My New Game: Star Wars Risk - Black Series
Welcome to the first installment of "My New Game" where I give my off the cuff impressions after playing a new game for the first time. These shouldn't be considered full reviews but quick first impressions to give you an idea about whether or not you will have fun with the game in question.
Star Wars: Risk has absolutely nothing to do with Risk as you know it. About the only things the two games have in common is that they require rolling dice and take place on a board divided into sections. I'm a fan of Risk and my wife is a mega-fan of Risk in all it's flavors which certainly helped me convince her to buy this game with me. That said, a more appropriate title for this game would be something like Star Wars: Battle for Endor or something similar. This is a Star Wars board game first, the Risk label is purely branding and marketing and not reflective of the mechanics.
I point this out in case you were primarily interested in the game as a fan of Risk. So throw everything you know about Risk out the window and approach this game with a fresh mind. What have we got here?
The game covers the final scenes of Return of the Jedi, with mechanical representations of all 3 of the major conflicts occurring at the climax of the original trilogy. The main conflict is the battle between fleets in orbit around the fully operational 2nd Death Star. The two other conflicts are Han's strike team on Endor trying to disable the shield generator around the Death Star and the one on one battle between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.
Each player has to manage all three of these conflicts, balancing their attention between them. Every round the Rebel and Empire player choose 3 order cards from their hand of 6 to command their forces. Since only 3 orders are issued per turn, which conflict to engage with how much and when seems to be the prime strategic consideration.
The ultimate goal for the rebel player is to destroy the Death Star at the center of the board. In order to do this, they first must win the ground battle and disable the shield generator. The Death Star is invulnerable to fire from the rebel's ships until those shields are down. The Imperial player can spend their time trying to slow the ground assault by throwing storm troopers at the situation or push harder on the fleet so it doesn't matter as much if the shields go down. Or they can ignore those battles entirely and focus on trying to kill Luke, which will force the rebel to use orders to combat Vader rather than push the ground assault.
After my first game I found the design of the board to be somewhat misleading. All 3 battles are important to the outcome of the game, so why is over 2/3rds of the board taken up by the space battle? In fact, given how important the ground assault is to winning the game it's disappointing that they opted to keep that part of the battle as a single linear track on the side. There are storm trooper minis provided but no pieces for Han or the rebel strike team beyond a cardboard token. The ground assault mechanically ends up amounting to nothing more than hoping for rolls over a certain number which becomes progressively higher as they approach the shield. The best the imperial player can do is make that number 1 higher by placing a storm trooper in the rebel's path.
The battle between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is similar dice flailing and hoping for luck. Each order used to command one of the two duelists lets them roll 4 dice and on a 4, 5, or 6 result they deal a wound to their opponent. Like the Endor ground assault, this part feels like it could have been fleshed out with more tactical considerations and is lacking compared to the space combat. Luck isn't the only factor, I enjoy the strategic consideration of where to spend your three orders - I just wish there were more influence possible on the outcome of those orders. Perhaps this luck factor in execution is where the DNA of this game intertwines with Risk the most.
Ironically the part of the game that looks like traditional risk has a huge diverging factor from the original. In all variants of Risk that I have ever played two people roll a set of dice. The attacker rolls and the defender rolls and then these numbers are compared with the defender winning ties. As far as I'm aware that single mechanic is the backbone of Risk and it is not to be found here. The space game itself has the best tactical part of the game however. You cannot move into a sector with enemy ship types which lended a strong feeling of forming a blockade to playing as the Imperial TIEs. Once the shields were down it still took a few rounds for the Rebel's to punch through and take out the Death Star.
So is the strategy particularly deep? No, not really. Does it play like a game of Risk across the Star Wars galaxy? Nope. What it does give you is a casual strategy game that you can play out in less than an hour for two people. I can see pulling this off the shelf when I'm in the mood for something less intense and less time consuming than Dead of Winter or the Game of Thrones Strategy Game. It would be a great game to play with kids who are Star Wars fans too. It's perfectly on level for a 10 year old to have a blast with or older Star Wars fans looking for a quick and simple strategy game. If you want something with a lot of depth and replayability then you should look elsewhere.