Small World - Board Game Box Shot

Small World

| Published: 2009
Small World title

Small World is a zany, light-hearted civilization game in which 2-5 players vie for conquest and control of a board that is simply too small to accommodate them all! Picking the right combination of fantasy races and unique special powers, players must rush to expand their empires - often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory.

Small World box and contents
image © Days of Wonder

User Reviews (83)

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I play black
Guardian Angel
Platinum Supporter
Marquis / Marchioness
105 of 112 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 4
“Area Control without the Sobering Realism of War”

I happened upon Small World through a literal “gateway” experience… not from another, more accessible game making me interested in digging for weightier options, but from a gateway game literally pointing me to Small World and saying “you buy this now!” That game was Ticket to Ride. It contains a devious Days of Wonder sales pamphlet inside the box, and said pamphlet has Small World prominently displayed on the cover and on the first several pages. Of course, my feeble mind was no match for Days of Wonder, whose subtle mastery of mind control has yet to be understood by us lay-folk. Here are my experiences with the game I was coereced into buying:

Observed Set-Up and Play Time
Opening the box and preparing for play is a several-hour process. There are sheets upon sheets of cardboard to carefully punch (and I do mean carefully… the art on the pieces will rip off if you move quickly), and the rulebook, while well-written and reasonably brief, will need a thorough reading. After those few hours, the first game (for me, a 2-player game) took around 45 minutes with nary an error made. Follow-up games take around 5 minutes to set up and 45 minutes to an hour to play depending on the number of players. It’s simple, effective and fun from the first game, but holy cow cardboard.

My Learning Curve and Teach Time
The learning curve to the game itself is pretty small… one play-through should do it. But you really only become fluent at Small World when you no longer have to reference the wonderful skill/race sheets to understand how your new race will behave. If you’re using the base game with no expansions, it will probably take around 10 games for you to experience every race and skill and be able to know what they do immediately upon seeing them. To teach the game, I take 15 minutes before starting to slowly run through the basics; then we’re off.

Group Sizes and Dynamics
For some reason I have a very hard time getting non-gamers to play Small World with me. I would expect that the light theme and cute artwork would make this appealing… I am apparently mistaken. The biggest group I’ve managed to corral for a game was 4 players, all fairly adept at designer game play.

Objectionable Material
Small World is light fare, but at its essence is about conquering and dominating. These aren’t tenets to use as a foundation for your child. However, it is possible that point is lost in their minds behind simply wanting to “beat your Troll with my Amazon.” While there is no visual depictions of violence or use of adult language, and even the potentially scary monsters (ghouls, skeletons, etc) are animated comically, I would probably wait to introduce this to my kids until they are around 10.

Comparable Titles
First and most obviously, this game is an evolved descendant of Risk. It also has a bit of a distant cousin in Smash Up, a card game that allows you to combine two unique sets of abilities together and see how you fare (in Small World, a race and a skill; in Smash Up, a combination of two monsters). But in general, Small World is akin to the multitude of area control games currently available. It differentiates itself through its fantasy theme, providing respite for those of us who have had enough of war games yet enjoy the occasional conquering of a region.

It feels incomplete to comment on Small World without touching on the expansions, for they are many. There is a stand-alone companion game (Small World Underground) that plays identically but gives new races, skills and game board (complete with new land types); 3 expansions that simply provide new races and skills (Cursed!, Grand Dames and Be Not Afraid); one expansion (Tunnels) that allows you to connect the base game’s board to that of Underground; one expansion that changes the board to a Catan-style variable board (Realms, which includes Tunnels); one that attempts to add a story to the game through event cards (Tales and Legends); and one that allows an extra player to resurrect other players lost race tokens to use against them (Necromancer Island). I have used a good chunk of these (Underground, Tunnels, Realms and Be Not Afraid), and I feel that they add nothing to the game. Small World Underground is itself a good game… but it isn’t better or worse than the original, just a variation. And trying to connect the 2 boards through Tunnels is a disaster… I have given it 3 attempts, and it completely ruins the game for me. I purchased all of these within weeks of purchasing the original game, so it may be a case of “too much too fast”… but I wasted a lot of money on these, when the base game itself was sufficient.

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United Kingdom
Intermediate Reviewer
Video Game Fan
60 of 65 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“This world ain't big enough for the both of us...”

In Small World, you are controlling a fantasy race trying to dominate a world which is just not big enough for everybody. Eventually your race will become overstretched, but don’t worry, you can abandon your race and select another one!

So I keep changing races? How weird is that! How would that work? And why would I even want to?

