How to Play Risk

Risk is a household classic board game in which each player shares one common goal: to take control of the world. Easy enough, right?

As you can imagine, taking over the world comes with its own set of strategies and skills you must master to be successful. Lucky for you, I’ve put together a simple breakdown on how to play Risk that is easy enough for beginners to pick up.

I am a family man, and a board game man. I grew up bonding with my family over board games, and I enjoy nostalgia with my family today. My family has shed their fair share of blood, sweat, and tears over this board game when it comes to Risk.

I was taught rules passed on by my family, so I wanted to learn the proper rules, and of course, some world-conquering strategies as well.

So whether you are new to the game, or looking to brush up on your knowledge, keep on reading. I’m going to explain a few of the main components of the game Risk:

  • Preparation
  • Play
  • Attack
  • Fortify

Let’s get started!

How to Play Risk

Before we get into the opponent-crushing strategies of Risk, it’s essential to start with the basics. To take control of the world, you need to make sure you know how to play the game based on its simple rule-set.

Preparation

Like any plans for world domination, it takes preparation. You need to put yourself in the right headspace before starting the game.

Understanding the Objective (World Domination)

Simply stated, the object of the game for each player is to take control of the world. You accomplish this by strategically attacking opponents, resulting in your ability to take over new territories. 

Keep in mind that while you are on the offense, conquering new lands, you also need to ensure you are defending your existing territories from opponent attacks.

World domination is determined once you have full control of all of the countries shown on the board. 

Objective (Secret Mission)

Most versions of the game come with an alternate objective: a Secret Mission.

The Secret Mission is given to you via a card.  This might be something like “conquer Europe and Africa.”

To win the game, you simply complete your Secret Mission.

Personally, I prefer playing with this objective.  It’s a bit more interesting as you try to work out your opponent’s Secret Missions.

At the start of the game, no-one knows anyone else’s Secret Mission.  We like to guess each others’ missions, though, and perhaps even try to “block” each other.

The great thing about Secret Missions is that they are more subtle. It isn’t about being the most powerful and crushing your opponents. Instead, it’s about going for something and trying not to let others work out precisely what it is you are trying to do.

Checking the Pieces

There are a lot of different pieces and elements to the game Risk.

Each game of Risk should include the following:

1. One Foldable Game Board

Your Risk board should consist of a total of six continents:

  • North America
  • South America
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Africa
  • Australian Archipelago

Within the six continents, there should be a total of 42 countries.

2. Deck of Cards

Each Risk game set will include a deck of cards. Within these cards, you will find:

  • 42 territory cards
  • 2 wild cards
  • 12-28 mission cards
3. Army Tokens

There are six different armies in Risk, each with its basic color. Along with the armies are specified tokens in the same colors. Each set will include:

  • Infantry–worth 1 army
  • Cavalry–equivalent to 5 armies
  • Artillery –same as 10 armies

If you grew up playing risk, you are probably used to the multi-sided tokens supposedly representing infantry / cavalry / artillery.  Well, now they have actual miniatures.

Fantastic!

Playing Risk Outside
People playing risk outside. This is an older version of the game with the old-style army tokens.
© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar / CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s common to concentrate your armies in one territory, either for attacking purposes or even defense.

Having equivalent tokens makes it easier to manage.  When you have 5 infantry in one territory, simply replace them with a cavalry.

4. Dice

Also included in your Risk game set will be a set of either five or six dice. You should be able to locate:

  • 3 red dice for the attacker
  • 2 blue or white dice for the defender (in some versions the defender has 3 dice)

Identifying Players

Once you have confirmed you have all the correct pieces to start the game, you’ll need to identify how many players will join the game. The total players will determine how many armies at the beginning of the game. As a rule of thumb, you will distribute armies as follows:

  • 2 players = 40 armies
  • 3 players = 35 armies
  • 4 players = 30 armies
  • 5 players = 25 armies
  • 6 players = 20 armies

Setting Up Territories

While you set up your initial territories, this will define your starting regions for each player. Always remember that you must have one army in each territory at all times.

There are two different ways to establish territories at the start of the game based on either standard or alternate rules.

Standard Rules

In the standard rules for initial territories, each player will roll one of the included dice. Whoever has the highest value from their roll will pick an open territory and place one of their soldiers on it. The next player clockwise to this person will follow until all of the board’s 42 regions have been taken.

Once you claim all of the territories, each player will distribute whatever remaining armies they have into their territories as they please.

When playing the special mission objective with the standard rules even the preparation can be exciting. You need to place your tokens strategically to be well placed to win your mission.

Yet you also need to keep an eye on your opponents and try to block them.

Alternate Rules

According to the alternate rules, you will begin by dealing out the entire deck of cards. Make sure to leave the wild cards out of this portion. Players will place their armies on the board according to the territory cards in their hands.

Seeing Who Goes First

Like the standard rules for establishing territories for the game, you will have every player roll a dice to see who will start the game. The highest value of their roll determines the first player. Turns will move clockwise from the first player.

Once you figure out the order for turns, the game begins.

