Tabletop Tuesday: ‘Small World’
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Play Time: 30-90 minutes
Genre: Strategy, conquest
Review: Small World is a very popular game that has been putting out expansions and new versions consistently since it’s first publication in 2009. With the electronic version becoming available on Steam and iOS it’s popularity has shifted into the mainstream and it feels like it’s on the cusp of becoming a phenomenon, possibly a competitor for the publishers massive success Ticket to Ride. It’s certainly one of my favourites, easily my most played game clocking in an average of a dozen of matches each week for the past three years.
The game has a fantasy setting, making use of the familiar characters of the genre. Each player takes control of a fantasy race – orcs, elves, dwarves, etc – and uses them to conquer land for which they will collect Victory Coins. At the end of the set number of rounds (depending on the number of players) the Victory Coins are tallied up and a winner declared. Upon selecting a race the player collects a set number of units. Players use one unit to hold a region of the map, two units to conquer an empty region and one additional unit per defending unit to conquer an occupied region or a mountain region.
What makes the game unique and gives it such replay-ability is the mechanic surrounding races and powers. At any time the player can choose from six available races, each having their own ability. Orcs collect an extra coin for conquering an occupied region, the Elves don’t die when conquered but return to the player for redeployment, Tritons can conquer with one less unit next to water regions, Humans get an extra victory coin from farm regions and so forth. In addition there is a dozen odd special powers that get randomly paired with the races. Like the race abilities these are extremely varied and can change combat stats, how many Victory Coins they collect, etc. Even if you’ve played the game a number of times the randomly selected races linked with randomly selected powers keeps things fresh.
Available now are three expansion packs (Grand Dames, Be Not Afraid and Cursed!) That introduce several new races and powers that can be mixed into the game, giving more and more variation to repeat games. Many of the new additions are credited to fan suggestions, so they’re based off real, experienced player experiences. Expansion packs can be hit or miss ideas, but these improve the game substantially with popular options like the Goblins, Gypsies and Pygmies entering the ring. Other additions like the story based expansions, 6 player maps, build-able maps and others are usually available or due for reprinting, but we haven’t gotten to them yet.
What we love about the game is that the core mechanics are quite simple. You play units to conquer regions, arrange your defences and collect your coins before moving on to the next player. The races and powers add many more layers for players to learn and master giving it longevity with a strong random element. Some days you’ll get the Corrupt Pixies and completely cover the map in highly defended units in two moves, some days you’ll get the Peace Loving Orcs who have no good use at all.
As a bonus the presentation is brilliant. The map is bright and packed with detail with nice clear divisions that make it easy to understand at a glance. The individual races are beautifully drawn and burst with personality, each having an exaggerated cartoon feel. There are bunches of tokens and bits and pieces in the box, but the box is brilliantly sectioned up to make it easy to organise (the Be Not Afraid expansion comes with an additional organisation tray, with is a nice touch). We learned the game on the iPad version but prefer the physical set mostly because it is very well designed and assembled.
In case it wasn’t clear, we really like this game and will continue to play it for years to come. If we ever get tired we have two new expansions due out right now, adding new characters like Igors, Slingmen and Fauns. Then there’s the Small World Underground, which adds a few gameplay variations and an entire batch of new races and powers. Awesome stuff!