Risk is a classic game where you fight over territory in order to dominate your opponents and take over the entire world. It is one that I have played for many years.
Yes, you can play Risk with two players and have loads of great battles. However, playing the standard rule Risk can be very unbalanced. Risk is a game of chance at the best of times but with only two players it can quickly have one player run away with the lead.
The other player is reduced to a mere passenger carried onward to the ultimate, unavoidable defeat. It is really hard to pull back from a game like this.
I have the answer to this dilemma for you. In this article we will discuss three rules variations that will eliminate the above downsides and make playing Risk with two players way more fun.
I discovered Risk many years ago and loved playing with 4 or 5 players. I can remember attempting to play with two players using the normal rules. You can imagine the disappointment when the game didn’t play as well and was over pretty quick!
Discovering the 2 player variations was a revelation. Learning these variations will enable you to enjoy Risk with two players as much as I do.
All the variations I have found use the same basic principle. They use more armies to soften the fact you both own 50% of the world. This means there is more to worry about than your opponent and the strength of their army.
I have separated the variations in two with neutral armies and allied armies. Within those there are several variations on how to set up the games.
So, get ready to learn how to have fun playing Risk with two.
This type of variation uses neutral armies to act as an additional objective for the players. The neutral armies are completely passive so they do not attack and do not receive reinforcements. However, they will defend.
This is the variation that is explained in the game rules. It has one army for each player and the neutral army totalling three.
Remove the mission and wild cards and put them back in the box. Take the rest of the cards and give them a good shuffle. Now deal out the cards to three piles. Each player takes a pile and the neutral army gets the remaining one.
Now place an infantry on each of your card territories. The 14 neutral army territories should be left and you should now put an infantry on each.
Now comes some strategy as each player takes turns in placing their remaining armies on their territories. Do this by taking two of your armies and placing them on 1 or 2 of your territories. Then take one neutral army and place it anywhere within the neutral territories that you think will most disrupt your opponent.
Finally, collect all the territory cards and the wild cards and put them together. Give them a good shuffle and you are ready to play.
Play as normal.
Turn based setup
This is slightly different to the above where each player takes turns in laying out their armies. This takes the chance out of which territories you start with and puts the setup more in your hands.
This variation will use two army colors to make it easier to distribute the armies. The neutral armies still need to have 14 territories so each color will only have 20 armies each.
Now simply follow the same process as above. Each player places 2 of their armies on 1 or 2 territories plus one of their neutral armies on a territory.
Once all the armies are out you are ready to play. The neutral armies are still passive and so cannot attack or get reinforcements. They can only defend.
This variation sees each player controlling two allied armies each. The objective is still the same in that you must annihilate the opponents armies.
With allied armies both of the armies under your control can attack, defend and get reinforcements. This means you need to keep track of two lots of cards.
Each army has 30 infantry which mean each player will need to place armies on 21 territories.
You can use the Risk rules method to set up and so remove the mission and wild cards. Then shuffle and deal the remaining cards to 4 piles. Now each player picks two piles, one for each army.
Proceed to place one infantry on each of your two armies’ territories making sure that you put the right color infantry on their respective territory. Finish by taking turns to place the rest of your infantry out on their territories.
Turn based setup
Take it in turns to place the armies out one color infantry at a time. For example, player A is black and yellow whereas player B is purple and red. Each player will layout as follows:
Player A places one black infantry.
Player B places one purple infantry.
Player A places one yellow infantry.
Player B places one red infantry.
….and so on until all infantry are placed.
Now you are set up you can begin to play. Understand that your armies are allied but are not one army. They are two. So, to gain the +2 reinforcements for owning a continent you must occupy it with one of your armies, not both.
Play as normal, you may want to alternate army turns similar to turn based setup e.g. Player A – Black, Player B – Purple, Player A – Yellow, Player B – Red or Player A Black, Player A – Yellow, Player B – Purple, Player B – Red. Find what works best for you.
In this variation it is quite legitimate for you to attack your ally, and strategically it may even be in your interest.
This variation of 2 player risk uses all 6 armies. Four of the armies start the game as neutral but as the game progresses each player has an opportunity to take control of them. This makes for some interesting gaming.
