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 (94)

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I play black
Guardian Angel
Platinum Supporter
Marquis / Marchioness
154 of 161 gamers found this helpful | Medals x 5
“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
72 of 79 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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Amateur Reviewer
Amateur Advisor
71 of 78 gamers found this helpful
“Fun strategy that fades quickly”

Smallworld is a light hearted territory control game that uses simple mechanics spiced up with a variety of special powers and combos to keep things interesting.

The play of the game is pretty simple. On your first turn you pick a race and get some tokens to represent your troops (usually 9-10). Each race has its own power and an additional randomly assigned special power creating new combos each game. One game might have Berserk Orcs while in the next game they might be Diplomatic Orcs.

You then place tokens on board spaces to take over territory. To take over an area, you simply place two tokens + 1 additional token for every obstacle in the space (mountains, enemy troops, etc). At the end of the turn, you grab a victory point token for every space you control. On following turns, you pick up all troop tokens except for 1 on each space and continue to take over more territory.
The only additional consideration comes from going into decline. After your troops begin to get spread thin, you can choose to put them in decline. You skip a turn and no longer get to do anything with those troops but they still score points for you as long as they are on the board. On the next turn, you get to pick a new race and start taking over even more territory. You earn points for any space your active or in decline race controls.

Smallworld has several great aspects. It plays fairly quick for a territory control game and technically you can never be knocked out of the game. The race/power combos add a lot of variety to play and the fight mechanic is simple enough that my six year old loves playing this game. The first several games you play of Smallworld will prove to be a lot fun. The fun, however, doesn’t last forever.

The simple mechanics make the game easy to learn and play but also present an inescapable problem. Eventually, the races and powers begin to become overly familiar and even a bit stale. After this point, you’re left with a game that’s as complex and intricate as basic arithmetic. Smallworld plays fast for a territory control game but it still doesn’t play real fast for a game with such simple mechanics.

Smallworld is a great choice to introduce casual gamers and young family members to war gaming. It can even entertain a more seasoned gamer in short bursts. However, Smallworld doesn’t have the depth to keep a serious strategy gamer engaged for long. There are no deep strategies to discover and no advanced moves to master. Because the powers and available races are random each game, you can’t decide to try out any specific ability or combo. The play is fun, but it fades fast.

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Marquis / Marchioness
Advanced Reviewer
Professional Advisor Beta 1.0 Tester
80 of 88 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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Intermediate Reviewer
Novice Advisor
69 of 76 gamers found this helpful
“Elegant and evil!”

I was a bit hesitant if this was a good game or not before I tried it out the first time. Territorial conquest games are not really my cup of tea, but I was really surprised in a positive way. Not only is the game very simple, they also managed to more or less completely get rid of luck. You have a bunch of tokens, and you use them to grab areas on the map. Some areas cost more people to conquer because there are more enemies, the defenders cover in mountains or something similar. Different players will gain different amount of points for different areas depending on what race/special power they play at the moment (more on that later), so figuring out how to use your forces in the most efficient way is a big part of the game. Quite often the final score can be very even (partly because this is a game that invites bashing the leader) so you really want to maximize everything.

A couple of things make this game highly dynamic and interesting:

1) Races + Special powers
You play a race combined with a specail power. This creates many more or less bizarre combinations (flying hobbits, underworld amazons or diplomatic skeletons just to mention a few odd combos). The race gives you some property (like getting extra points for fields or being really good at attacking from mountains), and the special power gives you another ability. The two also contains a number of units and these numbers added together makes up your total number of trigger happy citizens.

2) Decline
Normally you don’t get any new tokens for your race, so after a few rounds your forces have probably been a bit decimated. At this stage you can decide to abandon your race and let them go in decline. Next turn you simply grab a fresh race (with a new special power). When counting points you add the points from your active race and your old declined race (which simply stay passive on the board as long as noone attacks them). This creates some interesting choices. First of all, the optimal situation is of course to have a vital active race and a decent declined race that adds some points, But at what point do you give up your current race? It’s not fun to let them in decline, but on the other hand you may just be scoring badly and delaying the inevitable anyway. Also, if your declined race is really not helping you out, is it a good idea to let your active race go in decline to get more points? These are hard choices, and each time you let a race go in decline you miss a turn where you could have grabbed some fresh land.

3) Buying new races
The stacks of races and powers are shuffled, and a que is formed with combinations. The first in line is free to grab, but for each step up the chain you must pay one gold (victory points). Anyone grabbing a race with gold on it gets the gold, so you must really think twice if it’s worth the 6 gold to grab a really neat combination higher up the chain. Of course, if you’ve played it a few times you learn what combinations are extra good, but it’s still hard to know the optimal purchase.

