Schmabletop Reviews: Small World
The stout amazons looked down from their lone remaining mountaintop encampment, observing the gently rolling hills below. The valleys beneath them had once been full of pleasant meadows and farmland, softly painted countryside offering calm and shelter. Now they were overridden by mounted trolls, the foul beasts pillaging the countryside and burrowing their inviolable nests across the land. The amazons looked to the north and found the ghostly vestiges of the wealthy ghouls, their race still aggressive despite their days being numbered after their leader abandoned them to helm the ships of the seafaring orcs. The amazons knew that their leader, too, would soon decline their armies and move on. Every race cycles until the world ends, every race triumphs and then falls. Who would replace the amazons? Perhaps the forest tritons would enter the fray, living out the same short, violent life of conquest that all do.
Holy over dramatic intro, Batman! Welcome back, fellow Schmamers, to round two of Schmabletop Game Reviews. Last week I put forth a game that is well known to many but, for those like me who are just now turning off the TV and sitting down on a chair, might have been new. Today we continue Schmabletop 101 with another award-winning game that has been around for a while, though it was new to me. Perhaps next week this teaching assistant can step away from the blackboard and let a professor teach you about a true gem.
But for now, we delve into a game I just recently discovered:
Small World is a relatively quick game as it is limited to 8 turns, the goal being to capture territory to earn more victory points. The main premise behind Small World is the different powers and races, which all have their own unique abilities. At the start of the game you shuffle the races and powers and match them at random, meaning each playable race will have different characteristics when you play. On your first turn you select a race (sometimes having to spend victory points to pass over the first available race, leaving those points behind for any player who does select that race). Each race has a set number of race tokens which you then expend to capture territory. “Capturing” consists entirely of spending the required number of tokens; however, at the end of each turn if a player has insufficient tokens for a capture they may roll a die to try and supplement their tokens.
Your race inevitably spreads out to the point where capturing new territory is impossible and defending your existing territory is essentially undefended. At this point you can put your race into “decline.” The race stays on the board, though in a limited capacity, and continues to collect victory points from the territory they control until someone wipes you out. With a few specific race exceptions, you have no direct control over your declined race, only your active race.
Setup is relatively easy; the map is fixed and there are markings on it for any miscellaneous tokens that are placed on the board before play begins. The map is actually a limitation I found with the base Small World set: since the type of territory affects the difficulty of capture, and certain powers are intended to be used in certain territories, having a fixed board can sometimes undermine the variety of gameplay attempted by mixing up the races and powers. There is a solution, however, by means of an expansion discussed below.
There is an alternate base set in Small World Underground that offers a brand new map and a new set of races. There is also some mini-expansions such as Small World Cursed! or Grand Dames of Small World which include new races, powers and spare tokens for you to add to your existing Small World set.
An expansion I haven’t tried out yet but am extremely interested in is Small World Realms. As mentioned above, I felt that the fixed map of the other Small World sets was a limitation on the gameplay. Realms provides you with a set of geomorphic territory tiles so that the map changes each time. There are some preset scenarios that come with the game, although you’d be free to completely randomize a map as well. The only drawback is that you’d need to buy a base set of Small World first to get the race and power tokens and banners, so you’d be making a larger investment. If the tiles improve the game as much as I’m assuming they will (anyone who’s tried it out please comment to let me know!) it would really improve my overall impression of the game.
The base sets of Small World should cost around $40, while expansions can range from $10-20 (the Realms expansion costs around $30).
I really enjoyed the game, though I’d be hesitant to invest in more than a single base set unless the Realms expansion helps to keep gameplay interesting. Besides fun gameplay, some of the power/race combinations can be hilarious: the first time I played the seafaring orcs appeared just before the hill tritons to create a full-scale identity crisis. Without playing Realms I’ll give Small World two and a half out of four table legs, but I’d say that could easily be higher.