Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Legacy of War!

Once again my gaming group assembled for an evening of warfare, and this time we stepped away from our recent obsession with a galaxy far, far away, and instead went with an alternate Earth— in this case, that alternate Earth is the premise behind Hasbro’s Risk: Legacy. Rather than the standard Earth of classic Risk, the setting is a parallel Earth. After centuries of global warfare (most beginning in Australia, it appears), Earth’s scientists have discovered a method of transporting people (and their weapons) to alternate, uninhabited, duplicate Earths. In Risk: Legacy, you lead one of five factions attempting to colonize this new Earth and avoid the past of the old Earth. Naturally, you ignore that latter noble sentiment and begin whacking on your neighbors as soon as your forces arrive on the new planet. It’s the simple things that make us human, after all.

Q: So, how does this world work?
A: Very well.
The Generals, L-R: Yours Truly, Michael, Will, Chase
Taking photo: "Warlord Jim"

 So, If It’s the Same Map, How Is Anything Different?

Yes, if you look at the map, this is the exact same layout as classic Risk (with a handy sea-link to note that, yes, the Middle East is connected to East Africa). And your forces are the same in that one troop figure=one “army” (or “battalion” or whatever) and a tank (or some other impressive military device) is equal to three armies, and so forth. No change there, and no change in the combat rules of three dice vs. two dice, ties to defender, etc.. If you’ve played Risk, you’re familiar with all that.

What makes this game different is that the game changes as you play. And, the kicker is, it changes permanently. Depending on what happens and what you choose to do, you alter the map with stickers and even pen and ink— and those changes are in effect the next time you play. You may even wind up altering the rules or (gulp) destroying components as you continue to play! On top of this, how those changes are applied will be different for any group who plays the game. Once the game has been played just one time, that map and the assorted elements will be unique to that copy of the game. My group’s experience with Risk: Legacy will be different from your group’s experience of the game, and grow even more different each time we play ours or you play yours.

If you’re the type who likes to repeat gaming experiences in exactitude, or view a game as a pristine work of art, you’re going to have a conniption fit about this game. My advice: get over it.

The Grand Opening: Welcome to Earth You

The Legacy box is unique among Risk games from the start. It has a carrying handle, making it like a cardboard briefcase, and bears a tape seal reading: Note: What’s done can never be undone. Yes, that’s intimidating, but it also has a nice challenge aspect to it— as if to say, “Don’t open this unless you have what it takes to handle this.” Okay, maybe that’s a bit over-the-top for a board game, but it sets the mood for getting into the whole premise of the game, right from the start. My group very much approved.
The Founding Fathers sign in.
I think America began this way...

When we opened the box, we were first faced with the back of the game board, and upon that another label and another challenge: We, the undersigned, take responsibility for the wars that are about to start, the decisions we will make, and the history we will write. Everything that is going to happen is going to happen because of us. (Cue Billy Joel: We Didn’t Start the Fire…)
We would not be dismayed. We signed in blood! (Okay, not really. Will found a cheap ink pen, and we all used that.) Note that Jim got a little bit of a big-head and gave himself a title— “Warlord.” Right, Jim. Dream on, buddy.

Beneath that board were a series of five large “Faction” cards naming the groups we could lead, a sticker sheet containing cities, fortifications and more, a large cardboard side board to track the card decks, a bunch of punch-out missile tokens, a bunch of punch out Red Star tokens, Territory Cards, Coin Cards, Scar Cards (with Scar stickers) and Faction special abilities cards (with special abilities stickers), five bags of the different factional army miniatures (each faction has figures unique to that faction in both design and color), dice, and the rulebook— and bunch of sealed envelopes and compartments with different instructions printed upon them, like “Open when all 9 Minor Cities have been founded,” and “Open the first time a faction is eliminated from the game,” and so on. Very tempting, these sealed bits, but per the game instructions we left them alone. We’ll find out what happens if and when it happens.

The cards are a bit flimsier than most board games, but in part that’s because certain events may cause you to literally destroy a card— yep, tear it up and throw it away. (Some of you are screaming “NO! I CAN’T! I WON’T! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!” Trust me, it’s not that big of a deal. Not that we’ve had to do it yet…) Otherwise, the components are good quality and the art work is excellent— and for those of you who care about such things, the board does have the dreaded “American valley.” Not of much concern to us, and it doesn’t really affect anything except aesthetics. We did like that each of the factions had unique figures, as well as unique HQ markers, all sculpted to match the fluff for each faction.

