How To Play Risk: A Comprehensive Guide to Conquering the World

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Welcome General. Your troops are mustered and awaiting orders. Shall we attack the treacherous yellow army or the inferior green army? Whatever your plan is, your troops will follow it to the letter. Now is the time to employ everything you learned and dominate the battlefield. Wait. What do you mean you didn’t read the rules of engagement?

Checking the rulebook right now won’t inspire confidence in your troops, and your enemies will surely exploit this weakness. Lucky for you, we’ll be your trusted adjutant and help you navigate this treacherous battlefield and lead your armies to victory by teaching you how to play Risk.

What Do You Do in the Risk Board Game?

Before charging headlong into the battle, we need to know more about the battlefield and the game itself.

Risk is a popular strategy board game where players compete to conquer the world by eliminating everyone else or achieving their secret objective before anyone else does. The game was invented by the French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse in the 1950s under the name “La Conquête du Monde” (The Conquest of the World). In 1959, the Parker Brothers bought the rights to the game from French game publisher Miro, tweaked it a bit, and released it to the American public under the name Risk: The Continental Game. 

While Risk is considered one of the first modern strategy board games, it didn’t gain the same level of popularity as the Parker Brothers’ other iconic board game – Monopoly. Until Hasbro revived it in 2001, at least. From then on, you can find it in households across the world alongside Monopoly and Clue. Interestingly enough, even though it’s also a strategic game set on conquest and player elimination, it has a better reputation among modern board gamers than Monopoly.  

How Many People Can Play Risk?

Risk is a board game for two to six players. Three to six-player games are the most common and have standard game setups, while two-player games are slightly different because they also involve a neutral player. We’ll go into details on how to set up a risk for two players later. 

ready for a game of Risk
Me and the boys getting ready for a game of Risk.

How To Set Up Risk

Before embarking on some good old-fashioned world conquest, each player has to pick the uniform (color) of their armies from the six available within the box. If the generals are unable to come to an agreement, then roll off for the disputed colors. Be aware that they may vary depending on your edition of the game. 

Once colors are chosen, each player will get their starting army or infantry pieces, depending on the number of players. 

  • Two players: 40 
  • Three players: 35 
  • Four players: 30 
  • Five players: 25 
  • Six players: 20 

In most editions of Risk, you will find the following game pieces:

  • Infantry pieces representing 1 army
  • Cavalry pieces representing 5 armies 
  • Cannon pieces representing 10 armies

However, some editions may have only one type of piece, and in that case, it should be treated as one infantry piece.

Prepare the game board and position it within easy reach of all players. Ensure that each player has their game pieces ready and is comfortably seated. Now we have to decide who goes first, and that is done with a roll-off. The player with the highest roll assumes the role of the first player. In the event of a tie, the tied players roll the dice again to determine the winner.

The players start placing infantry pieces on the board, starting with the first player and then going clockwise. Each player places a single infantry piece on a single unoccupied territory until all 42 territories on the board are occupied. Once all the territories are taken, the remaining armies can be placed on already occupied territories by the same player. If you want, you can place all of them on one territory since there is no limit to how many army pieces can be on a territory, only that you always have to have at least one army on a territory you control.

risk battlefield is ready
The battlefield is ready.

The only thing left to do now is prepare the deck of Risk cards by removing the secret mission cards, then shuffle the rest and place them next to the board. With everything in place, the battle for world domination can commence! 

How To Play Risk

Risk rules are relatively simple, and unlike Monopoly rules, you really can’t mix them up or misunderstand them unintentionally. The game starts with the player who rolled the highest in the previous roll-off and proceeds clockwise. Each player’s turn will include three stages: placing armies, attacking, and maneuvering.

Placing Armies

At the start of their turn, each player will count how many territories they occupy, divide that number by three, and round it down. This number represents how many new armies or infantry pieces they get, with the minimum amount being three. 

For example, if a player has 14 territories, they would get 4 additional armies, but if they occupy fewer than 9 territories, they would still get 3 additional armies. Yes, even if they hold just one territory.  