Let’s go back to the beginning. The board for Small World is a map divided up into regions. There is a different board depending on the number of players. Why? Because it is designed to be just too small! Next to the board you will place a pile of race tiles, and next to that a pile of race modifier tiles. For example, the top race might be Orcs and the top modifier might be “rampaging”, so that makes Rampaging Orcs! Each race and each modifier has a special ability, meaning that when they’re combined you’ll get two special abilities. You take the top 5 combos and place them in a column below the stack, so you’ll have 6 combinations visible.

Each player is given some coins and the game begins. On your turn you’ll need to start by picking up one of the six visible race combos. You can take the first one (furthest from the stack) for free, but you’ll need to pay one coin for every race you skip. If you do that, put one coin on the race tiles that you pass over, because another player will get those coins if they choose that race later.

Your race tile will have a number on it, and so will the modifier tile that goes with it. Add these two numbers together, and that is the number of units you’ll be getting to go forth and populate the world with, so take that number of tokens (the tokens are specific to your race). Starting from a region at the edge of the board you capture regions by placing two tokens in the region, plus another token for any other tokens that are in the region (these could be tokens from other races, or mountain or lost tribe tokens that are placed on the board in certain regions at the beginning of the game). If you end up with too few tokens to capture your last region then you can roll the reinforcement die, which can add to the strength of your last tiles, so depending on that roll you may or may not get your last region.

After you have finished conquering you can redistribute your tokens around the board, then finally give yourself one coin for each region you occupy. Play then moves to the next player.

Where I might get attacked myself, right?

It’s not really a case of might, more will, remember it’s a Small World after all.

You had to get that in there, didn’t you?

Surely it’s obligatory! Anyway, if another player conquers a region you occupy, you lose one race tile, but any others are returned to your hand for you to use on your next turn.

Well that all seems straight forward!

Yes it is, but don’t forget that your special abilities might bend these rules, you might get extra coins for certain things, you might have to use less units to conquer, you might not lose tiles when you’re conquered, etc.

OK, but we just keep going at it until the game ends?

Not quite, remember you have limited tiles to use and these get more limited as the turns pass. Eventually your race will become more trouble than it’s worth, and you will choose to put your race into decline. Leave just one tile in each region you occupy and flip them over. You’ll still get a coin for each region that race occupies, but you won’t be able to conquer anything with them and you’ll lose that races special abilities. However on your next turn you’ll be able to select another race and start conquering at full strength! After 10 rounds the player with the most coins is the winner!

I get it now! So what makes this game great to play?

A number of things. The special abilities of each race make playing with each one unique, and the modifiers ensure that each race is slightly different than in the last game. The variety of special abilities is great, and they can bend just about every rule in the game, but never in a way that is confusing. There are many great decisions you’ll need to make during the game, such as balancing your desire for a particular race combo with how much it will cost to get it, or should you take a cheaper combo which may give you coins straight away if other players have skipped it? The major decisions you’ll have to make is picking the perfect time to put your race into decline – too soon and you’ll spend too many turns waiting around (remember if you put your race into decline you don’t get your new race until the next turn), too long and you’ll be stuck with an ineffective race who cant conquer enough. The only drawback is that when you start playing the game you’ll have to keep checking the player aid for what each race and modifier does, and you’ve got six combos to choose from so that can take a while, but you’ll quickly learn to read the symbology on the tiles and only have to check occasionally. In short this is a great game with loads of replayability and you should definitely give it a go!

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Reviewed My First Game
Private eye
45 of 49 gamers found this helpful
“Good, popular game with sound design; maybe a tad overrated”

Bottom line up front: You owe it to yourself to check out a game so immensely popular and highly recommended. I thought this would be perfect for my family when I discovered it. There is great theme, it’s easy to learn, and few flaws I can identify. I think I should love this game, but so far I only think it is “pretty good” and a little bit overrated. Please don’t put too much into my rating “number” but look at my observations and see if you can get past the issues I had.

I understand it contains a lot of similarities with the designer’s previous effort, Vinci. I have not played Vinci so I unfortunately can’t help with comparisons there.

COMPONENTS: Very nice art throughout. Creatures are nicely stylized so they can be appreciated by older players and not too heavy for younger players. There are plenty of pictures and inventory lists on or linked to this site, so I’ll just give a few impressions. The best thing about this game is that the designers give you 2 double-sided gameboards. We get an optimized board for each interval of 2 through 5 players. That’s great. The head scratcher of the package is the inclusion of 2-D mountain tokens. You place those on the areas already clearly depicted as mountains on the gameboard artwork. They are to remind you that they are mountains (game implications for defensive value). They are easy to set up because the appropriate areas already look like mountains. There are no tokens to remind you that water areas are water as that would be unnecessary. No negative bearing on the game, however. You could leave them in the box. I actually appreciate the though experiment and the “just in case you wanted this, too” type of inclusion.

