Howdy Soldiers, Welcome Back to Rempton Games. My name is General E. Hostile, and today I’m going to teach you how to send your troops into foreign nations, spread your influence across the surface of the globe and eventually dominate the entire world. I am of course talking about the board game RISK. Before we begin, I want to make one thing clear – RISK is a game about World Domination, and in order to be successful you need to be ruthless and show no mercy. If you get your feelings hurt because somebody took your Ontario territory, this isn’t the game for you. While you go cry in a “Safe Space”, I’ll be kicking your soldiers asses across North America. But if you think you’ve got what it takes, make sure to hit that like button and subscribe, and let’s get started.
My Granpappy always said the best place to start was at the beginning, and every game of RISK starts with players divvying up the territories in the world like a bunch of 19th century Europeans. Most versions of the game now do this randomly, by handing out territory cards to each player. If this is the case, then your goal should be to place the bulk of your troops in territories that are relatively close together so that you can consolidate the core of your empire over the first few turns. However, it’s also important to keep an eye on where opponents are placing THEIR troops – you don’t want to start off on a bad footing by getting into a conflict right away.
If you get to choose where to put your troops, the same advice applies except that you also have to make a decision about where you put your troops. We’ll get into this more in a moment when we talk about the map, but I would focus on putting my troops in North America, South America, or Africa – in that order.
Understanding the Map
Let’s start by talking about the elephant sized Turtle in the room. “What about Australia? Isn’t that the best place to put your troops!?” You may be whining at your screen. And yes – starting out in Australia is a very popular strategy – favored by cowards who like playing for second place. Here at Rempton Games we don’t like second place – we play to win. The main appeal of Australia is that it’s relatively easy to control and defend, especially early in the game. You get your 2 troop continent bonus, which means you are immediately earning more troops each turn than anybody else, and you slam all those troops on Indonesia or Siam to build up a massive defensive force.
The problem with this strategy is that it doesn’t scale well. While the extra 2 troops at the beginning of the game can be very helpful, it quickly gets overshadowed by the amount of troops players can earn once they start conquering more territories, continents, and turning in cards. At best, the other players mostly ignore Australia until there is only 1 other player remaining – in which case Australia can earn its coveted second place. At worst, multiple players might fight for control of Australia early on, or refuse to trade territories with the Australia player (starving them of territory cards), or even make alliances to wipe out the Australian player – all of which can completely ruin the turtle’s plans.
After Australia, the second easiest continent to conquer and control is South America. It only has 4 territories, and also gives you a bonus 2 troops per turn. It is slightly harder to control than Australia because it has 2 entrances rather than just 1, but it makes a MUCH more effective base for attacks. Not only is it directly connected to two other very good continents – Africa and North America – but its only one territory away from Europe, and two away from Asia. Australia, on the other hand, is only directly connected to Asia, and is pretty removed from all other continents. It’s 3 territories removed from Europe and Africa, 4 away from North America, and 5 territories removed from South America. Because Asia is nearly impossible to control until the end of the game, this leaves Australia with no good options for expansion.
You know who does have good options for expansion? Africa. Africa is a bit harder to control than Australia or South America, but it does give a larger bonus of 3 extra troops per turn, and with only 3 border territories it’s still relatively easy to defend, and can be a good continent to pick up early in the game.
In terms of bonuses, Europe might seem like the best deal on the board. After all, there are only 7 territories to control (which is only 1 more than Africa), but you get a whopping 5 troops per turn! However, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Not only does Europe have 4 border territories – more than any continent besides Asia – but it’s also in a very central location. Because of this, players will often move through Europe to get to other parts of the board, or put troops there to better defend their own empires without necessarily having the desire to control the entire continent. Because of this, Europe can be very difficult to maintain control of and is usually not worth the effort.
The ACTUAL best deal on the board, bar none, is North America. While it may seem intimidating to conquer 9 territories, most of those are internal – North America only has 3 border territories. Combine that with it’s 5 troop bonus, and this makes North America relatively easy to defend – especially due to its relatively isolated location on the board. The best part about North America, though, is that controlling it makes it relatively easy to subsequently conquer South America, and controlling both Americas gives you an extremely strong position on the board.
Finally, we have Asia. While earning a 7 troop bonus can be very tempting, it’s important not to fall for one of the classic blunders. It’s basically impossible to maintain control of Asia unless you already control most of the rest of the board, in which case you’ve already won.
Attacking and Defending
Now that we understand the map, let’s get into the meat of the game – conquering territories. It’s important to know when and how to attack, and equally important to know how to defend your territories against invaders. The first and most important thing to realize is that attackers in this game have a significant advantage that should not be overlooked. Statistically, if both the attackers and defenders are rolling the maximum number of dice, the attacker has the advantage. This means that, on average over time, you will lose fewer troops if you are the one attacking, rather than being attacked. However, this is only true if you have enough troops to roll the maximum number of dice – because defenders win ties, attacking with equal or fewer dice than the defender puts you at a disadvantage. The good news is that the attacker gets to decide when and where battles take place, so if attacking would put you at a statistical disadvantage you can always choose to simply… not attack!
However, even though attackers have the advantage, it’s still important to be careful when and how we attack. For one thing, any attack involving large numbers of armies is going to result in casualties on both sides, and we don’t want to leave ourselves vulnerable to an easy counter-attack. Because of this, you should try to attack when your armies significantly outnumber the defending armies – a good rule of thumb is to have twice as many armies + 1 for each territory you want to conquer. You should also always be paying attention to your opponent’s plans, and waiting for opportune moments when they leave themselves vulnerable to an attack. If opponent A makes a big move against Opponent B, they will be weakened, which gives you an opportunity to strike against Opponent A.
