In 2011 Risk Legacy changed board gaming forever. The brilliant adaptation of the classic strategy title created a new genre — the legacy genre — seemingly overnight. Now, a decade after its release, publisher Hasbro is developing Risk Shadow Forces, a spiritual successor created with the help of acclaimed designer Craig Van Ness. Polygon has the first details on what fans should expect when the finished game launches in fall 2022.
Risk Legacy was created and designed by Rob Daviau, who asked a simple question: Why do board games throw away what happened the previous time you played, only to start over from the beginning like Groundhog Day? Thus, Risk Legacy was the first board game with a kind of memory, an experience that evolved over time by adding additional gameplay mechanics in response to in-game events. Players were asked to write on the board; to apply stickers to change cards, characters, and locations on the map; and to destroy elements of the game entirely.
The end result was an action-packed campaign in a box, and the reinvention of a classic first published in 1957. It would go on to inspire games like Gloomhaven, Pandemic Legacy, and even Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile.
Building a legacy
But the storyline of the original Risk Legacy? Well … it was a little out there. Avatar-style mechs went toe-to-toe with barbarian berserkers while futuristic armored soldiers formed ranks to mow down mutants and alien invaders. By the end of 14 linked games, the world that players had created together was unique, but it was also largely unintelligible.
Chris Nadeau, senior director and product development lead on Hasbro’s Avalon Hill team, tells Polygon that his objective this time around was to keep what worked from the original Risk Legacy, and then lean hard into more cohesive storytelling.
“One of those key goals of Shadow Forces,” Nadeau said, “was to ensure that players weren’t only going to have the technical playthrough — the emotional connection to the gameplay itself — but to also feel like they’re telling their own story as they’re going.”
“Risk is an interesting game in that it’s really never had a story,” Nadeau continued. “The original game is essentially this kind of Napoleonic oil painting that belongs in your great uncle’s smoking den. […] We could put an IP onto Risk in a way we’ve never done before, or we could make it up. It can be new and original and different.”
Nadeau’s team took the second option, forgoing Hasbro’s many existing universes in favor of something new.
“We needed enough of a timeline to play out, essentially, all our real world fears right now,” Nadeau said. “Climate change. The kind of slow decay of society and government. These private firms and the uber-rich doing things like flying out in space. What happens if we just keep that pace and that acceleration for the next 29 years?”
The world map
Risk Shadow Forces takes place in the year 2050. Humanity has come together to exploit a new source of clean energy in order to colonize Mars. But, before the expedition can kick off in earnest, tragedy strikes. Militaries and corporations around the world turn their guns on each other. With traditional superpowers sidelined, powerful warlords take advantage and rush in to fill the vacuum.
Players will begin Risk Shadow Forces by choosing one of those warlords, and then keep playing that same warlord over 15 connected games. Each warlord will have its own backstory, which will help to define their unique set of thematic, evolving powers. Perhaps they are highly maneuverable, moving armies easily and quickly across the map. Or maybe they’re highly defensive, with bonuses for holding territory and fighting back against aggressors. Those abilities will be represented by a small stack of cards, which can be used on a player’s turn to impact the outcome of a given battle on the world map.
Next come the factions, which, unlike a traditional game of Risk, will each have their own abilities. Before each game players will draft a faction, not unlike drafting cards in a game of Magic: The Gathering, so that going into each game they never know what combination they’re going to get. That synergy between a given player’s chosen warlord and their semi-randomly assigned faction will require the development of new strategies on the fly.
The skirmish game
Nadeau and his team didn’t stop there. Risk Shadow Forces includes the traditional game of global domination, and a secondary game as well. To make the action even more personal, in between battles on the world map individual warlords will take up arms and fight tactical skirmishes. Risk Shadow Forces will come with two double-sided battle boards where players will play out those firefights, and that’s where Craig Van Ness comes in.
Van Ness is an industry veteran with decades of experience. His biggest claim to fame is as the co-designer of Heroscape, a lavish skirmish game first published in 2004. In it, players take on the role of characters from multiple disparate timelines duking it out with unique powers on top of modular terrain. He also co-designed Star Wars: Epic Duels. That’s the title that inspired the hit board game Unmatched, a collaboration between Mondo and Restoration Games that also uses skirmish mechanics. Suffice it to say that when it comes to small-unit board game combat, Van Ness has the experience to make that style of gameplay sing.
“He sits there with this notebook open and not only does he write down the flaws of things he wants to look at, he writes down the possible solutions at the same time,” Nadeau said. “He’s playing the meta in his head from the moment he’s introduced to the mechanic. In a way, it makes Craig kind of propel his process right past alpha testing. He’s past that exploration discovery moment, and he’s already debugging the moment he starts playing.”
But Heroscape isn’t Van Ness’s only claim to fame. He’s also known as the co-designer — alongside Daviau and the late Alan Roach — of Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit. It’s an obscure, out-of-print board game based on the climactic final battle from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The Queen’s Gambit isn’t a single game, but three connected games taking place at the same time. In it players fight the space battle above the surface of Naboo, and also the assault on the queen’s throne room — complete with a decoy Padme Amidala. At the same time they fight as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn against Darth Maul. The result is an incredibly tense, interconnected strategy game, the likes of which has never been attempted before or since.
It’s just the kind of experience that will be required to pull off something like Risk Shadow Forces, and Van Ness is very excited about its prospects.
“You go from this sort of global world map, and then you go right into this skirmish game,” Van Ness told Polygon. “Every skirmish game has a different objective. It plays differently. Likewise, the global games play differently. There’s some real twists and turns that come out of that. Either the setup is different, or the objectives are different, or we introduce new things that you weren’t anticipating, or new ways to play.”
Because of the secrecy that surrounds legacy games, neither Van Ness nor Nadeau can say for sure what will be inside the box when it finally ships next fall. They can say that in addition to 5 unique warlords and over 200 additional miniatures, there will also be four sealed envelopes and one sealed container. What’s inside those sealed packages is anyone’s guess. The final product will have a suggested retail price of $68.99. Pre-orders begin soon, and those who put money down for a copy will be included in the ongoing design process — much in the same vein as a modern crowdfunded board game.
For more information on Risk Shadow Forces, head to the Hasbro Pulse community website.