How to Play Risk: A Strategy Game (+ Winning Tips)

Updated August 17, 2021
Playing board game Risk

There's no game that can turn people against each other quite as quickly as the Risk strategy game. After all, when you're focused on using your armies to amass territory and complete world domination, there can only be one person left standing. Hopefully, if you fully understand the rules and use them to your advantage, that sole survivor of this competitive tabletop game will be you.

Risk and Mid-Century Politics

It's difficult to discuss Risk's origin story without drawing parallels to the political intrigue happening during the Cold War Era. Albert Lamorisse, a famous French director, developed the original idea for the board game in 1950, just at the global conflict that would become the Cold War was ramping up. First published by the Miro Co. in 1957 under the title, La Conquete du Monde (Conquest of the World), in 1959, shortly after its first release, the game was revised and republished by Parker Brothers under the name Risk Continental Game. Continually in print since this late '50s, the game 'Risk,' as it's commonly called, is a fan favorite of board game enthusiasts and college students alike.

How to Start a Game of Risk

Risk is a rather intellectually involved game, and there is some variation as to the ways that you can set the game up, so it's important that you really understand the game's instructions.

Pieces Included in Risk

Inside the game's box you should find a few different pieces:

  • 1 game board
  • 6 sets of troops of six different colors
  • 42 territory cards
  • 2 wild cards
  • 2 white dice
  • 3 colored dice

Once you know that you have all of the pieces needed to play - especially if you found a vintage copy of Risk in a thrift store - then you can move on to dividing up territories and launching the first player's attack.

How to Set Up the Board

Setup for Risk is rather involved, so pay attention to the multiple ways that you can go about prepping your game.

Dividing Territories

The first step to starting a new game of Risk is selecting your army color and, depending on how many players are involved, selecting the correct number of infantry to place on the board. Now, it's up to your group as to which of the two options for dividing up your territories you want to follow:

  • Randomly divide up the territory cards amongst each other until all the territories have been distributed
  • Roll the dice to see who has the highest number and can choose one territory first by placing one of their infantries on it, moving clockwise through the players until all the territories have been claimed.

Finishing Setup

Once you have your territories decided, you can place one additional unit onto any of your territories. From that point, reshuffle the RISK cards (omitting the Mission cards) and place them, face down, within reach.

How to Play Risk

As the purpose of Risk is world domination and you accomplish this by defeating your enemies and gaining control of all of the territories across the board, there's going to be a lot of activity going on in many different parts of the board at one time. If you're easily overwhelmed by having a lot of moving pieces in play, you might have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to Risk. Thankfully, there's a three-part checklist that all players can remember which they must accomplish before their turn is over.

  • Handling and placing new armies
  • Attacking, if you want to, by rolling the dice
  • Building Your Defense

Take a look at what these objectives look like for each turn you take.

Handling and Placing New Armies

At the beginning of your turn, you'll use the board to help you determine how many armies you can add to your territories based on a few criteria: if you control continents and their value, your matched RISK cards' values, and the number of territories in your control.

The earliest amounts you'll accrue come from the number of territories you control, and these are determined by taking the total number of territories, dividing that number by three, and discarding the decimals. You'll never receive fewer than 3 new troops every round.

Once you control an entire continent, you'll accrue increasing amounts of armies, which is discussed further below.

Attacking Using the Dice

Although you're not forced to attack every round, it's generally an important thing to do to expand your reach across the globe. When you come to this attacking stage, you can choose to attack an adjacent border (or territory connected by line) that you've previously moved pieces to. Attacking is completed by the attacker rolling up to three dice (so long as they have three or more troops at the border to fight with) and the defender rolling up to 2 dice (so long as they have two or more troops to fight with) at the same time.

From here, the two highest rolls are pitted against each other, with the highest one surviving and the other being removed from the board. This continues a second time if two dice were used, and if the defender no longer has any troops leftover, they lose that territory to the attacker.

