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Board Game Review # 8 – Small World

2010 September 7
by Michael Schroeder

Move over. No! You move over! Get out of here! This place isn’t big enough for the two of us. Today’s review is, Small World, by Philippe Keyaerts; published by Days of Wonder.

Number of Players: 2-5

Age: 8+

Playing Time: 80 minutes

Small World, Days of Wonder

Small World by Days of Wonder

What’s the game about: A description from Days of Wonder’s web site…

Designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a fantasy follow-up to his award-winning Vinci™, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth.

Basic idea in my own words:

Small World is a zany game where you take control of mythical creatures and such, and it’s your job to conquer territories the most efficiently and effectively in this fictional land of Small World (although the description says earth…it’s not). The person that achieves the most victory coins (not points) at the end of the game, wins!

When you open up the box, you will be amazed at the detail of cartoon-ish illustrations and cardboard quality that’s included. This game packs a lot of cardboard. The game includes race tokens, special power badges, victory coins, amongst other things, including gorgeously detailed summary charts (albeit large) and the rulebook and let’s not forget, the race token tray.

Details of play: So how does the game work exactly? During setup, you select the map that matches the number of players, give everyone some victory coins to start off with and set all chits and dice aside. I really appreciate the detail to having different maps for the number of players, 2-3 players playing in, say, the 5 player setup map would just not work right. After all is set up, the first player chosen takes their turn – I believe it’s the person with the pointiest ears!

Your first turn will consist of conquering territory

During conquering territory, the turn sequence is…

  1. Choose a race. You will have 5 races, along with a 6th race on the top of the draw stack of different races, such as humans, elves, skeletons, etc.  to choose from. All characters have special abilities by default. Some of these abilities may be, for instance, conquer a region adjacent to a mountain for 1 less race token. A race will also have a randomly shuffled power page attached to it. This also grants you even more powers, for instance, a power here might be the fly power, where you can conquer regions anywhere, and not have to conquer only adjacent regions. when you choose a race, you must choose the first race on the top of the “ladder” of races. When I say ladder, the races are organized on one side of the board from top the bottom – below the 5th race, is the 6th race, which sits on top of all the other unrevealed and shuffled race badges. If you wish to choose another race that’s not on top, you must pay for it. Place 1 coin worth 1 point on each race until you reach the race you wish to be. So if you want to be the 3rd race from the top, you must place a victory coin on the first and 2nd races. This mechanic also acts as an incentive, for other players to choose the race with more race tokens on it. While this probably won’t win you the game, it’s enticing.
  2. Take race tokens. After you have chosen your race you will add up the numbers location on the special badge and on the race badge – take this number of race tokens from the token tray and place them in your playing area (right in front of you).
  3. Small World Race Tokens and Special Power Badge

      Small World Race Tokens (right) and Special Power Badges (left)
  4. Start conquering! This is the step where you will begin to place your race tokens on the territories on the map. When you initially place your race tokens, you must start at territory that is on the edge of the game board or adjacent to sea areas (on the game board edge).
    Small World Map

    Small World Example of Territories

    To conquer a region, you place two of your race tokens down in that region. That region is now controlled by you. Then you may conquer another region that is adjacent to a region you control.  There are many areas on the game board that have mountains or lost tribes, which are illustrated card board chits. So if you wish to conquer any of these regions, you must place a 3rd, or 4th, or 5th, or N, number of additional race tokens down in that region. To make it simple for you… it takes two race tokens to conquer a region, for every extra piece of cardboard laying in that region, you must place another race token of yours. Many times this will be an opponent’s race in decline or opponent’s active race. If your opponent has 3 race tokens in a region you must place 5 of you race tokens down, to control that region. During your last conquest, usually you’ll have 1 or two tokens left and you want to conquer a region that you don’t have enough race tokens for, well, this is when you can roll the dice the reinforcements. For example, if you wish to conquer an empty region and you only have 1 race token available, you need only 1 more token, so when you roll the dice, anything 1 or more, will allow you to conquer that region.

  5. The next phase in conquering is troop redeployment. During this phase, you have an opportunity to shuffle around any race tokens to beef up defenses on regions you may want to hold on to. You do this by simply taking some race tokens off of a stack on a region and moving them to an already controlled region. Leave at least 1 race token in a region.
  6. The final phase of your conquer turn, is to score victory coins. You simply add up all regions that you control and take the appropriate amount of victory coins. When taking coins, while others may see what your taking, your coin stack is not public knowledge, so it is recommended to turn them upside down so nobody else can start counting your number of coins in their heads. Also keep in mind, when scoring, you may have special abilities that grant you extra tokens for conquering certain regions. That is one of the keys in this game. Effectively  and efficiently conquering regions that will maximize your victory coins!

Everyone will do this on their first turn, then when everyone is finished, you move the turn marker up a space. Now the cycle continues, but each player has to make a choice, if they wish to resume conquering or go into decline. This is also key in the game. You must know when to go into decline and when to continue conquering with your current race.

