Review: Small World

Game Name: Small World Published Year: 2009
Game Publisher: Days of Wonder Player Scale: 2 – 5
Game Designer: Philippe Keyaerts Run Time: 40 – 80 mins

In this game of area control, you’ll ride high as one of many special-powered fantasy races, building up your dominion over the fractured land until you overreach and are forced to decline and resign your race to the annals of history.  And then you start all over again with another special-powered fantasy race, smashing through your opponents defences to claim their lands, and maybe trampling your own previous, now almost extinct race.

Small World is a fast paced, light-weight and light-hearted strategy game with immense replayability (especially with the many, many expansions), and above all else, this is, quite simply; fun.  Proof you say?  Examples.  Okay.  Two words for you: Commando Halflings.Commando Halflings.png

The game is simple too.  To enter a Region you’ll have to deploy a base cost of two of your troops (your supply of beautifully illustrated Race Tokens), for every existing troop, defence or obstacle present on that Region (all represented by other little cardboard Tokens) you have to match it. An empty Region will cost you two Tokens, a mountain will cost you three and so on.  At the end of your turn, you’ll receive Victory Coins for each Region you control.  Easy, and maybe so far not sounding too exciting, but wait, I haven’t told you about the Race Abilities or Special Powers.

You’ll shuffle the cardboard Race Banners and also the separate Special Power Badges and stack them next to one another at the side of the board, these are now your game specific Race/Power Combos, and with fourteen races and twenty powers, that’s a unique mix of Banners & Powerstwo-hundred-and-eighty possible combos.  This is where this game really shines, the variety and differences between the Races alone is great; Humans get extra Victory Coins for every Farmland Territory they occupy, Orcs get extra Coins the more fighting they do (obviously), Halflings have impenetrable burrows or “Halfling Holes” (they also don’t have to start at the board edge either- which is very handy for surprise attacks).  The Power Badges then add an extra boost, for example: Dragon – you have a pet dragon to help you conquer new Regions, or Fortresses, which allows you to build (guess what) fortresses to increase your defensive value and so on.  How these Powers and Races interact drastically change the flow of the game, and will appeal to players of different gaming styles.

BoardBecause of all the different play styles potentially available, the beautiful cartoon artwork (from Miguel Coimbra), the light-hearted nature and the very simple rules this is a very easy game to pick-up-and-play.  As with many area control, fighting games there is plenty of strategy and tactics in here, but it is light enough to be understandable and engaging to younger or less experienced players.  The box also boast two duel-sided boards, one for two or three play games and the other for four and five player games – so this game scales great between two and five players seamlessly, of course there is nothing stopping two or three players duking it out on a larger board, you have the choice.  Regardless of how many players there are though, this is a quick game.  Turns can be taken in mere seconds when you’re reaching the end of your Race’s time, so your phone should probably stay away from the table less you miss something crucial.

There is a great blend of chance and strategy in this game, the Race and Power tiles make a great mixture, which will see a great variation of combinations, some will work better than others, and some will work to your style of play and be more or less beneficial at different stages of the game.  But this is a careful consideration, as to where and how you attack, not to mention how you defend those hard won Regions.  A pivotal point for each player in this game is when they choose to select a new Race, and resign their current, over-reaching one.  This is probably the hardest thing for a new player to learn and master, but the learning curve is gentle and quick.  By game two you’ll have mastered the basics, made you “mistakes” and be ready and willing to see which combinations come out next game.

Days of Wonder produce great quality games, all theRace Tokens components are all very high quality, with, as mentioned, great artwork.  Even the inlay for the box has been well thought out and there is a dedicated space for everything.  The Token tray is a particular great organisational tool (and in later expansion you’ll get an extended version to store all the additional Races) which also make the game very quick and easy to get it to the table.

This game is all about combat, about stomping on your opponents, so player on player interaction in this game is high, it won’t take long before you are forced into a combat situation – there should be no real hard feelings about this, because it is the nature of the game, and in fact, you need someone to diminish your troops if you’re ever going to Decline them and pick another.  It is also a lot of fun raining down a storm of Flying Ratmen, or charging across the board on your Mounted Giants.

Small World will make a great addition to any gaming shelf, it is fun, beautiful and simple so it is great if you don’t have hours and hours free, and is great for new and younger gamers.  If you are looking for something more gritty, serious and deeper this won’t be for you; but is still definitely worth a play, after all, how often do you get the chance to play as a Commando Halfling?

Interested, you can treat yourself here.

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