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Risking it all: New take on classic board game changes as you play

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What's the biggest difference between board games and video games?

Pacing. Video games have to pace themselves. They're expected to be throwing new content at their players for the duration of a 10-20 hour story (or longer), and can't afford to lay out everything right off the bat.

But a board game? Under normal circumstances, players can expect to see just about everything the game has to offer in the first session.

Hasbro's latest spin-off to their globetrotting classic Risk, which hits streets this week, doesn't play by those rules.

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According to designer, Rob Daviau, Risk: Legacy is intended to be a dynamic, changing game. It's "not art to be hung on a wall," he says, "but a leather jacket to be worn around until it has its own unique story."

That story starts as soon as you open the box, only to find its contents hidden in sealed packets and compartments, labeled with strict instructions about when they should be opened. Not only will you not see everything the game has to offer in your first session, you'll never see every single card -- assuming you're playing by the rules.

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Which, both Risk fans and Risk detractors will be pleased to hear, stick close to the original game, although a number of key changes promise to address many of the traditional complaints.

For one, the game's much faster, thanks to a new victory-point system. No longer do you have to wipe all your opponents off the map, so in many cases the game will play out in under an hour. But the combat is the same, the map layout is similar (at least at first), and the way you buy reinforcements hasn't changed much. Going from classic Risk to Legacy isn't going to be a big step for anyone.

Still, it's clear things have changed. Right off the bat, the board itself invites you to sign it to make sure you're aware of the world-shaking enormity of the task you're about to undertake. By the end of your first game, the playfield will have been altered still further in ways that'll have permanent impact on its gameplay, unique to your personal board. Some territories will have gained stickers that give attackers bonuses, for example, based entirely on that first play through.

Appropriately, though, it's the winner who gets to leave their mark on the board in the most lasting way. One of the rewards they can choose is to permanently rename a continent, adding a bonus to it that they -- and only they -- can use during future games. Other options for the victor include building a new city, tearing up a territory's resource card (making it much less useful in future games), and changing the reinforcement bonus for a continent.

Even kookier are the sealed packs of cards taped to the underside of the game's lid. These envelopes bear instructions telling you exactly when to tear into them. Inside you'll find extra cards, rules additions, and other game-changing components that'll continue to keep Legacy fresh for many, many playthroughs. Discovering them all is part of the fun, so we'll keep the spoilers light — but the first one you open contains a set of "comeback powers" that'll give defeated players a way back into the game, addressing another criticism of the classic rules.

And just when you think it can't get any crazier, the game serves up a tantalizing red button in the form of and envelope labeled in block capitals "DO NOT OPEN. EVER." What's inside? We're not going to tell you — and, according to reports, the contents may differ from individual set to another. But it'll change the game for good, and maybe not in a way you like.

Running around $50-60, Risk: Legacy is as expensive as the video games its design apes. It'll inevitably lose some of its novelty once all the packets are open, and it plays best it if you regularly game with the same group of people. (There's little to be gained if a one-time guest adds a personalized feature to your board.) But watching Risk: Legacy tell its unique story over the course of many games is nothing short of fascinating. You, and whoever you trust enough to let loose on your game, will genuinely rock its world.

Perhaps it'll rock yours, too.

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