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Risk & Castle Risk» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Castle Risk: Some Love For an Older Game rss

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Jake Conde
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Okay, disclaimer, I am not a Risk fan. It's so entirely dependent on dice luck and card luck that I cannot enjoy either a victory or a defeat.

However, I would say that I would play Castle Risk again. Why do you ask? That I can tell you in one word ... Decisions!*

So with that, let's dive in.
When reviewing a game I give a brief overview of the game followed by a look at 1) the components, 2) the Rules and how easy they are to understand, 3) whether the gameplay is elegant or clunky, 4) the impact good strategy and tactics have on final outcome 5) how much fun it is to actually play the game, 6) how likely I am to replay this in the future. This is then followed by a Final Analysis and ranking.

Overview:
If you've played Risk you know half the game: a large version of whack-a-mole that requires you to close your eyes, roll your dice and pray. If this was a Risk review, I'd end it right here. Perhaps you could get me to say that you want to make sure to win one battle each turn to get your card. If I was generous I would point out the advantage of securing some continent for an income bonus, the need to leave at least two armies in every territory to maximize defensive options and enemy attrition, and further I'd say that a mastery of Australia and building up armies in Siam is strongest position to build from.

But I'd still come back to this: you can't beat the cards or the dice. If the dice are against you, and if the cards don't give the right combos at the right time, you're done for.

So, what makes Castle Risk so different? Well, first as to the theme: It's a WWI era board with the great empires of Ottomans, France, Britain, Austria, etc. all vying for victory. Further, you're not conquering the world, you're conquering chosen capital of your enemy forces.

But what is most different is the gameplay. Unlike Risk you can challenge the dice, you can mitigate bad luck, you can embark different strategies and every card is useful by itself (a big change, in Risk you may draw five cards before you get a combo you can trade for reinforcements). This means you have choices, real choices, and can plan accordingly.

Want to attack? Well, you can use Reinforcements cards to get more troops, and you can use a General to add +1 to one die roll. Want to turtle and expand slowly? Use Diplomats to force non-aggression, Marshals to add +1 to a defender die, and place your spoils at the end of your turn to defend. Want to try something different? Gather intelligence and assassinate other cards with Spies, or use an Admiral to get an army around heavily-defended choke points.

You also don't have to whack-a-mole all enemy armies. Every enemy has a castle, and all you need to do is catch and hold those territories. This means there are clear goals in sight other than "attack everywhere and everyone." But each castle has the effect of a Marshal, so those territories are the hardest to capture.

Game ends when only one player is in possession of his original castle. This is big, because one player can spend themselves trying to take every other castle on the board, but if they overextend and lose their home castle the last player is the winner. So, you must defend your home. However, controlling enemy castles provides bonus armies, so that helps you balance your forces.

The Components and Quality:
The Artwork in this version is very Austere, short on flourishes and long on practicality. In a way this fits the theme rather nicely: it gives it a military feel with a brightly colored territory map with tokens representing enemy forces and functional card art with clean lines. It doesn't have plastic figures of troops or castles, the kinds of things you might see today, nor are the cards artistic exactly. It's a very generic feel, but it supports the idea of you're being a general in the field plotting your movements.

Now, there is one big drawback to the components. The tokens, and there are hundreds, come in small trays with lids that DO NOT SNAP ON. So, if the box shifts or falls what looks like a flood of skittles covering the interior of the box. Today, you would get separate bags for each. Overall the mere functionality coupled with the spill potential is a 4/10.

The Rules and Clarity thereof:
Rather simple: it's Risk with nuances. The book is short, the rules are explained and there's a nice reference section. A few gameplay examples, mostly to explain the cards and how they work, come included. Simple rules sometimes are merely the natural result of a simple game. Overall, 8/10

The Gameplay:
It takes a while still. It doesn't feel as long as Risk itself, but prepared to spend two hours at least trying to conquer Europe. During other players turns you won't do much but defend against attacks and deal with enemy diplomats and spies (if you have your own spy you can use that to avoid revealing your hand and discarding). If you have six people, which this game can support, you'll have lots of down time.

On your turn you'll be busy. Because the battles rage back and forth you may see a Europe that is very different from the one you left a turn earlier. You'll need to adapt your plans to the most recent disposition of armies. The nice thing is that you can't lose territory on your turn and you get spoils (more armies) automatically at the end of your turn, so that encourages pushing the attack more than regular risk (where too many conquests will spread you too thin). But the dice and card luck is still strong, and it still feels a lot like Risk to be any kind of groundbreaking gameplay. Overall, 6/10

Strategy and Tactics:
Okay, this is where it really separates itself from Risk. Risk has a few strategies involving securing continents, but the reality is the dice favor the attacker, a defender should always leave at least two defenders in all conquered territories (to get the second defender die in play) and try not lose too many rolls. A generous estimate is a 3.

