The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

A game combining luck, strategy, and diplomacy, RISK brings together friends for a maniacal six hour adventure, where just setting up the game and strategically placing armies can take up to an hour.

The fragile alliances that you make and break over the course of a game are key to the game's popularity — along with a bit of luck that comes along with the role of the dice. Here's a look the origins of the board game RISK, its evolution over the years, and modern games that exist thanks to its creation.

The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

Created by an Academy Award winning filmmaker
Take the strategy of chess, add dice, expand the playing field ten fold, add several additional players, and you have a small introduction to the game RISK. Created by Albert Lamorisse on a family vacation to Holland, La Conquête du Monde (The Conquest of the World) was released by the French game company Miro in 1957.

The name given by Lamorisse is eerily descriptive and more apt than the one christened by Parker Brothers in 1959, RISK.

Albert Lamorisse in known for more than this contribution to the world of gaming, as the Frenchman won the 1956 Academy Award for best screenplay for The Red Balloon, a thirty-four minute film directed by Lamorisse capturing the movement of a sentient balloon as it follows Lamorisse's son and several other children.

The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

Mathematical analysis and strategy development
Lamorisse touted that the original game takes 90 minutes to play, but as many of us know, the board game often takes over a table and sits there for days (or weeks) on end, as armies move from country to country.

In RISK, an attacker receives three dice rolls, while a defender only gets a chance with two. This attacker benefit lends itself to statistical analysis, with tables of attack success — based on the number of armies attacking and defending — often memorized by hardcore players. In addition to statistical analysis, strategic plans akin to those used in chess exist, including ones used for attacking players who "turtle" and build a defensive wall around themselves.

Alliances are not required by the rules of RISK, but late hours and caffeine often lead to the birth of fragile agreements between sides that are often broken on a whim. The rules of the game do not condemn a player for breaking an alliance, allowing players with flexible morals to let their individual goals dictate their diplomatic interactions with other players.

The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

Evolutions of the game
While those in North America plodded through multiday games of RISK, European players enjoyed the shorter Secret Missions variation from the time of the game's initial release.

In this variation, each player holds a card with stated objectives like "control North America, South America, and Australia" that allows for the game to be completed in a much shorter time frame. Parker Brothers introduced the Secret Missions rule set to North America in 1993.

The RISK franchise is not without failures — one of the failed versions came in the form of an 18th Century variation, Castle Risk. Released in 1986, Castle Risk displayed a distinctly Euro-centric view of the world, with each player left to defend a European stronghold instead of moving through a map of the world and conquering territories.

The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

One of the more beloved variations, RISK 2210 A.D., introduced a slightly altered playing field including randomly chosen nuclear wastelands and underwater territories, along with mechanized assault robots (Machines of Destruction). RISK 2210 A.D. broke individual rounds into years, and at the end of five rounds, the game is over and the player with the most points is declared the winner, conveniently setting a known endpoint for the game.

Unlike some board games (cough, Monopoly), where a franchise specific-form instantly exists by changing the color scheme and the board text, variations on the game of RISK often involve significant alterations to the rules of the game. In the Star Wars Risk: The Clone Wars Edition, spacecraft with the ability to travel to any governed territory are included, along with an ominous Order 66 rule that can turn any game into a race to take over a single territory.

The Origins and Evolution of the Strategy Board Game RISK

Inspiration for other strategy games
RISK no doubt inspired 1981's Axis & Allies and 1995's Settlers of Catan. Klaus Teuber's Settlers of Catan is a much simpler game to pick up and can be played on a shorter time-scale, learning from the missteps of time-consuming board games by invoking a ten point win rule.

The endurance necessary for a long form game of RISK no doubt prepared gamers for epic role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons along with the strategy and statistical element necessary for success in North America and Europe's favorite on the job time wasters, fantasy sports.

The top image is of the current version of the board game RISK, courtesy of Parker Brothers. Images within the article courtesy of Board Game Geek, Andrew Wodzianski/BGG, Miro, Parker Brothers, and Mayfair Games. Sources linked within the article.