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Review: Small World

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Small World Review

small world contents

Ah, it’s a nice day for the merchant halflings. Originally hailing from their comfy holes in the ground, they’ve expanded into the surrounding regions, receiving a modest amount of gold for their wares. They are content to lounge around and enjoy a peaceful halfling life, content to ignore and be ignored by the bigger folk of the world.

…But wait, what was that glint that flashed across the noonday sun? Is that…is there something flying up there? The lazy halflings look up dismissively, realizing a moment too late that the DRAGON MASTER AMAZONS have come to invade their peaceful domain. Legions of dragon-riding amazon women swoop down, wreaking havoc down onto the halflings’ grassy land. The halflings retreat! They run back into their holes in the ground, locking the door shut and peeking out their windows cautiously until those dastardly amazon women have conquered all of the surrounding regions.

Ah, but if only it were that simple. You see, the ALCHEMIST RATMEN have been eyeing those dragon-riding amazons for a while now, and they’re just not going to have it. As these weird abominations converge upon the battlegrounds that the amazons just blazed, they slowly overtake the land that the halflings were so peacefully enjoying so shortly before. The halflings, reduced to nothing and hiding in their holes, live the last of their days out in decline, noting the sad truth that it’s a Small World.

small world ratmen amazons

The Halflings’ day under the sun is over.

This picturesque description is a pretty fair representation of a few rounds of your typical Small World game. Small World, published by the board game giant Days of Wonder in 2009, is a tight area control/conflict game that lives up to its name in spades. Each player, in this crowded fantasy land, controls their own quirky race that’s fighting for their own place in the world. As players conquer new territory (using special powers and abilities granted by their races and their respective traits), they increase their presence on the map, earning more and more points, which points determine the winner of the game.

Conquering the world, however, doesn’t happen in one day, so players will not be limited to one race. As their race conquers and ultimately spreads themselves thin, they will eventually go into decline, living out the rest of their days as a sad shadow of what they once were, leaving themselves open to the conquests of a fresh new enemy. Such is the life in the realm of Small World. Although it’s a sad story for this world’s inhabitants, it’s a happy one for players–This is quite a fun little game, and we’ll do our best to explain why in this Small World review.

Gameplay

How do you play the game? Is it a fun experience? How much interaction is there between the players? Is there very much luck involved? Will it take forever to to learn and teach?

small world gameplay

Depth

How much strategy is involved? Is there a sense of variety and balance? Does the game play well no matter how many players there are? How long does it take to play?

small world gameplay

Look and Feel

Is the game aesthetically pleasing? Are the components made out of quality material, or do they feel cheap? Is the rulebook well-designed and easy to read? How well is theme integrated into the game?

small world look and feel

Value

Is it a game you can play over and over? Are there expansions available for the game, and if so, are they necessary? Does the amount of the content in the box justify the price?

small world races

Conclusion

small world box

To make a long story short, there’s a reason why Small World is well loved among many gamers. It’s a well-executed idea that’s bolstered by great aesthetics, highly variable gameplay, and a non-intimidating ruleset.

Small World often draws comparisons as being “the next step up” from more casual conflict games like Risk, and those kind of comparisons cheapen the game if you harbor them. I say that because Small World excels at being its own game, and should be commended for bringing unique, innovative mechanics to a genre that’s already tried and true. It’s not a replacement to some other game that’s tangentially similar, it’s Small World. It merges area control with conflict to great effect, and still ends up feeling like an original idea.

Small World is a different game every single time due to its race/power combination mechanic, which gives players not only one, but two special abilities that allows them to blaze their own path of glory differently than everybody else on the board. If not for the inspired creativity of the race/power combinations, Small World would be a forgettable game. However, the game does have the race/power combinations, and that elevates the game from being something “okay” to being a game that’s worthwhile and replayable.

The game isn’t perfect—certain groups will enjoy it more than others, depending on how those players interact with each other. Players can be bullied and “picked on” even if there’s no tactical reason to do so, and there’s not a lot built into the game that would help you come back from a coordinated strike from multiple players. Kingmaking can also find its way into games, as the actions of one player can often be the difference between a winner and a loser.

However, these issues certainly aren’t enough to keep me from enjoying the game. Small World, because of its accessibility is a great “medium” game. It’s not so heavy that it will take four hours to play, but it’s also not so light that it only leaves you wanting more. It’s a nice healthy dose of fun board game action, and it’s well complimented by great visual design and creative mechanics. If all of this sounds appealing to you, do yourself a favor and go pick it up…just don’t start singing the song.

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Verdict

YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF…

  • You love area control games
  • You’re looking for a “lite” conflict game
  • If you enjoy whimsical fantasy themes
  • You like to solve new challenges every time you play a game
  • If you like being able to interact with, form alliances with, or otherwise viciously betray your fellow players
  • You like it when games feel different every time you play
  • You were ever that kid who wrote novels about Dragon Master Ratmen fighting Flying Ghouls

YOU WON’T LIKE THIS GAME IF…

  • You’re expecting this to be strictly a conflict game, a la Risk…
  • …or if you’re expecting it to not have very much conflict
  • You have a strong preference towards thinky Euros over American games
  • You desire a strong sense of consistency across game sessions
  • You prefer elegant and simple visual design
  • You ever made fun of that kid who writes novels about Dragon Master Ratmen fighting Flying Ghouls


About the Author

Zach Hillegas

Zach is an avid tabletop gamer, and he created Board Game Resource out of his love for the hobby, and his desire to see more people come into it. When he's not writing for or managing BGR, Zach might be hanging out with cats, hiking a mountain, or spending time with his lovely wife. Zach is currently studying for a degree in Business Management. Zach has also enjoys creating digital character art. You can check out his gallery here, or follow him on Instagram at @artworkbyzach!

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