A to Z Gaming: Small World

We sent our conquerers across the land to build up new civilizations in Small World, the next game in our A-Z game shelf play-through.

Small World
Players: 2-5
Time: 40-80 Minutes
Designers: Philippe Keyaerts
Artists: Miguel Coimbra, Cyrille Daujean
Publisher: Days of Wonder

Small World is a game of conquest as players take on the role of a series of fantasy races with special powers who are vying for control of as much territory as possible. But each empire can only spread so far, and as the game progresses, players will put their current civilization into decline and choose a new race to play. Whoever assembles the most prosperous civilizations over the course of the game, through brute force and special abilities, will win.

Game play

The game is set up by choosing the correct board for your player count and placing out mountain and lost tribe tokens as indicated on the board. The round marker is placed on space one. The victory point coins are placed out in a supply where all players can reach. The race banners are shuffled and five placed face up in a row. The remaining ones are placed in a stack face up at the end of the row. Next, the power badges are shuffled and one is placed face up next to each race banner, and the rest are similarly placed face up at the end of the row. Finally, each player gains five coins, and play is ready to begin.

On their first turn, a player will choose one of the power badge and race banner combinations from the market. If they don’t take the first one, they must place a coin on it; if they don’t take the second, they’ll need to place a coin on that one as well, and so on, until they choose one. Then they’ll take a number of race tokens equal to the sum of the numbers shown on the badge and banner. They’ll also take any special tokens associated with the power or race they selected. (For example, the Dragon Master ability comes with a dragon token.)

Then they will start conquering the land. Starting on the edge of the board, they’ll choose a territory to move into. Taking over a territory requires two race tokens plus an additional one for each other piece of cardboard in the region — lost tribe token, mountain, or opponent’s race token. All of the tokens remain in the region throughout this phase. They continue conquering regions, moving to adjacent territories, until they don’t have enough tokens to conquer another territory. At that point, as long as they have at least one token left, they can attempt one final conquer action for the turn. This time they declare which region they’d like to conquer, roll the conquest die, add the number of pips to the tokens that they have. If it’s enough to conquer the region, they succeed; otherwise they do not take over that territory.

Next they have the option of redeploying their troops. They must leave one token in each region they control, but can otherwise move the others to bolster their defenses in strategic regions of the board. Finally they’ll count up how many territories they control with their active race and any in-decline races (more on that in a moment), and receive a victory point coin for each.

On subsequent turns, the player will decide if they would like to take the conquer action or put their civilization in decline. To conquer, they’ll take up as many of their tokens as they’d like, typically leaving one in each area they control, but they can abandon a region if they’d like. However, if they abandon a region, they’ll have to re-conquer it to go back in.

To go into decline, they will leave one token in each region they control, turning the token over to show that it is in decline. They’ll remove any tokens from previous civilizations they’ve put in decline, as they can only have one in-decline race at a time. Then they’ll turn their power badge and race banner over, and count up the number of territories they control to gain victory points as usual. At the beginning of their next turn, they’ll chose a new race like they did on their first turn.

Now, the above doesn’t account for any of the special powers, which can break nearly any of the rules from how many tokens you need to control an area to the requirement of conquering adjacent territories.

The game ends after a set number of rounds (which depends on player count). Players then count up their victory point tokens, and the person with the most points wins.

My Thoughts

We’ve had this game for years — I can’t even remember when we first picked it up, but I suspect it was based on the Tabletop play through.

So … Small World isn’t what I would typically call my kind of game. I don’t mind player interaction, but generally I’m more of a “care bear,” wanting to build things up but not tear other people down. However, there are times when I just enjoy a moving-across-a-map-with-fantasy-characters type game. I have to be in the right mood, though; and have to go into the game with the right state of mind.

Besides needing to go in knowing that it’s more of a combative game, Small World also feels a little daunting to get to the table. Since each race and power have different special abilities, there’s a bit of overhead for figuring them out as they come into play. They are all explained on a player aid, so that’s helpful. However, we’ve bought a couple of the expansions, so we have additional power badges and race banners. And, for the expansions, there’s only one sheet explaining all of the new abilities, which means we’re constantly passing those around the table.

Three Quick Questions

How is it as a 2-player game? Small World is okay as a 2-player game. There’s a smaller board for two players, so you’re guaranteed to have some player interaction on the board. However, to get the full chaos of Small World, you really want more players.

How about the art and component quality? I really like the art, though the board does get to be a bit busy. The different characters are fun, and I like that there are icons on each so you can identify them fairly quickly. One big problem I have with the game is how much there is to remember about the iconography and the special abilities for each race and power. There’s a handy sheet for each player with the base game, which is really helpful. However, each expansion has just one sheet with the explanations, which makes it a bit frustrating, since you have to pass it around the table.

Will this stay in my collection? For now, yes. It’s not typically my type of game, with all of the combat and contentiousness, but in the right mood I really do enjoy it.

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