Time to Face the Strange Ch-ch-ch-changes

The first difference in Risk: Legacy is that the faction you choose in the game is your faction for the remaining games— a full 15 game campaign, in fact. So pick the flavor that you like, or accept what fate decides to deal. We did the latter, but declared that swaps were allowed if someone preferred.
We then assumed command of the factions as follows:

Chase Fleming— Imperial Balkania (think Edwardian Britain and Star Wars’ Imperial Guard.)
Michael Fleming— Die Mechaniker  (we think that should be pronounced “dee me-kahn-ick-ur”, but it will be far more fun to shout, “Die, Mechaniker!” when attacking him.)
Will Sensing— Enclave of the Bear (looks like a cross between Braveheart and Conan the Barbarian)
Howard Shirley (yours truly)— Saharan Republic (Mad Max-style super models with heavily armed dune buggies, and a hint of Dune’s Fremen warriors. Works for me!)
“Warlord” (snicker) Jim Weaver— Khan Industries (yes, I did shout “KHHHHAAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!” when reading about them.)

And with that, the first component change begins, as you select one of two possible faction powers, listed on stickers, and affix them to your Faction card. Your faction will now have this special ability throughout the remainder of your wars in the world of Risk: Legacy. (To quote the old Crusader, “Choose wisely.”)

Each player then receives a “Scar” Card. These cards hold stickers that at any point in the game can be played to alter a territory on the board, for good or ill. Once altered, that territory remains altered for all future games. If you scar it, it’s scarred for life. The starting Scars consist of Bunkers (which give a territory a permanent bonus on defense, regardless of who holds it) and Ammo Shortages (which give a territory a permanent penalty on defense, regardless of who holds it). We suspect other Scars are in the sealed envelopes, but don’t know yet. We’ll find out…

Next comes another component change. Resource Cards containing “Coins” are used to purchase extra troops during the beginning of a player’s turn. This takes the place of the “three of a kind” card rules from classic Risk. It allows you to turn in much quicker, as the lowest turn in value is 2 coins for 2 armies, but it also limits the sizes of the armies you’re likely to be able to afford. The more coins, the more armies. Also, Coin Cards and Territory Cards are together counted as Resource Cards. Turn in four of these, regardless of coin value, and you can purchase a Red Star token (needed for victory). So the strategy here is whether to turn in or to save for a Red Star token, or to sacrifice a high-coin-value card as one of the four for that token (you don’t get “change”). The game comes with each Territory Card equal to one Coin in value— but before the first game, you must select up to twelve Territory Cards and give them additional coins, increasing the value of the card and the strategic importance of the associated territory (more on this later). You can decide how this is done in any manner your group chooses. We shuffled the Coin and Territory cards together (they have identical backs) and dealt out four groups of three cards, assigning each group three coin stickers. If a Territory card was part of a group, it got a coin sticker. If the group had one or more Coin cards, any Territory cards with it received the extra stickers. We did rule that at least one territory card had to be from each of the seven continents to get a coin before any duplicate continent territories could get a coin, preventing Asia from getting too many valuable cards.

With these changes permanently done, we began the game.

Winning At Some Cost

Winner takes all... well, or at least some...

In addition to the Scar Cards, during your first game each player starts with a Red Star token. The object of the game is not to eliminate all the opponents (though you can win that way), but to collect four Red Star Tokens, or a combination of tokens and faction HQs. Each faction HQ is worth a Red Star for whomever holds the territory the HQ is in. Yes, you can capture an enemy HQ. Once placed on the board, it remains on the board for the game (but can change starting locations in other games). It has no attack or defense value and does not count towards a defender’s troops. If the last defending troop is lost in an HQ territory, the attacker moves in and gains control of the territory and the HQ. So you don’t have to buy Red Stars to win— you can simply (ha!) conquer three other HQs (and hold your own) to win the game.

Collecting Resource Cards is slightly different than in regular Risk. You do have to conquer enemy territories to gain a card, but you only gain a Territory card if you control a territory that matches one of four Territory cards which are face up on the deck tracking board. If this is the case, and if you’ve conquered any territory on the board (not just an exposed one) you may select the matching exposed Territory card for your hand (if you control more than one match, you pick the matching card you want). If you don’t hold a matching territory, you draw a Coin card. In the latter case, if no Coin cards are available, you don’t get any resources. Sorry, general.

The game begins largely with an expansion phase. Unlike normal Risk, all your forces begin on a single starting territory (of your choice), and you only begin with 8 troops. In the first turn you can expand into adjacent empty territories. Although it was a little unclear, we ruled that you could only expand into empty territories immediately adjacent to your controlled territories at the start of the turn. That might have been wrong, but it seemed to follow the rules which stated that eliminated factions could return to the game through unoccupied territories— which we figured couldn’t happen if everyone suddenly expanded everywhere in the first turn. Attacking troops, however, could “steamroller” on as in classic Risk.

