5 Board Games Like Risk
Risk has been a stable board game since before most board gamers knew what tabletop gaming actually was. Designed by a French filmmaker, Albert Lamorisse, in 1957, Risk is a game that has become a cultural phenomenon. It is one of the games that families will often bring out at Christmas or hold in their gaming closet for a rainy day. It is often put into that same category of classic board game as Scrabble, Monopoly, Boggle, and Cluedo (or Clue).
Of course, over the past 60 years, Risk has become more and more popular. There are now a whole host of licensed versions of Risk, ranging from Napoleonic Warfare to The Walking Dead, Lord of the Rings to a legacy version of the game bringing it back into the limelight in 2011.
As a game, from a more technical perspective, Risk encourages a few core mechanics. It is one of the games that helped refine the Area Control and Area Movement mechanics in gaming. Like all earlier family games seem to, it includes Dice Rolling. Then it also encourages Set Collecting with different territories, Player Partnerships and Player Elimination.
Those are a fair group of mechanics that are similar to a whole host of other games. Over time they have been developed on and developed on to create games that are masterful in their own way. In much of the same way that Risk helped start that refinement, there are games that have helped finish it.
In this article we are going to look at some of those games, how they have been inspired by Risk, and how they took Risk to the next level. Here are five board games like Risk.
In this article, the five games like Risk that we will be looking at are:
- Rising Sun
- Battle for Rokugan
- Twilight Imperium
Board Games like Risk
Kicking off this list of board games like Risk we start with the most recent game on this list. Rising Sun, by Eric M. Lang, is an area control game based in Feudal Japan. Unlike in Risk, where you have an entire world map, Rising Sun only has eight territories. That is because, unlike Risk, Rising Sun focuses on building forces and waging war in a more focused way.
Rising Sun is, what can be considered, a more detail based area control game. It looks at everything under a microscope, so you are not just looking at creating the biggest force. Instead you can get upgrades, blessings, and have the forces of great monsters on your side.
Rising Sun is a medium strategy game, being considered of medium difficulty to get to grips with. It has a selection of absolutely stunning miniatures, as well as incredible artwork to really help bring the game to life. The game is deeply rooted in mythology, but also has a serious side to it.
What Rising Sun has done is take Risk, as well as everything else over the past 60 years of area control games, and make something truly unique to Rising Sun.
One thing Risk, as a game, has always seemed to lack is atmosphere. It is an area control game with a war theme (most area control games have a war theme to be honest) but not a lot else tying it to the era. Instead, it uses set collection as a basis for the combat of the game. Rising Sun, on the other hand, does not use set collecting as a mechanic, but it does add atmosphere in abundance. It feels like you are controlling a clan in Feudal Japan far better than it ever felt like playing a Napoleonic force in Risk. That is what really sets it apart as a game similar to Risk, but very different.
There are two types of board gamers in this world – those who have played Scythe (by Jamie Stegmaier) and think it’s great, and those who are yet to play Scythe.
Okay, that may not be an accurate statement, but playing Scythe it is easy to see, even if you don’t like the game personally, why so many people respect it as a piece of board game history.
Ranked within the Top 10 board games of all time on BGG, the Board Game Geek digital database of board games, it is possible to see how several of same mechanics utilised by Risk have been adapted and modified. It is an area control game once again, however, Scythe is played on a hexagonal grid.
Unlike Risk however, Scythe is not a game focused on dice rolling and set collecting. Instead, Scythe uses a mechanic called “resource management”, in which players need to find and collect resources to build what they need to win the game. Warfare is not determined by the roll of a dice, but instead it is a determined by the size of the units at play, combat cards, and force built up by that faction.
All of the games on this list, bar one, are asymmetrical, meaning that each faction plays slightly differently. This was never the case with Risk, however, it is now a fairly common mechanic in area control games. In the Scythe base set, there are 5 factions to choose from. Each one plays differently – the Nordic Kingdoms, the Polania Republic, the Crimean Khanate, the Saxony Empire, and the Rusviet Union.
Set in a fictitious Eastern Europe, Scythe is one of my all time favourite games. It is very well put together. Resource management and area control truly go hand in hand, making it superb every time it is played.
Back on the mythology front, Cyclades is an area control game; however, it is set on a completely different style of world map. Instead of being an accurate representation of the world, Cyclades is a game in which the map is just a small section of the planet, focused entirely on the Cyclades Islands in Greece. It is the only non-asymmetrical game on this list (unless you count Risk as kind of being on this list); however, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
In Cyclades, the players all take part as Greek factions, each visually different in their own way. The goal is to become the most developed, and to do so, each faction must build two metropolises. The first faction to build two, and hold them until the end of a turn, is the winner.
