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Subject: Risk Express - A Detailed Review rss

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This review continues my series of detailed reviews that attempt to be part review, part resource for anyone not totally familiar with the game. For this reason I expect readers to skip to the sections that are of most interest.

Summary

Game Type - Dice Game
Play Time: 15-30 minutes
Number of Players: 2-6
Mechanics - Dice Rolling, Set Collection
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 15 minutes)
Components - Very Good


Image Courtesy of hecose

Overview

This is the first in a series of reviews that aim to cover the new Express line of games from Hasbro. Each game in the series has attempted to take an already existing title (Risk in this case) and use thematic elements combined with Dice Rolling mechanisms to create a new experience.

This title is designed by Dr. Reiner Knizia, which only serves to underline his passion for dice game designs and his propensity to get titles published. Most other games in the series however have the names Garrett Donner and Michael Steer associated with them.

The Components

The beauty of the Express line is that they are component light. Some of the components are brilliant, whilst others are not up to the standard of the presentation as a whole.

d10-1 The Dice - Obviously it is the dice that are most critical when it comes to a dice game and thankfully some care has been taken to offer high quality components.

All 7 dice offer etched or engraved icons, meaning they will not fade over time. Made from high quality plastic (is there a more accurate term than plastic?) these babies will last a lifetime.

All dice are the same in design, offering the same icons on each face. Three of the faces feature Infantry - a single x1 Infantry, x2 Infantry and a x3 Infantry. All Infantry symbols are blue in colour

The other 3 faces offer a different single icon representing Cannons (red), Cavalry (green) and a General (purple).

The use of different colours is a good design decision, allowing the symbols to be identified quickly, even from distance and if glare is a problem.

It is also worth noting that the symbols used for all icons are presented using classic Risk iconography, which is a nice nod to the game's predecessor.


Image Courtesy of snerreifke

d10-2 Rolling Bowl - Despite the importance of the dice, it really is this bowl that is the standout component of the game. Made of molded plastic, this sturdy little unit measures 15cms in diameter. The outer shell is dark blue in colour, whilst the inner bowl section is orange, offering a nice colour contrast. The bottom and lid of the bowl are festooned with the name of the game and icons from the dice. Some of these elements are made from a rubber material, giving them a nice feel. This is of course all 'trimming' but the quality has to be appreciated given the game comes from a 'Mass Market Company'.

The Rolling Bowl's functionality is of course the most important element. The ability to roll your dice in this self contained unit is not only clever, but it makes the game highly portable, allowing it to be played anywhere, from train to plane to automobile!

Add to that the fact that the Bowl also serves as storage for the entire game and this is a component that I find myself in love with. I think Hasbro may have stumbled upon an Iconic Gaming Accessory that may be adapted and incorporated into many games in the future. Even if you don’t like the sound of any of these Express games, I’d recommend buying one just for the Rolling Bowl and using it for other games that require dice rolling. I think it’s that cool.


Image Courtesy of hecose

d10-3 Region Tiles - The final in-game component is a series of 14 Region or Country Cards. These are circular in design, which is a nice touch as it represents a global map feel. Each card features a region or country of the world that must be conquered. Some tiles feature a single country (China, Russia) but most depict several countries in a region.

Each tile belongs to a set that make up a Continent. As such tiles belonging to a set share a colour for easy identification. Each tile then contains a series of icons (matching those on the dice) and a point value. More on those later.

Getting back to design for a moment, each tile's background features 'map style' lines, which further reinforce the global nature of the game. The rear of the cards feature an action shot of the 'Napolean-esque' units used in the game and the rear is also colour coded to match the colour of the continent on the other side.

Unfortunately the tiles also represent the poorest design element of the game. In fact they are so thin as to not deserve the term 'tile'. The terms wafer or disc would be more appropriate. This may seem like a small point, and it is given the asking price, but why they couldn't have made the tiles another couple millimeters thick so they would stand up better to repeated plays is beyond me. This decision just seems to be at odds with the other nice design decisions that were made. Anyway life goes on.