I believe there have been multiple designs for the packaging and insert. I think I have the newer version. I can tell you that after you remove all cards, tokens, and chits from the sheet stocks; the included insert and removable army token organizer will provide an absolutely brilliant and elegant storage solution for 93% of the games contents. You are entirely on your own to figure out what to do with the remaining 7% (and any expansions).

GAMEPLAY NOTES: “It’s like Risk, except… well, yeah, it’s like Risk.” That is how I explained this previously, admittedly tongue in cheek. The truth is that there is a lot less luck involved than risk. Attack results are often predictable. The attack value/army number needed to win a battle apparent prior to the attack and only the last attack of a player’s turn involves the rolling of custom die to what “reinforcements” are available (additional attack value). That custom die has three faces blank so 50% of the time you “are what you are”, there is also a possibility to role for an additional 1, 2 or 3 reinforcements to boost your attack value. This is nice. A little luck can be available, but not at all required. You will be rewarded for managing your armies well.

Randomizing creature race and class gives many options (280??) which add to replayability. The trade off (completely acceptable here) is that you never get excited about a particular group and personally connect with them. You go through “wealthy trolls” and “flying giants” and then “mounted ghouls” using each for your purposes and discarding them in a few turns to move on to the next random race-power combo. That’s the fun here. But if your kid just watched “The Hobbit” and wants to be the dwarves, that is not really how this game works.

The game never goes too long. There is a round counter and when you are out of innings, the game’s over. Usually 40-60 minutes. I often play with kids and reduce rounds rather than go long to give them the time they need to manage their turns. You always know how many rounds are left.

You earn VPs each round for occupying territory and applying modifiers based on race and class being used. These get tallied at the end to determine winner. The totals are hidden so you have an idea of how each player is doing, but there is no official score until the end. In 3 or 4 player games, prepare for the attempts to convince you to attack the other player. Everyone likes to let you know they are not doing well. Actually, for a number of reasons I think Small World works best as a two player game. I appreciate how this takes out that negotiating/coalition building aspect (good qualities in other games, but not always in Small World).

Personal Observation: I do wish it was more satisfying to conquer an area on the map. This is personal and hard to express, but I think the lack of either of two things makes it a less significant event. First, I’ll admit I like miniatures in my fantasy themed boardgames. If I attack your dwarves with my trolls, I’m not ashamed to say I like to see little painted creatures walking around (been painting a lot of boardgame pieces this year). Secondly, the terrain areas are very anonymous. With Risk, I could feel satisfied that I just conquered the Australian west, for example. Zero impact on gameplay, but while the types of terrain may have gaming characteristics, there is no real theme carried over to the individual pieces within that type. This is very subtle nitpicking. I am really working hard to figure out why I “only like” the game.

SUMMARY: It’s very popular. Great theme and art. My family will play it. Game time hits the sweet spot. Good value. I should love this game. It seems on paper that it was made for me. Ultimately I think it’s good in itself but doesn’t live up to all of the hype. I wanted to love this (I bought the iOS/iPad version to learn rules waiting for it to arrive). Maybe it tries too hard for me. Like that perfectly nice and attractive person that was really interested in you but you didn’t reciprocate. Their only flaw was having that much interest in you (unforgivable, really).

It is good enough for me to play through once in a while. Maybe one day it will completely click for me, too.


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Gamer - Level 2
34 of 37 gamers found this helpful
“Easy to Learn, Quick to set up, Great Depth!”

One of the best things about SW is that it comes with 4 different boards. There is a board for 2 players, for 3, for 4, and for 5. This is what makes the game fun for any of those combinations of players. The board never feels too big with few players, or too crowded with 5. Don’t get me wrong though, it does get crowded, but the right type of crowded.

In SW, there are a collection of “Adjective” or “Power” cards that get randomly grouped each game with the different armies. This makes every game unique! Some games you might have an army of Beserk Skeletons that grow in size very quickly, and the next SeaFaring Skeletons that really stay out of the way.

A simple version of the gameplay goes as follows. A player selects the army they want to use. They conquer regions on the map using their armies until they can’t conquer anymore. They get victory points for each region they now have. They move their troops around until they are happy with their positions in the regions they now occupy, and then they end their turn. A turn typically takes around 30seconds to a minute. There is no rolling dice (with a few small exceptions) to determine who wins in combat. The game just flows.

If at any point you feel your army are no longer useful to you, or have reached their prime, you can put them into decline. You essentialy lose control of the army, but still score points off them. At the start of your next turn, you can then select a new army and carry on conquering lands.

Certain armies and powers can help you gain victory points in different ways. Each player is provided with a reference page that details each army and each power. This really helps the flow of the game as players don’t need to disturb others to figure out what their armies can do. I’ve found that even 8 year olds learn this game within a single turn due to the simple nature of it and the wonderful aide the reference sheets provide.

