The History of the Board Game Risk

Risk is a board game of world domination played on a stylized Napoleonic era map of the world with different colored tokens representing the forces of opposing generals.

rules of the game are simple and effective, with players moving their pieces into neighboring territories and the outcome of battles being decided by rolling dice: the larger your force the more dice you roll, and the highest result wins. The more territories you control the more reinforcements you receive, with whole continents providing even more extra armies each turn.

Beyond its simple mechanics however, the layout of the world map, the machinations and alliances of rival generals and especially the luck of the dice means that there are almost infinite strategic possibilities, and this (combined with the natural human desire to conquer the world) has contributed to the game’s lasting appeal even half a century after its creation.

First conceived of by French director Albert Lamorisse, ‘La Conqute du Monde’ (‘The Conquest of the World’) was released in France in 1957 by Parker Brothers, and two years later it was released in America as ‘Risk! The Continental Game.’ Featuring a brightly-colored board and simple coloured wooden shapes to represent the different armies the game was an instant success, spawning a number of minor variations and building up its popularity over several decades.

Inevitably with the onset of the digital age, the first computer game version of Risk was released on the Commodore 64 in 1988, and countless versions official or otherwise have been released since, each subsequent edition embellished with better and better graphics.

A re-release of ‘Risk: The World Conquest Game’ in 1993 following the purchase of Parker Brothers by Hasbro brought the classic board game into the modern world, with hundreds of finely detailed plastic miniatures sculpted to look like Napoleonic era armed forces each representing different numbers of troops: soldiers for 1, cavalry for 5, and artillery for 10. This version also added a deck of secret mission cards that shifted the style of play away from simple world conquest to achieving one of a number of different objectives, from holding a specific set of continents to annihilating another player completely!

The next major development for the franchise was in 2001 when Avalon Hill, a subsidiary of Hasbro, released ‘Risk 2210 AD’. This game retained the same core rules and mechanics but shifted the setting into a war-torn future fought over by armies of rampaging machines called M.O.D.s (Machines of Destruction).

The whole aesthetic of the board was changed to represent a futuristic battle map, with extra strategic options in place thanks to a network of underwater cities that connected previously secure territories (and randomly placed nuclear devastation counters that radically altered the flow of battle with each game), and there was even an extra board to represent the Moon!

Risk 2210 AD was more complex than previous editions, adding a system of Energy Counters, Space Stations, Commanders and Command Cards that opened up a mind-boggling array of tactical options, allowing your troops to colonize the Moon, move underwater, launch nuclear strikes and even roll eight-sided dice in battle!

Following on from Risk 2210 AD, ‘The Lord of the Rings Risk’ was released in 2002 following the enormous success of the film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings, and the game featured the forces of Good and Evil battling over Middle-earth with the journey of the Fellowship of the Ring acting as a built-in time limit. This game opened the floodgates for a host of movie tie-in versions of Risk, from Star Wars to Transformers, but more often than not these hastily-conceived cash-ins failed to retain the charm and balance of the basic game.

In 2004 Avalon Hill released another variation on the classic Risk with ‘Risk: Godstorm’, which featured the deities of ancient mythology leading their peoples against each other. One innovation in Godstorm was that death was not the end for your armies. Whenever they died, instead of being removed from the game they were instead placed on a separate smaller game board representing the Underworld, where they continued the battle against their enemies in the afterlife, vying for control of key spiritual locations for the possibility of being resurrected onto the main board again.

A final brilliant feature in the game was that each player’s civilization had their own unique game-changing cataclysm cards, the most extreme being that the whole continent of Atlantis sinks beneath the waves forever, killing all forces currently stationed on it and playing no further part in the game!

In 2008 Hasbro released an updated version of the classic Risk board game with more abstract, stylised playing pieces in the form of different sized arrows indicating the movement of forces. The game also added cities, capitals, and major and minor objectives and rewards, adding an element of the complexity seen in Risk 2210 AD and Godstorm whilst still remaining accessible to first time players.

It remains to be seen what direction the franchise is taken in next; whether it continues to be capitalized upon as a means to sell movie merchandise or builds on its successes with another more inventive version. What is clear is that fifty years after its creation, the game of global domination is as strong and popular as ever.