The rules are very simple, but the combinations and the players choices makes the game very hard to figure out. I have no clue how the gameboard will look next turn.

I don’t think everyone will enjoy this game, but most people we’ve introduced it to have found it really fun. The artwork is great, different maps make the game scale very good for different numbers of players, and the combinations themselves always makes us laugh. I definetely think you should try it out!

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The Gold Heart
I Am What I Am
65 of 72 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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Z-Man Games fan
Plaid Hat Games fan
Novice Advisor
59 of 66 gamers found this helpful
“Try to say it without something that song!”

Small World appealed to me because I had read some reviews detailing how the fighting occurs. It sounded like it could be tactical like risk but without the luck of the dice roll.
Interesting , right?
This didn’t put it up high on my radar though as I have been very busy trying out many different game styles and didn’t think I needed another strategic war game in my collection for the minute. Then when I was browsing a site, i saw a second hand copy for €25 and made an offer of €20 and, voila, I had a copy in my hands.
I opened it up with my league buddies and we all OOhed and AAhed at the colourful art design and beautiful boards. We read the rules, quick and easy to understand. We also watched a video of it being played just to make sure any minor quibbles were addressed. before we started. It should be pointed out we still did not have one or two rules correct for the first 2 play-through’s, but nobody minded as we quickly got into the spirit of the game. Each time it ended we wanted to go again and see what type of armies would become available, every game was different and we enjoy that immensely.
There are 14 races in the game with 20 possible powers. These are both shuffled and then joined to create the races available for the game. You could have flying zombies, that could attack… anywhere on the map!, Dragon Master Giants who… own a dragon, Mounted Trolls who… gain advantages attacking from hills etc, the list goes on and it changes every game! Excellent!
There are 4 boards available, one each for whether you are playing with 2, 3, 4 or 5 players. This, coupled with the fact that the number of turns changed depending on how many players are involved, creates balance. Cool!
Play style generally boils down to taking your army tokens, the amount varies depending on race and power combinations, and placing them in a territory at the edge of the map. You can then attack or spread from this one zone to any that are linked in zones you occupy.
You want to take an enemies territory? You place the same number of tokens in there zone plus two and its yours. Easy!
The true strategy in this game, however, relies on being able to see when your race isn’t going to be pulling in so many points for the territory’s they control anymore and then putting them into decline. This has to be a smart move as you miss a turn but collect a new race to do it all again on the next go.
You get a coin for every territory you control at the end of your turn, plus any bonuses assorted with the race and/or powers you have.
We have found that no matter how well you think you are doing it is always a close game for first. Great!
Go out and get it.

Replay Value: Easy to learn in a bright and colourful rulebook. and race/ power combinations keep the game fresh and interesting.

Components: Lovely artwork and presentation, as is the days of Wonder way. My only grumble is no miniatures., but the box would have had to be enormous then, so can see why.

Easy to Learn: Yep. really, it’s not rocket science and it’s nice and breezy. Highly recommended.

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Miniature Painter
Rosetta Stone
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
57 of 64 gamers found this helpful
“Play the role of a fickle deity. Lead your people to victory, and abandon them for another!”

A new land awaits, ripe for colonization. It has everything a people looking for a new land could possibly want; prime farmland, rolling hills, lush forests, mountains that touch the sky, even a native population to eradicate.

Yes, a great new land to explore and exploit. So great, others have found it and want a piece for themselves as well. Sadly, it’s a Small World, and there just isn’t enough for everyone…

Welcome to Small World, a game for 2-5 players. The ultimate goal of the game is to be the player with the most victory coins at the end of the game. To accomplish this, you will lead your chosen race to take as much territory as possible in the Small World, and hold it as long as you can. That is, at least, until your chosen people just are not making you rich enough, so you abandon them for a new people to lead.

To begin, lets take a look at what you get for your money.

2 game boards, double sided
35 cardboard game pieces
14 cardboard race banners, double sided
20 cardboard power badges, double sided
109 cardboard victory coins
1 cardboard game turn marker
1 custom six sided die
168 cardboard race tokens
18 cardboard lost tribe tokens
1 rule book
6 player reference sheets

Everything seems made well enough, as in my house the components have all stood up to many plays with minimal wear. I am not a fan of the plastic cartridge that the game comes with. It is sturdy enough, and keeps all those race tokens in place, but it is a pain to get the suckers out. Some small Ziplocks or coin envelopes would possibly be a better fit. I remove the plastic mold that holds the rest of the bits and put them in Ziplocks to get things in and out easier.

