A long time ago… There were a lot of Star Wars games. Since Star Wars came out in 1977, there have been Star Wars-themed variants of just about every mass market game. Stratego, Monopoly, Trouble, Battleship, and Trivial Pursuit have all been done. (Not to mention all the tie-in games that weren’t variants of an existing game, but which weren’t much more complicated than Candy Land.) There have even been two prior games that bore the Risk: Star Wars label (Original Trilogy and Clone Wars).
So what could possibly be left to explore in the Star Wars gaming universe at this point, especially from a mass market production? Is there anything that this 2015 edition of Risk: Star Wars can offer than hasn’t been offered before? Surprisingly, it turns out that there may be room in the galaxy for another mass market Star Wars game, after all.
How It Plays
Risk: Star Wars is based on events from Return of the Jedi. If you’ve lived under a rock for thirty years and have never seen the movie, get thee to a RedBox right now because 1) you’re missing a great film and, 2) this game makes little sense if you haven’t seen the movie.
Risk simulates the three-pronged battle that marks the end of Return of the Jedi. On one front, the Rebels are on Endor, trying to take down the shield generator that’s protecting the Death Star so that their comrades up above can blow it to bits. On another front, Luke Skywalker is fighting to redeem his father, Darth Vader, while the Emperor and Vader are trying to turn Luke to the dark side. On the third battlefront, Rebel ships are fighting Imperial ships, waiting for those shields to come down so they can destroy the Death Star. It’s beautiful chaos.
In this game, players must successfully balance their progress across all three battles in order to win. One player plays as the Empire and the other plays as the Rebel Alliance. (There are also rules that allow for four players to play in teams.) The game is controlled by Order cards which determine what you can do on each turn and which battle will be affected by your actions. Each player is given a deck of Order cards specific to their side at the beginning of the game.
To being the game, each player draws six Order cards from the top of their deck. On your turn, choose three Order cards from your hand and stack them face down in front of you. The top card is your first order, the next is your second order, and the bottom card is your third order. The remaining three cards are set aside, face down, until the end of the round.
Each Order card has two or three actions illustrated on it. On your turn, flip over your top Order card and choose which action to play. After you play your action, your opponent plays their top Order card and you go back and forth until both players run out of Order cards, ending the round. Some actions will give you bonus Order cards. These cards are placed on the bottom of your order stack and played at the end of the round. If your opponent runs out of orders but you have some left, you can give back-to-back orders until you’ve used up all of your cards. Used cards are placed in each player’s discard pile and the stack is reshuffled to create a new draw pile when a player runs out of Order cards.
So just what kind of orders are you giving with these cards? Orders for the attack on the Death Star portion of the battle allow you to move your ships (either Rebel or Empire) to new sectors on the board and attack any opponents in adjacent sectors. Attacks are carried out by rolling dice, the exact number of which and the die result required to succeed are determined by the type of ship that’s doing the attacking. Smaller ships are destroyed with one hit, while the special ships (Executor, Millennium Falcon) have damage tracks and are not destroyed until the track reaches zero.
Orders for the shield assault portion of the battle allow the Rebels to advance along the assault track and for the Imperials to slow them down. The Rebel player rolls five dice to determine how far along the track they may move. Each space on the assault track shows the minimum number that must be rolled in order to advance to it. So if the five spaces in front of the Rebel player are numbered 2, 2, 2, 3, and 3, and the player rolls two sixes, a four, a three, and a one, they could advance four spaces. The one they rolled is below the minimum for any space and is useless, but the other numbers they rolled are equal to or higher than the minimums required.
But wait! The Empire can try to slow down this progress by placing stormtrooper tokens on the three spaces directly in front of the Rebel player. This increases the die value that the Rebel player must roll to advance by one, making it more difficult for them to progress down the track.
Orders for the Luke/Vader battle directly impact the hit track for each character. The Empire uses Vader and the Emperor to deal hits to Luke. The Rebel player uses Luke to deal hits to Vader and also to attempt to redeem him. Both sides roll dice to determine the hits taken. If the Empire knocks Luke out of the game, that player gets four bonus Order cards. If the Rebel player kills Vader, he gets three bonus Order cards. If he manages to redeem Vader (by playing the “redeem” order when Vader’s hit token is on one of the last three spaces of his hit track), he gets five bonus Order cards.
As the game progresses, you probably won’t be able to use all of your orders because those battles will have been resolved. For example, if you draw a card that shows actions against the shield generator and the generator is already down, you cannot use those orders. If a card is in your order stack and there are no orders on it that you can use, you effectively forfeit your turn. You can’t discard a card simply because it is unusable for you.
When everyone is out of order cards, draw three more Order cards from your deck and add them to your hand. You hand now includes the three cards you didn’t use from the previous round, plus three new cards. Choose three cards to make a new order stack and begin another round. Continue to battle back and forth this way until one player wins the game. The Empire wins by destroying all of the rebel ships before the Death Star is destroyed. The Rebel Alliance wins by taking down the shield generator and then destroying the Death Star.
Operational as Planned or Suffering From Delusions of Grandeur?
(Note that this game comes in two editions: The regular and the special “Black Edition.” My review is of the regular edition. The regular edition can be found for less than $25 on Amazon, while the Black Edition is on Amazon for $49. While the components in the Black Edition are slightly better (the nicest upgrade is that minis replace the cardboard Millennium Falcon and Executor, and the Death Star is a mini instead of an illustration), I didn’t feel that the slight upgrades justified double the price. YMMV, of course, but note that when I refer to components in this review, I’m only referring to those in the regular edition of the game as I do not own the Black Edition.)
