For most of us, Risk was one of the first epic level games we had ever played. Up till that point we had only known the likes of Chess, Monopoly, Candyland, and a few other mainstream titles off the Kmart and Toys-R-Us shelves. Even though Risk felt truly amazing, it wasn’t until the modern age of tabletop gaming that I discovered not only games that were greatly inspired by, but also vastly improved upon what Risk had started.
While there are countless games similar to and inspired by Risk, I wanted to share three games that I feel are some of the best alternatives, if not replacements, for Risk.
Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
Ikusa, previously called Samurai Swords and originally named Shogun, is probably the closest thing you will get to a direct descendant of Risk. It contains all of the likely subjects; dozens of colorful plastic feudal Japanese warriors, a game board of Japan separated into provinces, and cards that represent your control of each. Where Ikusa begins to evolve on the original concepts that Risk introduced is with fortified castles, standing and mobile forces controlled by individual daimyos, and a bidding round that allows players to secretly spend resources on reinforcements, ronin, and even ninja assassins. This added depth makes for not only a more compelling story-arch, but also diverse strategies outside Risk’s “take and hold Australia”.
Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
For Ikusa, the objectives are nearly the same as Risk’s; eliminate all of your opponent’s daimyos, or obtain control of a majority of the map. Before each round, players will bid for and purchase various actions using a resource called Koku, which I learned recently is a measurement of rice that a single person would need to eat for a day. This includes things like turn order, building or upgrading castles, levying additional units, as well as hiring ronin and ninjas.
These pieces are particularly interesting in that they are special units that only function during that round before getting removed from the board. Ronin are stronger than your average units, and they are secretly placed on the board which can result in an ambush during battle. The ninja on the other hand, is meant to sneak into enemy armies to kill their daimyo, rendering the army useless until future rounds where the daimyos heir can take his place. In short, if you are a big fan of Risk, and how Risk is played, I would strongly suggest you give this game a try.
Image Credit: Days of Wonder
If you have never played Risk, any games like it, or have played and are looking for something with a fresh modern appeal, Small World has got to be one of the best alternatives out there. As seen on Tabletop, Small World takes the Risk experience in a whimsical direction with fantasy races that rise and fall as the game progresses.
Like Risk, you are duking it out over control of territory on a world map separated into locations. At the end of each round, locations yield their controller victory point coins, that can be spent later on acquiring new fantasy races. Players will battle those they share borders with, using a similar yet simplified, and far less random system than Risk. This keeps the game far more progressive than some of the endless tug-of-wars we have seen in similar games.
A custom Owlbear race for Small World, by Morten Elgaard.
Unlike Risk, each race has unique functions and abilities, such as; Dwarves, who thrive in mines gaining additional victory point coins where they control them, or Sorcerers, who convert enemies to their side, and Ratmen, who simply outnumber most other races. Additionally, each race will be randomly giving a special power that makes them even more unique, such as; Berserk, granting the race more strength when attacking, or Seafaring, which allows them to occupy water locations, and Wealthy, which simply grants the player additional coins. The game is played over a series of rounds, and whoever has the most coins at the end of the game wins.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game
Image Credit: Fantasy Flight Games
If you have played Risk or any of the aforementioned games, and you are looking for something that really breaks the mold, I would strongly suggest you give A Game of Thrones: The Board Game (AGoT) a shot. Much like in the television series, each player takes on the commanding role of one of the many powerful houses vying for control of the Iron Throne and Westeros. While you do control units on a world map, there are far fewer in AGoT, and the focus of the game is set more on the strategies you execute between each region rather than sheer numbers. One of the most compelling aspects of the game is how all players will place their commands between regions before executing them, and since they are revealed simultaneously, you don’t always know if the order is to provide you aid or a dagger to the back.
Where AGoT certainly relates to Risk is in how important it is for you to negotiate with other players, build alliances, and most of all know exactly when to betray them. So make sure you aren’t playing with anyone who is going to take that too personally. There is a cooperative elements of the game where at the end of each round an event will occur that will likely affect all of the players. Such events include Wildling attacks, that can destroy settlements and resources. While you are plotting to remove someone’s head or poison their drink, make sure you do it after they help you defend against the dangers of the North.
Remember these are only a few of the many alternatives to Risk, and they all provide fantastic new ways to have a very similar experience. Games like Kemet and Cyclades explore Egyptian and Greek mythologies, focusing less on territories and more on building diverse armies. War of the Ring is a Lord of the Rings themed game that stands out for its asymmetry, having one person play as the Free People and the other the Shadow Armies. While most of these games can be traced back to Risk, and similar war games, a lot has changed since then and amazing new takes on the territory control game have emerged.
If we missed any here you think are particularly noteworthy, please make sure to share in the comments below.
Feature Image Credit: Ben Stephenson/Flickr