks for the details

  6. […] the insanity that is Risk: Legacy. [via] Here’s the hook: as you play Risk: Legacy, the game changes. I don’t mean in the […]

  7. […] Defective Yeti […]

  8. Loved the game performed are first game last week. The perks of each race is interesting idea and the stickers are a bonus. Even losing and holding had its perks sometimes.

  9. Games 2-4. Man crazy how fast the game of legacy is getting in conflict and perks which are unlocked which help to this struggle. Played again with another group of people the 3rd game having three playes. More lengthy but with scar cards made for intersting with cities. We unlocked the emimination packet which releaseed some way cool items. The perks of beiong eliminated Makes losing or getting wiped out worthwhile. The foruth game again had four players, I unlocked the packet for signing bord for the second time. We played the fourth which was real quick in that we had card options. I now have three missles moving to our next game week and see what we unlock.

    The game itself is evolving and make every session unique in all things. The game itself is addicting. I do love the sticker options which permanantly mark the board. Like an experiament in proccess can not wait to try the missle out and see the resuilts!

  10. Games 5 & 6
    The first having three people playing. I had three nukes and faced off again against the same lady in central Mexico. I was able to conquer but having hot dice could not drive into Venezuela. I used three missles and results were just as a nuke should be, very destructive! I lost my force, but my nemises lost her force in Venezuela and the connecting territories. I was not able to follow up in conquest, in that while driving into South America (unnamed at this moment), my other oponents capital was able to be taken by her given her the victory. The nuke was great though, I unlocked the mutant faction now. Another result of this is that we also unlocked the minor city envelope. At this time we have the 30+missle envolpe and World capital placement envolope left.

    The next game had 5 players three of the previous and two others which were new to the game but vetran Risk players. I disagree that the same people are needed for the history, I have two groups I play with. The war progresses fills in the blanks of what has happened in the previus games and comments on the winners areas which have slogans. The game was fun, the mutants made an appearance they were interesting, but dump trucks? They have an appearance of a very mean faction, and from all the bonuses they could get who knows! We did unlock a power for mutants also so cant see which way the game goes next.

  11. The game does not have to be thrown out after 15 games,it just can no longer be altered after that. players can continue to play risk for as long as they want on a board that is completly unique to there group.

  12. Actually, after reading this, it seems to me that with the judicious use of wet or dry erase markers, some laminating film, and either velcro or magnetic tape, the game itself could be made to be…well, let’s say recyclable. Play it through, then when its run its course, things could be “reset” and a whole new world could emerge when the game is “reset”. Of course, this might require a little more bookkeeping to make sure of what goes where by the time of the end game, but might just be worth it to extend the lifespan of this particular game mode. Just a thought…

  13. I would never erase my board, it would be like deleting vacation photos.

  14. Guys you’re playing the game wrong no one starts with two red stars…ever! Reread the rules it doesn’t say you start with two it says you start with A red star unless you have won once and then you do not start with one. So your games are much shorter than they should and while that is fine and it doesn’t have a ton of impact it makes a huge difference as far as opening packets by eliminating players. If you only need two to win then you’ll rarely eliminate another player and there is no need to beat another player to death. Plus you’re not fulfilling the spirit of the game.

  15. Advice play with smart players who won’t screw up the board additionally so much is lost by switching players because new players won’t get continent advantages, faction player advantages etc. It benefits you to keep with the same because if you switch too much you may not have home continents, a player who won three times or even a global overall winner to name the world. Please please please stay with the same players!

  16. I am laminating the stickers, or anything that permanently change the board won’t be done. I’ll just keep a record of how it is setup each game. use tacky puddy stuff to keep the laminated stickers on the board. No way am I just going to leave the board permanently changed

  17. I just bought the game and am really looking forward to playing. I thought it may be fun to mention my group because it goes with some of the other posts. We are five all together and three of us just want to play, including myself. I don’t sleeve cards or try and keep anything fancy but I do respect every game I have and keep them all in very workable condition. The other two people in my group, the sleeve needing ones have not stopped texting ideas about how to not mark up the board and how to save the cards. They are both crushed at the mention of removing any game piece or card and the game has not yet arrived. Now this is slightly sick but fifty dollars is a really small price to pay when we get to mark the board up for the first time and watch our so called adult friends hold back tears over a board game. I am even planning on bringing out the paper shredder for the first cards I get/have to destroy. Risk Legacy – about $50.00 Torturing you friends you have had in the same gaming group for over twenty years – Priceless.

  18. Take the tray out of the box for a surprise underneath

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