Keep in mind that you now have 1 less race token for each region that you still wish to maintain control of. So your race tokens are quickly dwindling. Can you still effectively score massive amounts of points, or did you exhaust your current race and it’s time to pick a new one (going into decline)?

So if you decide to press on with your race. You think you still have enough guys to make a dent in conquering regions, well then, you press on with conquering…

  1. If you decide to do new conquests what you do is, remove all but 1 race token on each region you control. If you wish to completely abandon a region you may, be completely removing all race tokens from that area, but you must realize that you won’t get victory coins for that region.
  2. Now you may continue to place race tokens down on adjacent regions to which you control, just as you did before.
  3. Then you, redeploy troops
  4. Finally, score more victory points! Getting easy, huh?

At this point I thought it would be a good idea to go into details on actually getting into a battle or conquering regions where other races are present. There really isn’t a battle phase, but by conquering regions where other races are present, will begin to make the game juicy, affect your opponents and this is where the fun…and anger, comes in!

You do your standard conquering, and remember, I said for every piece of cardboard on a region, you must place an additional race token of your own there. Well, this is just what happens when you take control of an opponent’s region. It’s really simply. Say player X has 3 race tokens in a region, and you, player Y, wish to conquer that region, you must place 5 of your race tokens down in that spot. Then you give player X, the opponent, all of his race tokens back, and one of player X’s tokens dies (goes back into the token tray, permanently). * unless it’s an elf, those guys (well, guys is arguable) never die.

Small World Races

Some of the races in Small World

If you are conquering a region that has an opponent’s race (or your own) in decline, there’s always 1 race token down, flipped on it’s backside. Same rules apply here. It’s 1 extra iece of cardboard, so 3 of your race tokens are required, and that in decline race token, permanently goes into the token tray. Now I should mention that some races in decline may have additional cardboard chits on it, such as defense towers, etc. In this case, another race token is needed.

Going into decline:

If you decided that you exhausted your current race’s abilities and you wish to pick a new race – you must go into decline. Going into decline means…

  1. You flip your race banner over and leave it in front of you. You immediately lose any special powers associated with that race, unless rules deem otherwise. you also lose the special power badge, which goes back on the bottom of the race badge pile. Again, you lose powers for this badge.
  2. Remove all race tokens in your regions of your now in decline race, all but 1. You will leave 1 token down in the regions, but flip it over. It’s now a faded color.
  3. Score victory points. You may score victory points for all active races in play and additionally, your in decline race. Now keep in mind you may only have 1 race in decline at a time. So if you have a race that’s already in decline, remove all of that race’s tokens.
  4. When when it’s your turn again, you commence the standard conquer phase mentioned in the beginning of this entry, where you choose a race, etc. etc.

Other notes about this game and the rules:

All the rules I mentioned above are standard. But the purpose of the special badge powers and the powers of the races, changes all that. Make sure to check up on the race’s powers before you select one. That is where it’s also key in winning this game.

Component Quality: 5/5

As typical with Days of Wonder games, the quality is just awesome to the components of this game. The summary sheets and manual are in full detailed color. The card board chits are extremely thick. The illustrations are cartoon-ish but extremely detailed and humorous. You can tell a lot of care was put into this game. Not to mention the game comes with a much needed race token tray. Which is made out of plastic. My only complaints with the box are, the box height isn’t tall enough. When I put some of the pieces into their designated slots, they overflow on top and move around. Also, it’s extremely annoying trying to get a single race token out of it’s designated spot when it falls flat. I would also recommend getting stickers or a label maker to mark what races are in what containers, on the side. I did this and it helped greatly.

Theme: 5/5

The theme is goofy, yet I can take the game very seriously. It’s a territory control game, nothing funny about that. I like the theme a lot – it blends extremely well with the board and mechanics of the game.

Instruction manual: 5/5

Extremely detailed and beautifully illustrated. Not too long and easy to read.

Luck factor: 2/5

There is some luck in this game with the final conquest dice roll. Often times I will roll the blank side of the dice. Also at the beginning of the game, the badges and races are shuffled, so if your first player, your in prime position to get the best combination first. Hope that player 1 chooses a race you don’t want. You can always pay a bit more to get another race, but more than likely, you are all going to want the same race.

Strategy: 4/5

There;s a lot of strategy in this game. I can take this game seriously as a strategy game, and it is. Knowing when to go into decline and where to conquer and where to beef up your defenses is key in this game. Also making the best of your character’s abilities is critical.

Overall feelings:

Small World is great. The game is extremely fun, easy to play, and the components are top notch. I just wish it would come out more. My wife doesn’t like it wish only 2 players. I must admit, it’s much more fun a game with more people. I have played it with 4 people and it causes you much anger from getting your regions conquered – it’s fun! I look forward to playing it with 5 players. 2 is also fun, but again, try it with more players first to get the full effect of the game.

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