You sit there and watch as centuries go by. Wars rage, empires rise and fall, and merely minutes have passed for you. Cultures flourish and expand only to blink out, becoming shadows of themselves. This is all part of your design as you calmly select your next chosen people and plan for their immigration into the small, crowded continent.
Some friends recently introduced me to a board game called Small World. It’s a strategy game where you select a race and try to invade as many territories as possible to earn points. The player with the most points after the last round wins. Your race never grows and eventually you’ll expand as far as your population will allow. At this point you must make the decision to spend your next turn putting your people into “decline”. Their time in the sun is over and while their territories will still earn you points, they are a shattered people. You then select a new race who land on the shores of the great continent and must forcibly create their own empire.
Strategy lies in which races to select, your choice of which territories to take, and most importantly, when to send your current race into decline. Often you’ll go through several races in a game and deciding when a race has outlived their usefulness is the key to victory.
You have six races to choose from at all times. Choosing a race with abilities that are relevant to the state of the current game is important. Some races give benefits for when they go into decline, but if it’s the final round of the game that’s not so useful. Others, like Elves, are helpful when player versus player combat really gets going; Elves keep their tokens if conquered by another player.
One of my favorite aspects of Small World is that each race has their own innate special ability but then is randomly matched up with a second ability; creating new combinations each game.
Who shall be choosen?
Flying Orcs can attack non-adjacent territories and being Orcs, get a bonus victory point for every occupied territory they conquer. In another game, Orcs, instead of flying, may have the diplomatic ability which keeps opponents from attacking them.
This second ability also adds to a race’s base population. Depending on how powerful the ability is your people may end up with a very small population or be quite numerous; another thing to consider when deciding on a race.
Liz’s Amazons make an early grab for most of the
continent. Later in the game my Giants invade from the
western shores and Liz’s Humans take over from the east.
Not much was left of the Amazons at that point.
At first glance Small World doesn’t seem like a game that non-strategists would enjoy. Elves, Dwarves, and games where you conquer territory are typically turnoffs for those people. However the game is much simpler and more accessible that it initially appears. Combat is very basic – higher numbers always win. Again it’s all about maximizing the forces you have and moving onto the next race at the right time.
Small World is great with any number of players (up to five) as the game includes two double-sided boards; each side is designed for the number of players in that game. Five player games are fast paced with people starting new races and going into decline soon thereafter. Each game I’ve played has been very different as new, fun race and power combinations show up. I also highly recommend the two expansions which add more races and powers – Grand Dames of Small World and the Cursed expansions. I bought them at the same time as the main set and am glad I did.
Small World will satisfy any hardcore strategist but is accessible enough for any board game player. You just need to get doubters to see past the fantasy theme and they’ll be steamrolling you for victory points in no time.