Fight for the Galaxy as one of three different factions: Save the Galaxy as the Alliance, ruin the galaxy as the Reapers, or only look out for human interests as Cerberus.
Total Game Play: 90 minutes
Designer(s): Andrew Wolf
Publisher: The Op
Mass Effect has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I would attribute that to the newly available Legendary Edition which could not have come out soon enough. I wanted to take this chance to talk about Mass Effect Risk because I got it a while back and I’ve always wanted to try it out. To my surprise, this game has a lot to offer and made me incredibly happy as a Mass Effect fan. Going above the standard Risk game, Mass Effect Risk leans more into the war game category with multiple factions aiming for different goals.
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This is a general overview to provide context for the review, not an in-depth how to play. Some rules may be glossed over or missing. There are three game modes – this review will focus only on the Galaxy at War Mode.
Risk: Mass Effect has three main factions: The Alliance, the Reapers, and Cerberus. The game plays best at 3 or 5. At three, each player will take control of one faction. At five, one player will control Cerberus and the remaining factions will be split between the other four players. On two to four players – Cerberus is a bot that is not controlled by any player. This review assumes a three-player game.
After Setup, the game flows in turns around the table. Each player will take a turn that is comprised of six steps. This game is straightforward and does not have any extra upkeep to add to the complexity.
The setup for Risk: Mass Effect is one of the most important parts of the game. Starting with the Alliance, each faction will take turns claiming a planet somewhere in the galaxy. In setup, the Alliance will only be able to claim (and then distribute the remaining troops) among fifteen planets, and Cerberus will only be able to claim 7 planets. The Reapers will have control over all of the remaining planets.
The main reason this setup is so important is because Cerberus wants to take control of 10 out of the 13 Strategic planets. If they are able to take control of 7 planets during set-up then they have completed 70% of their goal which might make for a quick game.
There are also bonuses to players who control an entire region in the galaxy (there are six in total). While dividing troops may not be ideal, it’s also probably not a great idea let one player gain complete control over a region.
The player turn order is preset by the number of players in the game. In a three-player game, the Alliance is first to act, followed by Cerberus, and ending with the Reapers. Each player turn is broken into 6 steps, and two of them only affect the Reapers.
Step 1: Place Vanguard Token (Reapers Only)
The Reaper player will take the top token from the Vanguard token stack and place it out somewhere and the board. (See Concept: Vanguard Token for more)
Step 2: Deploy
The turn begins will gaining additional troops to distribute to your planets. You’ll gain troops for the number of planets you control divided by 3. The minimum number of reinforcements you can gain is 3. You’ll also gain extra reinforcements for any regions you have complete control over.
One thing unique to this game is the ability to gain ship that will act in conjunction with your troops. There are three different type of ship classes: Cruisers, Carriers and Dreadnoughts which we will get into in the concept section.
Additionally, you can play with the war assets cards which allows you to scan planets for additional resources (more reinforcements). See the Concept section for more. All resources will then be deployed to planets you control.
Step 3: Invade
This is the bulk of a players turn and where we can see some similarities to the original Risk game. It’s time to invade planets you don’t control. A minimum of three troops must be committed to the battle. The defender will roll for the defending troops while the attacker will roll for the attacking troops. The highest die(s) will be compared to see the outcome of the battle. The side with the higher die numbers will eliminate troops from the other side. The battle rages on until one side is completely eliminated.
Players can do this as many times as they deem fit until they decide their either can no longer or don’t want to move forward.
Step 4: Fortify
Since battles can spread your troops thin, you get wone free move – also known as fortify – to consolidate your troops.
Step 5: Harbinger Move and Attack (Reapers Only)
At this point, the Harbinger can move and attack devastating planets along the way. The harbinger is a special piece that belongs to the Reapers. See Concept Harbinger for more details.
Step 6: Draw Cards
At the end of your turn, you’ll draw one card for conquering at least one planet from an opposing faction (to a maximum of two). There are other ways to draw cards from strategic planet control for Cerberus and War Momentum for the Alliance and the Reapers.
Concept: Vanguard Tokens
The Reaper Vanguards are spread throughout the galaxy offering a layer of defense to their planets. Every Reaper turn, a Vanguard token is placed on map. One of these tokens in the Catalyst which will give the Alliance the victory if they are able to find it.
