Eleven Game Changers: Risk Legacy

We’ve reached the final post in my year-long series of Eleven Game Changers. For those of you just joining us, these are games that I think have impacted the hobby in significant ways, either mechanically, thematically, or just culturally. Today’s game, I think, was a revolution in all three of those ways, but first, here are the ten games we’ve touched on up to this point:

For today’s game, we first need to go back in time to 1959, and the publication of

image by BGG user splat0169

Risk was designed by Albert Lamorisse, and was first published by Parker Brothers. Lamorisse was an award-winning French film director whose 1956 film “The Red Balloon” won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It was originally called La Conquête du Monde, and was published in 1957. Parker Brothers bought it, modified it, and released it again in 1959 as Risk: The Continental Game. The game was quite successful, and was renamed to Risk: The Game of Global Domination in 1975. It was very popular, and became THE title most people thought of when asked to name a wargame (but don’t tell any wargamers I said that).

So, after many MANY iterations of the base game, 2011 saw the release of

image by BGG ScottB

Risk Legacy was designed by Rob Daviau and Chris Dupuis, and published by Hasbro. This was not Daviau’s first foray into the world of Risk – his involvement in revamped versions of the classic stretched all the way back to 2001, with Risk 2210 AD. In his time with Hasbro, he also worked on revamped versions of games like Stratego, Monopoly, The Game of Life, Battleship, and Clue. In fact, it was for Clue that he originally had the idea of a legacy style game. The idea there was that it was silly for all the same people to come back to the mansion again and again, killing the same person each time and not remembering that there was a murderer in their midst. Though Clue Legacy was rejected, the idea was later brought back for Risk.

The basic idea was simple – players sit down to play a game of Risk (albeit much shorter than an ACTUAL game of Risk). However, before that first game, everyone gets to customize their factions. This is done by choosing one of two starting powers, affixing the sticker with that power to your faction sheet, and destroying the card that holds the other power. This is not like in your typical game where players “destroy” cards by simply removing them from the game or putting them back in the box. No, when Risk Legacy says DESTROY, it means DESTROY – rip it up, throw it in the trash.

At the end of a game of Risk Legacy, which ends when a player has accumulated four Red Stars rather than when someone has wiped everyone else off the map, players mark their final status on their faction – won, held on, or eliminated. The winner of the game gets to sign the board, then also chooses one of the following: name a continent, name and found a major city, cancel a scar (these are stickers that come out during play that permanently change the board), change a continent bonus, fortify a city, or destroy a territory card. Not getting eliminated means you can name and found a minor city, or upgrade a card. Then, the next time you play, the game will be a little bit different.

One of the most novel things in the box, however, was a series of packages that could only be opened at certain points in the narrative – when the ninth minor city is founded, when a player is eliminated for the first time, when a person wins for the second time, when a certain mark is placed on the board, when three missiles are used in the same combat roll, and when one person who has at least one missile is about to place 30+ troops on the board. There’s also this one:

image by BGG user Nickmodaily

These packages added an extra dimension to the game in that they added new cards, new rules that would get permanently affixed to the rulebook, and probably some other new stuff that I don’t know about because I haven’t played it.

After fifteen games, the world of Risk Legacy is considered to be complete, and nothing else will change it. You are still welcome to play the game, which means you’re now able to play Risk in a world that is all your own.

image by BGG user PoisonApple

Campaign games were not new in the tabletop gaming world. However, Risk Legacy was the first game to try something as ambitious as giving people a consumable campaign, where the decisions made in one game would permanently effect all future decisions made in that game ever. There was no resetting and starting over – after the first game, you’re committed.

This format energized large parts of the community, but it also received its fair share of criticism. Many people complained about having a game that had limited replayability, that they didn’t want something that they’d have to throw out after fifteen games. There was also the complaint that you’d have to play with the same group every time to get the most out of it. These criticisms were met with responses that 15 plays is more than many games get, and that if you’re playing with the same people, you’ll learn each other’s styles and actually make each other better.

Criticisms aside, there’s no doubt that the introduction of the legacy game had an impact at the hobby at large. The second major legacy game, Pandemic Legacy, shot to number one on BGG within a few months of its release in 2015. Since then, we’ve had increasing numbers of them – SeaFall (2016), Pandemic Legacy Season 2 (2017), Charterstone (2017), Ultimate Werewolf Legacy (2018), The Rise of Queensdale (2018), Betrayal Legacy (2018), Machi Koro Legacy (2019), The King’s Dilemma (2019), Clank! Legacy (2019), Aeon’s End Legacy (2019), and others coming in the future, like the recently announced Vampire: The Masquerade – Heritage (2020).

Beyond the increasing waves of legacy games we’re seeing, Risk Legacy also opened up the doors to more narrative based games on the market. The whole Escape Room tabletop game genre probably wouldn’t exist without the legacy genre opening the doors. Also, we’re seeing the popularity of big immersive campaign games with some legacy elements like Gloomhaven, which overtook Pandemic Legacy as the #1 game at BGG. I think we’re really just beginning to see the impact that Risk Legacy has had on the hobby, and I think it’s an impact we’re going to see for years to come. And that makes it a Game Changer in my book.

So that wraps up the series. I know not everyone agrees with my choices for Game Changers, so let me throw out a few honorable mentions:

  • Chess: Probably the most well know board game out there.
  • Monopoly (1933): Like it or not, this game shaped the industry for years.
  • 1829 (1974): Francis Tresham’s legendary train game basically invented the 18xx series of games.
  • RoboRally (1994): Not really so much because of the game, but because it was the reason Magic: The Gathering exists.
  • Caylus (2005): Before this game came out, worker placement was a pretty fringe mechanism. Afterwards, it became the most prominent in the hobby.
  • 7 Wonders (2010): Just as Dominion didn’t invent deck building, 7 Wonders didn’t invent card drafting. However, it was the first to really build a game around the mechanism.

I still don’t know if I’ll be doing another series like this next year. But you’ll find out on January 11. Thanks for reading!

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