RISK: THE LORD OF THE RINGS

Reviewed by Herb Levy

RISK: THE LORD OF THE RINGS (Hasbro/Parker Brothers, 2-4 players, about 2 hours; $39.95)

 

Risk, the game of world conquest, is one of the premier games in the Parker Brothers (now Hasbro) line. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”, one of the most successful fantasy literature and film creations of all time, conquest of the world of Middle-earth is a focal point. With the renewed interest in Tolkien’s world, it seems natural that these two should meet. And they do in Risk: The Lord of the Rings.

Risk: The Lord of the Rings is a very attractive production. The deep box, adorned with film versions of several of the main characters of this fantasy trilogy, holds quality components which include a mounted mapboard of Middle-earth pretty enough to frame, four sets of molded plastic armies (also called “battalions”) representing the forces of Good (green and yellow) and Evil (red and black), sets of Territory and Adventure cards along with five six-sided dice and a rules booklet. And, of course, the game comes with a “golden” Ring!RiskLOTR

The mapboard shows Middle Earth divided into six regions. In addition, new wrinkles to play not present in the original Risk are found on the board including certain icons (called “Sites of Power”) which are prime locations for collecting points (although the rules don’t, let’s call them “Victory Points”) as well as completing Missions. There are also Strongholds (useful in defense) as well as a dotted path which the Fellowship must follow. The game ends when the Fellowship has completed its journey.

There are 42 Territory cards, one for each area on the board. These cards come in three types: 9 “Good Territory” cards, 9 “Evil Territory” cards and 24 “Neutral Territory” cards. Each Territory card also displays an image (archer, cavalry or creature). Two “wild” cards carry all three images.

To set up, the first player (representing the forces of Good) draws 5 Good Territories, followed by the second player (Evil) drawing 5 Evil Territories, then the third player (Good) takes the remaining Good Territories followed by the final player (Evil) taking the last group of Evil Territories. Each player begins with 30 armies each and a Leader. (Leaders are another addition to this variation.) He places ONE of his armies in each of his Territories. Once done, each player, in turn, places ONE army in ANY of the remaining territories. This goes on until each territory is occupied. Then, any remaining forces get placed, one at a time, until all armies are placed. Finally, each player puts their Leader into any territory he controls. Now, all the Territory cards and the two wild cards are shuffled and placed facedown to create a draw pile. In a four player game, two cards are dealt to each player.RiskLOTRb

Now the Adventure cards come into play. Adventure cards also come in three varieties: Missions, Events and Power cards. Mission cards, when drawn, are kept secret. Should your Leader arrive at the Site of Power shown on the card, certain rewards (e.g. extra troops, an extra Territory card etc.) are collected. Event cards must be played immediately. These are chance cards that may bode well (or ill). Power cards may be kept and played at your discretion as they offer offensive and/or defensive advantages. Played Power cards earn Victory Points too.

The Event cards are removed form that deck and three Adventure cards are dealt, face down, to each player. Now, the Event cards are placed back in the deck, shuffled and placed in a stack next to the board. The One Ring, symbolizing the Fellowship, begins on the dotted path beginning in the Shire. Now, play begins as high roller goes first.

Each turn consists of five different phases: Reinforcement, Combat, Redeployment, Drawing Cards and Moving the Fellowship.

At the start of each turn, a player gets reinforcements: one infantry piece for every three Territories under his control, a bonus (of from 2 to 7 armies) for controlling a region and additional reinforcements for turning in sets of Territory cards bearing a set of symbols (from 4 more reinforcements for a set of three infantry symbols to 10 more armies for a Infantry-Cavalry-Creature combination). You can not have more than 4 cards in your hand. If you have five, you MUST hand in three of them for reinforcements. (If any of the cards you are handing in shows a Territory you occupy, you get 2 more armies as a reward!)

A player may attack any Territory controlled by an enemy player bordering his own (or linked by a bridge or port) provided that he has at least 2 armies in his Territory. A difference here is that you can only attack with a MAXIMUM of 3 armies. Combat is similar to Risk. Roll a die for each attacking army; defend with either one or two dice (depending on how many armies are defending). However, if the attacker only rolls one die, the defender can only defend with one. The attacker’s high roll and the defender’s high roll are compared. High number defeats lower number resulting in one army of the player with the lower roll being removed from the board. The attacker may continue the attack, win or lose, as long as he has enough armies left. Should an attack eliminate the last defending army, the attacker must move at least as many armies as used in the last attack into the conquered Territory. At least one army must remain behind in the attacker’s province. Once all attacks are finished, the active player may move any number of armies through areas under his control.

Unlike regular Risk, players score Victory Points: 1 point for each occupied Territory, additional points for control of an entire Region, 2 points for each controlled Stronghold, bonus points for played Adventure Cards. Play continues until the Fellowship, represented by the One Ring, completes its winding path through Middle Earth and exits the Dead Marshes. The player with the highest number of points at that moment wins the game!

Risk: The Lord of the Rings offers some unique variations to the classic Risk game, adding some intriguing differences to play. Leaders are new and they add +1 to combat rolls. (Leaders are not armies, however. Should the last defending army to which a Leader is attached be defeated, the Leader is removed from the board only to re-emerge in a different, friendly held Territory at the end of that player’s turn.) Strongholds add power to defensive forces. Missions, gathered at the various Sites of Power found on the board, add points when completed as do the Power Cards when played. They also give players additional goals which affect strategy and planning. A major change in play is that the game ends when the Fellowship exits the board. In some regions, the Fellowship needs to roll a 4, 5 or 6 in order to continue moving onward, giving the game a variable (and a little unpredictable) flow.

Risk: The Lord of the Rings is an clever change from standard Risk. The use of Leaders, Strongholds and Adventure Cards adds welcome new challenges. Possibly the biggest flaw in the game is the ending. While it keeps playing time down to a manageable level (sessions of regular Risk can go on for DAYS!), the variable ending often results in one or more players having an extra turn which can be an unfair advantage. Many suggestions have been offered to correct this. We suggest this. Should a player or two have a turn less, simply divide those players’ scores by the number of turns they have played and ADD that average to their respective totals. Then, the player with the highest FINAL total is the victor.

Fans of the classic Risk game will find lots to like in this new variation. Those who have discovered Middle Earth and want to share in the adventure will find much to like in this family boardgame too. Risk: The Lord of the Rings is an excellent offering. – – – — – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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