The attacking phase of your round continues for as long as you'd like to, and you can keep attacking other territories or the same territory so long as you have enough troops to attack with. Similarly, the attack phase concludes whenever you want it to or you lose all of your troops and are taken out of the game.

Fortifying Your Defense

Once you've completed the attack phase (if you began one), you'll move into the fortifying phase. Here, you're allowed to move troops from only one territory into any adjacent territory that you control to better defend that land. Make sure to leave at least one troop in your original territory to keep control of it. After you finish this phase, and pull a Risk card if you've conquered any opponent's territories, your turn is over.

Special Rules

Risk has a few other rules that contribute to how the game continues pertaining to controlling continents and the territory cards in your hands.

Controlling a Continent

At the start of every turn, a player will receive a bonus amount of troops if they control a continent. The number of troops is dependent on the continent that they control:

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

Territory Cards

Territory cards are collected over the course of the game, handed over by players who lose their last territory to the player now in charge of that space, and at the end of each turn as you conquer at least one piece of territory. You can cash these cards in for extra troops as the beginning of your round if you have:

  • 3 cards with matching emblems
  • 5 cards in your hand
  • One card of every emblem

The first time a player turns in a territory card set, they receive an extra 4 armies. With each new set, players receive an extra two armies as well. Thus, you can collect 4, 6, 8, 10, and so on troops with every additional RISK card set you submit until you reach the 7th set, which is increased by 5 armies instead of 2.

Check these cards for any territories that are under your control, as these (when submitted) will give you an extra two troops as well.

Strategies for Winning Risk

Although there is some luck involved during Risk depending on the way you and your friends set up the game in the beginning, it's mostly a strategy game with constantly evolving conditions as the game progresses. Anyone can get lost by the continuously shifting board, but if you know a few key strategic theories to guide your activity around the board, you should hold your own against even the best players.

Continent Choice Is Key

If you're playing by the rules that you get to choose your territories in the beginning, you're already at an advantage as you can select continents that are smaller and easier to defend. Australia and South America are both great starting places for newcomers to Risk as they're isolated enough to defend with limited number of troops. South America in particular is great because of its advantageous connections to North America and Africa. Quickly acquiring an entire continent will also give you more troops at the start of your turns, giving you a chance to take on larger territories in a fair fight.

Focus on Defensible Positions

Especially if you're new to Risk, you should focus on positions which don't have too many connections around it and don't require a lot of power to protect. Choose territories that aren't bordered on all sides by other territories so you have a better chance of getting your footing within the game.

Subtlety Will Be Rewarded

The mental aspects of Risk shouldn't be overlooked. Get a feel for the types of people you're playing with and their strategic M.O.s. Are they aggressive players willing to sacrifice their pieces, or are they more reticent and like to hoard troops before launching attacks? No matter their predisposition, you can manipulate them into moving around the board as you'd like with some clever placements of your own pieces.

For instance, if you're in South America and you're trying to invade Africa, but they have an alliance with North America, you could move your troops to a bordering North American territory instead of up against Africa's border. This might seem as an aggressive move towards North America and encourage Africa to start shifting it's armies to defend a North American attack, when in reality you've opened a perfect opportunity to strike against Africa and take over the continent.

Form Loose Alliances

Alliances can be really useful if there's one clear player who is dominating the board, as the less successful players can combine their power to take out their main competitor. However, don't ever become too attached to your alliances in Risk. Ultimately, you will have to betray your fellow player in order to win the game, so it's best for both of your sanities not to form too close of a bond.

Play at Your Own Risk

Risk is a thought-provoking board game that uses the global stage to put greater strategic concepts to the test. Fight against friends and family alike to overtake the world with the roll of your dice. Make sure to pay attention to the entire board, though, as you just might find territory threatened by the quietest player in the room. Just remember to always play at your own risk.

How to Play Risk: A Strategy Game (+ Winning Tips)