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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

First Impressions of Risk: Godstorm

by Ken Newquist / August 7, 2004

A few years ago, I reviewed Avalon Hill's then-new Risk 2210 board game for SCI-FI. Our gaming group loved it how the game took the game's core mechanic, added a great deal of complexity and strategy to it, threw in a sci-fi theme, and still managed to retain that bizarre Risk luck factor. I gave the game an A, and it's been a fixture at our table ever since. Now AH has released another Risk variant, Risk: Godstorm and once again we're gearing up for a playtest.

Wizards of the Coast, which is presently responsible for the Avalon Hill brand, has posted a 12-part preview that talks about the thinking behind the game,
how it differs from Risk 2210, and finally, overviews of the game's 4 gods and the "miracle cards" associated with them.

Based on that, and a quick read of the instructions, I've managed to gather a few initial impressions.

The Same, But Different

The game shares some of the same concepts of Risk 2210, including a five-turn limit on the game, a "sideboard" world that players can conquer (in 2210, that sideboard was the Moon, here it's the Underworld), uber-powerful leaders (in 2210, they were "commanders" assigned to nukes, land, sea, diplomacy and space, in Godstorm, they're gods tied to magic, war, sky and death), and special cards that grant players special abilities (in 2210they are command cards, in Godstorm, they're "miracles"). As in 2210, there's a currency in the game that's used to buy gods, cards and improvements, but here they are powered by faith rather than energy.

That said, while there are similarities, every point of congruence is countered by a point of divergence. For example, both games have sideboards, but in 2210, you got to the moon by buying a space commander and having a space station; in Godstorm, armies get to the underworld by dying. The game has gods, but they can't directly affect combat by fighting armies; instead they draw their power from the armies beneath them, and fight separate battles with other gods they encounter. The miracle cards? They're like command cards, but they cost two faith to power and require that players accomplish certain quests in order to be activated.

My impression of these changes is that the new game will be distantly familiar to 2210, but that it will stand well on its own.

Stuff I Liked

Reading through the previews and glancing over the instructions, a few elements really excited my imagination:

  • When armies are killed in battle, they don't return to your army pool --
    instead, they travel to the Underworld. There they can battle for control of certain altars, which -- if you secure -- help you in the surface world.
  • The gods aren't used to fight armies like in Risk 2210; instead, they can
    fight each other directly, or aid their armies indirectly. The war god, for example, causes you to win all ties. The magic goddess adds a die to your rolls regardless of whether you are attacking or defending. The gods can engage in direct combat with other gods, and when they do so, their minions bolster their attack -- if they've got five armies with them, then their attack roll is improved by 5. Combined with the god powers, that is going to lead to some truly epic battles.
  • Miracle cards look even cooler than command cards in 2210. I really like the fact that you need to achieve certain goals in order to activate them, and I love the rare "relics", which can create permanent game effects (rather than the transitory effects you see with standard command cards).
  • In 2210, at the beginning of the game four countries were randomly nuked off the map. That caused the layout of the board to change with every playing, helping to keep the game fresh. You never knew when South America might suddenly become a second Australia. Godstorm has a similar mechanic, but instead of radiation, it has has plague markers. Unlike 2210, armies can occupied plague lands, but they grow weaker as they spend time on them. Better yet (well, possibly worse) these plague markers can move and new markers can be added with the right miracle cards.
  • One miracle card lets you roll back the clock, effectively adding a sixth turn to the game. That alone could radically transform the game -- imagine ending your fifth turn thinking you've got things pretty locked up, and suddenly discovering a sixth turn!