Monday, April 4, 2011

Small World

If you read the reviews on Amazon, I'm in the vast minority but I was very disappointed in this game. I read all of the reviews and bought it for Wendy and I for her birthday. We've played it seven times in five weeks, once with four people, and we're pretty much done with it.

Small World has all the things I was looking for, but failed to deliver. I like a fantasy theme. I like a simple concept that is supposed to be difficult to master. I like the counters, the board, the extra player instruction sheets, the layout, etc. In fact, I like everything about this game except the actual gameplay.

It is somewhat similar to Risk in the fact that you have a board with different hexes you are trying to take over with your clan, be it elves, dwarves, giants, amazons, sorcerers, orcs etc. Paired randomly with each clan is a special ability. Some abilities make it easier to hold hexes you occupy or give you more gold coins at the start or make it easier to conquer certain hexes.

Sounds interesting, right?

The trouble is, the ability to conquer a region is simple math. Take over an empty tile for two of your men. Take over a tile with any sort of cardboard on it, add another man. Cardboard could be a mountain tile, a fortification, or an opposing army. At the end, score a point for each hex you occupy.

We found there is almost zero strategy to the game. All of the strategy is in what race you pick first.

Turn 1. You then attack from one side of the map and expand as much as possible.
Turn 2. You gather up your extra men not occupying a tile and repeat.
Turn 3. Repeat turn 2. You now have almost no troops not occupying a spot.
Turn 4. Put your race into decline.
Turn 5. Choose new race. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until game ends on turn 8 or 10 depending on the number of players.

Every single game is like this. The only thing that changes is the race and the power and that isn't enough strategy for us.

We really wanted to like this game but it's no Carcassone. I bought that for her for Christmas and we played two hundred and fifty games with it before we got tired of it. I don't know if it's not enough randomness, not enough variety, having to constantly look at the rules to see what race or ability does what - but honestly - we got bored with it before even ten games. I know that if we played it fifty times it would be easier to remember the races and powers by heart but for the first few games it takes a bit to set up, the tiles fall sideways into the tray, you constantly have to look at a diagram to see where in the token tray the race you're looking for is...

I know I said there's no variety and then seem to contradict myself by saying there's so many races and abilities. The thing is, the races and abilities just aren't that different. Some guys get more points if you occupy a swamp or a mountain or a farmland or a hill. Or a mine or a tile with a magic power symbol on it. That's not actually many special abilities, that's one. Some abilities or races conquer swamps easier others, Farms easier, or tiles adjacent to mountains. Again - that's not variety, that's one ability being given a different name for what's on a different tile.

If you are looking for a new game, I would go to Amazon and read the reviews. Like I said, Wendy and I are in the vast minority of people who didn’t like this game.

I was unable to find any worthwhile video about Small World to link to this post. Sorry.


  1. Do you know the card game Munchkin? Makes fun of D&D and is very silly and unbalanced.

    Is played best with many people, but I also greatly enjoyed playing with my wife. Although rules arguing is definitely a possibility as they are very vague at times :).

  2. Friendly suggestion: you should replace the, 'coming soon', book reviews link with game reviews!

  3. Tried it at a convention and I got the same impression. Very repetitive game were we had to expand our territories geometrically before putting the old "race" to rest and doing it again with another.

  4. I've heard similar things about Smallworld. Risk never grabbed me as a fun family game.

  5. There's actually a bit more to it. One rule that a number of people don't realize is you can choose to completely abandon a region - or ALL regions - at the start of your turn. If you abandon all regions, you can come in from any board edge. Additionally, the choices of when to abandon your race and who to attack (okay, not so much that second one in a 2-player game) add to the game as well.

  6. At the "risk" of being ridiculed for liking the game... Smallworld is a simple little game. A stepping stone to other games. It is has some strategy and decisions to make, but it is more of a theme oriented game. The fun in the game is bringing out your merchant orcs or your barbarian elves, or even your seafaring ghouls! Just fun to bring on odd combinations of races and traits. There are additional races and traits in expansions. And a fun expansion (if you can find it...) called Necromancer Island, which adds a player with a completely different victory condition.

    Jamie if you really want to find a new game...skip Amazon and head over to Boardgame Geek. You get reviews...but you also get people discussing games... strategies, pictures etc.. of all the new and old board games out there right now. Or you could ask me! ;-)


  7. Jamie - I agree on Munchkin. Very fun, silly, easy to learn. It takes the fun stuff from D&D - and removes the role playing element. Consider it "Unglued" form of D&D. I've taught "non-gamers" - and they too enjoy it. Another fun aspect is all the additional sets you can add to it - from small boosters sets, to entire stand along games (we just shuffle two sets together). Fun with two people - or a blast with 3-6.

    You might also check out Ascension. I've yet to try it myself - but M:tG friends reccomend it. Link here:
    "Ascension is a fast paced deckbuilding game designed by Magic Pro Tour champions Justin Gary, Rob Dougherty, and Brian Kibler, with artwork by Eric Sabee. Ascension is a deck-building game where players spend Runes to acquire more powerful cards for their deck. It offers a dynamic play experience where players have to react and adjust their strategy accordingly."
    It's been described to me as a "M:tG board game."

  8. I agree wholeheartedly on SmallWorld. I like the fantasy theme, I really like the interesting combos of races and powers that can appear. But the gameplay is just meh.

    I have Ascension and am not that impressed. It's fun and light and quick, but not a lot of strategy. More tactical.

    If you're looking for 2p games, look into Hive and Battle Lines.