Note: This is a review of the Black Edition of the game, which comes packed with higher quality everything. Game play is the same with either version.
Some games are destined to be modern classics for hobby game enthusiasts. Risk… is not one of those games. One could argue the ‘classic’ part of the argument I suppose. Risk: Star Wars edition – based off of the hard to find and very expensive Queen’s Gambit though is a bantha of a different color. This time Hasbro hit it out of the park with this tight, 2 player game that is thematic and, well, good.
Risk: Star Wars Edition – 2 (or 4) players, ages 10+, plays in about 45 minutes.
How to play
As always, this isn’t a deep dive into the rules. I’ve purposely not gone over every single rule here in this summary. Also this review game play wise is for either the standard or Black edition of the game but the pictures will reflect the Black edition and hot damn do they look good.
To start, set up the TIE Fighter looking board which is pretty neat in and of itself. The center board will feature the Death Star smack dab in the middle surrounded by a whole lot of TIE Fighters and Rebel Fighters. Either side (the wings of a TIE-Advanced) are dedicated to either Luke and Vader or the forest moon of Endor. Then players decide who’s going to be the Rebellion and who will be the Empire. On the Rebel’s side of the board, a number of fleets of X, B and Y wing fighters and the Millennium Falcon are organized around the Death Star while more fleets are held in reserve on tabs that attach to the main board. On the Imperial side, a whole ton of TIE fighters are set up along with the hefty Executor class Star Destroyer.
What you’ll see once you’ve gotten the board set up is that there are really three intertwined but different games going on at once. In the center is the Death Star, surrounded by Rebel and Imperial fleets. On one side of the board is the Shield Assault area. This represents the Rebels attempting to take down the shield generator on Endor. On the other side you’ve got Luke versus Vader – representing the iconic clash between the new Jedi Luke and the seasoned Sith Lord Vader.
Coming along with all this each player also gets their very own deck of Order cards. Once shuffled each player draws six cards into their hands. Order cards let each player choose one of several actions. The Empire may choose to attack with the Death Star and take out some Rebel ships, or use Force Lightning to ruin Luke’s already sketch afternoon. The Rebel players are often given the choice of attacking with ships, attempting a run on the shield generator or having Luke take a shot at Vader.
Once each player is ready to go, they both choose 3 of their 6 cards and place them face down on the table.
Each player, starting with the Rebels, flips over the top card on the 3 card stack and chooses one of the orders on that card to play. Once played, it goes face up into your discard pile.
If you can’t play what’s on the card, it just gets discarded. After each player has executed (or failed to execute) all 3 orders, 3 new cards are drawn and the next turn begins. Once the decks are depleted, the discard pile is shuffled and forms a new deck.
The Empire wins the game by destroying all of the Rebel ships. The Rebels win the game by destroying the Death Star. Here’s the big, bold HOWEVER. The Shield generator has to be taken out before the Rebels can even attempt to attack the Death Star. At that same time fleets of ships are maneuvering and attacking each other and the Death Star is taking out whole swaths of Rebel ships while the Rebels are fighting to take down the shields and Luke and Vader are confronting each other too. The fight between the two is to the death – unless Luke can successfully redeem Vader. Ship to ship and ship to Death Star combat is ruled by the roll of the dice, with different ships being more or less effective.
If Luke is destroyed, the Empire gets some bonus cards. If Vader is destroyed, the Rebellion gets some bonus cards and if Vader is redeemed, more bonus cards are in order for the Rebellion.
Why you should play
This game takes everything you love about Return of the Jedi, compresses it into 45 minutes of game play with some really stressful decision making (in a good way) and stays on theme the entire time. It’s challenging with both players managing three different fields of battle and once you get the hang of it, the whole thing works surprisingly well!
Who doesn’t want to sit on the bridge of a Mon Calamari cruiser and direct the entire freaking Rebel fleet in a massive attack on the Death Star? Or sit in your strangly lumpy metal throne and cackle evilly while that very same Death Star blows up the entire Rebel Fleet? Oh hey, you’ll also be coordinating a ground attack and a light saber duel.
If that’s not good enough for you, I should also mention that the Black Edition comes with just a ton of miniatures too.
The game has a lot of tight, meaningful choices and scenarios where you’ve got two or three good options and are forced to pick just one. Assaults between ships and the Death Star are determined by die rolls, and of course the cards you draw determine what orders are available. There’s certainly a random, perhaps slightly chaotic side of this game but I don’t feel like this detracts from the game play at all. Many of these rolls, particularly towards the end game, are of the stand up and fist pump variety.
It can be easy, especially on the first play, to lose track of the side boards (Luke vs Vader and the assault on the shield generator). It’s very important for both sides to pay attention to these though and the will become apparent towards the middle and end of your first game. Without lowering the shields, the Rebel ships will be slaughtered. The loss of Luke or Vader can deal real blows to both sides by providing a pretty decent advantage to the other.
Now this is not a high strategy, brain straining euro-style game. Nor is it a carefree, chaotically random dice chucking game where your strategy doesn’t mean diddly. It’s something of a hybrid of those two states. Your decisions do matter and without a solid strategy you won’t win the game. But you can expect to be thwarted by the occasional card draw or die roll too. It is also a Hasbro game so don’t expect FFG level minis. The TIE fighters and Rebel ships are the same Risk plastic we’ve come to know. The Black edition does come with some nice metal Minis and a handful of tiny plastic storm troopers.
For the price, I think you’re looking at an extremely good 2 player, head to head game that really bears no resemblance to classic Risk whatsoever. If you go into the game expecting a bit less than an hour and some light strategy and dice chucking, you’ll come out of it very satisfied. The game plays well with 10 year olds and adults. There’s also a four player variant but I’ve not tried this. I’m very impressed with the game itself – apparently a reworking of the Queen’s Gambit which I’ve not only never played but never even seen.
The standard version doesn’t feature quite as many miniatures but is available for an MSRP of $30. The Black edition is sleek and well packaged, has more minis and is available for an MSRP of $50.
If you get either version of the game, I’d highly recommend downloading the rules summary sheet found on BGG.