OK, so, as outlined above, there is a bunch of stuff in the box. What are we going to do with all of it? The first thing to do is determine how many players you have. One of the great things about this game is that there is a different board for 2, 3, 4 & 5 players, guaranteeing that carnage will commence during the course of the game. Pull out the proper board and turn to the proper side, and begin by giving 5 victory coins, all ones, to each player. Mix up the race banners and lay out six of them on the side of the board, and determine which one will be first. Then mix up the power badges and put one with each race banner. These will be your starting race/power combinations.

Each race has its own unique ability. Humans, for instance get extra victory coins for each piece of farmland under their control. Tritons need less troops to take territory adjacent to a lake or sea. Trolls get a lair placed in every territory they take, making it harder for other players to take that territory away.

The power badges grant similar boons. Some add victory coins either right away or each turn based upon certain conditions, some make it easier to take territory, some make it harder to let others take it away. Every game you will have different race/power combinations available, so every game will be different.

Put the Lost Tribe tokens on the board where marked, and mountain tokens on the mountains (if you want) and put the game turn marker on one. Determine who goes first (the game recommends whoever has the pointiest ears, but whatever)and get ready to play!

The first player is going to look over the available race/power combinations and decide which they want. If they want the first one, they just take it. If the want the second, they need to put a victory coin on the first and take the second. If they want the third, put a coin on the first and second… I think you get the idea. Move down the rest of the combinations to fill in the hole and put a new combination in the sixth slot.

The first player then takes the appropriate number of race tokens, determined by the number on the race card added to the number on the special power badge. These will be the available units you control while using this race. There are a couple of races who can add to the number as you play, but, for the most part, this is what you get.

Unless you are flying, you choose a spot on the edge of the map or shoreline and take over that spot. Essentially, the way it works is a completely empty piece of territory will take two units to conquer. Mountains take three. If there is anything or anyone occupying a territory, it takes one more unit than two for each thing occupying it. If the territory is occupied by a lost tribe, it takes three. If there are two units belonging to another player in a territory, it will take four. Two Amazons and a fortification? That will be 5. You continue conquering land until you do not have enough units to continue. Should you have one left in hand, you can roll the reinforcement die. There are four different symbols on this die, none (or lack of symbol I guess) 1, 2 & 3. If the roll shows enough pips, added to the units in hand, to take a territory, you get to take it. If not, then those units are just used as reinforcements. Now, you count up how much territory you own, and claim one victory coin for each piece. Then you add any bonuses.

You can now reinforce your territory. You can put as many tokens as you like on each piece of land, just so long as you leave at least one on each one. If you have a piece of territory that gives you a bonus, you would want to move more units there if it is in jeopardy of being attacked by another player. This will now end your turn.

The next player looks at the available race/power combinations and once again chooses which to take, paying for ones beyond the first in line just as the first player did. Play continues as it did for the first player. The second player could either take a different side of the map, or jump right in slaughtering the first player. The choice is theirs.

If a player successfully attacks another player, then the attacked player will permanently lose one unit. If there were units beyond the one they lose in the territory, they may hold on to those units until the reinforcement phase and put them where they like in territory they still hold.

As the game progresses, and players begin to engage one another in battle, the number of units you have available will begin to dwindle. There comes a point where you are losing territory with no way to reclaim it. What do you do? Abandon those useless creatures you once found favor with! At the beginning of your turn, you may declare that you are going into decline.

When going into decline, you turn over your race banner and power badge. Most races loose all of their powers, abilities and/or bonuses when in decline. You will take all but one unit from each territory you still control, and turn over the remaining unit in each to show the race is in decline. You will still get victory coins for each piece of territory your race in decline holds, but they cannot take any more (well, unless they are ghouls)

On your next turn, you will choose a new race/power combination as you did on your first turn. Then you enter the land as your predecessors did and claim as much as you can.

Each time the first player begins their turn, they move the game turn marker to the next turn number. Once turn 10 is complete, the game is over, and whomever has the most victory coins wins.

So, that is Small World in a nutshell. With the race/power combinations changing every game, every game is going to play out very differently. I really like that the game uses a different board for each possible number of players, so if people want to play the game, you never have to say that the game isn’t really good with x amount of players.

There are some bogus race/power combos, like Merchant Dwarves (they get a whole 5 units) but there are always enough combinations available that something should be useful to anyone. Strategy comes into play when presented with a combo that may get additional victory coins for holding certain types of territory. You will have to look at the map and see how hard it would be to get a hold of the most of that type. Some races/powers get bonuses for every territory they took that had something in it to kill. How tough a nut is your opponent to crack right now? Do they have a race in decline just waiting to be annihilated, or does every territory they hold have 3 units in it? There is enough thought that goes into the game that I do not get bored, but not so much that if the folks I am playing with have had a bit to drink, they don’t stand a chance. Added to this, this is my wife’s favorite game, so I get a good bit of use out of it.