If a player fully controls one or more continents, they also get additional bonus troops:

  • North America: 5
  • South America: 2
  • Europe: 5
  • Africa: 3
  • Asia: 7
  • Australia: 2

If this isn’t enough troops, you can also get extra armies from Risk card sets. For each set of three of each (infantry, cavalry, and cannons), three of the same type, and two of the same type with a wild card, a player can get additional troops depending on the number of already traded sets: 

  • The first set: 4 
  • The second set: 6
  • The third set: 8
  • The fourth set: 10
  • The fifth set: 12
  • The sixth set: 15
  • The seventh set: 20

Each additional set is worth five more troops than the previous one. Please note that this refers to the total number of sets exchanged for troops, not each player’s set individually. 

If a traded set of cards includes a territory that the player occupies, they receive two additional armies that must be placed on the said territory. However, if they have more than one card in the same set with the matching territory, they can only get a bonus for one of them.

Risk cards are gained by conquering territories, and you can only get one card during your turn, no matter how many territories you conquered during that turn. If you have more than five Risk cards in your hand at the beginning of the turn, you have to exchange them for extra troops. 

Take the total number of new troops you receive this turn, place them on your occupied territories as you see fit, and prepare to attack your opponent’s adjacent territory. If a single territory has too many pieces, you can always use cavalry and cannon pieces to replace 5 and 10 infantry pieces, respectively.

Attacking

Once the acting player distributes all the reinforcements on the game board, they can choose to attack. Bear in mind that you do not have to attack, but if you don’t conquer at least one territory, you won’t get a Risk card.  

You can attack from any province with at least two armies on it to any adjacent enemy-occupied territory or to a territory that is connected with the dash lines. The dashed lines represent a naval connection. The attacking player announces from which territory they will launch the attack and which enemy territory they are attacking. Now both players declare how many armies they’ll commit to the attack/defense.

according to the rules of risk
Is this according to the rules?

The attacker can pick up to three armies to attack with, and this represents how many dice they have for the attack. You always have to leave at least one army to guard a province so you always have to take that into consideration when determining how many dice you use. Therefore if you have three armies you can’t take up to three dice but up to two, since one has to stay and defend. 

The defending player can choose to defend with one or two armies, which limits him to only two dice at maximum. This difference in number of dice gives the attacker a slight advantage, but ties are always a win for the defender. 

Once the players decide how many armies they’ll attack and defend with and take the appropriate dice (max three for attack and max two for defense), they should roll off simultaneously. While this is the official Risk rule, there’s no specific reason for a simultaneous roll. It’s perfectly fine for one player to roll first and then another, but keep the score as it is once rolled.

To determine the winner of the battle and how many troops were lost, you just need to compare the dice scores. Take all the attacker dice and arrange them from highest to lowest, and do the same with the defender dice. Now we start comparing the die scores, going from the highest to the lowest. If the attacker has a higher score, the defender loses a piece. If the defender has a higher score or a tie, the attacker loses a piece. You repeat the process for each die rolled. If you roll an unequal number of dice, simply ignore the lowest number rolled.

attacker vs defender risk
The attacking player (red) defeats one defending die (5 vs. 4) but loses one army in the process (3 vs. 4), and one die (1) gets discarded without suffering casualties.

Example: If the attacker used three dice and the defender used one or two, the lowest valued attacking die is just discarded, but the attacker doesn’t lose that army for that roll. The same goes when the attacker uses one army to attack but the defender has two armies defending. The extra armies only add more dice for that player, and with them, more chances to have a better roll. 

If the defender still has any remaining troops, the attacking player can choose to attack the same territory as long as they have enough troops to do so. It’s not uncommon for both the attacker and defender to lose any number of armies until one side runs out of troops. 

Once the defending troops are wiped out, the attacker captures the territory and moves all the surviving troops into the newly conquered area. They can also choose to move other armies from the attacking territory to the newly conquered one, as long as one army remains to guard the territory. You can’t move troops from other adjacent territories, only from the one you attacked from. If this is the first captured territory in the player’s turn, they take one Risk card and may continue attacking as many territories as they wish or can.

Maneuvering

The last step in the player’s phase is maneuvering, and just like attacking, it’s optional. This step allows a player to move their troops to better defensive positions, relocating them from one, and only one, territory to another single province within your borders. You can move as many troops from one province to another, as long as you leave at least one to occupy a province. You can’t fully abandon any province on the map. With that, a player’s turn comes to an end, and the next player follows suit, continuing the cycle until the game is over.

