Risk Revisited Edition – More on House Rules and their Biggest Design Mistake

Our group has been playing the Risk Revised Board Game for the past few weeks and I wanted to do another post about about the game. I have done fairly well at winning this game so it may have skewed my opinions on but I do feel it is a solid game with solid rules.

What Were They Thinking?

Before I get into our conclusions on House Rules I would like to take a moment to discuss the biggest problem I have with the new version of Risk: Cards. In the older Risk games bonus units were determined on a sliding scale as more players turned in sets of cards the number of troops the players gained increased. This system had a lot of problems so at first I was very glad to see them eliminate it. However, after playing a number of games of the Revised version of the game I don’t feel they have done a particularly good job with the current rules in this department.

At the end of any turn in which you do not claim an Objective but take at least one territory you may draw a card. The cards either have one or two stars on them and can be turned in later for bonus units during the draft units phase of a subsequent turn. The real problem is that more stars are better so the 12 cards with two stars are simply better than the 30 cards with one star (twice as good by my estimation – trying to be funny here as this all sounds so obvious but apparently the designers didn’t see a problem with it). If the player who is losing happens to get lucky and get a couple of two star cards, no problem, but when the random turn of a card hands tons of bonus units to the player winning…

One argument that can be made is that a player who is not taking objectives will see more cards and normally see more two star cards. While this is fine in the grand scheme of things in that it will eventually even out it doesn’t hold true in each individual game and often causes frustration and irritation as one player (so far me on a couple of occasions) gets more two stars than the rest of the players.

I commented on this in my last post about the game and mentioned the design space that was unused regarding the territories represented on each card but there are still other ways they could have handled this. I simply feel very disappointed that in their playtesting (I assume they playtested the game but then, it is mass market so who knows) they didn’t ever feel that this randomness was a problem. I am nearly tempted to try using a system where players simply get one star if they take one territory in a turn and leave it at that. If there was a way to get a second star which didn’t automatically mean you were doing well that might be good too.

A Completely off the Top of My Head House Rule: This hasn’t been remotely tested and has all sorts of problems but one way to do stars without cards would be to give a player one star if they took one territory and a second star if they took three territories controlled by three different players. In many situations this would force a player to decide how valuable that second star is to them and give them another choice to make during the game. This system would result in the two stars no longer being arbitrary but certainly does give an advantage to a player who is winning in a way since they will often be spread out more and have more opportunities for attack.

One other worry about a rule like this would be that it might cause too much balancing, something I love but some people get frustrated by. It would also mean that because of player elimination two stars could become impossible towards the end of the game and would always be impossible during a three player game. Of course you could simply say you get two stars if you took a territory by three players or one territory from each remaining player. This would mean that if it got down to two players with no one winning things would get really bloody really fast. Obviously if you used any kind of rule like this you would not be able to gain stars if you took a mission.

What do you think?

Our House Rules Decisions

Our current House Rules for Risk Revised look like this:

  1. Random Placement: After the cities have been dealt out those cards are reshuffled and placed on the top of the deck. Starting with player who rolled high (to go first), cards are dealt out in full. The first player looks at their cards and chooses one on which to place a unit and their capital. Each other player follows in turn. Then all players place one unit on each remaining territory from the territories in their hand.

    I very much like the random placement but it is not universally loved. Some players feel that it can too easily screw a player in a five player game by spreading them out to the point that they never really get a chance at the game. While we have seen this, we have also seen players with terrible placements do fairly well in the long run so I’m still a fan of this House Rule.

  2. Bonus Units Instead of Bonus Cards: The rules as written say the players going third and fourth get a bonus card while the player going fifth gets two bonus cards. Instead we started allowing the players going third and fourth to simply add two units to their first draft pool and the player going fifth adds four units.

    While we have only played this way once I feel that it is a far more balanced way of playing than with the cards. Two and four units are the max those players could get should they get two star cards and this is designed to make certain they can recoup some of their losses due to their position. While the cards could potentially be saved for a later turn and these bonus units cannot I still prefer this as it aims to make the beginning of the game slightly less devastating for the players who go later in the round.

Currently these are the two House Rules we use. I’ll let you know if we decide to do something about the stars and cards problem. Feel free to ring in with your opinions. I would love to hear them!

  1.  
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    Matt Says:

    I actually had a different idea, but as I was writting it I came up with this one instead.

    Another thought would be if you take at least one territory with at least 6 or more armies defending at the start of the turn. This solution may make players think twice about loading up a defensive position, but I don’t think it will affect decisions to do so. And it gives those on attack a reason to attack well defended areas and replensh their numbers seeing as those battles tend to be a blood bath. It’s obtainable by all players and it won’t need additional rules to handle situations that might come up that the other solution might.

  2.  

    That might not be bad but it too leads to trouble for down and out players. When a player is only getting three bonus units a turn it is unlikely they will be capable of taking out a territory with six or more units on it.

    Another idea I was sort of kicking around was to have a table that the players roll on that gives them a mini mission for that turn. One result could be the original one I mentioned while another could be matt’s suggestion and others could be similar.