But Castle Risk allows for strategies and tactical adjustment. Strategy wise you can secure Admirals, Diplomats and Generals to give yourself the cushion you need to avoid attack from a troublesome neighbor while effectively striking an enemy far away (Admiral's let you launch an attack from one coastline to another, and General's increase the effectiveness of the attack). You can focus on turtling in a region and building up over time. You can plan where to attack the castle and how.

Tactics are also great. You have to decide when to use those cards and who to attack. This often won't be clear until right before your turn. Just as in real warfare, the balance of power is often shifting, and a couple of decisive battles and suddenly a new enemy is at your door. Constant tactical adjustments along with long-term strategic goals and plans come together very well. Overall, 8/10

Fun factor:
For all that, it's not the most fun game. You'll throw a lot of dice and hope on every turn. The game pace can drag when two other players are fighting an epic battle of 25 vs 35 troops, and your attention may wander. If you have the right groups of friends this may be okay, because perhaps you'll use the down time to shoot the breeze and the game is just an excuse to enjoy the night. But the gameplay is so dice-heavy the fun does suffer, because if someone's losing badly and it's all down to dice luck they may be angry. Remember, just as in Risk, every gain you make comes from hurting the other players, and that much direct conflict can be a downer for some. Overall, 6/10.

Replayability:
The long run time, coupled with the commonality of Risk (everyone's heard of it, many have played) and the dice chucking make this game hard to break out too often. I've found it has great life at family get-togethers over holidays. Then we're just snacking and talking and the game nicely puts us at the same table for a couple of hours. But for a gaming groups don't expect it to be a frequent request. There's a definite need for the right mood before it will come down off the shelf Overall, 5/10.

Final Analysis
Ironically, the game is "Castle Risk" partially to capitalize on the Risk name, and yet I feel this game really excels in the portions that are least like Risk itself. The game is a solid strategy game with a longer play time, good rules and functional art. It's interesting, rewards good strategy and tactics, allows for some control over the random elements while keeping it random enough to create excitement.

And yet, it is Risk with objectives and card modifiers. That's hard to get over. It's a long hard fight with the other players, and you'll be in direct conflict for hours. Overall, 6/10.**

*Sung to the tune of "Tradition"

**I would give regular Risk a two, if that helps as a comparison point. If you love Risk I can't tell if you'll like this or not, it's differences in my opinion greatly enhance it, but you may view this altering gospel.
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Benjamin Maggi
United States
Clifton Park
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Nice review. I really like Castle Risk myself, even though it is much more luck-based depending on the card draws. Still, since it takes less time than regular Risk which is fine by me.
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Jake Conde
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Benjamin Maggi wrote:
Nice review. I really like Castle Risk myself, even though it is much more luck-based depending on the card draws. Still, since it takes less time than regular Risk which is fine by me.


Thank you. There is luck because you don't know what cards you'll have to work with. To my view though that's still better than Risk because the card can always be used, whereas in Risk you may draw five cards before get the right combo to cash in. To me that makes Castle Risk less luck dependent and more about tactical adjustments.
 
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Dev Davis
United States
South El Monte
California
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Thanks for the review. My friends and I played many, many hours of Risk and Castle Risk way back in the day. Castle Risk was definitely a nice twist that give it legs for us. In fact, ~25 years later and we STILL tease my friend in any game we play that he will probably find a way to play a diplomat card.
 
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Danny Perello
Canada
Salmo
British Columbia
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This was my favourite type of Risk back in the mid eighties. Soon afterward though I discovered Civilization which opened up a whole new level of gaming for me and my circle of friends...
 
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Dan Lokemoen
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I played Castle Risk once and due to some good planning, but more due to very lucky dice rolls, I won the game on the first turn before some people even got to take their turn. It was a memorable gaming experience, but I'm gonna say that it was not because the game is any good.
 
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Bill Eldard
United States
Burke
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YourHighnessness wrote:
I played Castle Risk once and due to some good planning, but more due to very lucky dice rolls, I won the game on the first turn before some people even got to take their turn. It was a memorable gaming experience, but I'm gonna say that it was not because the game is any good.


It's been many years since I've played Castle Risk (I have a copy of the original US edition, and a copy of the Italian Risiko Piu), so maybe I'm weak on the victory conditions, but how can you win the game before everyone else has gotten to go?
 
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Jake Conde
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YourHighnessness wrote:
I played Castle Risk once and due to some good planning, but more due to very lucky dice rolls, I won the game on the first turn before some people even got to take their turn. It was a memorable gaming experience, but I'm gonna say that it was not because the game is any good.


Mathematically that sounds impossible, I wonder if there was some kind of rule confusion (or loaded dice + marked cards).
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