Image Courtesy of hecose


Image Courtesy of hecose

d10-4 Rules - The rules round out the components and are pretty simple, which is in line with a 'filler dice game' title. Again there is a nice design choice here in that the rules are printed on circular paper to again reflect the sphere of the world.


Image Courtesy of Sir Loin o Beef

All in all the production values of this game are pretty high and well worth the price of admission.


Image Courtesy of JohnnyReb

The Play

d10-1 Aim of the Game - The aim is simply to be the player with the most points at the end of the game. Points are earned for each Region Tile that a player has collected and bonus points can be earned by collected all the tiles in a given set.

d10-2 Set-up - This requires nothing more than placing the Region Tiles on the table, with like tiles being placed near each other for easy scanning. Each player rolls the dice and the player who rolls the most Generals is the start player. They are passed the dice in the Rolling Bowl and you are away.

d10-3 The Turn - On a given turn each player can make multiple rolls in order to capture a Region Tile, however only 1 Tile can be captured in a single turn. Capturing a Region Tile requires that a player rolls a series of icons as listed on each Tile.

These icons are printed in a series of lines called Battle Lines. A Battle Line is defined as a series of icons printed in a single horizontal line. In the image below the Tile consists of 3 Battle Lines. One line requires 3 Infantry, whilst the other two require a Cannon and a Cavalry. The General is ignored unless the Tile is already owned by another player (more on that later).


Image Courtesy of JohnnyReb

In order to successfully complete a Battle Line, all requirements of a Line must be fulfilled in a single roll.

After the first roll a player must decide which Region Tile they will go after. Once they select a Tile, they are committed to that Tile for the current turn.

Should a player make a roll and can complete a Battle Line, those dice are removed from the Rolling Bowl and placed on top of the respective icons on the Tile.

They can then roll again in order to fulfill another Battle Line. If a player rolls and is unable to complete a Battle Line, they pay the price by removing one of the remaining dice from the Rolling Bowl, thereby making it more difficult to successfully capture the Region Tile they are after.

This process is repeated until a player either captures a Region Tile or runs out of dice to roll, resulting in a failed turn. The dice and Rolling Bowl are passed to the next player in clockwise order and play continues.

d10-4 Selecting a Region Tile to Attack - It is important to note that a player can go after any Tile in the game, either those freely available in the centre of the table, or those already captured by somebody else.

However it is a little trickier to capture another player's Region Tile as this requires the completion of an additional Battle Line. This is always a single General icon and it has a purple background to distinguish it from the other icons on each Tile (which always have a white background).

d10-5 Capturing Region Tiles - If a Region Tile is successfully captured it is taken and added to a player's score pile. All Tiles should be spread out so they are visible to all players.

If a player manages to capture every Region Tile of a single Continent, they are handsomely rewarded. These Tiles are turned over and placed as a single pile. Only 1 card in the set will feature a value on the back and this should be placed on top. This value is the combined total of the set and is at least equal to the value of all the Tiles in the set, but usually it is worth more. The more cards in the set, the more that set is worth.

But the real bonus is that all the Region Tiles in the set are now safe and cannot be attacked by your enemies. This is yet another nice link to the original game of Risk, where the reward for capturing a whole Continent was earning bonus units in the Reinforcement Phase.

d10-6 Ending the Game and Scoring - The game ends when the last Region Tile is conquered from the centre of the table. At this point all players add up their points and the highest score wins. There is no tie breaker in Risk Express, so multiple winners are possible although not that common.

The Strategy

Quite obviously the game is all about going after whole Continents as this will net nice points and protect you against subsequent attack. But this is no easy feat for two reasons. First, you are always open to subsequent attack yourself until a Continent is secured. Secondly it is not always easy to capture a Continent because that first roll must satisfy at least one Battle Line on a Tile in order for a player to target it.