Don’t be fooled by the simple mechanics, though, as SW is full of strategy. Deciding exactly when to go into decline as well as to which armies to choose can have huge consequences. SW rewards skill over luck every time, and I’ve found the same few people win this game every single time because of great strategy.

SW is the perfect mix of light-hearted war-gaming on a board that is easy to learn and deceivingly complicated at the same time.

I recommend SW to any family looking for a fun relaxing board game as well as any gamers out there looking for a game to get your non-gaming friends into board gaming. Pick this one up, you won’t be disappointed!

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The Gold Heart
I Am What I Am
60 of 66 gamers found this helpful
“Small World...Zany, Lighthearted & FUN!”

Small World Details:
No. of players: 2 – 5
Time to play: 40 – 80 minutes
Set-up: 10 minutes

Small World is a board game published by Days of Wonder and designed by Phillipe Keyaerts. This game of world conquest features an cornicupia of fantasy races — Dwarves, Giants, Orcs, Wizards and more as they battle for dominance of a world that is just too small.

The game is designed to have appeal to both gamer and non-gamer alike. It is playable as either a light-hearted fun 3-5 player family game, or as a more confrontational 2 player battle of wits. The easy gameplay and fun graphics ensure that Small World is accessible to the vast majority.

Small World has several small expansions and a reimplementation in 2011′s “Small World Underground.”

A Brief Overview
Small World comes with four different maps, each one varying in size and layout based on the number of player that will be playing. However, all of these maps share one thing in common: the world is just too small.
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 more.

Throughout the game, players will play as one of the interesting races, each with different powers. As play continues you will have the option to change races in an attempt to always stay one step ahead of your opponent.

Gameplay Mechanics
The rules in this game appear extraordinarily simple yet, stilll providing compelling gameplay. Each turn begins with two options:
Conquest or Decline.

Your race will be represented by cardboard tokens, each beautifully illustrated. You place the race tokens on the map. Areas that are occupied by enemies or other obstacles such as mountains or the native Lost Tribes of Small World require more tokens than empty territories. In order to conquer a new area you must enter with a force that’s greater than the opposition by 2.
While each race has its own special skills that makes for interesting gameplay, in addition each race also has an additional special power badge as determined by the adjoining token. These special power – race combinations change every single time you play, so no two games are alike.

At the end of each of your turns, you will acquire an amount of points equal to the number of areas you occupy. The game ends after a designated number of turns which is determined by the number of players in the game.

Small World’s most Strategic move: Knowing when to Decline!

This is where it gets really interesting. Instead of choosing to further your race’s conquest, if you feel you have conquered all you can with your current race, this your chance to go into decline. Now, come back as something totally different. A fresh start.

Who will play Small World…just about everyone. It’s a game that may not be a favorite of everyone but it’s also a game that just about everyone will play. For me the game is a favorite for it’s constantly changing race and special power combinations. Small World is a game that is accessible to everyone but will also appeal to those that consider themselves avid game players. That’s a rare combination.

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Critic - Level 4
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
49 of 54 gamers found this helpful
“Another Nice Mid-Level Game from Days of Wonder”

Small World is known in gaming circles as a re-theming of the classic game Vinci, but for many gamers, this will be their first exposure to the concept. This is a fun little game where players get to mix and match nifty powers in an attempt to kick their friends off the game board and scratch out as many points as they can.

The key component in Small World are the races; there are a number of different races like trolls and elves and wizards – typical cliche fantasy fare – each with their own special power. There are also a number of attributes – again with distinct special powers – that are randomly paired up with these races. So in one game you could have swamp trolls and seafaring elves, and in another game you could have seafaring trolls and stout skeletons, and so forth.

Each player works to procure a race from the handful that are available, place their tokens on different areas of the game board, and collect money at end of turn for areas they control. This money is then used later to buy other races, and at the end of game to determine the winner. The races’ special powers may make it easier to conquer certain areas, or give a bonus for others, or allow you better attacks against other players.

When a new race is bought, the previous race goes “in decline” meaning the pieces generally stay on the board but that race no longer uses its power. Mostly it makes opponents work a little harder to get what they need, while you are off with your shiny new race grabbing points elsewhere.

Overall, I like the components in this game; all the pieces are good solid cardboard bits, and the artwork looks great. One chief complaint is that the way certain illustrations blend can make it harder to tell what type of area you’re supposed to be looking at. This information should be clear to everyone at all times.

The gameplay is simple enough to teach newcomers in a relatively short span of time. The lighter nature of the game may turn off more hardcore gamers, but for people who just want some good solid fun and good player interaction, Days of Wonder tends to provide these in spades. Small World is no exception.

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Intermediate Reviewer
40 of 44 gamers found this helpful
“Genocide with a smile!”

