Monday, 29 October 2007

Risk Express

The packaging of Risk Express.

Risk Express was an unplanned game purchase, when I was on a business trip to Manila. I have not seen it before, have not heard or read about it before. I bought it, in no small part due to it being designed by Reiner Knizia. It did not disappoint and turned out to be quite an enjoyable game.

Risk is an old game about world conquest. I've played it in my childhood. It is played on a world map. Players attack and defend using dice, conquering one another's lands, and whoever conquers the world wins. It is a mass market game, i.e. something that you can see in a normal department store / toy shop, and not something you need to search for in a specialised hobby store. Risk is seen as the predecessor of games like Axis & Allies. Many boardgame hobbyists regard Risk poorly. Too much luck, player elimination, design problems, etc. But it is a pretty old design afterall. So, it is no surprise that it seems so bad compared to newer games. Well, at least I did enjoy it when I was younger.

Risk Express uses the same theme as Risk, and also uses lots of dice rolling, but claims to let you "conquer the world in 20 minutes!". There are 14 country cards, each depicting a country (or a group of countries), how many points you get if you conquer the country, and what is required for conquering it. A continent is just a group of country cards. There are six continents: Asia (4 country cards), North America (3), South America (2), Europe (2), Africa (2), Australia (1). Each turn, you can pick a country to attempt to conquer. It can be an unconquered country, or a country already conquered by someone else (which will be slightly harder to take over). If you conquer a whole continent, you get some bonus points, and your continent becomes safe from other players' attacks. The game ends when there are no more unconquered countries.

The whole game revolves around dice rolling, and here's how it works. You get seven dice, with the six sides showing a leader, a cannon, cavalry, and one, two and three infantry. On the country cards there are 1 to 4 lines that you must defeat, e.g. a line may have a canon and a cavalry, or seven infantry, or two leaders. After you roll the dice, you check whether you can defeat any one line. You can defeat the lines in any order. If you are successful, you can pick up those relevant dice and put them onto the appropriate line on the country card. If you are unsuccessful, you must take away one die, and then try again. Your dice gradually dwindle. You will reach a point where you defeat all lines and claim the country, or you have no more hope of doing so. That ends your turn.

The dice, dice container (which looks like a beggar's bowl) and country cards, front and back.

Details of the North American country cards.

I have played 5 games of Risk Express with Michelle (2-player games), and we quite enjoyed it. It was very noisy, because the game box, which is also the container for dice throwing, is made of hard plastic and makes a lot of noise. It was exciting. I think this excitement is an inherent aspect of dice games - throwing the dice and seeing what fate gives you is exciting and thrilling. There was a lot of cheering about unbelievably good luck and a lot of whining about consistent bad luck. It can really make you laugh to see 12 or so infantry rolled, on the very turn that you give up trying to attack the Middle East (which requires 10 infantry) after 5 or 6 failed attempts. And you'll really jump and cheer when you are down to two dice, and you need to have two leaders (1 out of 36 chance), and you roll exactly that. This also contributes to how noisy the game can be.

I enjoyed the game. It really can be played in 20 minutes. It feels a little like Pickomino, another dice game also by Reiner Knizia. There is actually not a lot of decision making. You do have to make many small decisions along the way, but most of the time the optimal decision is obvious. E.g. you rolled the dice very well and can defeat more than one line on the country card. The best choice in which line to defeat first is, of course, the most difficult line to defeat, because on your subsequent rolls you will have fewer dice and you want to keep the easier lines for your subsequent rolls. Most of the time this decision is straight-forward. There is some decision making involved in deciding which country to attack. An unconquered one (easier) or an occupied one (harder)? Do you go for a difficult country and try to collect the full set of countries for a continent, or do you just go for an easy country to earn fewer but surer points? Should you attack an opponent's country to prevent him/her from conquering the whole continent? However, overall there is not really that much tough decision making. Overall I'd say Risk Express is a fun and short game, and it can be quite exciting. Just be prepared that it can be rather noisy.

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