The order in which you attack territories is also vital. Pop Quiz: Suppose you control Brazil, and want to conquer the rest of South America. Which country should you attack first? I’ll give you a second to think about it. Have your answer? Good. The correct answer is Argentina. We definitely don’t want to start with Peru, because then we will have to split our invading force in half to attack Venezuela to the north and Argentina to the south. Our odds are better with a larger attacking force, so we want to keep our army as unified as possible and conquer territories in a single line, without branches. Why not venezuela? Actually, a few reasons. First, Venezuela is the only territory we could attack that would actually open up a new vector of attack, due to its border with Central America. We should probably reduce our attack surface by conquering Argentina and Peru before putting ourselves at risk of attack from North America. Second, if we attack Venezuela first that means that we will attack Argentina last, which means that the bulk of our attacking forces might be stuck in a non-border territory. If we attack Argentina first, the bulk of our attacking forces will end up in Venezuela to shore up our border against North America.
Another aspect of the game that encourages players to attack is the territory card system. Different editions of the game have different specific rules when it comes to territory cards, but what they all have in common is that they are earned by conquering at least 1 territory each turn, and can be turned in for an influx of troops. These cards are very valuable, so you should always try to conquer at least one territory per turn. The traditional wisdom around these cards is that you should try to hold them as long as possible, but I disagree. The thing I think people forget to take into account is the opportunity cost of holding those cards – while it’s true that you might get a few additional troops if you turn the cards in later, it’s also true that you can earn recurring troop bonuses faster by turning the cards in right away. You can think of it like a virtuous cycle – more troops help you conquer more territories, which in turn helps you earn more troops, and so on. Each turn you hold onto your cards is a turn that the troops could potentially be “earning interest” by helping you achieve your longer term goals on the board.
When it comes to defending your territories, I’ve got 3 main tips. First, focus on defending your borders. Because your internal territories aren’t under direct threat of attack, and can’t attack your enemies, extra troops placed in these locations are basically wasted. Second, focus on minimizing your borders. Ideally, you want to have few border territories, with a large number of attack options. This allows you to concentrate your armies, while forcing your opponents to spread theirs around. It may seem like it puts you in a bad position to have a single territory defending against several enemies, but that actually gives you a huge advantage. To avoid presenting an obvious target, the opponent has to spread their troops around, which makes it much harder for them to build up a force capable of attacking your territory.
The final tip for defenders is to try to keep your borders outside of your conquered continents. For example, if you control North America you don’t actually want to keep your borders in Greenland, Alaska and Central America. Instead, you want to put them in Iceland, Venezuela, and Kamchatka. This makes it impossible to earn continent bonuses from Europe, South America or Asia, makes it harder for opponents to take away YOUR continent bonus, and usually has the added side effect of increasing the number of opponent territories that border you. Alaska, for example, only borders Kamchatka, so another player might be able to build up a bunch of troops in Kamchatka and try to invade North America. If you control Kamchatka, on the other hand, a player in Asia now has to fortify Japan, Mongolia, Irkutsk, and Yakutsk – spreading out their forces, and weakening them significantly.
As much as RISK is a game about World Domination, it’s also a game about politics and shifting alliances. In order to be successful it’s important to know how and when to work together with other players, and how to avoid getting teamed up against.
The first rule of alliances – in RISK or elsewhere – is that people team up when they BOTH have something to gain. In order to form an alliance, you need to convince the other player you are allying with that it’s in their best interest. The easiest way to do this is to have a common enemy – specifically another player with a very strong position on the board that neither of you could handle individually. Working together with another player can ensure both of your survival, and potentially get rid of a dangerous rival.
However, it’s important to remember that alliances in RISK, by definition, cannot last forever. At some point their will be only two players remaining, and even if the other player was your former ally, all bets are now off. However, alliances won’t necessarily last even that long – typically a player will break an alliance when they no longer feel that it benefits them. When it comes to alliances, I have two pieces of advice. First, try not to be the one who breaks the alliance first. Unless you are very close to victory, it’s important to be trustworthy. If players see you breaking alliances without a very good reason, they are going to be less likely to make alliances with you in the future and may see you as an untrustworthy “shark”.
My second piece of advice is to always be prepared for an alliance to fall apart. The other players at your table are probably very nice, friendly people under normal circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. This is WAR, goddamnit, and you must be prepared for any eventuality. Don’t fall into a false sense of security just because you made a deal with another player, or you might open yourself up to an easy attack. For this reason, I prefer to make “offensive” treaties – e.g. we both attack this other player, rather than “defensive” treaties, such as “let’s both agree to respect the border between Africa and South America”.
Just as it’s important to make deals with other players when it benefits you both, you definitely don’t want other players ganging up against you. Because players tend to form alliances against the player in the lead, this means that you want to avoid putting a target on your back, especially early in the game. A player who takes an early lead can actually end up putting a target on their back that lasts for the rest of the game, which is not a position you want to be in. If you are going to win you will have to show your strength eventually, but try to fly under the radar as much as possible, especially during the early game, until you are strong enough to defend yourself against multiple fronts.
My final piece of advice is to remember to stay flexible. If you play too predictably and always do the same thing, your opponents can exploit this. If you stick rigidly to a plan without adjusting it based on what is happening at the table, it will fail. Even though North America is the strongest continent, if multiple players are fighting over it it might be a better move to focus on a different continent. Heck, you might even be able to take Asia if everybody else is following the traditional advice and avoiding it like the plague.
That’s all I have for today. If you enjoyed this video, make sure to give it a like and subscribe so you don’t miss more game strategy guides in the future. If you want to see more, I already have strategy guides for Monopoly, Catan, and Ticket to Ride, and tons more videos on all sorts of game design topics. And join me next time to learn how to Homebrew a custom Artificer subclass in D&D 5e. Until then, thank you so much for watching and I’ll see you all next time.