Starting with the box alone the visual appeal of this game is evident from the beginning. The artwork on the box has a humorous and cartoon-esque appearance and is very well done, The overview of the game from the back of the box is sufficient to give a good sense of the game without spoiling too much before opening.
Opening the box presents you, firstly, with a couple of leaflets from the lovely Days of Wonder peeps showing some of their other products and then below these we get to the first of the main components, the instructions. They are the perfect length and well presented, only twelve pages, there is no overcomplicating of the rules which are not hard to grasp at all. There are race and power reference pages and even a diagram showing the best way to organise the plethora of tokens which lay below. Here also are five reference sheets which show turn order on one side and race/power effects on the other, my only gripe is that these are HUGE, they are almost the same width as the box itself and if all five players requested to have one, which is unlikely thankfully, then they take up more space than the board itself and my gaming table ain’t that big chaps and chapettes!
Skipping over the tokens, which are next and require popping from their frames, we find the boards. The two and three player double sided board is a single fold affair with fewer spaces for the two player side and the same for the double fold board for four and five player games. The art on them is really nice, colourful and the spaces are clearly different from each other with any icons or markers easily distinguished from one another. Both boards are of a high quality, much better than some I own but I have seen one or two better.
At the bottom of the box is a two part compartmentalised tray for token storage, one part of which is a removable tray which holds the players race tokens for easy access throughout the game without having to have the box at hand.
The trays are a necessity with Smallworld as the token count is among the most impressive I have seen. I am among those sick people who enjoy popping tokens and counters from their frames and this game was guilty of feeding that habit! There are LOADS!!! (that’s right, three exclamation marks, count ‘em) the tokens easily account for more than half the weight of the game and they are gorgeous, the artwork is extremely well done with the same humorous theme held throughout the game and they have a reassuringly sturdy feel to them even down to the noise they emit when dropped on to the board, I know it’s sad but it really is a satisfying noise!

The components alone are begging for a perfect ten and I had to really struggle to find a point to mark it down. In the end I had to settle for one minor gripe in that I would have preferred the reinforcement die to be made of plastic as the wooden one feels a little cheap compared to the beautiful bits it finds itself surrounded by (it must feel a little depressed when it considers this fact!)

Simplicity thy name is Smallworld!
This game is so easy to learn that my entire gaming circle had it down by the end of turn one, even my eight year old son had it learned after a couple of turns and the boy can barely concentrate on staying upright half the time!
When played with four or five players this game shines in a class all of its own, It has all of the subtle tactics and vicious backstabbing that any gamer could ever want. The joy in seeing someone take a gamble and gain control of several regions only to have the next player ruthlessly annihilate them is a joy not seen in games of a similar nature. It also helps that the random combinations of race and power means that the backstabbing often leads to a revenge play happening sooner rather than later and you never know what combo will be next from the pile. This fact also helps with the replay value. Because the races and powers are drawn from randomised piles each game you will not see the same pair drawn very often and therefore, peoples choices will differ from game to game based on their preference and the choices of other players.

The gameplay is brilliant and I can’t wait to add some of the expansions to it if only for the new races!

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Marquis / Marchioness
Advanced Reviewer
Professional Advisor Beta 1.0 Tester
74 of 82 gamers found this helpful
“A great strategy game, different every time, but not for everybody”

Small World seems simple to understand. There are many race banners and many ability banners which get randomly paired together to create a race/ability combination. This creates nearly limitless combinations making every game a different experience.

Players pick a race/ability combination and use the race tokens to spread out and conquest regions on the board representing Small World. Due to the size of the board, players are constantly conquesting each other’s territories while their race diminishes over time, until the owner decides it is time to put their race into decline, which is where the owner stops running their race and picks a new race to start playing.

Figuring out conquests is relatively simple. The number of race tokens you need to use to conquer a territory is equal to the number of cardboard pieces in the region (whatever they may be) plus 2. There are a couple pieces you can’t conquer, though, such as a dragon. Many players still have difficulty understanding this, however.

The part of the game that is difficult for players to understand and grasp is how every race/ability pairing works. Each of these have their own symbols to show what they do, so nearly every pairing players need to look up how the race or ability works. This tends to be too much information for players to hold.

There are many pieces and components to this board game and all with great artwork to them.

Now the strategy of the game seems very simple, you take your race tokens, and conquest other regions, score points, and see who wins. But to get into the advanced play, it is much more difficult, there is a lot of strategy to it, and it’s not nearly as easy as it looks.

This game is ideal for 2 players, but plays up to 4.

-High-level of abstract strategy
-Relatively simple/straightforward rules
-Excellent artwork and design
-Map scales well to the number of players

-Race/abilities are widely varied and need to be frequently referenced
-The strategy is far too abstract for most players to enjoy
-The scoring system is hidden, making it difficult to keep track of how well you are doing

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Novice Reviewer
Intermediate Grader
24 of 26 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“With Great Variety comes Great Replayability - Right?”

