Wargaming has historically been a niche market, as most war games tend to be long on detail and not suited for those short on attention spans. One game transcended the genre, becoming a popular and nearly iconic board game: Risk, by Parker Brothers.
Like the Statue of Liberty and French maids, Risk was a gift from France. The game was originally entitled, “La Conquête du Monde,” and was invented by Albert Lamorisse, a French playwright and director who had won the 1956 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his short film, “The Red Balloon,” as well as the 1956 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Lamorisse was a creative force, and his movies were masterpieces of elegant simplicity that were filled with metaphors and as layered as an onion. It is no surprise that La Conquête du Monde was a similar effort. The game that became Risk was and is a work of irony, and designed to show players what kind of person it takes to rule the world through war: an iron fist to destroy resistance, a subtle tongue to convince others to ally against common enemies, and an amoral capacity to betray any ally or friend to win the field. Machiavelli and Bismarck would have done well.
Lamorisse entered into an agreement with Miro, a French publishing company, which distributed the La Conquête du Monde in 1957, with a few minor revisions. The game caught the attention of Parker Brothers, who negotiated the North American publishing rights with Miro, and brought Risk to the American audience in 1959, adding the cards to improve game play, as well as using wooden cubes for the army tokens. As for Lamorisse, the filmmaker did not attempt a repeat of his efforts, and returned to his filmmaking roots, to which he remained devoted until his untimely death in a helicopter accident during a movie shoot at the young age of 48.
Game play in Risk is quite straightforward. First, each player receives his or her share of army tokens. The amount depends on how many players there are: 40 armies each for 2 players; 35 armies each for 3 players; 30 armies each for 4 players; 25 armies each for 5 players; and 20 armies each for 6 players. The game board is then set up by players taking turns placing an army unit on an empty territory until every territory is occupied. At that point players add their remaining armies to whichever territories they own (taking turns doing so). With the game board filled, the actual game begins.
Players make alliances (or not) and begin their quest to conquer the world by attacking a rival player’s territory. The outcome depends on the roll of the dice: the attacker uses up to three red dice (one for each army being used in the attack); the defender uses up to two white dice (one for each army committed for defence). The highest roll wins the field (ties go to the defender). The attacker’s highest die roll is compared to the defender’s highest die roll, and the lower die loses an army. This process is repeated with the second die, which means that the result is either up to 2 armies lost for either the attacker or defender, or one lost for each. If the defender loses all their territory’s occupying armies, the attacker can move their units forward into it.
The game would be over fairly quickly if that was all there was to playing Risk. Armies are constantly replenished in one of two ways: either from a natural growth based on how many territories they occupy or by collecting and redeeming Risk cards, which are a set of 44 cards, one for each territory and two “wild” cards. Each one has a symbol for artillery or cavalry or infantry, and can be traded in for more army units. To do so the player must either collect three cards with all the same symbol, or one of each symbol. (Each player can never have more than 5 cards; if they do, they must turn in a set at the end of their turn.) Every time a player conquers a territory, they collect a Risk card, which means that to the victor truly go the spoils.
There have been many variations of Risk through the years. The first North American release in 1959 included coloured wooden cubes for armies, but by the 1975 version, these had become plastic. The 1993 edition included plastic miniatures of infantry, cavalry, and artillery rather than geometric shapes, only to come full circle and return to wooden pieces with the “nostalgia” game series of 2003 and the “Continental” version (a reproduction of the 1959 version) in 2009. Risk can be found in different settings, such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy Edition (2003), Star Wars Original Trilogy (2006), or the Risk: Transformers (2007) editions, although gameplay remains the same throughout each.
Risk has also evolved with new rules or game maps. Risk / Castle Risk was a set produced in 1992 and introduced new game elements and strategies for winning, as well as a completely different game board. Risk 2210 A.D. introduced time limits, a rudimentary economic system, further game board changes, and special powers for certain units. Risk: Balance of Power (2008) centered the game map on Europe and is limited to only two players. Finally, Risk: Revised Edition (2008) introduced objectives, new victory conditions, and game pieces. Much like what has happened to Monopoly, there’s a version of Risk out there for everyone.
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1980’s television commercial for Parker Brothers Risk