All in all, while it may indeed be a Small World, there is room in it for me, and if you like what you see, there is room in it for you too.

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Master Grader
Novice Reviewer
Amateur Advisor
I'm Completely Obsessed
49 of 55 gamers found this helpful
“If you can't beat them...get someone else to do it”

Small World is all about taking land. The problem is there seems to be more people than land available, and that is where the conflict begins. Each player has a different race. These all possess different abilities as well as unique classes which are assigned randomly. All this allows for a game that is constantly changing and able to offer new experiences and challenges each time you play.

I found this game to be quite enjoyable. It has lots of variation…and lots of little cardboard pieces. The game does have a little bit of a setup time. Nothing as bad as Arkham Horror or anything, but just be aware of it. Even though you have tons of little cardboard pieces, they are pretty well done and the game provides a good way of sorting them and keeping them organized. Everything fits into it’s own compartment in the box which I was quite pleased with.

The game also provides 4 different maps. You get two double sided game boards. Each side corresponds to a 2 player game, 3 player game, 4 player game, or a 5 player game. This helps balance the game better than some games instead of trying to force a larger or smaller amount of players into something that it just doesn’t play as well with.

I just picked up this game recently but I have already played it multiple times and have really enjoyed every game. It’s not too heavy of a game, but it doesn’t feel like it skimps either. There is some light strategy and plenty of opportunity to use some smart tactics. There is very rarely a dull moment in the game as new races seem to always be moving in and out of the game and lands change ownership quite often.

Small World may not be my favorite game, but it has a good chance to see more table time than some of those. It’s not a bad setup, it has a good medium play time, it’s easy to teach and it’s just plain fun. I recommend this game to anyone that needs to fill a strategy gap in their game collection but just doesn’t feel like a multi-hour game or a set of complicated rules. Sometimes you just feel like destroying a hill troll with a flying halfling. Ooops, you forgot about the dragon master tritons. Goodbye halfling.

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Novice Reviewer
Intermediate Grader
49 of 55 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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Critic - Level 4
Advanced Reviewer Beta 1.0 Tester
56 of 63 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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Viscount / Viscountess
Novice Reviewer
Junior Beta 1.0 Tester
62 of 70 gamers found this helpful
“Risk-Lite: Fun for Newbies, Just "Eh" for Old Timers ”

Basic Idea: You control a series of fantasy inspired races with special powers as you quickly gain power, spread yourself too thin, go into decline and take up a new race. It’s “Risk-Lite” with a supernatural twist that keeps the game fun and lighthearted.

Game Play: Powers are randomly matched with races at the beginning of the game. Players take turn making their first choices for the species they plan on sponsoring first. Races include all the fantasy favorites, such as elves, dwarfs, rat men, wizards, amazons and plain ol’ humans. Meanwhile some of the powers you might get include flying, seafaring, berserk and dragon tamers. Each player gets a handy cheat sheet that explains each race and power as well as the turn set up and types of land available. The sheet is a little too large to sit in front of you, but very in depth. On a players first turn, they’ll choose their race/power combo, get the amount of race tokens according to that combo and start placing them on the game board, with the goal of getting at much land as possible. In order to take over a piece of land, you need at least two tokens, plus one for every mountain, race token, lost tribe or “piece of cardboard” already on that spot. When you run out of tokens, your turn is over and it’s the next player’s turn. You collect a victory point for each piece of land you occupy plus bonuses for your race and power. When your turn comes around again you can pick up all your pieces but one for each piece of land and start expanding again. You can keep doing this for as long as you want, but when you run low on tokens or get bored with your race, you can go into “decline”. Your race looses its power and you can’t expand, but you get a whole new race to play with. Sometimes you can even go into decline 3-4 times in a game. The amount of rounds changes based on the number of players, but once you reach the last round, the game is over and players count up their victory points. The one with the most points wins!

Thoughts: When I first started Small World, I loved it. I was definitely my gateway game. I loved the fantasy theme and the different boards for the number of players. And the expansions were great as well. But over time it’s definitely lost its luster. If other people want to play, I definitely will, but I won’t go out of my way and won’t request to play it. It’s a wonderful gateway game though and I would really recommend it for new gamers or people who thought Risk was too long and didn’t have enough rat-people.

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Intermediate Reviewer
46 of 52 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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Comic Book Fan
Plaid Hat Games fan
46 of 52 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
53 of 60 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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