Quick Summary
Small World is a game based on variety and extracting and executing strategy from that variety. You take on fantasy-based races that have a racial ability and an additional bonus powers and over the span of “ages” to conquer tracts of land to earn victory points.

Primary Mechanics
– Area Control – The basic premise is that players earn victory points by controlling areas on the board. The board is laid out with several different types of terrain types and environments. To conquer an area, you need to send a specific number of armies in. This is basically 2+ the number of cardboard pieces there are. So if you’re going in to an empty space, you need 2 armies. Empty mountains? 3 armies. A mountain with 3 enemy armies? You’ll need 6 armies. It’s a very elegant combat system that makes the numbers your race & bonus combos provide very important.

– Variable Races and Bonuses – This is where the game shines. the Area Control mechanic is more of the canvas while the racial abilities and power abilities are the paint. The game comes with 14 different fantasy races and 20 bonus powers, all are different, and all randomly get combined together for 280 different potential combinations. They all provide bonuses and benefits that cover all the aspects of the game. This is where the complexity and depth of the game comes out, because you have to figure out how Merchant Skeletons can take on Fortified Trolls and Flying Halflings.
– Bidding/Drafting – Since there is a huge range of combinations, it is inevitable that some combinations will be weaker or stronger than most. So the game has this bidding system in place where you spend your points to skip over combinations you aren’t interested in. The points can then continue to accumulate as players continue to pass on the race. This can often lead to weaker races being taken because they come with a large accumulation of points. That lump sum can often be a significant moment at the end of the game.
– Races going In-Decline – Over the course of the game, either due to attrition, or strategic maneuvering, you’ll get to spend a turn to send your active race in decline. They’ll stay on the board and continue to earn you points as long as they remain. But you’ll no longer be able to use them in combat. You’ll then begin your next turn by picking a new race/power combination.

Balance & Difficulty -
The game has a nice feature where there are 4 different boards to play on for the different number of players. This insures conflict and player interaction regardless of the player amount, and they also scale the number of players, so when there are a larger number of players, the game doesn’t drag on for too many rounds. The game is pretty simple overall, but it has some good level of strategy. Some of the combinations may seem a bit complex or confusing to players new to board games. But overall, it really is quite easy.

The theme is standard high fantasy, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s hard not to chuckle when Flying Halflings show up, or Diplomatic Orcs are on the table. There’s nothing that really seems to detract from the theme, but the mechanics don’t really seem to support the theme either. In fact, the game is a reimplementation of Vinci, a game made in 1999 by the same designer.

- Main Boards – I love that there are different boards for different players. The quality of everything is top-notch with the board. The only thing that is difficult is to keep track of the turns. I’m sure I’ve played many games where we went 2 or more rounds than we should have because we forgot to move the round marker.

- Race & Power Tiles – These are great quality as well. Nice thickness. Nice feel. Nice print quality. They are shaped well so the Power Tile fits nicely within the Race Tile.

- Die – The game has one reinforcement die. It’s very clear and light. It has nice rounded corners so it isn’t made to roll across the table, but just to localize the roll in front of you.

- Chits – There are an absolute TON of cardboard chits in this game. 168 just for the races alone. There is no secrets with these chits so if some have a little tearing when punching, it’s okay, but the quality of everything is so top notch, that it shouldn’t be an issue.

- Insert – The insert is a plastic extruded insert which works pretty well, but it does have flaws. The race chits can be very difficult to put in and take out of their spot in the insert. The victory point chits have a similar problem, and will fly all over the place without something that can stay on top of them. While I love plastic inserts that keeps things safe and organized, the insert in this one does fall short for me. I know Days of Wonder can do better with this.

- Rulebook – The rulebook is pretty straight forward and easy, but I do think it lacks some information and clarification. For as long as the game has been in print, there should be a whole appendix with clarifications. The race and power combinations will create questions, many of which have been answered online, but that has never translated to the rulebook.

While I’m not a particular fan of fantasy, the art is very whimsical and stylized with vibrant colors. It is a really nice looking game. The race art is really spectacular. And while most fantasy art has a tendency to be dark and sexualized, this game is so bright it’s almost ironic for what could be considered almost a war game.

Replay Value
The game presents a lot of variety with the combos. And trying to maximize the benefits of the races to reach for the most victory points does have replayability, but over time, despite the variety, I’ve found the replayability to die out a little bit. The races do have difference, but a lot of them tend to be different takes of the same thing. Dwarfs want places with mines. Wizards want places with magic. Humans want farms. That’s where they get their bonus. Some races and bonuses are a lot more exciting, but they’ll get played out.

