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Star Wars Risk is pretty good, also not Risk

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Earlier this month toy and game maker Hasbro launched an entire fleet of new Star Wars themed toys. The sustained onslaught of product releases, launched over an unrelenting 18-hour livestream, left many weary. The low point for me, personally, came with the announcement of a new version of the classic board game Risk. Why? Because I love Risk, and I also love Star Wars. To see either franchise brought low by a bad game would have been... unnerving, an ill omen on the eve of the modern theatrical reboot.

So I reached out to Hasbro for a copy to see if, after 56 years and numerous, fleeting iterations, Risk: Star Wars Edition could stand up against its table top forbears.

And, well, it's actually pretty good. Only problem is, this isn't Risk. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

If there's one strike against the classic Risk, in the grand pantheon of board gaming, it's that it takes too damn long to play. Recent incarnations have sought to move things along a bit. For instance, the experimental Risk Black Ops, which saw its better rules modifications rolled into the most recent retail version of the base game, introduced discrete goals. Control Europe after capturing an enemy capital? Game over, please move on with your evening.

Star Wars Risk takes this quest for expedience in a slightly different direction by introducing what can best be described as countdown timers.

The game is set around the climactic battle at the end of Return of the Jedi

The game is set around the climactic battle at the end of Return of the Jedi, and over the course of play two-to-four players fight not one but three different battles. At the center of it all is the epic confrontation between the Rebel and the Imperial fleets. The Rebellion wins outright by destroying the second Death Star, while the Empire wins by destroying the Rebel fleet.

Meanwhile, there are two other battles taking place along two sideboards. Both are somewhat inevitable in their conclusion, but depending on how things go with the dice neither is guaranteed to occur before the game is over. And their fallout has implications for the central space battle.

Of course, each sideboard is cleverly shaped so that the entire assemblage looks like Darth Vader's TIE fighter. It's gaudy, I know, but it works.

The left wing (solar panel?) of the TIE fighter finds Luke Skywalker battling the evil Emperor Palpatine, trying to redeem Darth Vader before he dies. On the right wing of the TIE fighter a team of Rebel commandos is assaulting the shield generator on the moon of Endor. On the left, either Skywalker or Vader will die. On the right, a whole company of Stormtroopers are going to get murdered as the over-powered Ewoks reap their cuddly vengeance.

But the central space battle is greatly affected by how each of these secondary battles play out. Should Vader be redeemed, Rebel forces get a significant bonus to their attack. Likewise, should the Empire strike Skywalker down they will have the advantage. Meanwhile, the only way to destroy the Death Star is by bringing down its shields, so the commando mission must succeed or all hope is lost in orbit.

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The three battles play out simultaneously, with players at the table alternating play by using cards from their hands to influence each battle as they see fit.

With their first move the Empire may lash out with Force Lightning to damage Skywalker, while the Rebellion could counter in turn with an assault on a wing of TIE fighters in the central space battle. Next, the Empire could reinforce Endor with a team of Stormtroopers, while the Rebellion makes an attempt to wound Vader. It's all very dramatic and, dare I say, brisk for a game of Risk.

There's just one problem: Very little of this has anything to do with the classic game of Risk.

For instance, each of the Rebellion's three assault ships — X-Wings, Y-Wings and B-Wings — has different stats. Similarly do the Millennium Falcon and the Empire's Executor capital ship. This changes the game from the simple wargame that is the classic Risk into a light miniatures game.

And that's kinda awesome. Especially for the Rebel player, who must carefully consider where they position their forces to make best use of the different types of units at their disposal. Meanwhile, the Empire gets to blast away at them with a fully operational Death Star, annihilating huge sections of the Rebel fleet at will.

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As a nod to the game's roots in more niche miniatures gaming, there's even a version of with proper plastic miniatures for the Falcon, Death Star and Executor. Though when it's being released and in what quantities is anyone's guess. My hunch is that Hasbro is waiting to see how the basic version of the game sells before committing to a print run.

So, my recommendation is if you are in possession of a child 10 years or older, or perhaps a friend or three with a penchant for trying new board games, pick up a copy of Risk: Star Wars Edition. For less than $30 you get an impressive looking product that plays well and goes nicely with a viewing of the classic trilogy.

But if you're a fan of Risk, don't let the name on the box fool you. Inside is a different game entirely — and one that stands on its own as a great experience.

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