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April 17, 2014 / Jett

Small World Review

Small World

From the publisher that brought us Ticket to Ride is Small World. In this 2-5 player strategy game, players command armies across a world that is too small to contain everyone. Having been sold on this being a lighter family game, Steff and I were taken aback by a steeper-than-expected learning curve and fiddly rules that make the phase past the initial hurdle tough as well. Is this worth the trouble?

Many components make up the Small World experience. At the centre of it all are two double-sided game boards. Each side features a map specifically designed for a different player count. This design choice ensures that you get the most out of the game based on the number of players involved. Beyond that, you will get lots of cardboard bits to represent coins, races, classes, terrain and more. If you’re going to buy the game, make sure to give yourself about 30 minutes before your first game to pop everything out of the sheets.

The game starts with a drafting process to determine each player’s starting group. Race and class cards are shuffled, then randomly paired together to form a set of groups to choose from. The combinations matter, as flying skeletons behave very differently from mounted skeletons. On top of that, certain combinations will have different coin costs or bonuses associated with them. All of these variables make this process interesting, albeit slow if you’re not winging it or aren’t innately familiar with what each combination is capable of.

Small WorldAfter picking your faction and gathering your troops, it’s time to take over the world. Starting from the outer edge of the board, you move your troops deeper into the world while laying claim to as much real estate as you can, which earns you coins. As you move further inland, you’ll have to worry about the extra conquest costs associated with certain terrain types. You also need to be mindful of defending your territory against opposing players, as they can overthrow you from any given territory if they throw enough soldiers at it. Eventually, your army’s effectiveness will deteriorate to the point where it’s no longer worth the trouble of pressing forward. Once this happens, you can change their status to in decline, which means that you’ll lose control of the remaining pieces on the board, but you’ll gain a new army to conquest with. At the end of 10 turns, the player with the most coins wins.

The general gameplay concepts are easy to grasp, but there are a myriad of additional rules and exceptions that make the game more difficult than it appears on the surface. I think in the long run, having all of these variables does add depth, but it’s daunting initially. Referring to YouTube videos or having an experienced player teach you in a specific way will likely alleviate some of that stress. Once you’ve got the rules down, it becomes a game of optimization. How can you arrange your pieces on the board over the course of the game to score the most points possible?

Small WorldIt’s clear to see that a lot of thought has been put into making this a tight experience that makes sense within the fiction they’ve created. I respect everything that it does, but it doesn’t fully resonate with me. I get that thematically, you’re commanding a troop of armies to conquer areas of the world, but it’s still easy to look past the theme and simply play the numbers game. The game still works at a mechanical level, but I just find it to be very clinical in nature. Moving the pieces around to score the most points makes sense, but I don’t necessarily find it fun. Even when you get into scenarios where head-to-head combat is involved, things never got particularly exciting or entertaining.

I know that my views will never fully line up with that of popular opinion, but I didn’t think it would occur here. Initially excited to play Small World, my actual experience with it to-date has been lukewarm at best. It achieves what it tries to do, but it’s just not for me. I won’t turn down an opportunity to play it, and at times I may even be specifically in the mood to play more Small World, but I don’t sense that urge to come up very often.

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