How to Play
2 double-sided map boards:- each customised for a 2, 3, 4 or 5-player game. Each map is divided up into different regions: Forest, Field, Hill, Mountain, Swamp, Water (2 corner seas and a central lake)
Crib sheets:- for knowing what is what and what does what, there’s a lot to remember
14 races each represented by their own:
– Double-sided Race banner:- informs the player of the number of matching race tokens they begin the game with and that race’s ability (further explained in the crib sheet)
– Double-sided Race tokens (numbering from 8 to 18, depending on race):- Used to occupy the map and score Victory Points.
18 Lost Tribe race tokens:- current inhabitants of the map and not willing to give it up without a fight
20 different special power badges:- adds up to 5 more race tokens to the starting number as well as a second ability, these badges interlock with the shape of the race banners.
Mountain tokens:- Placed in the Mountain regions, surprisingly, to remind players that it’s mountainy.
Specialised ability tokens:- there are six different types that relate only to specific races and powers
109 Victory coins:- in 1, 3, 5 and 10 denominations, all with the same reverse design, they act as both currency and Victory Points and can be kept face down to conceal your score from other players.
1 reinforcement die:- to boost your attacking numbers, possibly. It’s a d6 featuring: 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, 3.
1 game turn marker:- there are only a set number of turns per game, this helps keep track of this
How to play
The object of the game is to win. Winning is achieved by being the player with the most Victory Points at the end of the game.
Starting by counting the number of players playing, find the correct map size and populate it with 1 Mountain in each Mountain region and 1 Lost Tribe race token in each region marked with a cross-hair. Also don’t forget the turn maker placed onto turn 1.
Shuffle the Race Banners and Special Power Badges and place in two adjacent stacks face up. Take the top five of each and lay them out above (or below, it matters not) the two stacks as a ladder, making six Race/Power pairings.
Each player starts with 5 1VP coins.
The player with the pointiest ears goes first…
To kick off the first turn, the pointiest eared player chooses one of the six available Race pairings. Starting from the furthest pairing (which is free if picked) from the shuffled stacks, a 1VP coin is placed on each pairing passed over, up to the chosen pairing. The selected pairing is placed in front of the player and the remaining pairings and moved to close the gap and allow the pairing on the top of the stacks to be added to the ladder. Pairings that have been skipped over multiple times start to become quite lucrative, as the player who picks it, also gains all the VPs on it.
The player then gets the number of Race tokens equal to the sum of the two numbers printed on the Race Banner and Special Power Badge. If applicable they also get some specialised ability tokens.
The player then uses the Race tokens to attempt to conquer regions on the map.
Tokens must either be placed on Regions along the map’s edge or adjoining the sea (no tokens can be placed on a water region – unless you have the Seafaring Power Badge), as a first placement (unless you have the Halfling Race), and then in regions adjacent to regions occupied by that Race (unless you have the Flying Power Badge).
Excluding the modifiers from the Racial and Power abilities, each region requires 2 Race tokens + the total number of tokens already in that region (including Lost Tribes, Mountains, Race Tokens & Ability Tokens) to successfully conquer. Each Race token played cannot be returned to the hand until the next turn (unless you have the Amazon race).
This is continued until the player either has no legal moves left or runs out of Race tokens in their hand. If, for their final play, the player does not have enough Race tokens (but at least 1) to conquer a selected region, they can roll the Reinforcement Die and add its value to the total.
To conclude the turn, the player can then redeploy their Race tokens between the conquered regions and in hand (due to a failed Die roll or generated with the Skeleton Race).
The player is then awarded Victory Points at a rate of 1VP per controlled region + whatever applicable modifiers that player has.
Player two then chooses their pairing and conquers the map as before. If they successfully conquer a region occupied by another player, that player loses control of that region returns all their Race tokens in that Region to their hand and loses one of those Race tokens to the box (unless they have the Elf Race). Upon the completion of each turn, players who have Race tokens return to their hands may return then to a Region already occupied by that Race.
And play goes one.
Upon subsequent turns move the Turn Marker along one space.
At the beginning of a player’s next turn they may do one of two things:
-Thing One: Leaving one token in each Region, resume conquering as before. If desirable, players may even vacate a non-profitable Region or take all the Race tokens back and start over from a different side of the board.