Eliminating a Player

When a player is eliminated during the attack phase, the player who took control of their last-remaining territory also takes control of any Risk cards they may have. If the attacking player now has six or more Risk cards, they have to exchange them immediately until they have four or fewer cards in hand. If the player now has five cards, they have to wait until their next round to exchange them. The newly gained reinforcement has to be placed on the map immediately, and the player can continue attacking other territories on the board.

How To Win a Game of Risk

There are three different ways how you can play the Risk board game with your friends: 

  1. Classic Risk: 3-6 players
  2. Capital Risk: 3-6 players
  3. Secret Mission Risk: 3-6 players 

Classic Risk

In classic Risk, players compete to achieve global domination by eliminating all the other players on the board and conquering all of their territories. It sounds simple enough, but are you capable of achieving such a feat? Every rule we explained until now is used for classic Risk games. 

Capital Risk 

Capital Risk is a simpler and faster version of classic Risk. Instead of having to eliminate all the players from the board, you only have to capture and hold all of their headquarters (HQ). Limiting the number of HQs required to win the game can make it even shorter. If playing with four players, the players have to capture two opposing HQs and still control their own at the end. For five and six-player games, capture and hold three opposing HQs and still control your own at the end. 

Once all the players have deployed their troops, each player secretly chooses the location of their HQ and takes the appropriate card from the Risk card deck. Do not reveal it until all the players have chosen their HQ location and taken a card from the deck. All the other rules of the game are the same as in the classic game of Risk.

Secret Mission Risk

Finally, we get to utilize the secret mission cards, instead of merely removing them from the Risk card deck. If there are fewer than six players playing, remove the mission cards that refer to the unused colors. For example, “Destroy the Yellow Army” would be removed if the Yellow color isn’t in play.

For Risk general's eyes only
This message is for your eyes only, General. 

Shuffle the remaining Secret Mission cards and deal each player a single card. Place the undealt cards back in the box. Next, take the Risk card deck and remove the two wild cards from it. Shuffle the remaining cards in the deck and deal them to the other players. Don’t be surprised if in four- and five-player games, two players have extra cards – this is normal. These cards represent the starting positions of each player. As soon as players place their troops on them, they should be collected and reshuffled to be used as a normal Risk card deck. 

The player who completes their secret mission objective first is the winner, even if another player completes the mission for them. Example: The red player has a mission to destroy the blue player’s army, but the green player beats him to it. In such a case, the red player still wins the game. All the other rules of the game are the same as in the classic game of Risk.

How To Play Risk With Two Players

It’s fully possible to play a game of Risk with two players by adding a third neutral army to the game board. Each player, including the neutral army, gets 40 infantry pieces. Remove the secret mission and wild cards from the deck, shuffle, and deal the remaining cards into three equally stacked piles. The two players take one pile each, and the third one is left for the neutral army.

Players position their starting troops on the board according to their decks. Once they set up their armies, they do the same for the neutral army by first claiming the initial 14 territories with a single infantry piece, and then taking turns placing the remaining neutral army troops on the board. Yes, you can use a neutral army to try to block the opponents’ armies. 

Once the neutral army is set, merge all the Risk deck cards, including the wild cards, reshuffle them to form a draw pile, and place them next to the game board. From this point on, the game is played like a classic risk game, with the neutral army not receiving any reinforcement and not being able to attack at all. 

Conclusion

Risk is one of the timeless classics you’ll find hidden in the back of your parent’s cupboard, attic, or basement. It pops up from time to time, and it can still attract a group of eager players looking to conquer the world.

Go forth, General
Go forth, General. You are ready.

Now that you know how to play the Risk board game. It’s time to gather your officers, muster your troops, and embark on this global conquest. Remember, in the world of Risk, fortune favors the bold and the cunning. The battlefield awaits, General, and the fate of the world lies in your hands!

FAQ

  1. What is the easiest way to play Risk?

    The easiest way to play Risk is by concentrating your troops on one continent and then gradually taking it over, gaining bonus troops in the process. Don’t try to take over Asia in the beginning. Your best bet is to start with Australia or South America.

  2. Is Risk easy to play?

    Risk is easy to play since each player’s phase consists of three simple steps.

  3. Can you play 2-player Risk?

    Yes, you can play Risk with two players.