Risk: Legacy Review


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Posted by Kyle on Nov 12, 2015

It’s pretty much universally acknowledged that Risk Legacy contains an awesome idea. You play Risk, but the players have the power to change the map, factions, and rules with every play, with implications that echo down every session played on that particular board. Except the small minority of gamers who still tremble at the thought of physically marking up a game or actually ripping up and throwing away components, everyone’s on board with the Legacy concept. The thought of a game that evolves and injects twists and turns throughout the course of a running campaign, with the upshot of creating an entirely unique experience at the end of the thing, is tantalizing.

Still, I encounter gamers who seem to admire Legacy in spite of the Risk system. I disagree in that I think Legacy isn’t hamstrung by the underlying mechanisms, but actually recognizes what is great about the original and renders those elements more appealing than ever. What makes Risk Legacy really special is the metagame that’s introduced through the persistent changes and ongoing story, a metagame that eliminates all the niggling issues Risk has struggled with through its countless revisions. It’s Risk reimagined, and it retains everything that’s great about the classic dudes on a map experience while eradicating all traces of its aging design.

See, there’s this small but vocal group of gamers who infest every corner of the internet, claiming that Risk is a terrible game design. They point at the combat that uses--get this--dice! The horror, I know. They point at sessions lasting long into the hours of the night, and--alright, they have a point there. But what they fail to see is that this is only an issue because of the endgame conditions, thought up in a time when fewer distractions were fighting for people’s attention during leisure time. When you have to eliminate every player for victory, you’d better bring some reading material, because you’re all going to be in it for the long haul. Take away the implausible victory goals, and suddenly the game becomes vicious, with every move taking on more weight and meaning.

And this is exactly what happens in Risk Legacy: we see that dice combat was never the problem with Risk, that the system itself is a very solid engine. Again, I don’t think Risk Legacy is a good game in spite of the Risk underpinnings, but in part because of them. Legacy amplifies all the awesome moments of playing the game you remember from your youth, but it cuts out all the fat. Suddenly every decision has strings attached, far-reaching consequences that could mean your eventual demise in the overall campaign. Sessions are short, starting at about 45 minutes and eventually stretching to maybe 2 hours depending on which packets your group decides to trigger.

What’s more, there is no such thing as a faction that’s totally out of a session of Risk Legacy. The unlockable goals and ever-changing board give every player something to shoot for, even if one or two sides get knocked out of contention for winning the current match. Too far behind to win? Try to trigger a packet that could give you a leg up on the other players, or shore up your favorite continent for the next game. Since the metagame is baked into the system, there’s always a sense of purpose in the proceedings, and no one’s ever a lame duck just running out the clock. Legacy really is a reclaiming of everything Risk should stand for, a purification of the system into what it should have been in the first place.

But here lies the heart of what makes Legacy games so cool: your group will have a totally unique game. I still hear gamers whining about having to cut up cards and deface the game board, and these people totally miss the point. During the design process, you don’t get to add something into a board game without cutting something else out. In choosing one faction power over another, you are taking part in the creative process together, as a group. That a component has to be destroyed is irrelevant, as one thing had to die for another awesome thing to take root. As much as your group is willing to invest in the Legacy idea is as much as you are going to get out of the game.

Our group went above and beyond with the Legacy process, scribbling all over the board. Phrases like “Here began the Great War of Session 3” and “Here was the Last Stand of Kyle’s Army” adorn our board. We even wrote an agreed-upon house rule on top of the Pacific Ocean: should any player roll natural triple 6’s, one particular packet would be opened. This house rule floated ominously on the side of the board for session after session, until finally it happened. I don’t remember who rolled the magic numbers, but I do remember the table erupting in cheers and groans alike. Everyone else at the game shop thought we were off our rockers. Moments like these just aren’t possible in light, one-off game sessions. They take investment by the players to come alive.

So the greatest strength of Risk Legacy is also a weakness in a way. I constantly see Risk Legacy recommended as the best version of Risk, and I’m not entirely sure that it is. If you want a fun version of the system to pull out at holidays or to play on occasion with some friends, this isn’t it. Revised Risk, the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars Original Trilogy brands, and 2210 AD are all great for filling that particular niche. Legacy just isn’t going to fly if you don’t have a group that can sign a pact in blood (ink works too) to finish all 15 games together.

>But if you have a willing group, you must play Risk Legacy. It’s not so much a game as it is an experience, a journey where every session raises the stakes and draws everyone that much further into its world. Best of all, the world is not some ham-fisted narrative a board game designer is shoving down your throat, but it’s a tale you and your friends weave together. Risk has truly been reborn, and it is glorious.