Small World is a ruthless, cutthroat board game where the shortage of land and the ever increasing civilisations come into direct conflict and domination and war ensue. The object of the game is to establish a civilisation, extend it as far as it will go, send it into decline, start another one…..repeat…..repeat…..possibly repeat. It really depends on which races you get for you civilisation and which skills they obtain as to whether you will decline early, late or at all. With so much possible variation in the mechanic, Small World is different each time it is played.
There are two great things about Small World. The first is the invasion rules are very simple and work purely based on weight of numbers. The second, the combination of races and powers changes every game and makes for some intriguing combinations.
So, what am I talking about?
There are 14 different races in the Small World game including Dwarves, Elves, Ratmen, Wizards, Amazons and Humans. There are 20 special powers, Alchemist, Berserk, Dragon Master are just a few. Combinations of powers vary in effectiveness. In games I have played I have seen combinations such as Diplomatic Ghouls, Flying Orcs and Merchant Skeleton used very effectively, while I have failed using Wealthy Dwarves, and also found Seafaring Trolls of little use.
The game rounds are fixed, and depending on the abilities of the power of your race or the race themselves, you may last several rounds and not have to decline your civilisation. However, when you get to the point where there is nowhere else to go, or you have no troops left, you must go into decline. Generally there are exceptions with some races and professions you get to still score all the declined troops from one civilisation after you begin a new civilisation, so there is a benefit in throwing the towel in.
Scoring is purely based on the size of the region you control at the end of your turn. Certain races and professions get more points, such as Orcs, who get bonus points for conquering people, or Wizards who get bonuses for holding magical lands. You get coins which represent points, these are hidden and the person with the most at the end of the game wins.
Strategy is important in Small World. Being a fixed round game knowing when to go into decline is important, as you need enough time to rebuild your civilisation. When declining it is a full turn to do, so you must leave time for a new round of conquering. The good thing is that strategy will change game to game depending upon the race and power combinations that randomly appear. This makes repeat play very good and keeps the game relatively fresh.
The art work, while very good, is similar for many of the races and as such tallying points can become a little cumbersome and confusing. Pay attention and it shouldn’t be a major problem. The character of the artwork is more than enough to make up for the slight mechanical downfall.
There are several expansions which add more races and more powers to the game. These include Cursed, whihc this as the name implies adds negatives to the game. Two new Races were introduced; Goblins and Kobolds, and several powers, Cursed which has negative effects, and Were which is very cool.
The Grand Dames of Small World is another expansion packed girl power. The Grand Dames includes three new races – Gypsies, Priestesses and White Ladies – and two new special powers.
Be Not Afraid is the next expansion, giving a storage tray for all the other expansions materials and five new races and powers. The final, thus far, and most comprehensive is Small World: Underground. This can be played as a standalone game or has rules for incorporating it into the standard edition. It has fifteen new races and twenty-one new special powers, as well as a new game mechanic, Popular Places and Righteous Relics. The expansions are a welcome edition, they increase the crazy combinations of race and power which are available and make for even more diverse and repeatable game play.
Small World is a fun and dynamic family board game for 2-5 players, though 4 players has been recommended as ideal. Game play lasts around an hour to ninety minutes, more or less depending on your familiarity with the mechanic. The game contents are adaptable, with four different boards depending on the amount of players and the race/power combinations. This is a game that can be played in between an hour and an hour and a half and is easy to understand for all ages, my 7 year old loves it. So grab it and see if it really is a Small World after all.