I will confess to not having played much regular Risk in my life. I can probably count the number of plays on one hand, so I’m not familiar with every nuance of the original. (Although I do have and enjoy from time to time Risk: Star Wars Original Trilogy Edition, which isn’t that dissimilar from regular Risk.) But I do know enough to know that this 2015 edition of Risk: Star Wars bears no similarity to Risk whatsoever, so let’s get that out of the way right now. If you’re looking for a true Risk variant, this isn’t it. I keep hearing people say that, rather than resembling Risk, this game is a lighter version of The Queen’s Gambit, that mass market game that became a grail item, but I’ve never been lucky enough to snag a copy so I’ll have to take their word on that. At any rate, it seems like a “risky” move (see what I did there?) to call a game Risk that isn’t Risk because you’ll either disappoint the die-hard Risk lovers or scare off the Risk haters, but that was Hasbro’s call, not mine.
As for what the game is, I’d say that it’s a card-driven, dice rolling, chaotic festival of thematic goodness. The three pronged battle seems like it would either be intimidating or crazy, but it’s actually neither. It ends up providing you with some interesting decisions. If you’re the Rebel player, you have to get the shield generators down, but you also have to protect your fleet in space while you do it. If you’re the Empire, you’re trying to protect that generator and destroy the Rebel’s ships. And neither of you can ignore the battle for Vader/Luke’s soul because the winner of that battle gets a pile of bonus order cards that can be used to tilt one of the other battles in your favor. You cannot focus on just one battle for too long or something will slip by you and you’ll pay the price.
Your selection of cards and the order in which you stack them at the beginning of the round feels restrictive, but also leaves you a little bit of room to maneuver. When you set your cards for the round, you’re trying to predict what will benefit you the most and in what order. Depending on which actions your opponent chooses, your plans may succeed or be blown out of the water. However, since every card shows more than one action, you may be able to salvage something if you can use one of the other actions on the card. So there’s a bit of strategy in trying to choose and order your cards with both a plan A and B in mind.
Toward the end of the game, your card order becomes even more important. Once a battle is resolved, those Order cards become useless. You don’t want your opponent to finish a battle just as your Order card for that battle is about to come up because then you might have to pass your turn (unless you can use another action on the card). You may not be able to prevent this from happening because you’ll have no idea what your opponent is about to do, but you do have to give some thought to the “what if’s” and plan accordingly.
There is plenty of randomness in the card draws and dice roll. Haters of luck should stay away from Risk: Star Wars. Then again, this isn’t supposed to be a serious, high strategy game. It’s a fast playing game that plays more like the movie script than a serious game. (As long as you’ve seen the movie, it all makes sense and is very thematic. If you haven’t seen the movie, why are you still here and not at the RedBox?) The game does a good job of replicating the flipping back and forth between all three battles that marked the movie. Boom. You’re on Endor. Boom. You’re on the Falcon. Boom. You’re in the Emperor’s throne room. You’re whizzing all over the place, chucking dice, trying to manage these three battles so that events proceed in your favor, and all the while trying to keep your opponent at bay. There are decisions to be made, but they are light and your success or failure will be governed by the die rolls. But, as in the movie, sometimes the Force is with you, and sometimes it’s with the other guy.
The one big negative in the game is the rulebook. The rules are easy to understand, but they are a bit of a mess in their original form. Certain things weren’t communicated very clearly. The game is playable as written but the original rules led to some balance issues, with the Rebels seeming to have an advantage. There are several threads on BGG that deal with this topic and one contains rules clarifications provided by one of the designers. That thread was reviewed and endorsed by Hasbro, so I strongly suggest you check it out and make the suggested modifications. (Side note: All credit to Hasbro for getting involved in that thread and helping to improve the rules. That’s a step you won’t see many, or any, mass market game producers take.) A BGG user was also kind enough to create a new player aid based on these modifications that you can print out and add to your game.
The components aren’t bad for a mass market game. The miniature ships are an unexpected bonus in a game at this price point. The cards aren’t the highest quality, but they are better than some I’ve seen. Sleeves will help prolong their life. My biggest gripe is that the board and box are flimsy and won’t stand up to a lot of wear. The board, specifically, feels like it will easily tear along the folds if you don’t treat it carefully. The paper there is thin and the folds are wide, creating a big gap where tearing or puncturing are real possibilities. (But it sets up to look like a Tie fighter, so the coolness almost balances it out.) And I wouldn’t advise placing the box on the bottom of a stack on your game shelf unless you want the sides to blow out. But, for less than $25, I can’t complain too much.
This is a game for parents to play with the kids, or for the kids to enjoy beating each other up. It’s great for a game night warm up, particularly if you’re bringing out something like Imperial Assault or Armada for the main course. It’s a game you can play with the movie on in the background providing the soundtrack and color commentary for the game. It’s also a game that you can play in back to back sessions, trading roles and trash talk as you go.
It’s not a brain burning affair where only your decisions determine the outcome. There is some strategy to be applied here, but the dice and cards will have a lot to say about whether or not you succeed. If you’re just looking for a fun, quick, inexpensive Star Wars-themed gamed that is better than the rest of the mass market fare, then this is your game. If you’re looking for a deep, serious Star Wars affair, then you need to look into some of Fantasy Flight’s offerings.