4 Variations of How to Play RISK with Two Players

When competing for global domination on the weekend playing RISK with 5 other players is certainly the best option.  However, head to head RISK is an option that can be accomplished when there are only two world conquerors ready to do battle. 

In order to play two person RISK there are a couple of rule variations that need to be implemented in order to create a competitive environment.  We will review these variations and you can choose whether you want to use some or all of these rule changes.

Summary of How to Play Risk

The goal of RISK is to take over all of the territories and thus eliminate your opponent from the game.  This is accomplished through the process of gaining armies, winning battles, and strategically defending your own territories.

Two Person RISK Rule Variations

Dummy Armies

The use of Dummy Armies is critical to the two person RISK game.  These armies are established at the beginning of the game by both players.  The purpose of the dummy armies is to simply prevent early and easy access to owning a continent, which would end the game quickly.

The Dummy Armies can be placed on the board three different ways.

  1. Random Deal
  2. Territory Draft Method
  3. Advanced Territory Draft Methods

Random Deal

Using the Random Deal take all of the territory cards and deal them into three different stacks.  The fist stack is for player 1, the second stack for player 2, and the third stack is for dummy army.  The game will be played with three armies – all armies will have 14 territories at the beginning of the game.

All armies will start the game with 40 infantry on the board.  Claim the territories as you normally would by placing one army piece on all the appropriate territories.  After this is completed each player and the dummy army should have 26 more infantry to place on the board.

Each player takes turns placing 3 of their armies and two dummy armies on the board until all of the pieces have been placed.

Territory Draft Method

The Territory Draft Method is done when the territories are claimed alternatively by each player.  When using this method it is best two use two colors for the dummy armies. This will ensure an even distribution of choice between both competitors.  The two players will start with 14 territories and the two dummy armies will have 7 territories each.

With two players and two dummy armies the two players start with 40 infantry to place on the board.  The two dummy armies will start with 20 infantry.

Important Note:  Using two separate colors for dummy armies DOES NOT make these armies allies to the player choosing their placement.  The dummy armies are simply meant to be obstacle for both players to overcome and to maintain the RISK games integrity when playing with only two players

Advanced Territory Draft Methods

The Territory Draft Method can also be played with 4 sets of dummy armies which will allow for the game to be played with all six colors.  The distribution ratio of starting territories with six armies is 9:6.  The two players will start with nine territories and the four dummy armies will have six territories. 

The starting infantry count ratio for this set up is 23:14.  The two players will start with 23 infantry pieces on 9 territories.  The four dummy armies will start with 14 infantry on 6 territories.

After all territories have been claimed each player will alternatively place two of their infantry and two infantry for all of the dummy armies to complete the game set up.

This process will take longer than a random deal.  However this process usually results in a competitive board with equal starting positions for both combatants.

Dummy Army Play

After the game board is set up with all of the infantry the game will start.  Each player will take a turn as per the rules.  However, the Dummy Armies DO NOT attack and DO NOT gain reinforcements.  These armies only defend when attacked by one of the two players.  Once the Dummy Armies are defeated they are no more.

Alliance Armies

The Alliance Army option is two person RISK game played with four armies (two armies per player.  The set up of these four armies can be established similar to the Dummy Army process.

The Random Deal in this case will require four stacks of cards.  Each player is given two stacks of territory cards to claim the territories for their two armies.

Territory Draft Method can also be done to choose the countries.  Each player alternates choosing the property they want and alternates the color.

For example, player 1 chooses Northern Territory with Blue.  Then player 2 claims Siam with Red.  Player 1, then, decides to own Congo with Yellow.  To end this round player 2 takes Eastern Australia with Black.

Alliance Army Play

In this variation each player is playing the game with two separate armies but these armies are working together to take over the globe.

This means that all armies gain reinforcements and all armies attack.  The trick to this variation is that the players need to maintain two separate sets of playing cards assigned to each of the armies under their control. 

Special Rules: Even though one player is playing two armies the armies need to remain independent.  So if player 2 wants to own the Continent of Australia in order to gain the extra reinforcements he would need to own this continent with one of his two armies. 

So Australia may be under player 2’s control if he owns all of the territories between his Red and Black Armies but this DOES NOT afford player 2 the extra reinforcements.

However, winning the game is accomplished when your two remaining armies are all that’s left.  

Strategy Tips: 

  • Sometimes in two person Alliance RISK it may be beneficial to attack yourself.  One example of this is the Australia example that we just explored.  Player two may want to use his Black Army to attack his Red Army in order to gain control of Australia.
  • Strategically manipulating your two Alliance armies may also enable each of your armies the opportunity to obtain “easy” cards if you are willing to sacrifice your own infantry on occasion.
  • If one of your armies is getting pummeled by your opponent you may want to take use one of your armies to destroy the other in order to maintain the cards that you have acquired for that army.

