The Magic of Godstorm
When I was in college, in the days of slide rules, Annie Greensprings and Iron Butterfly, we frequently drove to Chicago (about 90 miles away) for an all-night Risk session. Game after game of classic Risk with the prize for early elimination being a reprieve, a short nap. Original Risk, like Monopoly, is a game that many own but few still play; it should have retired with slide rules while it still had dignity.
Two misguided attempts were made to improve the game or capitalize on its popularity: Castle Risk (a disaster) and Risk Napoleon (an attempt to capture historical gamers). A few years ago, Hasbro/Avalon Hill stepped up to the plate and smashed one out of the park with Risk 2210—the best version of Risk ever published. A better, bigger map with a variety of methods for scoring (yes, it's points now, not elimination) and a five turn limit offered a game with real options while retaining some of the macho aspects of the original. This was followed by Risk: Lord of the Rings in two versions. The early version included a truncated board for legal reasons connected with the timed release of the movies. The Trilogy Edition is the complete game; more than original Risk but failing to attain the level set by 2210. Published under the Parker Brothers label, it is a bit too serious and dry for a Risk game. Some of the "Rings freaks" I have played with even appear to treat this as equivalent to a religious experience! (Hey guys it's still Risk.)
Enter Risk Godstorm, the sixth incarnation of the game. Normally, I find game box covers to be uninformative but Godstorm is the exception. In the upper right corner of the cover is the bold Avalon Hill logo but on the side is a significantly smaller logo; the Wizards of the Coast banner. (This strikes me as an intuitive location for their logo—the same place they print the warnings on a pack of cigarettes.) Whenever I see this banner, I think Magic: the Gathering and Pokemon—and that ain't good. Did you ever wonder what mutation would grow from the mating of Risk 2210 and Magic? Well, they did it and the result is better than I had anticipated.
Godstorm is set in mythical times with players vying for control of Ancient Earth and the Underworld. Five different mythological races are represented (Norse, Celts, Greeks, Egyptian and Babylonian) but have no real affect on the play of the game as they are not differentiated in any way other than color. The mechanics for Godstorm have been lifted from Risk 2210, shaken (not stirred) and applied to a new theme. Godstorm is more a 2210 variant rather than a new direction in Risk. The five commanders in 2210 have been replaced by four gods, devastation markers by plague and the Moon with the Underworld; the five-turn limit remains intact. The main map (board) is significantly smaller including only 42 territories as in classic Risk, which ratchets up the conflict considerably. However, the feel of the game is quite different from 2210.
For those unfamiliar with Risk 2210, a short synopsis of Godstorm's play is in order. Over five turns players attempt to wrest control of areas, continents, temples, altars and crypts as these score on the final turn. Additional scoring points can be found on some of the cards. At the end of the fifth epoch, scores are tallied and the player with the most points wins. Four different gods (Magic, War, Death and Sky) can be drafted into play offering certain advantages that aid in this quest for domination. Control of the scoring areas is determined by combat, player versus player, unit by unit, harkening back to the original game system. Remember, it's Risk not some subtle design by Knizia or Kramer; this is a sledge hammer game. Departing from classic Risk, this is not an elimination game although it is possible that a player might be sent packing.
Miracle cards are the core, the soul of Godstorm and this is a double-edged sword. The game was designed by Mike Selinker, assisted by Richard Baker, Michael Donais and Bill McQuilan; a crew from Wizards of the Coast that normally develops for Magic and Dungeons & Dragons. (In the credits, the contributions of Craig Van Ness and Rob Daviau (2210) as well as Albert Lamorisse (Risk) are acknowledged.) The influence of the Wizards of the Coast crew permeates the flow of the game as the Miracle cards dynamically alter situations. There are four different decks of Miracle cards, one specific to each god. Some of the cards are innocuous, contributing a few armies or faith (money), however others can be devastating, dramatically accelerating changes in player strength and position. While the surprises revealed on the cards increase the fun in the game, it drives the game into being more chaotic than any other version of Risk.
Probably the strongest card in the game is the most discussed; "The Sea is Your Tomb", which sinks the continent of Atlantis along with all armies, temples and gods present. Could anyone resist pronouncing "The Sea is Your Tomb, _______" when eliminating one sixth of the entire board? Without a doubt this is the greatest event to ever grace a Risk game. (I cannot help but wonder though as to the long-term affects on the game; once the novelty passes, will this hurt the replayability?) "Trojan Horse Revealed" is another, though less dramatic, card that can re-align the entire board as one faction's army is eliminated from an area and replaced with one or more from the active faction—anywhere on the board! Chaos abounds but so does the fun, if you enjoy Risk.
(The effects of the cards are so profound that an alternate set would completely change the flavor of the game. Avalon Hill is now a division of Wizards of the Coast, given the latter's propensity toward collectible card games (CCG) should we be expecting an expansion deck? Could this be the first CCG-board game? It's a spooky thought.)
The components are top notch, similar to those found in other Avalon Hill productions or the typical Eagle game. The main map (Ancient Earth) is painted with a palette believed to be common to that found on Grecian urns and is configured very similar to Mare Nostrum. God pieces stand taller than the little soldiers (a single unit) or the plump little war elephants (5 units). Temples are pale, plastic molded versions of the Acropolis. There is a separate map for the Underworld and a piece that covers the continent of Atlantis when submerged. Kudos on the quality of the production; they did not skimp on anything. (The only glitch I discovered is that a few cards refer to one of the continents as Mediterranea, when it is labeled on the map as Europa.)
Godstorm has managed to capture the flavor of classic Risk. Where 2210 and Risk: Lord of the Rings were "serious" versions of Risk, this returns to the beer and pretzels roots of the original. It is loud and macho; a road trip game. There is a line in the rule book that aptly defines the atmosphere of the game: "Table talk, including alliances, threats, coercion, whining, pleading, backstabbing, invocation of the divine wrath of your ancestors and other verbal tirades, is not only allowed, but also encouraged".
There are two potential drawbacks to the game: downtime and chaos. I have been spoiled by Euro games. It was very difficult to adjust to playing a two-hour plus game with little to do when I was not the active player. I realize that this is an expectation in this type of game but it should be mentioned. (Personally, I would have eliminated the Underworld altogether as it adds a substantial amount of time to the game without an equivalent payout.) Chaos creeps into the game through the Miracle cards and, occasionally, this can become extremely frustrating. Some of the cards are simply too powerful for a serious game, completely devastating a player's strategy and position in the play of a single card. Do not take this game too seriously—you have been warned.
It is inevitable that Godstorm will be compared with Eagle's Age of Mythology. Other than the theme and the quality of the components in both games, they are nothing alike. Whereas Age of Mythology employs a Puerto Rico style system, Godstorm is classic Risk on steroids; they are as different as Age of Steam and Ticket to Ride.
When determining the value of a game, my prime criteria is the answer to the question: "Is it fun?". You can admire mechanics, components, subtlety, depth and every other measure of a game but if it isn't a pleasure to play, then why play it? So, is it fun? You bet it is. Sophomoric, politically incorrect (it rewards aggressive behavior), old style American gaming that should grace many a dorm or game room. Godstorm is not champagne and caviar; it's beer and pretzels. If we consider games such as Princes of Florence, Puerto Rico, Chess and Go to be near symphonic creations in the gaming world, then Godstorm is in-your-face rock and roll. It is the difference between Olympic figure skating and boxing. Sometimes I just cannot watch another triple axel; I want to see the upper cut, feel the bass rattle the windows, top out my cycle. Godstorm satisfies this primal urge; it is dangerous.
- Dave Shapiro