    Something like:

    To receive a bonus star this turn…

    1 – Take three territories from three different players or one territory from each player remaining in the game

    2 – Take a territory that had six or more troops on it at the beginning of the turn

    3 – Take a territory on three different continents

    4 –

    I was thinking there should probably be six results possible but I’m not coming up with any more options at the moment. It might add too much randomness to the game however as a player could potentially constantly roll results that are far to challenging for them.

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    Colin Says:

    I feel like the main problem I’m having is our rules for random placement. It’s happened to me at least three times that I’ve started in fifth place and been hammered the entire game as a result of that and my starting position being poor – it makes it really hard to even consider gaining victory objectives. I don’t know if two cards or four troops honestly compensate for that sort of raw deal.

    I don’t know, it could just be my rotten luck though.

  4.  
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    Matt Says:

    While I still think the random placement is the fairer approach to the game, and the inevitable strategy that comes from the strategic placement rules (being player 1 places in Australia, player 2 places in South American, and players 3 thru 5 assume the position) I think giving the strategic placement another go might be a good idea, if only as an experiment.

    Now that we know how important it is to obtain objectives (and the mounds of guys you can get from having cities (as opposed to taking continents) I think you will see different options and strategies emerge from the strategic placement then we saw before. Sure it’s pretty likely that Player 1 still places in Australia, but doing so puts them at risk of never making it back to their capital and thus never able to win the game (something that happened to me last game). If someone conquers the continent they will need to be prepared for the inevitable backlash that always seems to follow with such a move.

    Basically what I’m saying is that placing there first is not the extreme advantage that we originally thought and hence the original reason of moving to random placement (more interesting game play) isn’t as needed as before. Basically the only person that won by taking Australia was Colin on the first game. Since then it’s been the Josh era of conquest until Pat finally broke the trend. None of those games were won through what was deemed broken (Australia) and in Josh’s case I think he purposefully avoided taking the continent on the principle of said brokenness.

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    jim Says:

    how about for #4

    take three countries that are adjacent to each other

  6.  

    Perhaps, and a 5th could be take any four territories. Of course, three adjacent is kind of easy since most of the time you WANT to take three that are adjacent which is why the other ideas were to force division of forces.

    Maybe,

    4 – Take four adjacent territories

    5 – Take any five territories

  7.  
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    jim Says:

    that would work. and it would definitley divide the forces more. let us know it works out 🙂

  8.  

    Another, possibly simpler, idea would be to deal out all the cards evenly (discarding remainder) after set up. If a player takes a territory pictured on one of their cards during their turn they get two stars but must discard the card (meaning two players cannot constantly fight over one territory and keep getting two stars) otherwise a player that takes one territory will only get one star.

    While some of the other ideas we were shooting around sound fun, this idea feels the simplest.

  9.  

    We experimented with the idea of handing out cards for territories that needed to be taken over to get the bonus star (my above idea) and it seemed to work fairly well. We also thought that having a max of four units on any normal space and five on a capital was a good cap to set to prevent players from placing all their units in one territory. This is especially important since a player knows when they will be going first and thus might as well place all their units in one territory.

  10.  

    One the question of design I too have been disappointed by these sorts of decisions to include cards which are strictly better than others.

    In trading card games I can essentially buy Mark Rosewater’s arguments for the necessity (“Inevitability” in my best Agent Smith voice) of bad cards.

    Yet in a non-collectible game having cards which vary significantly in power level seem to require balancing factors. Maybe drawing a high number of cards, so the probability works itself out, or some external mechanism, but no balancing factor? Bad design is what that smells like.

    I guess it comes down to the amount of luck one likes in one’s games.

  11.  
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    Matt Says:

    Luck is one factor where it’s ok to be part of the game as long as it doesn’t break open the game for the lucky person. This game did just that. A person could with 2 cards get 7 bonus armies which can quickly turn the tide when the other guy needs 4 cards to do the same. With the orginial rules player 5 could start with that and could have 5 or 6 stars to turn in on their next turn which can just break open the game such that either they become an unstoppable juggernaut, or one or more of their opponents is eleminated or forced to play another hour without any hope of a comeback (in my mind the worst case scenario).

    I did like the lastest rev. of our changes we made but there was, in my opinion, a big hole with the cards still. In the game we tested it out one player had cards with territories that they had no chance to take over or they already controled them. Meanwhile every single one of mine were neighbooring territories or close. Basically the other player would get 1 star a turn while I would have access to 2 stars a turn. However the arguement was that it’s not too overpowered because I didn’t win the game (not even close, I was eliminated first). But I also think that I just don’t have the skills in this particular type of game and as such I still contend if this happens to a more skilled player this could easily just hand the game over to them.

    In anycase it is still better then the orginial verison as far as game balance is concerned, but it still not great. I think that bonus army system is just a lost cause at this point.

  12.  

    I wonder… if we set up the board and then dealt out the cards and then did non random placement (something that has been asked for by some players anyway) if this might work since you would need to focus on places you can take the territories in your hand and thus not just sticking with the same strategy each time. This might be enough diversity to make the game work…

    Still uncertain about this…