Cyclades is a clever game, involving player bidding, money management, and optimising each turn as much as possible. It includes building ground troops, gaining naval vessels, and even hiring mythical creatures to help you conquer and maintain the Cyclades Islands.
What makes Cyclades fun and different, not just from Risk but from a lot of other area control games, is that it is a bidding game as well. Players need to bid on the actions they want to take that turn. Once they have then the round plays out in a slick and smooth way.
Cyclades is designed by Bruno Cathala, who is, in my opinion, one of the all time great board game designers. He is the name behind games like 7 Wonders, Abyss, and Five Tribes.
Battle for Rokugan
I’ve covered Battle for Rokugan on this blog a lot over the past week, including as both a review and an analysis, and there is a reason for that. Battle for Rokugan (designed by Molly Glover and Tom Jolly, and distributed by Fantasy Flight) is the second game on this list set in Feudal Japan, but this time in a mythology of its own. It is based in the same world as the Legend of Five Rings.
Visually speaking, this is the game most like Risk on this list. It has a large number of provinces on the map (30 in total) and is about the passing of troops throughout those provinces to take control of as much area as possible. That being said, it only takes 45 mins to 1hr 30 to play, making it substantially shorter than Risk, so where does it differ?
Leaving aside the obvious, that they are completely different games, there are a couple of things that massively differ Battle for Rokugan from Risk and the other area control games on this list. The first is that every turn the players start with the same amount of resource, no matter who they are. Each player has six combat tokens, drafted randomly but from similar pools, and they must place five down each turn. The tokens range from being army, navy, or shinobi units. They they can also be raids, blessings, and diplomacy. Each has its own abilities.
The tokens are in different proportions in the pools, with more army units than navy, and more navy than shinobi etc. The game is asymmetrical, so each player has slightly different skills and ever so slightly different tokens.
The players then take it in turns placing their tokens face down, resolving them simultaneously, before working out what the results of those combat tokens are. At the end of the round, once everything is resolved, the players remove all tokens, discard them, and draw again from the pool.
It is because of the simple rule set that Battle for Rokugan stands out as an area control game, making it easy to pick up and addictive.
If there is one game that has taken the basic concept of Risk, the concept of the military conquest board game, and taken it to the extreme, then that game is Twilight Imperium.
Twilight Imperium is an epic game, set in space, in which you take control of one race out of a large selection of races to try and complete as many objectives as possible. To gain resources and complete objectives you need planets, and to get planets you need to colonise them.
That being said, it isn’t that easy. Space is small, and there are five other players (okay, so it’s a 3-6 player game), so you are bound to cross them eventually. It is up to you, as the player, to decide if you want to be friends, strike allegiances, create trade agreements, design packs, or just wage all out war on your opponents.
I’m not even going to try and summarise Twilight Imperium here as it has a rule book that makes War and Peace look small. Our last game, which at time of posting was two days ago, took us 14 hours to play. Yes, you read that right, it took us 14 freaking hours. Twilight Imperium is a “play two or three times a year” game and is not for the faint of heart.
That being said, Twilight Imperium is mentioned on this list for one reason. Where Risk is arguably the first truly mainstream military based area control board game, Twilight Imperium is an example of what it looks like as a fully evolved beast. If Risk is the fledgling organism, crawling out of the primordial ooze, wondering what it could be – Twilight Imperium is the AI that organism created to rule the world once it had fully evolved through being a bipedal intelligent being and into a state of pure energy.
It is ridiculously complex, with so many rules; however, once you get the hang of it then it can be one of the most rewarding tabletop experiences you can have as a player.
Bigger. Brighter. Bolder – Beyond Risk
Of course, the games mentioned in this article are all examples of a certain type of game. They are all area control games, and this is the place they have all crossed over with Risk. It would be possible for me to say that Risk is a game about the Napoleonic War, so here are five games about the Napoleonic War (if I knew five Napoleonic War games). It would also be easy to say “here are five games like Risk – (1) Risk Legacy (2) The Walking Dead Risk (3) Castles Risk” etc.
That being said, I wanted to explore in this article not how Risk has evolved, but rather how its core mechanic, the one that defines it as a game, has evolved to a place today where Risk’s influence is well respected but where it has been built on to create something really new and awesome.
I’m not saying that Scythe, Twilight Imperium, Battle for Rokugan, Rising Sun, and Cyclades were directly inspired by Risk; however Risk is such an influential game that the odds are they were part inspired by something that was inspired by something that was inspired by something that may have been inspired by Risk. That is really cool.
So there we have it – this has only been a short list – however, please let me know your thoughts in the comments below. What games do you believe were inspired by Risk? What are your favourite area control mechanics? Let me know in the comments below.