Cool Things: Small World

Have you ever felt cramped? Siblings leave you with no room to breath? Suffering from cubicle claustrophobia? Ready to break out a sledgehammer and do your best Tony Stark impression, whether you need to create a new element or not? Well hold onto your horses for just a moment! Before you go postal, pick up Small World.

Small World is a game of real estate (but honestly, what isn’t?) Like in many board games, in Small World players  take control of a faction and try to rack up as much territory as the can. There are several twists to Small World.

The first is implied by the name of the game: the map is really, really small. In fact, there are actually three or four different boards in the base game, smaller maps for fewer players and larger maps for more, but none of them so large that your factions won’t be stepping on each other’s toes within the first turn or two. Unlike Risk or other conquest board games that give you a few turns to get yourself established, Small World practically demands that the action start as soon as pieces hit the board so that there’s never a dull moment (set up goes pretty fast, too, so you can get to the action right away.)

Small World’s second quirk is the sheer number of factions. While the game itself is a fairly simple counting game that involves no dice, the catch to it is your faction runs out of resources to expand with very quickly and never gets more than it’s original allotment (with one or two exceptions). A key part of the game is knowing when it’s time for your current group to go into “decline”. When in decline, you still score points for that faction’s pieces but they can’t expand any longer and they don’t have the same resources to stand up against invaders as an active faction. On the bright side, you can pick a whole new faction to go wild with and get right back into the action! Thus, while Small World supports a maximum of five players it comes with fourteen different races which conform to typical fantasy archetypes. You’ll find Elves, Humans, Halflings, Dwarves, Orcs, Giants, Tritons and more to help you on the way to world domination, each with a special trait to help you in conquest or scoring points. This gives everyone enough to play through the game and also keeps things fresh for repeated playthroughs.

But wait! Even with fourteen different races the game could quickly become stale, since you’ll use two or three of them in the typical game. There’s only so much that can be done to make them different and interesting. So a race isn’t all that goes into defining your faction. There are also twenty special powers, and one is paired with a race at random. Thus in one game you could have dragon riding Trolls and sea faring Giants and in the next you’d have to tangle with flying Dwarves and underground Humans. Since there’s more powers than races, repeated combinations are extremely unlikely and you can’t base a strategy on finding and using a specific power, as there’s no guarantee that power will turn up over the course of the game!

In addition to the frantic play of the base game, Small World comes with several small expansions that add more races and powers to the mix for even stranger factions (what do you mean “stout Faeries”?) to keep everyone guessing. Small World is great for parties or just a gathering of friends for a night of board games. If you like either one of those things, it’s worth checking out.

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