Star Wars is back! It's back in a big way. That means, for the foreseeable future, we're gonna be getting TONS of licensed Star Wars products. One of the first boardgames in the initial wave of licensed goodness was the curiously named, Star Wars Risk. Not exactly what people were expecting. Prior to its release, savvy internet folk determined that this was actually a refined version of the grail game, Star War's Queen's Gambit. Right then everybody should have perked up and taken note. Well, some of you are still not paying attention. Let me fix that for you.
First, let me ask you a straightforward question. Do you like Star Wars in any way, shape, or form? If you answered yes, then stop reading and go buy this game now. Do you like simple, thematic, and fun designs? You do? Stop reading and go buy this game…RIGHT NOW.
In case I'm not being blunt enough, spoiler alert, Star Wars Risk ROCKS. I have no problem arguing that it was one of the best games to come out in 2015. This is not so much a review as it is a public service announcement. I'm writing this to make sure you don't have hole in your heart years from now.
The name "Star Wars Risk" is simply terrible branding from the marketing gurus at Hasbro. This game has almost nothing to do with the Risk brand. As previously mentioned it's essentially a reworking of Queen's Gambit. Except instead of taking place at the end of the Phantom Menace, the game now focuses on the three concurrent conflicts during the finale of Return of the Jedi. Gone is anything relating to Naboo and in its place are much more beloved Star Wars tropes. Don't worry; they left out any semblance of Ewoks you "Yub Nub" hating bastards.
In the game you play as either the Rebels or the Empire. There are three mini games each taking place on separate boards. There is the lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader, the fleet battle around the FULLY OPERATIONAL Death Star, and the shield generator mission on the forest moon of Endor. Your goal as the Rebels is to progress through a linear track on the Endor board to destroy the shield generator. Once the generator has been destroyed, Admiral Ackbar will get excited and tell you to blow up the Death Star. In game terms this means getting one of your squadrons adjacent to the Death Star and rolling a six. The Empire needs to delay the Rebels long enough to completely destroy their fleet.
All of this is done with a intuitive, yet simple, card based order system. Players on each side will select cards to play and then take turns executing them in a specific order. Each card will have two or three symbols that allow you to carry out different actions. For example, the Empire might have a card that lets them attack with the Death Star or launch/attack TIE Fighters. I love this system, because it allows you to be flexible. You might plan your round as an all out attack against Luke, but you notice your opponent is racing up the Endor track. If you played cards that also had the Endor symbol you can react accordingly by mobilizing Storm Troopers in the forest instead. It's about playing the odds and striking where your opponent isn't expecting. It's very tactical and sometimes you have to be reactionary. However, I've seen folks commit to long term strategies from the word go as well. My favorite thing about the game is that no matter what you decide it's a fun/interesting turn. Each card you play is moving you closer towards your goal and I've witnessed multiple paths to victory.
Almost everything you do in the game comes down to rolling five chunky, red, dice. If you execute a Vader order you roll four dice to attack. Roll higher than a four and you strike Luke. Do enough damage and you kill him. Simple, direct and fun. The Rebels NEED to destroy the shield generator and every time they use an Endor symbol they roll all five dice. To advance up the track you need to roll higher than their current numerical position on the board. It starts off easy with only rolled "ones" counting as failures. As you progress further towards your goal rolling fours, fives, or sixes will be needed to succeed. The fleet battle is handled with simple dice rolls too. Roll equal to or higher than your target's defense and they blow up real good. As the game starts winding down the stakes get higher and the drama of each roll is heightened. This is classic Ameritrash at its best.
Perhaps the most important mechanic in the game is that of earning bonus cards. There are a few ways to do this, but the most common is to completely wipe out a squadron in space. So after a battle if the space you just attack no longer has enemy ships you get to draw a card and put it under your orders pile without looking at it. Essentially this gives you free actions which should help turn the tide. It's like the game's personal way of thanking you for kicking ass during your turn. Earning bonus cards is a fantastic little rule that will sometimes weigh heavily upon your decisions. Great stuff.
The whole game breezes along and once you know what you're doing it can be finished in twenty or thirty minutes. As an added bonus you can play as teams which is just as much fun as the two player game. Some might be thinking that thirty minutes is too short to be satisfying, but I think it feels perfect. There is something to be said for a rules light, thematically rich, game that can be cracked opened, taught, AND finished in less than sixty minutes. This is a tight design and any unnecessary chaff has been carefully excised from the game. It's not cluttered with text heavy, special event cards, or seven different phases within a turn. What you're left with is one of the greatest Star Wars board games ever made.
The highest compliment that I can pay this game is that it perfectly captures the GRAND FINALE of Jedi. Even if you dislike the film, it's hard to argue how cool the three battles are. Being able to replicate that in a fast playing boardgame is most impressive. Plus, the game has some little touches that make you realize the design team knew exactly what they were doing. In the lightsaber duel, if Luke gets Vader down to his final three health points, the Rebel player can play a card to redeem him. The only thing that doesn't really feel right is the Millennium Falcon. It's not that powerful and I think it should have had some bonus to blowing up the Death Star at the end.
I mentioned that this was a public service announcement and less of a review and here's why; this game is going to go out of print at some point. Hasbro doesn't keep stuff like this on shelves forever. You know how Epic Duels and Queen's Gambit are expensive and highly sought after? Yeah, this is going to be EXACTLY like that. Buy it now so you won't regret it when when people are selling the Black Edition for $200 in about eight to ten years.
2015 saw plenty of great games come out. However, there was only one game that I absolutely know I will never sell from my collection and that is Star Wars Risk. The standard edition is HANDS DOWN the greatest game you can buy for less than $20. The Amazon exclusive edition is a beautiful looking version that I'm happy to own as well. Please heed my warning...if you're a fan of either classic, mass market, style Ameritrash, or Star Wars (or both) this is a MUST OWN. If the game came out in the 1980s and was called, "Return of the Jedi: The Board Game" it would be a grail game. It didn't though. It came out in 2015 with the misfortune of being named Star Wars Risk. Don't let that hinder you from missing out on this incredibly well designed Star Wars game.
What does the Scale-o-matic 6500™ say?
On a scale of Jar Jar Binks to Boba Fett
Star Wars Risk rates as Bossk
Designer: Unknown Hasbro design monkeys
Year Published: 2015
Player Count: 2 or 4
Length: 25-45 minutes