Small World Review

February 10, 2011

It’s A….

Right, first things first. Sorry for the delay on this.  The new job is getting in the way of the rest of my life and I had some problems with the pics I needed for this post. Now, it happens that I had the good fortune to attend a demo event last week at Air Traffic in the Mall of America. The game was Small World

And I gotta tell you, it was pretty good. Now here’s the deal. I do not, as a rule, particularly care for strategy games like Risk and Catan. For me, they tend to suck the fun right off the table. Small World is the exception. The game is simple, fun easy to understand and has enough flexibility that people with a number of different play styles stand a decent chance of getting in the occasional win.

In many ways Small world is a lot like Risk. The ultimate idea is to have the most points at the end of nine turns but the mechanic behind that is territorial acquisition. Each person starts off with a randomly selected race. Each race has one innate ability. Giants have an easier time conquering territory adjacent to mountain regions, Rat Men start out with more initial troops than any other race, that sort of thing.

Each race also has one random ability. This is selected during setup.  You stack the race markers next to the random ability markers and as new and different races become available for play you take the top of each stack and add it to the available lineup.

This adds to the overall level of play value and keeps any one race from being a game breaker. We’ve all seen it in other strategy games where people who play regularly all vie to be one or another particular group because they are the ones with the best overall chance of winning. Not so in Small World. One game might see a race with a killer combo, the next they’ll just barely stand a chance of winning. Keeps things fresh in my opinion and keeps it fun.


Speaking of flexibility, the creators of Small World decided to tailor their game to varying numbers of players. You aren’t just stuck with the one board like you are in so many games. The number of players determines the size of the board. This keeps things moving as space is limited and people are forced to come into conflict. Overall it’s a nice touch and, I think, enhances the experience.

As the game progresses your chosen group will take hits as it marches across the board. Troops will get discarded due to losses from other players conquering territory that they formerly occupied. Eventually you’ll get to a point where it seems non-viable to keep them. And that’s where another interesting mechanic comes into play; Decline.

In games like Risk when your troops drop below a certain critical threshold it’s all over but the crying and the “Deeply Regret To Inform” letters to the families of those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of you wasting a few hours with your friends. In Small World you throw your old group on the scrapheap and get new troops!

This is can actually prove to be a highly effective tactic. A potentially very powerful race and random ability combo may be waiting on deck as play goes on, needing only a couple of cycles of Decline and new race selection to put it into your grasp. There’s just two catches. First, when you go into Decline that’s all you do that turn. In a game with only nine turns, doing this too often is going to hurt you more than help you. The other thing is that you don’t just  decide “Well, I think I’ll take the Dragon Master/Halfling combo now. Yoink!”. Instead, you have to pay. See the coins piled up on the markers below?

Well, if you don’t like the race/random ability combination at the top of the lineup you have to pay for the privilege of passing on it. And you keep paying to pass until you get to the one you like. So you have to decide it it’s really worth it because coins equal points in this game. Of course, everyone else who wanted to pass on the other races had to pay too. So you might spend five or ten points to get fifteen or twenty in the long run. It’s an investment/return calculation but if you do it right you can score big. I went through three races in my session of this and wound up winning the game. But that’s no guarantee that using the Decline mechanic will get you the big win. It could have just as easily bit me in the rump. So weigh your options and chose wisely.

Overall I’d say that Small World is a worthy addition to most libraries. The price is more than I usually like to pay; $49.95 retail. But you get a lot of cool stuff for your fifty bucks. You get solid play value, massive replayability and a game that will appeal to a pretty broad selection of gamers. And possibly even a few broads who are gamers as well.

Ok, I deserved that. But it doesn’t make Small World any less fun or any more narrow in appeal. There was a pretty even gender mix at the demo I attended and everyone had a great time. Everyone understood the rules despite being brand new to it and everyone walked away at the end of the event figuring out how soon they could add it to their collection.


Small World can be played with up to five people but seems to be best with four so it’s a good family game. The minimum recommended age is eight years old but the average age at our table was mid-30’s. Probably more due to it being a school night than anything else when we played. So it’s not just for little kids. The nine turn mechanic makes it a good party or convention game because you won’t be spending sixteen hours at it like some games which shall remain nameless. There are a couple of expansion packs available and the Day of Wonder website has an online version you can try.

Personally, while I don’t own this game right now, I gotta tell you; if I’d had the money at the time of the demo I would. It’s a solid little product and very much on my personal “to buy” list. I strongly suggest you add it to yours.

Until next time, keep it fun!

Mech out.



One Response to “Small World Review”

  1. rosered1200 Says:

    This reminds me that I want to get the expansion for Small World also

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