Play

Now that you have determined initial territories and figured out what order the turns will take place, you can begin playing the game.

Selecting Your Armies

As long as your armies add up to the same number of troops each time, each player can get armies in any units they choose. The options for troops include:

  • Infantry
  • Cavalry
  • Artillery

For example, if you get seven armies when it is your turn, you can get any of these options, equalling seven:

  • 7 infantry
  • 2 cavalry + 5 infantry

Getting New Armies

At the start of every turn, you can get more armies. To determine how many armies each player will get at their turn, it will depend on territories, cards, and continents.

If the result of the calculation turns out to be less than three for a player, then that player gets three armies.

Territories

Depending on how many territories you own when you start your turn will determine how many armies you get. You will get one new army for every three countries you own.

Cards

You get a new card each turn.

When you have:

  • Three of a kind (matching troop types)
  • One card of each troop type
  • Two cards of the same troop type and a wild card

You can turn your cards in for armies.

. Each time you turn in cards, how many armies you get in exchange increases. For example:

  • 1st set = 4 armies
  • 2nd set = 6 armies
  • 3rd set = 8 armies
  • 4th set = 10 armies
  • 5th set = 12 armies
  • 6th set = 15 armies
  • Each additional = +5 to previous amount

These set counts are based on all the sets traded in, not just the ones traded in by you.  So if you can wait an extra turn to see if other players trade in their cards, you could end up with more armies.

Yet, it’s important to note that if any player has more than five cards on their turn, they have to turn at least one set in.  This stops everyone from just holding on to their cards forever.

Continents

If you own all of the territories in a particular continent, it is known as domination, and you will receive “reinforcement” armies for backup. The reinforcements are determined as follows:

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

Placing Armies

After receiving your new armies, you can place them anywhere on your territories.

The only exception to this rule is that if you turn in a card’s set territory for a region you already own, you have to place your armies on that territory in particular.

Attack

general leading his army in war

There are a specific set of rules for attacking in Risk to which each player must follow. Attacking is always optional, and players can choose to deploy armies on their turn without attacking.

You can attack as many territories as you like on your turn, including attacking the same territory more than once.

Sometimes when you break through an opponent’s defense “wall” with a large army, it can be an excellent opportunity to conquer lightly defended territories.  Players don’t usually defend the insides of their territories well.

Attacking Adjacent Territories

You are limited to attacking only territories next to territories you already own or connecting to a territory you own via a sea-lane.

Attacking Options

How you decide to attack, as long as it is adjacent territories, is entirely up to you. You can choose to continue attacking the same region or a new one each time. 

Declaring Attack

If you plan on attacking an adjacent territory, you must verbally declare it before doing so. As an example, you would say, “I’m going to attack the Western United States from the Eastern United States.”

Using Your Armies for Attack

Don’t forget that even while attacking, you have to defend your territories properly. That means you must leave a minimum of one army behind in any region you own. 

You will square off against your opponent, the owner of the territory you plan to attack, by rolling dice. How many dice you roll depends on how many armies you attack with.

  • 1 die = 1 army
  • 2 dice = 2 armies
  • 3 dice = 3 armies

Of course you need to have these armies actually available, plus one for defence.  So to roll three dice you need at least 4 armies in the attacking territory.

Rolling the Dice

When you square off with your opponent, you will be rolling up to three red dice, based on your troop’s size. Your opponent will roll either one or two blue dice.  The defender rolls one blue die if they only have one army on the territory and two blue dice if they hold two or more armies there.

So you can see that it’s worthwhile trying to have at least two armies on all territories neighboring an opponent.

Match Dice

You will match up the highest red dice with the highest blue dice and the second of each.

If you roll a value with your attacking die higher than the defending die, you will remove one of your opponents’ pieces. If it is the other way around and your opponent’s dice is equal or higher, they will remove one of your pieces from your territory.

Occupying Territory

If you knock out your opposing armies while attacking, you will need to occupy your new territory. You must use all the armies used in the attack to occupy your opponent’s territory. You can decide to occupy your new territory with additional armies as well if you wish.

Getting a Risk Card

If you complete your turn and you’ve successfully conquered one new territory, you get a Risk card. You can’t earn more than one of these Risk cards per turn.

If you completely wipe out an opponent from the game, you can possess all of the Risk cards in their hand at that time.

Fortify

While you are planning your attacks, you must remember you cannot move your armies around until the end of your turn. 

This is a great opportunity to make sure you aren’t vulnerable to other players’ attacks.  

Before your turn ends, make sure you move your armies around strategically to fortify your territories properly. There are two sets of rules for moving pieces based on standard and alternate directions.

Standard Rule

According to the standard rule, you can move any of your army pieces from one territory into an adjacent territory that you currently occupy.

Alternate Rule

You can move your pieces anywhere as long as your armies could reach that destination through territories you own in alternate rules.

Don’t forget that whichever rules you choose to follow, you always have to keep one army piece, at minimum, in each of your territories at all times. 

Conclusion

Well that was fun!  

Risk is an interesting game with all sorts of subtleties – if played correctly.


Now that you know how to play the game, it’s time to dive right in!