Another important consideration is the whole decision of, should I go after an Open Tile, or should I try to stop an opponent from getting a set by attacking one of their Region Tiles? This is never an easy decision and sometimes it is best to target another player rather than go after a relatively easy Tile. Although it is harder to make an attack on another player (as it requires that extra 'General' Battle Line to be rolled), going after an easier tile on the table simply means it may not be all that hard for the enemy to target your newly won tile and secure a potential Continent Set anyway.

Region Tile Selection is a very important part of the game. A large chunk of the decision making tends to revolve around this dilemma of whether to attack another player or strike out on your own. Sometimes it is best to leave someone be, even if it means they may complete a set. This gives you the time to strike out for a set of your own, essentially throwing that same decision back onto your opponent. Will they now try to complete their set or attempt to deny you yours?

Australia is a nice little quandary as it features a single Tile that represents a whole Continent. Win that Tile and you lock in 3 points automatically. This is another nice nod to the original game of Risk, where Fortress Australia was a tried and proven strategy!

The final strategic consideration is of course the odds (this is a dice game after all). Some Region Tiles offer a greater margin for error than others. This is determined by the number of Battle Lines present and the total number of Infantry required. Some Tiles allow 3 dice to be lost and still be conquerable. Others only allow 1 or 2 failed rolls to occur. The hardest Tiles of all require all but 1 dice if you are to capture them from another player.

The Final Word

Risk Express is a clever dice game that is good as a simple opener or a nice closer to a gaming session. The components are very nice, the play is simple for non-gamer friends and family to pick-up and it plays in quick time. All of this qualifies it for the 'filler game' category.

It offers player interaction in the form of being able to steal Region Tiles off other players, and players are able to secure points by capturing whole Continents.

These are pretty nice features for a game of this weight. But for me it fails somewhat on 2 levels. First and most importantly, it fails the 'Dice Game' test in my opinion.

A Good Dice Game should allow a player to make interesting decisions - decisions that allow the player to be in charge of what is happening (Stone Age, Kingsburg etc). With Risk Express however, the dice very much control what the player is doing. Once that Region Tile Selection decision is made, you are then at the mercy of the dice - pure and simple. In this respect Risk Express is really nothing more than Yahtzee with pasted on theme...and a few nice nods to a classic of the industry.

If you don't think this will worry you, or you are a huge Risk fan then Risk Express is well worth purchasing.

The other niggle for me is the regularity with which the end game can bog down. Because the game will end with the capture of the last Region Tile on the table, all but the player in the lead will want to go after Table Tiles when there are only 1-3 left. Doing so would only play into the leader's hands unless of course the points still available can edge you into the lead.

Therefore the chasing pack is forced to go after the leading player's Tiles. But going after easy to conquer cards seems rather pointless as they will not be worth much (meaning the leader may still be in the lead) and they will be just as easy for them to steal back anyway.

So players tend to go after the hard Tiles. Should a player be successful, the leader can then be in the same position. They can't afford to take the last Tile from the table if you are now in the lead, so they attack in kind.

The result is an end game sequence that can drag on quite a bit and can result in the game outstaying its welcome. This is not always the case mind you, but when it happens it is a little frustrating.

It's also worth noting that, in Australia at least, Risk Express is the dearest of the games in the line. I assume this is perhaps due to Hasbro needing to pay a small fee to use the Risk name (although I thought Hasbro bought Parker Brothers) or perhaps Knizia is able to command a little more from his fee?

Otherwise I can only make the assumption that Hasbro feels they can ask a little more for a game using the Risk name.

It should also be noted that with more than 4 players, the down time between turns gets a little much for a filler game. The players can also find it very difficult to get Continent Sets with more than 4 players and the whole experience bogs down into a 'you steal from me - I steal from you' situation. Risk Express is best as a 3-4 player game.

The Express Line of Games

I definitely rate Game of Life Express as the best in the series (of those stated here - which I have played).

Monopoly and Risk then fight it out for 2nd and 3rd. I really can't separate them so I'll provide a quick summary to help people make up their own minds.

As games in their own right -

d10-1 Game of Life Express -

Strengths

* Players have real choice in the path they wish to follow. Those choices then have a say in how a player will progress in future turns. Players control the dice here rather than the other way around.

