New board games which let you risk it all to rule the world.
The 500th conquest of Australia just isn't as exciting as the first. The good news? There are far more exciting places out there to conquer. If the thrill of those continent-capturing dice rolls has faded, try these board games like Risk which actively outmuscle it in strategy, chance, and the opportunity to slap a bunch of dudes on a map and get fighting.
Board games like Risk
Are you the kind of Risk player who loves to gamble the entire war on one roll of the dice? Perhaps you prefer to plan up to 10 turns in advance. To help you find the right game, we’ve rated each of the boxes below out of five for strategy, luck, and how much warring you’ll actually be doing when you play.
Contemplative strategy and the dice tower of dreams
- Strategy: 5/5
- Chance: 3/5
- War: 2/5
Don’t let the sad man on the box dissuade you. Shogun is worth buying for its dice tower alone. The board may be beige, the brain-straining heavy, and the player count restrictive, but goodness, that dice tower. In its tussles over feudal-era Japan, Shogun will have you plonking down dollops of colorful samurai cubes to fight for food, money, and glory. The more regions and buildings your warriors control, the more points you’ll score come the winter months of the two-year runtime. That’s two in-game years, mind. We’re not quite that committed to our tabletop tactics.
Shogun demands that you plan an entire turn’s actions – and the locations they’ll take place in – up front and in secret, leading to a hefty bout of discussion, bickering, and backstabs before a single move has been made. War is costly and standoffs are common. But when a fight does break out, it’s always decided by the tower.
Standing tall above the battlefield, Shogun’s mighty cardboard construction mercilessly munches up eager warriors, spitting out the survivors at its feet. Not every cube escapes its maw, leading to unexpected results both immediately and down the line. Troops within it aren’t lost but waiting. Leaping out unexpectedly in a future fight, they may swing the battle in your favor. Or, more commonly, they’ll find themselves looking around sheepishly as they realize their forces aren’t even involved.
Shogun’s design is liable to cause at least one planning-induced meltdown a turn. But if you’re an insatiable strategist, don’t let the bland veneer dissuade you from discovering the keen-edged systems hiding beneath.
Kemet: Blood and Sand
Stop talking, start fighting
- Strategy: 3/5
- Chance: 1/5
- War: 5/5
Get that thinking man’s nonsense off the table! It’s time for a giant scorpion to slap a sphinx in the face. There’s no time for riddles in this arena, you oversized lapcat! Kemet’s area-control contests are all about getting straight to the action. To claim the nine Fame Points required for a win, you’ll need to batter your friends’ armies and secure control of temples – though don’t expect to hold them for long. Your rivals are coming, and they’re bringing a war elephant.
Skirmishes in Kemet are decided by troop counts and secretly selected cards, but the real charm lies in the game’s power tiles. Arrayed above the board like a delectable buffet to be eyed up and nibbled at, these can be bought to grant permanent and ludicrously strong upgrades for your army. For the first few games, every purchase will have the rest of the table saying, “Hang on, you can do what now?” They’ll make you feel unstoppable, but when your enemies start sniffing around the options? Prepare to be terrified.
Fighting is the spear-impaled, still-beating heart of Kemet. Even the board isn’t looking to waste time getting to it. Troops can only move a couple of spaces at once, but the map is littered with ways to get about: harbors for rapid sea travel and magical obelisks that cost almost nothing to teleport to. Warriors die often, but they’ll rarely be off the board for long. In Kemet, you should and will be fighting every turn of the game. All right, that’s enough chit chat. My scorpion’s ready for another rumble.
Simple strategy with randomized replayability
- Strategy: 2/5
- Chance: 2/5
- War: 3/5
What if Risk also factored in the collapse of civilizations and rise of new world powers? Well then it’d probably be a good step closer to Small World, only with fewer ratmen, elves, and ogres. This fantasy strategy game sees players sweeping across a continent from the edge of the board. It’s a race to gobble up territory spaces and feed the insatiable, point-generating appetite of an empire.
But your people’s forces can only stretch so far. With limited territory-snagging tiles at your disposal, your reserves will eventually run dry. Even the mightiest empire can’t last forever. Small World’s trick is that at the start of any turn, you can choose to enter decline. Your original race will still score points, but it’s no longer under your control. Its tiles flip to their faded side, as if already consigned to the musty pages of history. Taking command of an imperious new species of invaders, you begin again.
Ditching Risk’s reliance on dice, Small World instead injects variety through randomized combinations of species and power-defining traits. One game may see “Heroic” Skeletons giving way to “Mounted” Wizards, while the next has “Imperial” Hobbits dueling with “Diplomat” Dwarves. Without much luck involved, careful planning is the path to victory, but Small World is so simple to learn and play -- not to mention so silly in its theming -- that even the strategy averse won’t take much coaxing to sit down for a session.
Mighty minis that demand complex cunning
- Strategy: 5/5
- Chance: 2/5
- War: 4/5 -- though sometimes it’s your own men you’ll be killing.
Look out the window. We may have landed back in feudal Japan, but the world outside isn’t one history is likely to recognize. Where Shogun’s map fell out of a tea-stained archive, Rising Sun’s bursts to life with vibrant colors and swirling artwork. The board practically thrums with energy. And thanks to a wealth of included minis, onto it march dragons, oni, and brave samurai ready to fight and die for their clan.
Rising Sun looks like an area control game, but this is a war game in which losing a fight may earn you more points than winning it. The game sets its tone clearly through the round-opening tea ceremony phase. In it, players discuss strategy and barter for alliances. Ones that -- barring costly betrayals -- are locked in place for that season. Teaming up grants enormous boosts to the actions you take, but you shouldn’t always be working to your partner’s interests. After all, a new season offers the chance to forge new allegiances. A wise ruler plans ahead.
Negotiation and misdirection are present throughout. Even in fights. Battles involve secret bids on multiple phases, including points for self sacrifice and writing poetry to commemorate the dead. Winning isn’t quite so simple as who’s left standing.
So if you’re tired of war games where the outcome of a contest feels determined before the first blow falls, Rising Sun is the game for you. Money and honor may be tangibly present, but guile, negotiation, and understanding of your opponent’s wants are the real currencies you’ll be playing with.
Keeping your sword sharp in another Risk-like war game? Share it with us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! For more board game discussions, tune your ears into the Going Analog Podcast.
Author bio: When he’s not losing himself as a mercenary in Frosthaven, Henry Stenhouse can be found spending hours scouring the web for the latest and greatest games, then wondering why he never has time to actually play them with friends. Share your love of deck builders with him on Twitter @Fernoface or drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org