Our game quickly became divided by continents. Will established the Enclave of the Bear in Australia, and nobody opted to begin in Asia to block him. Instead, Chase claimed South America, Jim started in the frozen north of North America, I opted for the climes of Africa (seemed to fit my faction, after all), and Michael fittingly established his vaguely German “Die Mechaniker” troops right in the middle of Europe (Germany, in fact).

I decided to move quickly, wishing to grab leads early. Chase had moved into Northern Africa from Brazil, so I slapped him out, and, overextending myself unwisely (as it turned out) I drove north into Europe, claiming the Die Mechaniker HQ. I had a Bunker Scar Card, which I thought would help me hold off any counter attack.

Meanwhile, Jim quickly claimed all of North America and established a truce with Michael “for three turns” between Greenland and Iceland, and proceeded to enter Asia, where Will was quietly expanding uncontested.

Chase responded to my efforts by charging back across the Atlantic from Brazil. I bunkered North Africa (our first scar!), but even with the advantage, I still lost the territory. Meanwhile, Die Mechaniker proved that desert babes with dune buggies don’t belong in Europe, and trashed me out of his HQ, scarred Egypt with an Ammo Shortage, and kicked me back towards southern Africa. He then established a truce with Chase, and I thought my goose was cooked. I began egging Jim on to attack Chase in South America.

At first, Jim seemed content to kick Will around Asia, plucking up territories. Michael left him alone, as promised, but both were building up bits and pieces on the Iceland/Greenland border. Truces are uneasy things, after all. Chase ignored both of these other threats, and hammered me down to one lousy army left defending my HQ. Just when I thought we’d be opening the “faction eliminated” envelope in our very first game, my dice turned lucky— my one army held on against four assaults by Chase! As I was celebrating this moral victory, Jim finally considered my communiques, and poured into South America, claiming Chase’s HQ… and I began to worry that maybe I’d traded the Brazilian piranha for a Great White Shark.

But Michael at this point made his play. He began by giving up four Resource Cards, buying the first Red Star token purchased in the game. He then piled his forces upon Iceland, overwhelming Jim’s Greenland wall, and surging across to face the lone trooper who thought he’d pulled easy duty standing outside the HQ… till a bunch of German mechas came marching across the tundra. The Khan HQ fell, and “Master Michael ‘Lucky’” claimed the win and the first war.

But Wait, That’s Not All!

The New World Has Begun.
In addition to winning bragging rights, Michael got to sign the board and, out of a number of options offered in the rules, chose to rename North America into “Mikeburia,” inscribing that name permanently upon the map. (Not sure what I think of living in “The United States of Mikeburia.” Mikeburia, the Beautiful… nope, that does *not* work for me.) For future games, if Michael manages to claim the continent of North America Mikeburia, he and he alone gains an additional bonus army. “Die, Mechaniker!” indeed.

The rest of us at least got the lovely consolation prizes of founding and naming a Minor City. (Minor cities gain small bonuses when calculating additional troops at the start of a turn.) Placing stickers once again on the board, we carefully chose the names their citizens would forever revere. Thus the towns of Chaseburg and Sensingville (Will’s) naturally appeared. I, in honor of the spirited defense of my HQ, dubbed my metropolis Holdonburg (as “Hold on! Hold on!” was how I admonished my troops during those desperate hours). Jim, however, chose to commemorate the feeble and fickle nature of diplomacy, dubbing Greenland forever after as “Villain’s Pass”. (In retrospect, I think this was a rules flub, as I believe you had to actually hold the territory to found a city in it, but “what’s done can never be undone.” And it was funny.)

The World Has Changed Forever

And thus begin the annals of our wars. A quick consult of the rules reveal that our next game will already have different rules because of completing the first one… and what changes will our later conflicts provoke? Only time and the vagaries of war can tell.

I for one, can’t wait to find out.


  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. Sounds like a fun campaign, and it will be interesting to see how the world ends up. One question: What happens if, in subsequent games, you have a different number of players?

  2. From my admittedly quick perusal of the rules, not all that much. Their factions are marked as not being used for the current game, though as far as I can tell, this doesn't have any effect on future games. But there might be an event that triggers a sealed rule I don't know about yet. As for endgame choices, as players who are eliminated don't get to alter the board on that game, the effect is pretty much the same as if the faction didn't participate. So from what I gather, if someone has to miss a game, the changes probably won't be so drastic as to make later participation significantly difficult. Of course, there's nothing preventing a stand-in player from running the faction for a game.