Small World Review

Small World is a board game published by Days of Wonder (of Ticket to Ride fame) and designed by Phillipe Keyaerts. This cartoony game of world conquest features your typcial fantasy races -- Dwarves, Giants, Orcs, and lots more as they battle for dominance of an all-too-small map.

The game is designed to have rather wide appeal, being playable as either a light-hearted and somewhat wacky 3-5 player family game, or as a more serious confrontational 2 player battle of wits. The simple gameplay and cartoony graphics ensure that Small World is accessible to all.

Small World has several small expansions and a reimplementation in 2011's "Small World Underground."

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A Brief Overview of what Gameplay in Small World is Like

Small World comes with four different maps, each one varying in size and layout to accomodate you depending on the amount of players you are playing with (2 through 5). However, all of these maps share one thing in common: the world ain't big enough for all of us!

In Small World, you claim victory points by occupying any of the various territories on the map. The map itself is beautiful, depicting grassy knolls, sparkling lakes, crystal mountains, and even a rainbow!

Throughout the game, players will play as one of many zany races with different powers each. And not only that, you will have the option to change races as the game goes on to always stay one step ahead of your opponent!

How the Gameplay Mechanics in Small World Work

The rules in this game are extraordinarily simple (but they still provide compelling gameplay!) -- on your turn you have two options. You can either conquest, or retire your race. Usually, you will be conquesting.

To represent your armies, you will have a number of cardboard tokens (with beautiful illustrations on them, unique for each race). You place these tokens on the map. Areas that are occupied by enemies or other obstacles such as mountains or the native Lost Tribes of Small World are harder to conquer than empty territories.

Calculating what size forces are required to take over an arae is easy. You simply count the number of cardboard tokens on an area (all meaningful objects or creatures in this game are represented by cardboard) and you must enter that area with a force that's greater than the opposition by 2.

For example, if you are controlling the Flying Giants and are trying to attack a space with three Commando Orcs on it, you will need five of your Giants to take the Orcs down.

Not only does each race have its own special power that can add an interesting twist to its gameplay, but every race also has an additional prefix ability in the form of an adjective that gives them an additional ability. These adjective - race combinations change every single time you play, so no two games are alike.

Example: One game the Flying Giants may be available, and then the next game they are the Diplomatic Giants, with their own unique set of advantages.

At the end of every one of your turns, you will acquire an amount of points equal to the number of areas you occupy. The game ends after a set number of turns (depending on how many players are in the game).

Small World's Most Interesting Feature: Decline!

This is where it gets really interesting. Instead of choosing to further your race's conquest, if you feel you have achieved all you can with the race you are playing and want to choose something else, you can opt to put your current race into "Decline."

After entering decline, most of the declined species you were controlling dies off (what remains will still score points for you, but you can no longer control it) and you get a fresh start as a new race!

Did your girlfriend whipe out all of your Halflings? That's ok, come back next turn as a band of Vampiric Wizards and get your revenge!

Even more interesting: the game has a self-balancing mechanism. Since the ability and racial combos are randomly generated, some will naturally be better than others. To make up for this, you have to "pay" for a race that you want to select by putting victory point tokens (from your personal stash) on the combos that you do not want. Anyone who picks a race with victory points on it gets to keep those points, so the less appealing choices become more appealing as the game goes on and they are continually passed over!

Playing Time, Demographics, Etc.

I estimate Small World to take about 30 minutes per player, perhaps less with more experienced players.

The game plays any player count from 2-5 well, because it offers a unique board optimized for each player count.

However, down-time increases as you increase the player count, so if you want a more fast paced game you might want to stick to 2 or 3 player.

As far as audience goes -- this game can be a hit with just about anyone. It's a well-rounded game. Not everyone will love it, but very few people will hate it.

Recap Time: Positives and Negatives about the Small World board game:

Brings lots of quirky, innovative, and fresh ideas to an old genre

Fantastic sense of style. The cartoon artwork is simply irresistible. This gmae is a sight to behold!

Simple to learn, easy to teach.

Scales to any supported player count extremely well. 2 players? No problem. 5 players? No problem!

Enjoyable to a wide audience, uniting gamers of all types and commitment levels at the same table

Gameplay is on the conservative and predictable side -- this is a very smooth ride. Never a dull moment, but never a super exciting climax, either.

Storage tray that comes with the game leaves something to be desired

If you need a copy of the Small World rules, they are here: Small World Rules

Check below for my final verdict on Small World!

The Verdict on Small World - Is it Fun?

Small World is a game that I can't say anything bad about. It just does everything "right" for the most part, and everyone I've played it with has liked it.

That said, the gameplay is somewhat conservative. While no one has hated it, I haven't me anyone who truly truly loved it, either.

But this is a unique and fresh experience. It's such a solid release that I have a hard time not recommending it. It's like a staple food on your dinner plate -- it may not be the most delicious thing you've ever eaten, but you can't do without it, either.

Small World is here to stay in my personal collection indefinitely. And if you're building a collection, I recommend you pick it up at some point as well. Or at least try someone else's copy. While it may not be your new favorite, you're unlikely to be disappointed.

-Roger Wilco

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