How Risk Works

By: Patrick J. Kiger  | 

Are you ready to be supreme ruler of the world?
Are you ready to be supreme ruler of the world?

Do you secretly harbor the dream of being the [url='449980']supreme ruler[/url] of the entire planet? If so, then we have a game for you. Risk, invented in 1957 by French filmmaker Alber Lamorisse, originally was marketed in France as "La Conquete du Monde" (in English, "The Conquest of the World.") Parker Brothers introduced the game in the United States in 1959. While the name eventually was changed to the somewhat less megalomaniacal-sounding Risk, the basic objective remains the same: Eliminate all your competitors and capture control of all the territory on the game's board [source: [url='']Hasbro[/url]].

In the 1960s, Risk became one of the most popular board games in the United States, and gradually developed into a cult favorite among brainy college students. Risk's enduring appeal over more than a half-century probably has a lot to do with its intellectual challenges. It was one of the first games in which players' non-linear movements were determined by their own choice, rather than by dice or a spinner. And while luck does play a role, the outcome is more heavily influenced by players' strategic abilities -- formulating and executing plans, estimating probabilities, logical sequencing and adjusting to opponents' tactics [source: Hinebaugh].


Besides being fun, Risk also is great for developing your mind in ways that will pay off in school or in a [url='579948']career[/url], because the strategic skills players learn and practice are easily transferable to real-life endeavors. As Jeffrey Hinebaugh explains in his book "A Board Game Education," aside from Monopoly, Risk is probably the best board game for practicing negotiating skills. While Risk's official rules don't recognize alliances and agreements among players, in practice, such diplomacy is a crucial part of the game, and competitors find themselves continually interacting and seeking relationships that they can exploit for their own benefit [source: [url='']Hinebaugh[/url]].

In this article, we'll explain Risk's rules and the different variations of the game, and how to develop a winning strategy. But first, here's a basic explanation of how the game is played.

How to Play Risk

Risk includes the following simple game pieces:

The [b]board[/b] is a world map. [url='452604']Six continents[/url] are divided into 42 territories (between four and 12 per continent). The board has numbers along its bottom edge, which indicate the number of armies that a player receives when he takes it over and trades in his cards.


The number of armies a player controls is denoted by different pieces. An infantry piece is worth a single army, while cavalry is worth five armies, and artillery symbolizes 10 armies.

Of the 56 [b]Risk cards[/b], 43 are marked with a territory and a picture of infantry, cavalry or artillery. Another two are wild cards, with all three [url='365097']Army[/url] pieces on them but no territory. The remaining 12 are secret mission cards, which are used only in a variation of the game called Secret Mission Risk. (We'll discuss Secret Mission later.)

The basic objective is to conquer as many territories and continents as possible, amass as many armies, and gradually eliminate all your opponents. The players start by rolling a die, after which the person with the highest number places an army on a territory of his or her choosing. The other player or players then claims a territory in similar fashion, and they go back and forth until all the territories are occupied and the armies are in place.

At the beginning of each player's turn, he or she is allotted additional armies, based upon the number of territories and continents under the player's control, as well as the sets of Risk cards that he or she cashes in. To get a card, you have to attack and successfully capture a territory.

On each turn, you have the option of either attacking a territory or passing and allowing the other person to take his or her turn. You can only attack territories that are adjacent to one of your own, or connected to it by a dotted line. (For example, North Africa may attack Egypt, and Greenland may attack Quebec or Iceland.) Also, you must have at least two armies on a territory to launch an attack from it. In attack, an army confronts a defending army, and the outcome of the confrontation is determined by which of the players gets the highest number from rolling the dice. The more armies you attack with, the more dice you get to roll, which increases your chances of victory [source: Hasbro].