* Large number of ways to score makes the game interesting and seem less repetitive.

* Players need to understand the make-up of the dice in order to maximise their scoring potential.

* End Game is never quite known and heightens the 'Push Your Luck' Element.

* Player Interaction is present in the form of the Lottery and Pay Days, albeit in a passive sense.

Weaknesses

* It has 'Game of Life' in the title, which will see many a Geek not give it a glance.

* Scoring is biased towards Salary, making getting a Job a no brainer decision.

d10-2 Monopoly Express -

Strengths

* All players are in the game right up until the end thanks to the Target Score End Game element.

* The 'Push Your Luck' Element of the game affords the players with some decision making.

* Players need to understand the make-up of the dice in order to maximise their scoring potential.

* This game is so quick that it will never outstay its welcome unless you want it to.

Weaknesses

* One of the key elements of the game is almost broken and should have worked better.

* The rules leave open a few anomalies.

d10-3 Risk Express -

Strengths

* Real Player Interaction is present in the form of attacking other players to conquer their Territories.

* This game is the most faithful to its predecessor in terms of mechanics and theme.

* End Game can be thrilling as players vie for those all important Territories. However this is not always the case.

Weaknesses

* The End Game can drag on as players become locked in a battle for a key territory and don't wish to trigger the End of the Game by taking the last Territory.

* It is quite possible for a player or players to have no chance of winning by the end of the game, which affects player interest in the result.

* All dice are exactly the same in composition meaning that players are completely at the mercy of fate. There is little decision making involved beyond the choice of which Territory to target, and even that is subject to a player's first roll.

Links

d10-1 Game of Life Express - A Detailed Review

d10-2 Monopoly Express
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Tommy Dean
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Dear? I bought mine for $12 at Target. That was a a 20% of sale on their normal $15 price.

If anyone is asking more, well, I would look to the shop for the mark up, not the original maker

Mind Games was (is?) asking $40 for this one, which is crazy talk!
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ozjesting wrote:
Dear? I bought mine for $12 at Target. That was a a 20% of sale on their normal $15 price.

If anyone is asking more, well, I would look to the shop for the mark up, not the original maker

Mind Games was (is?) asking $40 for this one, which is crazy talk!


Now that's interesting Tommy. Is your $12 department store version offering the exact same Rolling Tub as that shown in the BGG pictures?

I ask this because a friend bought the cheaper Monopoly Express version from K-Mart and that tub is of a slightly different design and generally not quite up to the standard of the 'Mind Games' version.

If so I find it a little baffling as to why Hasbro would produce two versions of the same game for the Department Store and Specialty Store Markets.

Yes I did pay $40 for my Risk Express from Mind Games. The other games in the series though are at $20 and $25 (even at Mind Games - hence the dear comment), which is more reasonable.
 
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David F
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Excellent review. I've been on the fence for a long time, and your review has convinced me to not buy it. Your review made me feel like I now know the game inside-out, and the two flaws you pointed out were especially important.

I wish all dice games had a dice-rolling apparatus like the bowl in Risk Express.

Your links to your other reviews don't work!
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selwyth wrote:
Excellent review. I've been on the fence for a long time, and your review has convinced me to not buy it. Your review made me feel like I now know the game inside-out, and the two flaws you pointed out were especially important.

I wish all dice games had a dice-rolling apparatus like the bowl in Risk Express.

Your links to your other reviews don't work!


Thanks David.

The links don't work because the reviews don't exist yet. I'll give this one a few days to breath and then post the Monopoly Express Review.

Game of Life Express will be up by the weekend.
 
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Quote:
In this respect Risk Express is really nothing more than Yahtzee with pasted on theme...and a few nice nods to a classic of the industry.


I find Risk Express to be a completely different game then Yahtzee altogether. I like Yahtzee but you're basically playing a solitaire game. Risk Express is anything but solitaire. The level of interaction is exciting. You don't want others to take the regions you are going for and you can always be attacked if you haven't completed the sets.

