Dirk Knemeyer

Inspiring innovation from an unlikely place

Not much impresses me. I like plenty of things, but there are very few that I look at and am genuinely impressed by. That is what makes Risk Legacy by designer Rob Daviau all the more impressive.

Risk Legacy is a new board game by Hasbro, the largest and leading board game company in the world, which also makes the most bland, disinteresting and soulless games possible. They have old, groaning, tired properties that they attempt to keep on life support as cash cows with one lukewarm design after another. Monopoly, Clue, Life, Risk…each of these and many others have now been spun in many different directions that are only interesting to people who don’t know any better. Hasbro is to board gaming as Marvel is to comics: where the masses go but the insiders shun. Which, again, makes the achievement of Risk Legacy all the more impressive.

You see, Risk Legacy is the latest version of the old Risk board game. Most U.S. board gamers played Risk at one time or another. In its basic form Risk is a simple wargame that is almost entirely luck-based. The balance of power and diplomacy are the only really interesting aspects, all but obfuscated by the die rolling and particularly the capricious “bonus card” system which is the only thing that really matters. It is just a bad game. Yet, Hasbro has continued to churn out many varieties of Risk over the years, with different themes and rules. I’ve played a couple and disliked them enough not to play any more. Yet, with Risk Legacy, designer Rob Daviau is doing things in board games that simply haven’t been done. On top of the basic Risk engine, along with some theme-specific chrome, he has done a variety of brilliant things that are designed to create rich narrative around each and subsequent games and bake shared history into the very DNA of each set:

1. The game is progressive. The box includes various, sealed bags and packs that you are not allowed to open. As you play thru games of Risk Legacy, as different things happen at often unpredictable points, they “unlock” these goodies. Each one adds new and different elements to the game, making it dynamic, fresh and linking the progress in the overall game experience inextricably to your playing of it.

2. The game has memory. You are encouraged to write on the board with permanent markers. You are instructed to stick permanent stickers on the board – and making decisions insodoing – that permanently change, define and guide future games. Board gaming is a hobby of devoted collecting and obsessive-compulsive wanting to keep the game/box/components “perfect”. In service of creating a rich experience, Daviau has completely blown up this expectation of the genre.

3. The game has irrevocable choices. There are moments when you can pick from two cards with different powers for your faction. After you’ve picked the card you want, you are instructed to tear up the other card so it no longer exists as an option in your present or future world. You are on a one way path to a unique story that only your game group can appreciate.

This is not a game; it is a special experience. Daviau and – God forbid – Hasbro are taking us on a special, personal, meaningful journey filled with magical moments. I’m a gamer and enjoy playing lots of games. Risk Legacy literally sends chills down my spine and gives me goose bumps as these wonderful moments come about, where I wait to see what the bag another player opens will do to transform our experience, or when I am empowered to mark and permanently name a territory on the map anything I want it to be. This is wonderful, magical, and truly innovative in the best possible way.

I’ve been privileged to work in the technology industry for the past decade, and I’ve seen the great advances that have transformed our digital lives up close and personal. And I can say without hesitation that Risk Legacy and designer Rob Daviau have innovated as powerfully in the humble industry of board gaming as anything else I’ve seen. If you like board games, you absolutely have to try it. If you don’t like board games, but are interested in design, innovation or storytelling, it is also a must-buy to see a very creative take on transforming paper and plastic into something that delivers as rich, powerful and personal a story as any media or artifact I can think of. So, so impressive.

Daviau was recently on the peerless Three Moves Ahead podcast which I encourage you to listen to.

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