Sunday, June 28, 2015

Willful Defacement Under Jeffrican Skies - Risk Legacy

I'm not completely anal-retentive about the games in my collection.


I mean, sure, I like to sort out the components in an orderly fashion, and sometimes I will bag up sets of counters to make set-up a little faster, but it's not like I put sleeves on the cards or anything like that (although many do, and that is cool). It probably stems from a childhood spent seeing the game Mousetrap in the games closets of other families, recognizing it from the action packed commercials and asking to play it, only to be told, "oh, we lost some pieces so it doesn't really work any more." I never played Mousetrap until I bought a copy well after becoming a parent. And yes, we still have all the pieces for it.

Many of the friends I game with regularly are the same way, so you can probably imagine the discomfort we experienced playing Risk Legacy for the first time last night, a version of the classic wargame that demands you make permanent, unalterable decisions regarding the board and rules, write on it with a Sharpie, and destroy some of the cards to ensure they are never used. That's not to say we didn't enjoy the hell out of it though; it just never stopped feeling weird.


From our point of view, Risk Legacy was not just about taking over the world, but willfully engaging in behaviour which is frankly aberrant and disturbing to our cultural subset.


The game does not explicitly promote any sort of importance, significance or ceremony to the things you do in preparation for your first game, but overtones of it permeated the evening regardless. It's tough to avoid it when you have to break a physical seal with an ominous message just to get into the box.


Right out of the gate, after pulling the shrink wrap off the board, we were invited to sign the back of it, and acknowledge our responsibility for what was to follow. It wasn't like the Geneva Accords or anything, but it still felt at least a little momentous.

A survey of the components in the box reveals significant portions that you will not even use at that start; cards and pieces and even rules which will be revealed once certain conditions are met.

Unlike the abstracted armies of classic Risk, differentiated only by colour, Risk Legacy contains 5 unique factions, each with their own unique look and style.

By luck of the draw, I ended up with Imperial Balkania, resplendent in purple, and depicted as ceremonial guardsmen and tanks.


Earl's Die Mechaniker had scarlet soldiers and artillery pieces, Pete's Khan Industries were grey and had mecha, while Jeff's Enclave of the Bear had claw-wielding savages supported by armoured bear cavalry. These factions are derived from the updated place names of the Risk 2210 board. Each army also comes with a unique headquarters piece, instrumental in determining victory, and an alternative to driving all your opponents out of the game, which speeds things up immensely.


Before getting into play though, you need to choose one of two special rules for that faction from a sticker card, affix that rule to the faction's reference card and then destroy the other.

That's right: rip up, tear, burn, whatever, but there are no takesie-backsides with this decision. It really adds quite a bit of pressure to the choice, knowing it will affect every subsequent player who chooses that faction. Truth be told, ripping the cards in half in unison was surprisingly unsettling, given the reverence with which we usually treat our playthings.


You also need to select 12 territories and make them more valuable by affixing a coin sticker to the matching card; if you end up obtaining that card as a conqueror's reward (less randomly than regular Risk, but by no means a sure thing), it is worth more when you trade cards in for armies later in the game. We chose 2 apiece and then picked 4 at random, which ended up making Brazil worth 3.


Much of the board starts unoccupied, another departure from most Risk iterations, and each player starts with only 8 armies and their HQ. The first couple of turns are more of a race than a battle, as players try to secure their position while clamouring for the coveted continental bonus, or thwarting their rivals in that regard.


Each player started with a Scar card, which may be used to modify a battle but remains in play even into the next game, so North Africa now suffers from an Ammo Shortage (-1 to the Defender's highest roll) and Iceland is now buttressed by a bunker system (+1 to the Defender's highest roll). Later on, those scars might be overwritten, they have intrinsically altered this particular game board for the foreseeable future.

And this appears to be the guiding principle behind Risk Legacy: no two boards should ever be alike. With players empowered to modify the very board itself, the changes are far more than cosmetic, with far-reaching consequences we can't even understand yet, because there are so many rules and pieces yet to be discovered!

Every new player starts with a Red Star token, and wins by getting three more stars. You get one for each HQ you control, and can trade in 4 Resource (Territory) cards to get them as well.

In terms of our game, I overextended myself early on from Europe into Greenland and paid a price for it, and assumed the long term consequence would be Jeff's Enclave forces consolidating in North America with little opposition. Imagine my surprise when he instead continued to push from Greenland to Iceland to Great Britain, capturing my HQ! The Balkanian base traded hands a few times over the next few turns, but in the end, that is how he ended up winning. (Pro Tip: protect your HQ!)

As the victor, Jeff became the first of us to sign the board in order to commemorate his accomplishment, and to also secure further advantages in future games.


But wait, there's more! The winner also gets to choose from a variety of further board personalizations, including modifying a continental bonus by +/-1, placing and naming a major city, cancelling a scar or destroying a territory card. Jeff chose to name a continent (how cool is that?), something which can only be done five more times ever on this board, and yes, we will insist that all future players now refer to the continent encompassing Alaska, Alberta and Greenland as "Jeffrica".


As a type of consolation prize for not being eliminated from the game entirely, the rest of us losers had the choice of upgrading a territory card or placing and naming a minor city. The latter see edge far cooler, and prompted the founding of Boucherton in Easter Australia, Interzone in North Africa (hat tip to William S. Burroughs), and Stevograd in Russia.



The first 15 games will apparently all feature this sort of irrevocable denouement, so I can't wit to get a few more under my belt. Along the way we will unlock more secrets, fill in areas of the rule book currently left blank in anticipation (!), and add more rules to the faction cards (based on the coloured brackets above the initial special rule).

Some day, we may even have played enough games to warrant opening this mysterious package, covertly placed underneath the tray that holds all the components:


In the meantime though, it is no easier getting used to destroying elements of something so cool, and I have yet to throw away the detritus or the remaindered cards.

Ironically, I am not even that big a fan of the original Risk, as I find games that require the elimination of all other players are both overly long and socially exclusionary. All the subsequent editions of the game have addressed this shortcoming, and Risk Legacy can probably be completed in 45-90 minutes from here on out, which means more games in less time.


And that's great, because it is now my favourite iteration of Risk ever.


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