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How to Give Your Old Risk Boardgame a New Life: Three Invader Variants

Updated on March 19, 2019
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A lifelong gaming enthusiast and game designer. Life is a game—game on!

Martians Are Invading!

The great old boardgame Risk is still going on strong, more than half a century since its invention as "La Conquette du Monde" by, of all people, a french photographer and award-winning filmmaker Albert LaMorisse.

Since its creation, Risk has inspired generations of budding game-designers, both professional and amateur. In fact, you would probably hard pressed to find a Risk gaming group which hasn't invented at least a house rule if not a full-blown variant of its own.
Among the myriads of variants that change the basic Risk gameplay to a greater or lesser degree, one theme keeps cropping up: Alien Invasion!

Regardless of whether these invaders are actual aliens or hide under a guise of current popular monster-darlings, the ever-ubiquitous Zombies, the main premise remains the same: the introduction of a hostile "non-player" whose behavior cannot be fully controlled but may be used for your own nefarious ends...

So, without further ado, here are a couple of Invader Risk variants for your gaming pleasure.


Martian Risk (Games Magazine)

This is the first Martian Risk variant published officially, at least to my knowledge. It first appeared in the seminal Games Magazine in 1994 and ushered the whole "Alien Invaders" class of Risk variants.

Obviously Green is the Martians' color and you should separate their armies from the rest.

At the end of the first whole game round, once everyone had a turn and before the first player is about to play again, draw a random territory card and place three Martian armies there.

The Martian armies fight normally but they do not retreat. They will fight until they take over the territory or are destroyed.

On the following Martian rounds draw a card and place all the armies they have coming to them (three minimum) evenly among the territories (those already held and the newly drawn one). Odd armies are placed in the new territory. After that the Martians will proceed to attack for as long as they are able; until they are down to one army in each territory or zero in the newly drawn one.

Martians have one objective and one objective only: to gather all their armies together into one mass. To do this all their groups except the largest will head towards the largest group (the one with the most territories). Then the largest group will head toward the second largest. The Martians will over take the shortest path in their progress and if there is a tie it should be resolved by rolling a die.


Cthorran Infestation Risk

This is a variant of the above Martian Risk variant (heh) that I came up with while reading the excellent War Against the Cthorr book series by David Gerrold.

The Earth is under attack by a mysterious alien ecosystem which is half a billion years ahead of our own in terms of evolution. Humanity is involved in a seemingly hopeless struggle against a vastly superior alien force, and to add insult to injury, the enemy is completely mindless without anything resembling human-like intelligence. The Cthorr is so superior, it does not need intelligence to destroy us.

This variant introduces a new neutral faction, the Cthorr. They will randomly appear on the map and spread quite rapidly if not kept in check by the players. If humans allow their petty rivalries to go unchecked they will quickly find themselves overwhelmed by the rising tide of terrifying and mysterious Cthorr.

Infestation Risk Rules

At the beginning of the game pick one color to represent the Cthorr. Fans of the series will know why purple works the best. Obviously, this means that one less player can play the game.

The Cthorrans always play last in a turn, after all other players have made their moves. A purple plush toy may be used to represent the Cthorran player at the table, just so that everybody is made clearly aware of his presence. One player can be designated to play the role of “Cthorran’s Keeper” in order to avoid confusion later on. His task is to perform all of Cthorrans’ actions since their plush representative is unable to do so for obvious reasons.The Keeper does not have any advantage since all Cthorran moves are completely predetermined by a set of simple rules.

A Cthorran’s turn always follows these steps:

1) Draw top card from the territory deck. Three brand new Cthorrans appear at that location and immediately attack player units present. If they win, that territory is now Cthorr controlled. If a territory already controlled by the Cthorr is drawn, just keep drawing cards until a player-controlled territory appears.

2) The Cthorr now attempt to spread the infestation. Each territory bordering a Cthorr-controlled land is attacked by one Cthorran unit. If a territory is bordered by more than one infestation then it is attacked by as many units as there are nearby Cthorran nests.

3) Place one new army at each territory controlled by the Cthorr, including the newly contested ones. Once they take over a territory, they are really tough to burn out.

Cthorran-infested territories do not count toward continent domination. Humans do have the time to move their industrial assets to safety before the lumbering aliens overwhelm them. However, if all territories in the continent are taken by the Cthorr, all reinforcements from that continent cease.

I find that Infestation Risk plays best with Paranoia Risk variant, humans trying to settle their last scores before the inevitable end. World Domination Risk can also be fun for a somewhat longer game with the winner being the last human alive on a Cthorr-transformed Earth.


Zombie Apocalypse Risk

This is a very interesting variant that I found on reddit. (Guys, help me out with the original link!) It is one of a slew of zombie/martian/alien variants but with a very interesting twist: The players take turns in controlling the zombies and use them as weapons… while maintaining the illusion of peace amongst the remaining humans. It seems to be inspired by the excellent Zombies!!! board game in its core mechanics and theme. I decided to rename it into “Zombie Apocalypse Risk” to differentiate it from other “zombie” variants and emphasize the ultimate hopelessness of the humanity’s position.

Here are the full rules as I found them:

Zombie Risk!

A variation on Risk’s rules by Eric Thompson, Jon Anderson, and Matthew Sorrels Learn it. Love it. Ph43r it. (Not available in stores. Some modification may be required to your Risk playing set. We are not responsible for any actual harm to the players, or a Zombie attack. We did warn you.)

ZOMBIES, RUN!!!! That’s right, zombies have begun to take over and there really isn’t anything for the human race to do but run. As a world leader, your goal is to promote peace between your neighbors while at the same time secretly hoping that those flesheating monsters will turn their sights on them first. The objective, protect your legacy! Your only goal, be the last to survive.

Setup: Players start with the usual amount of tokens for a game with one extra player. For example, in a three player game, the players get as many tokens as they would in a four player game, because the zombies are essentially a fourth player. Countries are distributed randomly to all players, plus the zombies. The zombie tokens are distributed evenly among the zombie territories, and players distribute tokens in the usual way.

Your turn: Players earn reinforcements in the usual way. During the attack phase, a player can only attack zombie controlled territories. After each player’s turn, he/she controls a zombie turn. The zombies earn one reinforcement for every three countries they control. Zombies do not receive bonus reinforcements for controlling a continent. The player may distribute the reinforcements however he/she chooses. The player may invade up to three different territories during the zombie phase. Zombies earn no Risk cards for taking territories, and cannot make a free move at the end of the turn.

Combat: The rules for combat are the same as in the original Risk, except for when a player controlled unit dies. Whenever a player’s unit dies, the player rolling for the zombies must roll for “conversion.” If he/she rolls a 4, 5, or 6, then the killed unit is “converted” into a zombie, and another zombie token is placed in the country from which the zombies are attacking or defending.

Winning the game: The goal is to be the last human player to survive.


So there you go, three wonderful brand new games hiding in your old dusty Risk box. Enjoy!

Which one of the three variants is the best?

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