Who May Be Interested in it?
Small World is a good gateway game that can lay the foundation for Euro games and modern games in general. It is something that can add to an avid gamers collection and will have a broad appeal for families, casual players, and strategy gamers. You could probably even talk Power gamers into it for time to time.
It’s a good, all around introduction to modern board games.

Who Should Avoid it?
But it does often play a bit dry. It’s often cited as being the Euro-version of Risk, with the area control, but the victory point aspect really is a drastic difference than player elimination. Goals and strategy have to be set different. It’s too light for power gamers. It’s too complex for party gamers. I also think it will get a bit stale for avid gamers over time. They may want to have it in their collection for other players, but may eventually look to trade it off too.

Final Conclusion
This was the first modern board game I bought. I had a lot of fun and played it a lot when I first got it. But as time went on, the strategy just started feeling very similar. It’s not a game for everyone, and it’s a game that left my collection because the strategy just ended up feeling very similar. I think it’s a good game. I think it’s good what what it does. It’s a game I’d recommend to lots of people, but it eventually left me wanting either a richer experience, or a quicker experience. Still, a solid design. Great production. Lots of variety. I’ve found the game experience is improved by many of the expansions.

About my reviews.
The purpose isn’t to teach you how to play the game. This review isn’t to reinforce any type of confirmation bias. I try to judge the game as it is designed. (No house rules, variants and expansions are reviewed separately). While I may apply a numeric rating, it would be my desire you ignore that number while reading my reviews. What I want to do is highlight notable aspects of the game and critique the game to help you decide if you think it may be something that interests you. I don’t believe it is good for people to make uninformed purchases. Thanks for your time.

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Plaid Hat Games fan
39 of 43 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 1
“Small world, big game”

For a small world there’s certainly a lot in the box, in fact your first job when returning from the games shop will be to punch out lot of tiles. And some more tiles. And lots more.

Anyway, to the game itself. The game mechanic is very smooth, round one pick a race and associated special ability (these combinations change for every game), round two start conquering. If you’ve played risk you’ll be familiar with the mechanic, put two armies into an empty land, add some more if you face opposition or mountains – mountains can be tough, what with the climbing, and rocks, and cold winds.

The key difference between small world and risk though is that there is no dice rolling needed (so there will be no cursing the snake eyes staring up at you mockingly). Instead you have a finite number of armies (some races have more than others) so you can only go so far across the board, go too far and you’ll be spread thinly which may get you lots of points (the more areas you hold the more points you get) but will leave you horribly exposed when your best buddy brings his flying orcs rampaging across your lands.

And now we come to the crux of the game, how far do you expand your finite armies? Then when you’ve taken your wealthy elves as far as their pointy ears dare stray you retire them, send them into decline, the age of the coin hugging elves is over! This means on your next go you choose another race/ability combo and then begin conquering anew.

Every race and ability lets you benefit from conquering different areas, may give you more troops, more money or allow you to pop up from holes in the ground seemingly anywhere in the world. Its these abilities and combo’s that make the game, and it gets better the more you play and the more you learn what they all do (handy crib sheet provided).

The game also plays on a timer which means you all know how many rounds are left, from this you make your crafty decisions on declining races and getting new ones.

The games plays swiftly, its very easy, my seven year old can play it. The real trick is timing and understanding races and abilities so as long as i keep that crib sheet to myself i’ll be fine.

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Reviewed My First Game
47 of 52 gamers found this helpful
“The Decline and Fall of the Seafaring Elven Empire”

Two to five players, well-balanced for all.

About an hour-and-a-half to play, depending on the number of people (more people, more time).

I’m always looking around for good strategy games. I love to play them, but I’m terrible at them, so I’m trying to find one that I don’t always lose. I also play most of my games with only a single other person, whether my wife or a friend over for the evening. Strategy games almost always need a third player to hold the game’s triangular shape, which makes it complicated. Risk, for example, places neutral pieces on the board if you’re playing with two.

Small World fills my constraints wonderfully. There are multiple boards for rebalancing from two to five players. There’s a huge amount of replay value in the mix of races and classes you can choose for your armies. There’s an automatic neutral army mechanic that allows two players to play an interesting game. There’s an ingenious catch-up mechanic based on dwindling resources that makes for interesting decisions throughout the game, as well. I’m slightly ahead of myself, though.

The game plays like Risk, with several major differences.

First, attacking is a simple comparison, with at most one die roll. As in Diplomacy, whoever has the most units wins, but Small World also allows you to roll a die to add a random number of units to your attack. (EDIT: Most of the time, you can only roll this die on your last attack, and then only if you don’t have enough units to succeed without it.) This means that each turn moves fast, as most of the time is spent deciding where to send your units, and not resolving a dozen die rolls over a single attack.

