Wednesday, June 24, 2009

1.1: Small World Overview and Review

Small World is the latest boardgame release from Days of Wonder (, designed by Philippe Keyaerts. This game plays 2-5 players, and takes 40 to 90 minutes, the play-time increasing with more players.
The goal of Small World is to score the most gold (points) by taking and controlling territory, and removing your opponents' pieces from the territories they occupy. A player gains one point for each territory they control at the end of the turn, a simple enough idea, except the game features 14 Races, each with unique abilities; there are also 20 Special Powers which are randomly assigned. The result, hundreds of Race/Power combinations--Diplomatic Trolls, Berserk Elves, Hill Ratmen and others; each combination has different advantages.
The basic turn is simple. If you do not have an "active" race, you choose one of the six upturned Races and the randomly assigned Special Power next to it. Each of these tiles has a number value on it; the sum of these is the number of Race chits you receive, generally between 8 and 16. After this you take territory, if the territory is empty, you may take control of it by placing two of your Race chits onto this space. If there is any other cardboard on the space, be it mountains, bivouacs, or another player's Race chits, you place two of your own Race chits plus one for each piece of cardboard (ie, a Mountain space occupied by three of an opponent's Race chits would cost 2+1+3=6 of your own Race chits).
Play continues in this fashion; each turn you take up as many of your Race chits as you wish (generally you leave one on each space you conquered the previous turn), expanding the territory you control. However, your expansion is limited by the number of chits you began with, and each time an opponent attacks your territory you lose a chit, decreasing this number even further. Inevitably you will need to "go into decline."
Going into decline takes a full turn; when doing so you flip over all your chits, leaving only one on each territory you control. On your next turn you are able to purchase a new Race, and continue to score for both your "active" and "in decline" races. This is another interesting addition to the game, as it becomes essential to have both a successful active and in decline race in order to win the game.
Having now played several games of Small World, I believe that Days of Wonder has another hit. With the combination of Races and Powers, the variety in each game is astounding; a race may be looked over one game (Hill Humans? What am I supposed to do with those...?), only to find its combination with another power exactly what a player needs in another game (Berserk Humans! You're dead now!).
The rulebook is clearly written, and the game also scales extremely well--it actually comes with two double-sided boards, each marked with a number 2, 3, 4 or 5, to denote which board to use depending on the number of players.
As far as level of difficulty, I'd put this in the Medium difficulty range--experienced gamers will have no problem with the game, and new gamers may have only a little difficulty with game terms or mechanics.
Presentation: 8 of 10 (only marked down for lack of clarity of in-decline chits)
Difficulty: 4 of 10 (most people should be able to play this game with little or no help)
Overall rating: 9 of 10

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