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Review: Game of Thrones RISK

Wesley Arscott

Hey there Toy Fans!

Wes here for another edition of the Director's Chair where today I'm going to talk about the Game of Thrones edition of RISK from Hasbro.

Before we get started, let me get this out of the way right now. My strategy game of choice is and always has been Axis and Allies. I have played every version of it since 1990. In fact, my default go to military strategy game is the combined game of both Axis and Allies Europe 1940 and Axis and Allies Pacific 1940.

So, everything I can and will say about the Game of Thrones edition of RISK comes with the aforementioned slight. It's not that I don't like RISK.....I have absolutely HATED it! In fact, for the past 17 years I've referred to RISK as the "Axis and Allies for idiots." The game pieces are ugly (How those geometric shapes equated to armies was baffling) and I can't fathom why the game even uses a  real world map when there's absolutely no geo-political structure when it comes to the placing of your armies!!!!

Now those of you die-hard RISK fans and even the casual RISK player might say; "but RISK isn't like that anymore, the game has changed a lot since then". And while that's true, my conception  of  RISK (based on 2 complete play-throughs) has been so terrible that it's taken me this long to give it another chance. 

And that brings me to the subject at hand (of the King...see what I did there?!?!).

Game of Thrones RISK IS the traditional RISK game you love (hate?)...but it's not.

Out of the box you get not one but two full size game boards. One representing everythng south of "The Wall" on the continent of Westeros. The second; the continent of Essos. Both Maps are divided into several colour coded territories. Each Territory has a corresponding territory card that we'll look closer at later. The Westeros maps colour coding denotes the noble house's traditional familial homelands while the Essos maps regions are representative of the slaver cities. But this is RISK and like it's ancient Parker Brothers ancestor, the borders have absolutely no bearing on initial army placement.

You also get some pretty nifty army pieces to represent all the noble houses of Westeros and the Ghiscari slavers of Essos. All factions use the same single army piece mold while the "three" army pieces are represented by very nicely molded busts of the noble house sigils. There's House Martell's spear and sun, House Targaryen's Dragon head, House Stark's Wolf head, House Baratheon's Stag Head, House Lannister's Lion bust, House Tyrell's Rose sigil and lastly a stylized version of the Meereen Harpy to represent the Ghiscari; the loose affiliation of slavers on Essos. As you can see there is also a fortress piece. In game this piece represents what is called the "seat of power",  and as you might guess is placed on the central territory of each noble house (Dragonstone, Winterfell, etc.). It does come with one small perk though....three bonus armies on the territory where it is located!

Game of Thrones RISK can be played by as few as two players and as many as SEVEN! It can be played in one of two ways: First there is the two player Skirmish mode, this is as close to the original Game as it gets. This mode is meant for new players to get to know the basics of the game. It uses the Essos map with one player taking the side of house Targaryen while the other takes the side of the Ghiscari. In this mode, the seat of power is unused, and none of the game's "Game of Thrones" flavour components are used. You could quite literally play this on a map of medieval England or one of the moon and have exactly the same experience. 

This mode is stylized to be a loose representation of Daenerys Targaryan amassing her army in preparation of retaking the Iron Throne. In this mode Territory cards are dealt out to each player which are then traded in, in sets of three to purchase additional armies. Any territories not controlled by the Targaryan or Ghiscari player are occupied by "neutral armies". These amount to what is essentially "fodder" between you and your opponent. One unique addition to this version of the game is the "Valar Morghulis" card.

This card is randomly inserted into the lower portion of the territory deck and is a convenient way to end the game before either player loses interest or decides that they want to fling the board across the room in a moment of rage fueled frustration. Once the Valar Morghulis card is revealed the game stops and the winner is determined by their points tally. A number which is calculated based on the number of territories, castles and seaports each player owns.

Once you're familiar with the basic mechanics established in Skirmish mode (or you already have a solid understanding of the rules because you've been playing Axis and Allies for Idiots for years) you'll likely want to move on to the more in depth and nuanced Dominion rules set. In Dominion Mode you can play from three to five players. It's in Dominion mode where Game of Thrones RISK takes on its GOT flavour beyond just being played on a stylized Game of Thrones map.

In Dominion Mode the death of King Robert Baratheon has left a power vacuum in Westeros. Each player will assume the role of one of the noble house heads and then compete against the other players to consolidate their territories and shift the balance of power in their favour. And this is still just a fancy way of saying that you're going to play RISK on a GOT themed board. BUT....and there is a BIG BUT....you're going to do so with several GOT themed components that when you add them all together add up to what I would call a very satisfying GOT strategy game experience.

Major differences from Skirmish mode here include the addition of character and maester cards.

Each card offers some pretty cool tactical advantages, both offensively and defensively and the use of these cards can have a significant effect on your overall strategy. The best part of these cards is that they represent not only some of the political nuance seen on the show but also the more supernatural, fantastical elements as well.

Gold is another addition to Dominion Mode, and is used to purchase and activate character cards and maester cards. Additionally you use gold to purchase objective cards.

Unlike Skirmish mode which is won by the player with the most points based on the number of territories they own, Dominion mode adds the concept of Objective cards. Each objective completed offers between one and four victory points. The higher the victory point award, the more difficult the objective is to achieve. The winner is the first player to reach ten victory points.

And just as with Skirmish mode, Dominion Mode allows you to trade in sets of three territory cads to purchase additional army reinforcements but they also have another use. A more tactically advantageous use...

...and that is the purchase of "special units". You can trade in a singular territory card to obtain one special unit of the same type indicated on the bottom of the card. The three units are knights, siege engines, and fortifications.

These special units can provide "immediate" benefits when deployed in battle with your armies. Knights provide a perk of adding +1 to your highest roll (and you can deploy two of these for an overall +2 to your highest roll), while a siege engine allows you convert one of your dice from a six sided die to an eight sided die. Lastly a fortification allows the defender to change all of his dice from six sided to eight sided.

There is one other way to play GOT RISK and that is "World at War" mode. In World at War, both the Essos and Westeros boards are combined and you can use either Skirmish or Dominion rules. World at War can be played by groups of six or seven players only. It's staggeringly massive! 

It's true. Historically, I've been quite critical of RISK. Looking back it's not because it's a bad game, but because it wasn't great at historical military simulation. This version of RISK shares all of it's non-themed cousins shortfalls (at least where Skirmish rules are concerned). And if I'm being honest, I'm not one hundred percent convinced that it captures all the flavour of GOT that I thought it might. As of this writing I've only played Skirmish rules and Dominion rules once, and so far I haven't come accross any Maester cards that do justice to (or even represent) White Walkers, Winter Wolves, or dragons (Although blood magic was).

What you do get is a fairly well rounded representation of the GOT world that is familiar enough to be playable with a very shallow learning curve but is nuanced enough by its inclusion of special cards to have a lot of replay value. The character card abilities are varied enough that each house feels special, and maester cards can lend very powerful benefits that change the course of a game in a single turn.

Overall, I like Game of Thrones RISK and I think that fans of the HBO drama It's based on (all the imagery on the character cards is from the series) will enjoy it too. If nothing else it's cool to see the names of places only mentioned in passing on the series. It will definitely deepen your understanding of the distances characters have traveled over the course of the show.

Game of Thrones RISK gets 6.5 Unsullied out of 10 

Until next time...

...That's a wrap!

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