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RISK: BLACK OPS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

Parker Brothers/Hasbro Games, 2-6 players, ages 12 and up, about 90 minutes; $22.99

What do you do when you want to take one of the classics of American games – one of the pillars of the Parker Brothers game line for that matter –  and, for want of a better term, “modernize it”? You do what the people at Parker/Hasbro have done: re-theme it, add a few twists and give it a “makeover”. The result is Risk: Black Ops. (This review is based on an advance copy of the game and the photos below are of the silver/black advance copy. So, while this game in its mass market format scheduled to appear this fall will look a bit different, the game play, as detailed below, will remain the same.)

Risk: Black Ops, as designed by Rob Daviau, shares many attributes with its predecessor. The board is still a map of the world with 42 territories to conquer. Dice are still the deciders in combat and army bonuses await those who conquer entire continents. Players still command armies of cubes and oblong pieces (perhaps a homage to the 60s edition of the game as the pieces are very similar) and can turn in cards for more armies (although stars have replaced the traditional horseman/soldier/cannon silhouettes). Turn order remains standard: draft troops, attack and maneuver. So, what’s the difference?

Actually, several differences appear in this edition to give the game a different feel while maintaining the same character that has made the game a favorite for so long. For example, capitals and cities now play a role.

At game start, each player will place a capital in any of his territories. Capitals have no military effect but are important in meeting victory conditions. Cities are placed in specified territories around the world. Armies controlling those territories control those cities too. Controlled cities are counted along with controlled territories in figuring out how many armies you can draft each turn. Controlled cities are also useful in achieving some objectives and it is objectives, rather than world domination, that is the focus of Risk: Black Ops.

Twelve objectives are possible but only 8 of them will be in play in any single game, four each of major and minor objectives. Major objectives include control 2 enemy capitals, control 18 territories, control 2 complete continents, take over an entire continent in 1 turn, take over 10 territories in 1 turn and control 11 cities. Minor objectives includes control Europe, control 1 enemy capital, control North America, control 8 cities, control Asia and take over 4 cities in 1 turn. Should a player meet any of these objectives after an attack, he claims that card. (Should a player manage to meet TWO or more objectives in one turn, he must choose which ONE he will take.) 

In addition, claiming an objective gives you a “reward”. There are major and minor rewards randomly assigned to the major and minor objectives, respectively. The four major rewards are defensive die (allowing the roll of an extra die in defense), attack die (another die for offense), two troops (adding two more armies when drafting forces) and “airfield” (allowing you to place an airfield token in any of your territories to increase your offensive and defensive capabilities in that and adjacent territories). Minor rewards include another airfield, a “guarantee card” (you are guaranteed to receive a card no matter what you do on your turn), starting maneuver (you can move troops BEFORE your first attack) and additional maneuver (another movement of troops allowed in a turn). These rewards are only available to the player first achieving the objective. Once an objective is claimed, that objective belongs to that player and no other player may lay claim to it. (Should a player be eliminated from play and be in possession of one or more objectives, the player eliminating him gets those objectives but NOT any rewards originally coming with them.)

The first player to successfully claim three of ANY of the eight objectives in play (major and/or minor) AND still control his own capital wins!

The use of objectives and objective cards adds a “Euro” style element to this venerable game. (Just take a look at Antike, for example, featured in the Winter 2006 GA REPORT, to see an example of meeting objectives/achievements in order to win.) As objectives are claimed, those remaining become more hotly contested, adding another aspect to play. With rewards randomly associated with the objectives, the relative attractiveness of certain objectives can change from game to game (although you can argue that the minor rewards are just as good – and sometimes better – than the majors). As mentioned, stars on the cards replace the silhouettes. Since the number of stars is the determinant of how many armies you can get for cards (as opposed to sets of silhouettes) and some cards have two stars, it is easier to recruit more armies.  Another benefit is by making the meeting of three objectives (objectives that can change from game to game) the goal rather than complete world domination, playing time is cut to a more manageable level. (The other side of the coin here, however, is that it can be a bit too easy for someone to snatch up three objectives in TOO short a time. Players should be aware of this danger and strategize accordingly.)

Risk: Black Ops has taken on the unenviable task of taking a beloved and extremely successful game and giving it a fresh appeal. But the challenge has been met. This is neither a hard core wargame nor a Euro variant of the original. The basic combat dice-fest remains the same but with the additions of cities, capitals, major and minor objectives, the game undergoes a transformation which, coupled with the Black Ops title, gives a modern 21st century ambiance to play. Risk: Black Ops offers something new while remaining true to its roots with a new incarnation to entice new players and surely please the legion of Risk fans. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  Herb Levy


 

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