Two Person Six Army Risk

Two Person Six Army RISK is the most complex variation of two person RISK.  This variation should not be confused with the Dummy Army variation that uses all six colors.  Although both variations do have similar starting positions with respect to a territory ration of 9:6 and an infantry ratio of 23:14 as described above.

Two Person Six Army Risk Set Up

In this version the Risk Board is set up randomly by dealing nine territory cards to the two players and also dealing out six more territory cards which are assigned to the other four armies. e

Because this version is less passive a random deal works best for territory assignment.

After all of the territories are claimed as per the random deal then the infantry assignments need to be completed.  This is done alternatively by each player placing two army pieces for their armies as well as two pieces for each of the other 4 neutral armies.

Two Person Six Army Play

The game play starts like the Dummy Army version but there are some other rules that allow for the other four armies to become more involved.  These rules include bribing the neutral armies, reinforcing bribed armies, and then taking ownership of these armies.

The players can choose to bribe an army, reinforce that army and do battle with that army at the beginning of their turn.

Bribing Neutral Armies

All four smaller armies start off as neutral.  However, as the game progresses and players acquire cards by completing successful attacks these armies become available to the two players.  If Player 1 chooses to play a card that has a corresponding territory occupied by a neutral army the can do so and essentially own it at that time.

The next player can bribe this army away from his competitor by playing territory card associated with that army.  This card takes the army away from your opponent and places it back into a neutral position.   

If Player 2 wanted to bribe this army for their personal use they would need to play one more addition territory card to do so.

Reinforcing Bribed Armies

After an army has been bribed the player can add reinforcements to this army.  This is done by rolling one die.  The number on that die is the number of infantry that can be added to that army.

Troop Transfer of Bribed Armies

At the conclusion of a player’s turn they can perform one troop transfer for each of the armies under their control – including bribed armies.  Ownership is NOT necessary to exercise the troop transfer benefit.

Taking Ownership of Bribed Armies

A player takes full ownership of a neutral army after there have been five territory cads played on a single army.

Important Note:  After a player has successfully claimed ownership of a neutral army they can continue to add reinforcements with a single die roll.  Turning sets of cards in for larger reinforcements can be performed to collectively benefit all armies fully under the player’s control.  Ownership IS necessary to exercise the larger troop reinforcement benefit.

This is a Great Video for Two Person Risk with Six Armies

Play RISK Online

Another way to play two person RISK is to play online by using a free download, or by using a RISK App.  Both of these versions allow for two players to compete and the software will make moves for the other players.

Playing RISK online has some pros and cons.

The benefits of playing two person RISK online is that the game can be played with your friend anytime as long as you have an internet connection.

Another benefit is that online RISK works well, for two or six person RISK, for the nights when physically getting together with your Bros is just not possible.  This would be great for the Saturday Game Night that was scheduled weeks in advance and you had no idea it was going to dump 4 feet of snow.

The major draw back of online RISK is that it’s online.  There is just no substitute for using tangible game pieces and the ability to look your opponents in the eye right before you do battle South America.

Is Two Player RISK Fun?

Yes, two player RISK is fun for two RISK enthusiast that just can’t get enough.  It’s the head to head competition that makes two player RISK worth playing.  If you cannot find a worthy, or completely willing, opponent then two person RISK will not be as fun as RISK with four, five, or six players would be.

Although two person RISK is fun you may find some other two person games to be more enjoyable.  Some other two person games that I would highly recommend include Cribbage, Backgammon, 7 Wonders Duel, Chess, or Jaipur.

Strategies for How to Win RISK

When you’re not playing two person RISK you will be playing with multiple opponents.  During these games it is important to implement a sound strategy in order to prevent and early exit from your Game Night. 

Some of the best strategies that will make it possible for you to first survive and then win include:

  • Build your army slowly.  Get cards and minimize your losses.
  • DO NOT take a continent quickly.  This only makes you a target.
  • ALWAYS have a PLAN B.

To learn more about these and other strategies read 15 Strategy Tips for How to Win at Risk.

Playing RISK Quickly

RISK is one of my favorite games of all time.  It’s the very first strategic board game that I played with my Game Night Bros.  But one of the worst things about RISK is that it can be an all night affair. 

Playing more than one board game during game nights is better than just one long game that can eliminate players early.

A couple variations that allow for a quicker game of RISK include:

  • Mission RISK
  • Capital RISK
  • Mass Casualty RISK

To learn more about these and other RISK variation you should read 13 Variations for How to Play RISK Board Game Quickly.

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