Tho' I actually collect Risk games, I confess I've lost track of the number of Risk variants. And don't think you can find them all just by searching in BoardGameGeek; there are several games with Risk in the title (and which even use the official Risk logo and font) but which are so unlike Risk as to be very different games. Conversely, there are numerous games that have no official tie with Risk but which are so strongly influenced by Risk as to be, in reality, unofficial Risk variants. The excellent Spheres of Influence (Little Nuke Games) and Buck Rogers: Battle for the 25th Century (TSR) are cases in point. And then there are the Risk variants that have only been published in certain limited markets, like SPQRisiko! (Editrice Giochi) which transposed Risk to the age of the Roman Empire and was only published in Italy.
Risk has proved a popular candidate for re-engineering because, like Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble, it's one of just a handful of board games that has general public name recognition. But whereas most themed versions of Monopoly and Cluedo are just cut & paste reskins, Risk variants more than not offer a game-play twist to keep them interesting. The Op's Risk: Warhammer 40,000 is a case in point.
All the familiar elements of 'vanilla' Risk are there, for good or ill. This is still an area control game and the core rules are unchanged: you get to place out additional armies at the start of your turn based on the number of territories you own, with bonuses for exclusive ownership of a complete region and for trading in sets of cards. The abstracted die-rolling combat is unchanged: you can attack adjacent territories rolling up to three regular six-sided dice if you attack with 3+ armies, with up to two dice rolled in defence, and rolls are compared highest against highest, second-highest against second, to determine which armies are eliminated. However, there are additions and tweaks to Risk: Warhammer 40,000 that certainly alter the dynamics of play...
For starters, the map isn't a representation of our world; it's a map of the continents that make up the planet Vigilus in the Warhammer universe. Aficionados of conventional Risk will spot that this map offers many more connections between regions than in the traditional game, including some that wrap around the North and South as well as East and West. Storvhal, with its four territories, may remind players of Australasia in the 'vanilla' game but, with three connections to other land masses rather than one, it doesn't play like Australia. Noticeably too some of the regions are linked by a solid mass. These are designated as Fortwall territories, deemed to be within both the regions to which they connect. This means that you need to control the Fortwall as well as all the territories in a region in order to claim the troop bonus for a region. Again, this switches up the dynamics of the game.
Tho' victory in Risk originally demanded total military domination of the map (ie: elimination of all other players) more recent editions of even the vanilla game have included objective cards offering alternative (more quickly fulfilled) victory conditions. These are traditionally played as secret individual objectives, dealt out at the start of the game. Risk: Warhammer 40,000 comes with 20 objective cards, divided into major and minor objectives. At setup, four of each of these are selected at random and displayed face up. The objectives are available to all players. You'll want to go for them because you need three objectives to win. You can collect objective cards either by fulfilling them yourself or by taking them as the spoils when you eliminate a player that has collected an objective card. In addition, there are major and minor rewards (in-game bonuses) that can be claimed for completing objectives. The net effect is to add further momentum to players who are already ahead: it's the opposite of a catch-up mechanic but it's entirely consistent with Risk's core mechanics. We were surprised tho' that all the cards in this edition of Risk are cut with square corners! We're used to cards these days having rounded edges for better wear. I'm afraid I took one look at these cards and immediately went searching for appropriate sized sleeves.
Among other features in this edition of Risk are the use of 'leaders'. Several other Risk variants introduced leaders, so these aren't wholly novel. Leaders don't have any intrinsic troop value but each gives a special ability or bonus to the troops they are with. If all the troops accompanying a leader are eliminated then that leader is also removed, tho' they can be redeployed on your next turn. We liked the idea of leaders as a device for adding an asymmetry to the factions but from our Board's Eye View plays we weren't convinced that all five leaders gave comparable advantage. Magus (purple), Warboss (green) and Marneus Calgar (blue) all give +1 to certain die rolls, which seemed to us to be more advantageous than the power of Abaaddon the Despoiler (red) to reroll 1's and certainly better than the power of Autarch (yellow) to require the final army in the leader's territory to be defeated twice before it and the leader are removed. Given that Risk: Warhammer 40,000 comes with literally five armies of tiny minis that are unique to each faction, it's also a little disappointing that the leaders are marked only with cardboard tokens. No doubt Warhammer enthusiasts will want to customise their copies of this game with appropriate minis for the various leaders.
If you're a fan of Risk or of Warhammer 40,000, then you'll want to search out a copy of this game, warts and all. If you're a fan of both, then you've surely either already bought this game or you'll be rushing immediately to order up your copy!
(Review by Selwyn Ward)