Concept: War Assets
War Assets is a like a mini game within the game. It actually is a mode all onto itself. Certain planets within the galaxy offer a certain number of assets. These can be obtained by rolling a combination of dice and setting aside dice with the values each time you roll. It’s definitely adds a level of spice based on luck to the game.
Concept: Spaaaace Shiiiips
Each ship brings an advantage to combat. The Cruiser ship class will allow their faction to reroll any 1’s rolled. The carrier class will add a value of 1 to a die roll, starting with the highest number. The Dreadnought class is probably the most interesting class because it replaces a six-sided die with an eight-sided die. This gives a great advantage to combat.
The Harbinger in a special piece that belongs to the Reapers. It’s basically their mothership that can do massive damage. The Harbinger will move throughout the galaxy based on the roll of the die and then can do an attack to the planet it lands on if the player has the corresponding card. The Harbinger attack will devastate the planet – destroying all enemy troops on that planet and effective destroying the planet or devastating it.
Concept: War Momentum
The war momentum track is one of the most interesting parts of the game as it is a balance between the Reapers and the Alliance. Pushing the momentum towards the Alliance will make it easier for the Alliance to attack the Harbinger and allow the Alliance to draw more cards during step 6 of a player turn. Pushing the Momentum track towards the Reapers will increase the Harbingers defense and allow the Reapers to draw more cards during step 6 of a player turn.
Mass Effect Risk has a different victory condition for all the factions. The Reapers victory condition is the simplest – they want to wipe the Alliance off the map. The Alliance wants to do the same to the Reapers, or they want to find the Catalyst hidden among the Vanguard tokens. And Cerberus could care less about this war. They want to control ten of the Strategic planets.
If any of the factions reach their victory conditions, the game ends immediately with that factions being the winner. I believe that in games where two people are playing the same factions, they share the victory.
Who Will Like it?
This game is a great step up from the classic Risk games and heading into the War game category. While a little lighter in mechanics, the core of this game resonates greatly like a COIN (short for Counterinsurgent) game. There are two major factions going after each other and a third faction that is unrelated but needs to be balanced to avoid them stealing the game. This game a step up from the classic Risk games and a step down from the COIN war game series.
What I Think
I know I have a soft spot for Mass Effect, but I also don’t have the greatest love for the Risk game. Going into playing this game, I was hesitant because I was unsure if I would like it or not. And I will say I was pleasantly surprised.
What did I like?
I love that this game has different win conditions for each of the factions. In the original Risk, the last person standing was the winner and that was that. There was player elimination and world (or galaxy) dominance was all that was really cared about. Mass Effect Risk offers a new approach by having different goals. There are also different incentives from gaining cards by attacking multiple factions on your turn and balancing out the ship that can help aid you in your conquests. All these small components add up to make the game a great experience. And the Mass Effect theme was integrated very well into the game bringing in the story from the video game to the board.
What didn’t I like?
There is one major thing I don’t like about Risk – it tends to overstay it’s welcome for a simple game which can make it repetitive. While I haven’t played Mass Effect Risk to a great extent, I do fear that this game could fall into the same trap.
Mass Effect Risk is a great game for video game adaptation into a board game. While simple in mechanics, there is some fun depth of strategy in balancing the push and pull between the three factions. While not my first choice of war type board game, this is definitely one I will be coming back to.
Rulebook/Learning the Game
We learned this as a group effort, and the rulebook was fairly straight forward. We decided to learn the Galaxy at War scenario which is not the first mode they probably expect you to play. Due to this, there is a lot of referencing back to other sections of the rulebook, but they do make it clear and easy to find those sections.
Our first play definitely turned out weird with Cerberus claiming 7 strategic planets during set-up. Due to this, the game was fairly quick with Cerberus having a major advantage from the get-go. The push and pull between the Alliance and the Reapers was starting to become evident with more and more conflict doing some pushing and pulling.
I am in love with Mass Effect and this game does a fantastic job of integrating the story of the Alliance and the Reapers into the game. The mechanics are simple but fairly engaging with addition rules to increase the pace of the game. However, there are other war games that I would probably reach for before bringing Mass Effect Risk back to the table. But I will say, it’s an absolutely great game to play at 3 players.
*See my rating scale Here