Choosing a region and then having to stick with it on your roll makes the game tight and fun. It's a very frustrating game but at the same time it's also an exciting game of tension followed by cheers.

There's also a great deal of balance to the game. You can see your score versus the other players' scores, and can sneak in a one or two point lead at just the right time to swing the game in your favor.

I've played Risk Express with some people that don't even play board games and so far it's been a hit, with players asking me where I found such a game and where to buy it. It was well worth the $30. I'm a big fan of Risk Express - Highly interactive, exciting and fun.

I think this is the best of all the express games and in my opinion Knizia's best little game.
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dbmite wrote:
Quote:
In this respect Risk Express is really nothing more than Yahtzee with pasted on theme...and a few nice nods to a classic of the industry.


Risk Express is anything but solitaire. The level of interaction is exciting.


I think you are stretching here a bit. It may offer a little nit of tension as you wait on that final dice to stop spinning, but exciting?

Like the old saying says - "You say Potato and I say give me a grenade that looks like a potato."

I'm glad you've found a group that loves playing the game - that's all you can ask from games - that you enjoy them.

Happy rolling and thanks for reading.
 
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Quote:
It may offer a little nit of tension as you wait on that final dice to stop spinning, but exciting?

Yes, exciting! laugh
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dbmite wrote:
Quote:
It may offer a little nit of tension as you wait on that final dice to stop spinning, but exciting?

Yes, exciting! laugh


Gotta respect a gamer with conviction. Now Saint Petersburg - there's a game we can agree on eh?!
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Jim McCarty
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Risk Express is not sold directly in the USA. So, we poor Yanks have to either order from overseas or pay a premium to a reseller who has imported a few. I got my copy for around $25.

I must disagree with you rating of the game. I think it is the best of the Express line and would give it four stars. But, YMMV....

Jim
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Nice review Neil. I already have the game and agree with most of your comments. Yes, most definitely light (as it is going to be for an Express game), but did find enough in it to keep the club members happy for an end of evening round table. I picked up the cheaper version, so cost not really a problem.

I disagree with you, strongly, on one point. The dice do not last a lifetime. I have one fat and greedy cat at home and the one die that he tried for dinner has gone for good. Since I don't know where he goes at night I'm not expecting to see that die again. Explain that then!

Obviously your review is totally flawed!
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Neil Thomson wrote:
I ask this because a friend bought the cheaper Monopoly Express version from K-Mart and that tub is of a slightly different design and generally not quite up to the standard of the 'Mind Games' version.

If so I find it a little baffling as to why Hasbro would produce two versions of the same game for the Department Store and Specialty Store Markets.

The nice version is the one published in Europe:


The other version is the American release:


Which means that the version you can buy depends on where your store imports it from. Risk Express was not released in the U.S., so that game only has the nice bowls.
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This game rocks.. it captures the essence of Risk in about 20 min of play. It is a shame that this was not released in the US, so us Yanks have to pay more for it than we should. As far as I have seen the European version of this has a better dice bowl than the other express games available in the US.

I have not played all the express games but so far risk is the best one by far. Monopoly was good too and battleship was lacking something.

Anyway, Risk express has become the go to filler for our game group. Great for an end of night trash talk session, or something to do while waiting for that last player to show up. Also this game goes well with your favorite beer.

-M
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Above pics tell the tale Neil. I have the "cheap" version of Monopoly Express, but it is indeed the "nice bowl" for Risk. All for $12 bucks.

But you can just off load it to a Yank and still be ahead!

As to the game...I quite like it. I get that it can be abused by a rotating circle of everyone just aiming to steal, but that is likely to fall apart when the dice gods strike! But in the same sense that Memoir '44 can just stalemate out if no one decides to move forward, same here. Do you really need to try and game the system with this sort of game? Just roll and cheer and grab some MnMs between turns. Any thing else is making this more than it was ever meant to be.
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pijll wrote:
Neil Thomson wrote:
I ask this because a friend bought the cheaper Monopoly Express version from K-Mart and that tub is of a slightly different design and generally not quite up to the standard of the 'Mind Games' version.