Second, your army has a race and a class, which you get to choose. Races (like Elves or Humans) are paired with classes (which they call “special powers,” like Heroic, or Seafaring) randomly each game, and shuffled when you run out. Some combinations are downright broken (Commando Amazons? Good night!), but they come up so infrequently as to not be a problem, and can only last a few rounds before dying out anyway. The queue of upcoming pairs is visible on the side of the board, in order. You can choose the next pair in the queue for free, but must pay one VP for each pair you choose to skip. This balances the more powerful pairs, and also provides compensation (you get all coins paid for skipping your pair) for the person who eventually chooses the underpowered pair.

The most important difference is that you don’t get reinforcements. When you get your army initially, you have a limited number of units to use for attacking. You need at least one unit occupying an area to control it, and you get VPs based on the number of areas you control, which creates a difficult decision. See, at any time you can choose to put your existing army “in decline,” which allows you to choose a new army. However, once an army has gone into decline, they only maintain a single unit in each area, you can no longer attack with them, and you lose your next turn. This means that the choice as to when you go into decline has a huge effect on the game.

If you go into decline too early, you lose out on VPs you could have gotten by expanding farther, because any extra units you’re using for defense go away. If you go into decline too late, you might miss a great race/class pair that just appeared in the queue. Too early, and the ratio of active turns (where you’re gaining territory) and inactive turns (where you can’t attack) starts to get low. Too late, and the amount of territory you can gain each turn diminishes to uselessness: since you don’t gain any more units to attack, there comes a point where you cannot gain more territory — diminishing returns.

The final major difference is two-fold: semi-hidden victory points and a turn limit. Recent versions of Risk have a turn limit, but the “victory points” are purely determined by the number of countries controlled, which is public information. Small World’s victory points are semi-hidden, by which I mean that you have a stack of them on the table, so people can generally tell whether you’re doing amazing or not with a glance. However, you’re allowed to hide the exact number of VPs you have, and are not required to answer any questions about how many are in front of you. This means that quite a few games end with loads of tension while people count (Dominion does this very well).

If you’re looking for a quick, lighter strategy game, Small World definitely fits the bill. I’ve never had a game last more than two hours (even when teaching it), and most are much faster than that. You can play it quick-and-dirty, just attacking where you feel, but the choice of when to drop into decline makes skill and thought a major factor in victory. Expansions provide new race/class pairs to shuffle into your set, but the base game provides enough variety to keep it interesting for a long time.

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I'm a Player!
47 of 52 gamers found this helpful
“A big game in a small world”

I’ve been playing quite a few different card/dice games lately, and as I have been introducing my wife to the wonderful world of gaming, I decided to add a little bit more to her arsenal of games by playing Small World. To be honest, this was the first time I’ve played an area management game like this and I have to say that I have had such a wonderful time playing it.

First off, I want to preamble this by saying that the edition I am playing is the iPad edition, so this review won’t touch base on the actual packaging or components of the game in and of itself, and will talk about a couple of other different things. First off, the objective. The person who has the most victory points at the end of the game wins, so its relatively simple. You gain victory points by having your race control spots on the map, each spot giving you at least 1 victory point. At the begining of the game, a race/adjective(?) in which you would then put on the board. As the game goes on and you gain more territory, you will be running out of units because you must keep 1 unit on your territory at all times and through your opponents invading your territories, so you will be able to put your race on decline. When you do this, you get to choose another race and continue.

The gameplay is super easy to understand and explain, but with lots of depth that makes it interesting. Ever since getting the game, I’ve played about 11 games of it against the ai on the Ipad so that I can get a feel for the game, and I can win only about half the time or so. The reasoning for this is through bad placement on my part, but the randomness of race/adj. makes for good and horrible pairings. There is a bit of luck in this randomness, but it offers a lot of strategy. I find one of the reasons I’ve kept playing was to see what combinations would appear.

The art in the game (from the race design to the map design) is really good. Its has a light-hearted fantasy feel to it, with some bright and cartoony colors that would appeal to some people. I can see that the art stylings may not appeal to everybody, especially for a fantasy genre, but I found it to be quite terrific to my own tastes.

My verdict? I love the game more than I thought I would actually. My first few play throughs we are a bit difficult (I got my rear end handed to me my first game) playing through it shows that it has a real intuitive play style. Its definitely a keeper game, I think. Who would I recommend it to? People who enjoy the kind of area management/strategy games like Risk would definitely want to check this game out. Its quick and easy to pick up and doesn’t take a huge chunk of time like most games of Risk I have played. People who are new to the hobby would like to check it out because its not very intimidating in the least. I think people who want a serious game would want to avoid it, and perhaps the hard core gamer wouldn’t enjoy it. The randomness found in it could possibly make them dislike it simply by virtue of the fact that you can’t plan ahead so easily. Overall, being an avid gamer that I am, its definitely a keeper and one I would love to introduce to my friends and family down the line.


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