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Board Game Review – Small World: Underground

2011 September 9
by Michael Schroeder

Review copy kindly provided by Days of Wonder.

When the ground we walk on is too small to inhabit – we need to either move up, or down. In Small World: Underground by Days of Wonder, we moved down and encounter some creepy and familiar characters from nerd culture!

Small World: Underground by Days of Wonder

Small World: Underground by Days of Wonder

Designer: Philippe Keyaerts

Number of players: 2-5

Age: 12+

Time: 60 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

Small World Underground is a stand-alone game set beneath the surface of the same fun, light-hearted Small World universe of epic conquests and fallen empires.

Designed by original Small World author, Philippe Keyaerts, it features all new Races and Special Powers, and introduces Monster occupied regions that protect Relics and Places of great power!

Play Small World Underground on its own or combine it with other Small World game elements.

Basic idea in my own words:

Small World: Underground (SWU) is the 2nd incarnation of the SW universe, only this time with different characters, abilities and setting. In addition, SWU is also an expansion for the original SW game. You are able to use characters from this game in the original map and vice versa *. While there have been plenty of other expansions for SW, this is the first large expansion for SW. But again, in my opinion, the biggest reason why this is a large expansion, is because its really a game on it’s own!

The setting for this SW is the largest difference between this SW and the previous SW. The theme of this SW is that it’s underground and that it has a darker tone of characters and setting which wield their own special abilities. For instance, I really love the references to the Lord of the Rings, Tomb Raider and I think, Monty Python. Oh, I can’t forget, the Cthulhu mythos!

The abilities and badge powers in this game is what really makes it unique. While yes is certainly not unique in its mechanics, as it’s really a 2nd incarnation of SW, the unique characters and goofy-ness gives Small world a refreshing look, especially if your tired of the original.

Small World: Underground

Small World: Underground

Here’s a close-up of the map…

Small World: Underground map

Small World: Underground map

As you can see in the image above, there’s plenty of weird terrain, from muddy swamps to crystal fields, to fire and brimstone.

Anything new with the mechanics?

What’s different about this SW, compared to the original as far as mechanics and game play goes is the addition to relics and popular places. In the beginning of the game, where monsters are placed (formerly the abboriginals in SW1), randomly selected cardboard tokens are placed, facedown. When you conquer one of these regions, you turn over the token there. The token will from now on, give the occupant of that region, the special abilities. So not only do badges and characters have special powers, but there’s also the addition of these relics and places. It adds to the game, no matter how small. Other than this, there’s nothing too large to mention as far as differences in game play. The game works the same as the original Small World.

Overview of the Characters

The characters in this is really what gives me fresh eyes on SW.

New characters in Small World: Underground

New characters in Small World: Underground

As you can see from the image above, the characters in this game just get weirder and weirder. But that’s a good thing! Take for instance, the gnome with the drill in the lower left hand corner. I really like using him, he has an ability where no opponents abilities can affect you. These are not all the new characters, but this is just a small sample from the Days of Wonder web site.

Brief reminder on how to play

In case you forgot how to play the Original Small World, or you simply never have played it, I’ll give you a brief rundown  of the rules and game play.

The world in front of you, is too small for everyone to inhabit, so it’s your job to try and spread your control around the board by conquering different regions. But the problem is, your not the only one doing so, your opponents are up to the same thing.

At the beginning of your turn, you will be selecting a randomly matched badge with a character chart. The mixture of this character chart and the special badge will give you a number of how many tokens you are to take of the race you have selected. The image below will give you an example of a game in progress…notice the tokens spread throughout the regions.

Small World

Small World

On your turn, you place two tokens, to conquer an empty region. If there are other opponents tokens or other “pieces of cardboard” on that region, you essentially must place one extra token of yours, on that region to successfully conquer it. Then you proceed like this, of taking over adjacent regions to your own, until you run out of tokens. Then at the end of your turn, you count up the total number of regions that you occupy. You receive 1 coin for each region occupied. But this is where the strategy is, instead of trying to get just one, you are trying to get more, through special character abilities.

The game proceeds clockwise around the table like this, until everyone has had an equal amount of turns on the last round. The player that has the most coins at the end of the game, wins!

Now, I didn’t mention a lot of the details on conquering and fending off your opponents, so if you want, you can check out my original Small World review.

So there you have it, I hope I have given you a basic gist of what Small World: Underground is like. It’s a very enjoyable game and I’m glad that it has given me a new set of eyes, or refreshing feel, when playing Small World. What I mean is…the new map and new abilities, makes it a pleasure to play.


Note on expansion…

* If you are choosing characters that can’t work in a terrain type as it won’t work or make sense, don’t use that character. You’re not guaranteed every character will work in every terrain type.

Component Quality: 5/5

Everything you’d come to expect from Days opt Wonder in regard to quality, is present here. From the great art, to the rulebook to the box size and quality, to the included guides – the component quality is great. Oh and I absolutely can’t forget to mention, they fixed the token tray! It has rounded bottoms so the tokens can’t fall down and slip away from your fingers anymore!

Theme: 5/5

Just like the original, I’m going to give this game a 5/5 for theme. The theme works well with the game mechanics and game play and the new characters and terrain make this game a joy to play.

Luck Factor: 2/5

Even though the badges and characters are spilled out randomly, you ultimately have control on who you pick. There’s not a lot of luck in this game – except for that darn dice! The reinforcement dice just seems even more annoying than the original, even though it’s the same!

Strategy: 4/5

For such a lighthearted game, this game offers plenty of strategy. You must know when you should go into decline or not and how to maximize your special powers to get that edge over your opponents. Properly beefing up what regions with more reinforcements certainly helps as well.

Overall Feelings: 3/5

Small World: Underground is a very fun game that can be enjoyed by all. The theme should not be offensive to anyone and can offer fun for friends and family. The game play is easy to pick up and master and is by no means overwhelming. The story, characters and map really give this game a setting that is fun to play in. While I have grown to enjoy more heavy strategy games, I will always love and cherish games by Days of Wonder – games that offer simplicity, choice and repercussions for those choices.


I want to thank the members of board game geek that have posted pictures, for which, I have used, in addition to days of wonder.

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