Risk Rules and Game Variations

The success of the original Risk game led to specialized versions. In 1986, for example, a variation called Castle Risk was introduced in Europe. It scaled down the playing field, and required players to invade or occupy only European countries. Another variation of Risk that emerged in the 1980s was the "secret mission" version, which allowed players to receive a secret mission that, if accomplished, would win the game. Yet another version, Risk: Napoleon Edition, was introduced in 1999. It was similar to Castle Risk, but with modifications that were based upon Napoleon I's military campaigns. The version also added additional pieces, such as generals, fortresses and [url='366201']naval units[/url]. But perhaps the most unusual new edition was Risk: 2210 A.D., released in 2001, which included a time limit and used a point system, rather than total territory domination, to determine the victor [source: [url='']Hinebaugh[/url]].

Risk also is sometimes played with "house" rule variations created by gatherings of veteran players, which can make the game more difficult or interesting. Some like to play timed matches, or limit the number of turns players get, which deprives them of the leeway of waiting for opponents to self-destruct. Another variation of Risk, one possibly dreamed up by a geography teacher, requires players to demonstrate knowledge before they place armies in a territory or attack it. In order to proceed, a player has to identify a specific state, province or country that's within the territory. Another twist is to play Risk on an actual map, instead of the standard board, and to create your own territories that are in play. For example, Risk can be played on a map of the United States, with players holding various states and attacking others. Enthusiasts also have converted Risk into a historical knowledge game, with players required to answer questions about historical conflicts, such as World War I, before they can place armies on territory or launch an attack [source: Hinebaugh].


Risk Strategy

Here are a few tips for developing a winning Risk strategy.

  • [b]Go for whole [url='452604']continents[/url]. [/b]Risk is an aggressive game, and in order to become ruler of the world, you have to grow a big, powerful [url='365097']army[/url]. You can increase your force by earning cards through conquering territories during your turns, but an even more efficient way is to take over an entire continent, which generates bonus armies at the start of your turn [source: [url='']Hasbro[/url]].
  • [b]Think defense. [/b]Ehsan Honary, author of the book "Total Diplomacy: The Art of Winning Risk," cautions that spreading yourself too fast and too thin across the map can lead to catastrophe, because one-army countries are invitations to your rivals to attack and conquer them. The smart thing to do is build your empire outward around a core, and allocate the greatest number of armies to your border territories. It's also important not to advance so recklessly into opponents' territory that you leave thin border defenses behind [source: [url='']Honary[/url]].
  • [b]Know the map. [/b]Not all territories are created equal, in terms of vulnerability. Some countries -- Argentina, Madagascar and Japan, for example -- are strongholds that are difficult to attack. But others -- North and East Africa, China, Russia, Southern Europe and the Middle East -- are easier targets, since they can be invaded from a multitude of different directions [source: [url='']Hasbro[/url]].
  • [b]Know your enemies. [/b]Honary says that the masterful Risk player will study his or her opponents' moves and manner -- not just in an attempt to anticipate the next foray, but to understand the psychology that drives his or her strategy and tactics. Players, he notes, fall into some archetypal categories, each with strengths and weaknesses. Aggressive/expansionist players are good at taking chances, but often temperamental and unable to cooperate with others. Conservative/isolationists, on the other hand, eschew direct attacks until they have what seems like the perfect opening. Their caution helps them to preserve their armies, but they also can easily become isolated on the map in places where they have no easy path to follow for conquest. Dealmakers/negotiators, who try to win by manipulating alliances and maneuvering rivals into beating each other's brains out, are perhaps the most difficult to play against. Their big weakness is that the verbal commitments they rely upon can easily be broken, when it suits you [source: [url='']Honary[/url]].


Originally Published: Jul 21, 2011

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  • Hinebaugh, Jeffrey. "A Board Game Education." Rowman and Littlefield Education. 2009. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • Honary, Eshan. "Total Diplomacy: The Art of Winning Risk." BookSurge. 2007. (Aug. 4, 2011)
  • "Risk Basic Strategy." (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • "Risk: The World Conquest Game "(official instructions). Parker Brothers. 1993. (Aug. 2, 2011)
  • "A Short History of Risk." (Aug. 2, 2011)