Risk: Plants vs. Zombies

plants_vs_zombiesI picked this up for my son’s 10th birthday.  He had never played Risk before, so that didn’t mean anything to him, but he’s a big fan of the Plants vs. Zombies series of games, so he was pretty excited. It’s funny, but I think he was most excited getting what he called the first real game of his collection. I thought that was neat.

So it’s Risk with a new theme, right? Not really. This version is really two different games in one box. On one side of the game board is a stylized map for a fast playing version of Risk for two players, and on the other side is a board game version of the computer game. The game was produced by USAopoly in 2013 and is recommended for ages 10 and up. Apparently, this game is built upon concepts developed in a previous game called Risk: Balance of Power, which I don’t think ever made to the United States. I think my friend Mark Jackson had a copy, because that would be just like him to have some obscure version of Risk that nobody else would have. While the rules don’t give any design credit, a little bit of digging around BGG revealed that Risk: Plants vs. Zombies was developed by Andrew Wolf, who gave Rob Daviau credit for inspiration. Rob designed the Risk: Balance of Power game. (Update: Thanks to USAopoly for letting me know that the game was actually designed by USAopoly creative director Luke Byers in large conjunction with PopCap.)

Let’s take a look at the side of the board that is most like traditional Risk. You have a map that is broken up into distinct regions like the original game, but instead of a world map, you have a cross-section of a human head and instead of real places like Kamchatka and Venezuela, you have places like Brainsburough Square and New Brainswick. The game begins with some regions being controlled by plants and some by zombies. The other regions are controlled by garden gnomes that act like the neutral (ancient?) races in Small World or Vinci. There are also tokens that represent station wagons, which made no sense to me thematically, but made sense to my son. It’s a good thing to control regions that have station wagons. Players spend their turns gaining and placing new units which they can then use to invade adjacent regions. Players roll dice to determine combat results and collect cards that can be used to purchase additional troops or may be played during combat for special effects. Most of this stuff is pretty close to classic Risk.

What I enjoyed most about this version was the use of objective cards, which were introduced in the Risk: Balance of Power game. Players randomly choose 8 of 12 available objectives that are displayed at the top of the board and the first player to achieve 3 of those objectives wins the game. Not only does this speed up the game considerably, it also creates some very dynamic situations where players are trying to achieve a particular goal while keeping their opponent from achieving another.

Ben is pretty happy with his defenses.
Ben is pretty happy with his defenses.

The other side of the board is used for the Front Yard Skirmish game, which is essentially a physical version of the Plants vs. Zombies video game. Do people still call these things video games? What do I call them if they are multi-platform games? When will the nurse bring me my applesauce? Players roll two dice at the start of their turn and then choose one die to represent points of movement and the other to represent the number of actions they can perform. You thought you could get dice hosed in regular Risk? Wait until you play this. I had fun anyway, and there are some upgrades you can purchase with cards that can help some of the dice hosing.

If you are a gamer parent and want to introduce a classic game to your gamer kids, then I highly recommend Risk: Plants vs. Zombies. The sculpts of the plants and zombies are great and I think you get a whole lot of game for the money. The Front Yard Skirmish is also a good introduction to the concept of action point systems. It’s no Tikal, but it does start the action point ball rolling. You can find this at your FLGS or a few chain stores. It’s labeled as a collector’s edition. I don’t know what that means exactly. Just go buy it if you are interested, and have fun sitting down with your son or daughter, niece or nephew, grandson or granddaughter, weird Uncle Billy, or the kid down the street that steals the oranges off your tree. You’ll be glad you did.


  1. 1. Yes, I do own Risk: Balance of Power.
    2. Objectives originally appeared in Risk: Black Ops (which I also own).
    3. Both were designed by Rob Daviau.
    4. Make sure to thoroughly gum your applesauce before swallowing. 🙂

    Question: is setup for the Risk PvZ game static? In Balance of Power, one player sets the board & the other player chooses which side he wants to be. (Makes set-up a little long… but does some very cool things game-wise.)

    • Black Ops was available domestically right? I don’t remember seeing BoP in the stores.

      The setup is dynamic but we played with some static scenarios. We will move on to the advanced setup rules now that Ben has some experience with the game.

      • Black Ops was the prototype for Risk: Revised Edition… only 500 copies exist. Revised Edition was available here in the States.

        Balance of Power was never published for the U.S. market. (Sigh.) It’s basically 2 player Risk on a map of Europe.

  2. That’s a nice enough writeup that I’d consider playing risk again. 😉 I like the idea that the back of the board is very different, and it’s exciting that it teaches action points.

    To reduce dice hosing, could you roll one die and set it so moves+actions always totals 7? So good moves have few actions, and vice versa?

    • Hey, that’s an interesting idea! That would eliminate the wild swings. It was tough to have one player roll 1-1 and then have the next roll 5-6. Rolling one die would still give the player the choice of move vs. attack/action but would level out the playing field a bit.

  3. Awesome review! We’re so happy to hear you and your son had a good time.

    Also, just a note, the game was actually primarily designed by our creative director Luke Byers in large conjunction with PopCap (although Andrew did contribute). We’re not sure how the credits got mixed up on BGG. It’s true that Luke and Popcap were highly influenced by Rob Daviau. Anyway, is there any way you can switch in Luke/Popcap instead? Thank you much!

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