Risk is a classic wargame, probably the most popular of its genre. Typically, players dismiss the game as being mostly luck-based and don’t try to learn any further strategy to the game. The game actually has some of the basic concepts that the best strategies games still use.
The whole concept of Risk is to rule the world by eliminating all of the other players. This is done by defeating the enemy’s armies, which knocks the player out of the game. Some of the luck aspects involve dice rolls and drawing cards.
There are some strategies that help swing the game in your favor though. These strategies involve positioning your units well, understanding some basic border tactics, and (most importantly) making sure the probabilities of the dice rolls are on your side.
This article is divided into a few different sections:
- Basics of Risk
- Basic Strategies
- Advanced Strategies
Basics of Risk
The game is laid out with 6 continents (Antarctica is left out) with a total of 42 individual territories that can be controlled. You can only move troops between territories that share a border. On top of that, there are a few sections that connect across oceans so players aren’t landlocked. You gain armies for controlling territories. There is no randomness to this part of the game, we know exactly how many armies we will get.
Combat between armies is decided by dice rolls. Each roll is random but using probabilities for decision making will make this randomness much more predictable. To a point that even the random dice rolls drastically change the chance of winning. So even though this has a hint of randomness, it is controllable.
Another random element of the game is the card combinations. Again, we can use probabilities to help decision making with this. We can control the overall chances here as well.
Strategy can win this game even with the odds stacked against any particular person. Knowing the chance of something happening (as well as good strategies) is the key to winning.
If you’ve played more than a few games of risk, you probably understand these strategies. In fact, they’ve probably already been used against you. So feel free to skip over this section if you have any experience playing risk, it will mostly be focused on the earliest strategies players should learn.
1: Small Continents First
Taking a whole continent is one key to success in this game, it gives you extra armies based on the size of the continent. That makes it tempting to grab the largest continents but trying to capture Asia at the beginning of the game will end very badly for you.
Taking the small continents is the way to go. Although it doesn’t give as many armies as the larger continents, it impacts the game a lot, especially in the beginning. On top of that, you only get those extra armies if you hold the continent a whole turn, so picking continents that are easy to defend is a good goal.
Typically the first continent that comes to mind is Australia, which only has 1 spot that connects it to the rest of the map. The other continent that works in this category is South America since it only has 2 spots where someone can attack.
Grabbing either of those early in the game will definitely give you the upper hand on military power.
2: Keep Armies Together
Initially, this game seems like a land grab where the fastest person to get a large portion of the map wins. Looking a little deeper, it’s actually a game that rewards a concise army with a long term goal. The “land grab” mindset is going to spread your armies thing and gain you territories that you aren’t able to fully control.
There are actually a few other major flaws with this strategy:
- Your opponents will start attacking you because you seem powerful
- It causes your borders to be weak
- Any continents you control could potentially be infiltrated
To avoid this, keep your armies tightly knit and only take one territory per turn that will be easily defendable.
Even though the defending territory is the main goal of this strategy, as a side effect, your consolidated armies will also give you more advantage when you are ready to attack.
These strategies will be extremely useful but not necessarily as reliable as the basic strategies. Since this game is so variable, consider these strategies as guidelines to go by. They will help you determine if you (probably) have advantage in a situation.
1: How to Win Dice Rolls
Risk uses a system that compares the roll of the defender’s dice to the roll of the attacker’s dice. Normally, the odds for either side would be equal but the odds actually favor the defender since they win any ties.
So statistically, the defender gains advantage when the dice rolled are equal while the attacker gains an advantage when they roll one extra die. This is important to remember since it could help decide when to attack.
On top of this, rolling dice as often as possible normalizes the statistics. So don’t get discouraged by rolls, the statistics should even themselves out over the game.
This boils down to a few basic points:
- Attack often to get as close to the statistic chance as possible
- Attackers should roll all 3 dice every time
- Defenders should avoid defense against 3 dice attacks as often as possible
This will cause the games to be aggressive with lots of combat happening. It will also sway the favor of the dice on the player’s side.
2: Where to Attack
In the basic strategy section, controlling choke points was a strategy introduced through controlling the small continents first. This strategy helps control the most amount of land with the fewest armies needed.
Choosing the right place to attack is the important next step once you’ve gained a foothold and have choke points controlled. However, this game doesn’t make it easy to expand past choke points. Typically, they open up to wide areas of the map that are difficult to control.
So there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when choosing where to attack:
- Deny players their continental bonus at any chance
- Attack players that are creating a stronghold
- Try to consolidate borders where possible
The first point is straightforward: if you control one territory in a continent, another player doesn’t get their continental bonus even if they take it back that turn. For that reason, attacking any player that gets a continental bonus is one of the best choices when choosing which territory to attack.
After that, attacking players that are starting to build up lots of units and are becoming very strong is the next priority. Going back to the first advanced strategy, being the attacker (with 3 dice) sways the odds in your favor, and attacking often plays into the statistics that you should win. On top of this, you’re eliminating armies that would be used against you (and they would take the attacker role that is more likely to win).
If both of those aren’t options, focus on making your borders as small as possible. This will keep you from spreading yourself too thin and secure the land that you’ve gained up to this point.
3: How to Attack
Once we’ve chosen which area we are going to attack, making sure we have the best strategy for carrying out the attack is important. Before beginning the attack, placing armies that you gain near where you are going to attack is imperative.
After we’ve got our armies set up, the best way to attack is with the whole army cutting through the section that we are going for. Often people will divide armies up, which plays into all of the negative strategies we’ve talked about up to this point: not being able to keep land, not having enough armies to roll 3 dice, expanding borders that aren’t well controlled, etc.
Finding one continuous path through a section and taking the whole army in that section is the #1 way to win wars and take the land.
So to wrap all of this up, there are several things we can do to control the randomness in this game and win through strategy instead of luck:
- Attack often
- Always use 3 dice
- Don’t spread out small armies
- Be the one to attack, not defend
- Fight for small continents and choke points
The main idea here is to work the statistics in your favor. Always being the attacker (with 3 dice) and attacking often will remove randomness so that your strategy will be more effective.