If so I find it a little baffling as to why Hasbro would produce two versions of the same game for the Department Store and Specialty Store Markets.

The nice version is the one published in Europe:


The other version is the American release:


Which means that the version you can buy depends on where your store imports it from. Risk Express was not released in the U.S., so that game only has the nice bowls.


It may not be quite that simple for Monopoly Express. I found the less attractive 'American' version in a department store and the nicer 'European' version in a local game store but both have packaging marked 'Hasbro Canada' and the prices weren't much different.
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Kane Klenko
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Risk Express is my favorite of the Express games (although I haven't played Life:Express yet), and in fact it's probably my favorite straight up dice game.
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Ah the European vs American production argument regarding quality makes total sense. Almost makes sense on the price front too with the exception that the European Risk is still far dearer than any of the other European releases. I'll put that down to my FLGS.

I appear to be in the minority regarding Risk Express. I am comparing it to Game of Life Express though and not to many have made comments about it, leaving me to think that perhaps it hasn't seen as much play amongst folks.

Damn you Tommy - throwing Memoir in my face like that.

Thanks all for taking the time to read.
 
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Your job was to make me want this game.

You succeeded.

My buddy and I play wargames a couple of times a month, and this looks like a nice light filler for that last 30 minutes of the session. Cleanses the palette after a heavier game.
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falloutfan wrote:
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Your job was to make me want this game.

You succeeded.


Yes indeed I actually take kickbacks from many a gaming company and have used my untold wealth to build an Ivory Castle made from handcrafted gaming components!

Hope you can find a copy. I concur that it would be right up a Wargamer's or Ameritrasher's Alley to finish off a night with a game like this.
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As mentioned above there are definitely different bowls for different versions of the _____ Express family. Generally it seems to be the European edition that has better bowl.

I didn't mind Risk Express, but I personally prefer Monopoly Express.

d10-1 As you mentioned Neil, as soon as you commit to a country in Risk Express that's it. You are committed. You roll until you get it or you go bust.
d10-2 Monopoly Express has much more of push your luck aspect. Unlike Risk Express you can stop any time you like. Sure that next roll may finish off that property set, but you could also go bust. You have a choice, unlike Risk where you actually have no choice other than roll. This is the major difference to me, one has very limited choices and the other has some choices.
d10-3 The Risk Express end game can drag on. How hard can it be to roll a double cannon and whatever else is needed for that last country? It can be done in one roll in some games and in others it may take twenty or thirty rolls. In Monopoly Express there is no long drawn out end game.
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Tommy Dean
Australia
Earlwood
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I don't see your point 2 as a concern Fraser. That is what makes them different games! Risk Express is indeed pick and roll. But it is a different ride with the Risk dice as opposed to the Monopoly ones. You have sent your battalions over the ridge and they fight til they die! You can feel the battle waning as 1 die is removed each roll. The odds get longer each mis-fire. Hitting that last double cannon with only 2 dice? Precious!

And the best part? NO MATH Sure it is not HARD math in Monopoly, but that little bit of adding at the end of a turn dosen't have the same KaPOW as SEEING those beautiful cannons roll up!

I like both games mind you, but Risk is the more fun for all the ways I like to roll dice.
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Fraser
Australia
Melbourne
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Back in the days when there were less maps we played every map back to back
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Ooh a little higher, now a bit to the left, a little more, a little more, just a bit more. Oooh yes, that's the spot!
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Not really a concern Tommy, just a personal preference cool
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John W
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Sacramento
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You find that Risk Express is more at the fate of dice-rolling than Monopoly Express?

Very interesting, Neil.

I feel the opposite - while I guess your conclusion makes sense from a certain perspective (a beginner who doesn't know the obvious die-distributions will probably lose to an experienced Monopoly Ex player), I feel that once both players know both games, Risk Express has the much more compelling gameplay that is a true contest that people can make alliances and back-and-forth comebacks in, instead of having sheer luck over-dominate the contest like in MonoEx.
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