Title: Small World
Designer: Philippe Keyaerts
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Number of Players: 2-5
Playing Time: 90min
Category: Fantasy Strategy
Mechanics: Area Control, Dice Rolling, Variable Player Powers
A race of mounted giants, wealthy skeletons, heroic halflings... and a whole lot more. Yes apparently there is a dimension in which there are heroic halflings, but this is not telling you anything about the game...
Small World is aptly named, there simply isn’t enough space on the board for everyone’s race to exist and it wouldn’t be much of a game if there was. The game sees players tracking the rise and fall of several civilisations. Each player has one civilisation which consists of a race and an adjective as demonstrated above. Each of these imparts a special rule on the civilisation that may make it easier for them to conquer regions of the board or score more points for particular areas. The aim of the game is to score the most victory points during a fixed number of turns. You do this by taking a civilization, using it to conquer as much of the board as possible and then, when they are too stretched out to progress any further, putting it into decline and starting it all over with another civilisation. Each region in your control at the end of a turn nets you one victory point (this includes your active civilisation and your most recent declining civilisation). Victory Point chips are kept face down so there is an element of having to track what others are scoring to gauge relative progress through the course of the game. That is all there is to it. Each civilisation is given a quota of counters determined by the adjective and race of that civilisation and these give an indication of how far the race can expand before it is overstretched and easy for other players to eradicate. Conquest of an area requires two counters plus one for each mountain/civilisation counter. A very simple concept but with everyone fighting it out to secure the most land, this game quickly becomes very cut-throat!
Days of Wonder are well known for component quality, in Small World they have out-done themselves. The tokens and counters are all nice and solid and they come in their own removable storage tray complete with lid, which is very nice, the game also comes with two double-sided boards to play on. The reason for this is to facilitate differing player numbers, after all if two players were to play on the five player board, there would be a lot more space for each player and this would really kill the tension in the game. It is a nice touch and works well. Well, but not perfectly as having more players makes the conflicts feel less personal and provides a less aggressive feel. That is not to say the game is bad with two or three players but it is better with four or five. The game has the usual, beautiful Days of Wonder style rules and also provides a reference sheet for each player that summarises the various race and adjective attributes, and some of the key rules. Everything fits nicely into the box insert and the box itself is of the standard Days of Wonder/Fantasy Flight deep square box style. The artwork by Miguel Coimbra is well worth a special note: the board, tokens and accessories are all card, this is normally less than ideal, but given the heavyweight stock used and Miguel’s bright, colourful characters and imagery, the lack of plastic pieces is not really noticed.
Well, having told you all of that, how does Small World actually play? This game is great, there are so many choices and race combinations that players will almost certainly have a different experience every game. The tightness of the placements on the board means players are constantly coming into conflict. The secret victory point counters is also an effective mechanic, ensuring there is always the possibility of a surprise victory (a common occurrence in this game). Point scoring in the game is often very close and the winner and losers may be separated by a spread of less than 10 points. This is a game that everyone should try. It is not a game everyone will love; it can be quite confrontational and there is only a very small luck component to the game (basically just the civilisation combinations and order), but you should try it regardless, you just may become an addict.
The game also has a few expansions, including some that are the more feasible fan suggestions collected by Days of Wonder.