Remove the mission and wild cards from the deck and shuffle. Deal out 18 cards between the players and then deal out the rest into four piles. One for each neutral army.
Now lay out one infantry on each of the territories as per the cards. Finally take it in turns to place three of your colored army and one neutral army.
Take a canon from each of the neutral armies and place it on the board but not in a territory. These will be used to indicate bribed armies.
Now begin playing as normal but at the start of each turn divide the number of territories you own by 3 to decide how many reinforcements you receive plus the usual bonus if you own a whole continent. You can also trade in cards as per normal.
Once the game starts going each player has an opportunity to bribe the neutral armies. They do this by playing a card that the neutral army occupies.
For example, if the yellow neutral army occupies Brazil and Western Australia. You have the Brazil card and use it.
Yellow are now bribed and have become an ally. Take the yellow cannon and put it next to you. This enables you to attack any army on the board with the yellow army.
Now, your opponent has Western Australia and so they play that card. This returns the army back to neutral and so you take the yellow cannon and place it back in the middle. If the player had played two cards of that army then the cannon would go straight to them.
This way armies can be bribed back and forth between players and after 5 cards are played whoever has the cannon owns that army till the end of the game.
Reinforcing bribed armies
In this mode you can also reinforce any of your allied armies. To decide how many reinforcements you place, roll a single die. Then place that many armies. Repeat this for each army you are allied to.
In the same way that you can fortify your position at the end of your turn you can do this for each of your allied armies.
Typically, wiping out the opponent and their allied armies will ensure you victory. However, you are free to embellish with any winning goal you wish.
If you want to play Risk 2 player the above rules will give you hours of fun. I have also included these two options below that will actually play better than the original risk with 2 players.
Whilst Risk: Europe has Risk in the title it is quite different. At its heart it is the dice rolling battle for territory we know and love. But in this version there are some more mechanics layered over the top that improve it when played with 2 players.
In Risk: Europe you have different unit types which change the way battle plays. You still roll the dice and the outcome is set through the result.
You do not have the deck of cards in Risk: Europe in order to add to your army but instead you can buy units. You do this through a taxation system where you gain coins to spend by taxing the land you occupy.
Each player now has their own deck and this consists of 8 cards which then determine how you play your turns.
It is a great game that builds on Risk and plays really nicely with 2 players. In my opinion this is much better for 2 players than the original Risk. You can check out the price for Risk: Europe on Amazon here.
Risk: Game of Thrones
If you are a bit of a fan of Game of Thrones then Risk: Game of Thrones might be a good option for you.
Risk: Game of Thrones version comes with 2 boards. The first board maps out Westeros and is best for 3-5 players. The second, however, maps Essos and is designed especially for 2 players.
The game comes with three variations too. Skirmish, Dominion and World at War. Skirmish is basically your normal Risk rules.
Whereas with Dominion mode you are immersed into the world of Game of Thrones. The objective changes from world domination to Victory Points. First person to be in control of their seat of power and have 10 victory points wins the game.
Finally, World at War is the epic 6-7 player game where you can put both boards together and invite friends round to pummel them into oblivion.
If you are interested you can check out prices for Risk: Game of Thrones on Amazon here.
If you often find you want to play Risk and there are only two of you then the variations discussed in this article will make these games far more enjoyable for you. No more games where one or the other player wins purely out of luck. I particularly like the 6 armies variation which is a little more complex but adds plenty to the game to liven it up.
If you want to try something new that has Risk at its heart then definitely check out Risk: Europe. It is a really fun game.
If you like Risk then perhaps these two board games will also be of interest to you.
Santorini is a 2-4 player board game that is best played as 2 players. Your character moves around the board levels of buildings. If you manage to build three levels and climb up to the top you win. Be wary of your opponent though, if they cap the building with a dome your victory will be foiled. Sounds simple, well let’s take a look at this delightfully simple and enjoyable strategy game.
Dice Throne: Season Two – Tactician Vs Huntress is a fun 2 player tactical card and dice game created by Nate Chatellier and Manny Trembley. It is a 1v1 duelling game where you start with a health of 50 and once you reach 0 you are defeated. It is part of the larger collection of Dice Throne games that includes 16 heroes from season 1 and 2, plus a cooperative expansion. Let’s find out more about this intriguing game.