– Thing Two: Go In Decline. When a Race goes In Decline, the Race Banner, Power Badge and Race Tokens are all turned upside down to show a greyed-out version. All but one Race token per Region is returned to the box (unless they have the Ghoul Race). Points are scores as per usual, including any still existing bonuses. This counts as a whole turn (unless they have the Stout Power Badge). Upon the subsequent turn, a new pairing is chosen from the ladder and this new Race is used to conquer more regions. An Active Race does not consider the player’s In Decline Race as an ally and so must conquer the Region if desired. In Decline Races do nothing at all except score VPs for their Regions (unless they have the Ghoul Race). If a player turns their second Race to In Decline, their pre-existing In Decline Race is removed from the map (unless they have the Spirit Power Badge).
Once the final player has completed their final turn, the game ends and the Victory Points are tallied up. The most points wins the game.
|Number of players||2-5|
|End game conditions||All turns played|
|Victory condition||Most Victory Points|
|Replayability||If I don’t play it tonight I’m gonna freak!||With 280 possible Race/Power pairing combinations, this is a game that keeps on giving, and that’s not counting the expansions which bring it to 1,400 possibilities.|
|Reading Requirements||Oh yeah! I forgot it did that!||Once you understand the symbols, it’s pretty easy to follow, however those crib sheets wil dominate your attention in the earlier games.|
|Rules Comprehension||I only read through the rules three times||Excepting the vast number of modifiers, this is a very straightforward game. However the rule of 2 to conquer plus whatever’s already in the Region does seem to be the one most repeated to slower-to-get-it players.|
|Game-Breakability||They clearly game-tested the meeple out of this||Okay, some pairings are more powerful than others, but nothing that’s going to blow the game out of the water. Tactical thinking is going to win this more than having the Dragon.|
|Durability||Mmph! You can really, humf! stomp on this||Tiles, tokens and a nice wooden die. Just don’t get it wet or feed it to your dog.|
|Box Size||Under Arm||A decent, square box that doesn’t burst your games cupboard wide open…unless you have all the expansions.|
|Play Area||Dining Room Table||The 4-5 player board is about average but it’s all the paraphernalia around the outside that chews up the real estate.|
|Component Stability||Immovable||Everything’s made of solid, flat cardboard. It’s not going anywhere, unless you stack all your Skeletons in one Region.|
|Storage Layout||Organised||Even tells you what to do with your sprues – so don’t throw them away when you’ve punched out all the bits.|
|Aesthetics||Photogenic||Decent and fun fantasy artwork.|
|Turn Time/Involvement||Already? I’m still choosing 3 cards to discard from my last turn||Unless you play with a bunch of endless deliberators, this can have a quick round time due to the limited amount of stuff to be done in a turn. Even when not the current player, players are strategising and plotting and keeping an eye on who’s what and where.|
|Game Length||We’ll get a couple of games in before bedtime||A fast-paced game with 7-10 rounds coupled with a quick and easy board reset makes this an easy commitment of an evening.|
|Setup Time||Minutes||Shuffle two stacks of not very shuffleable piles of cardboard, the forming of the Ladder, doling out the dough, placing the Mountains and Lost Tribes, done. Wait, where’s the Turn Marker?|
Small World could probably be best likened to Risk, but actually fun. Risk is a dice-run, hours-spanning conquest game that sees one player dominate the map, having a great time, whilst the other players grimly try to hold on until the inevitable conclusion. In comparison, Small World is purely strategic with an equal involvement for all players. The only random elements are the banner pairings, which players get to pick from a choice of six, and the roll of the reinforcement die, which is a calculated risk anyway. The low number of actionable moves per turn makes this a quick game with all players having to pay attention in case a particular power on the board means they have to adjust their own strategy.
The only downside is it can be possible for a player to be ganged up on, causing them to waste turns going In Decline due to decimated forces. Normally in such games the leading player suffers from this, however as the VPs are hidden, players’ perception of who is doing well might not reflect the reality.
The Winner’s Circle!
There are a number of expansions, the following are the ones I have:
There’s the Race and Special Power expansions that as suggested adds extra Races and Special Powers to the game thereby increasing the number of variables and replay value.
Brings 3 extra female characters to the game so the Amazons are no longer alone.
3 new Race banners and tokens (Gypsies, Priestesses & the ghostly White Ladies)
2 new Special Power badges (Historian & Peace-loving)
1 spare Special Power badge (to add a Special Power of your own design)
Brings two new Races as well as some strong Special Powers.
2 new Race banners and tokens (Kobolds & Goblins)
5 new Special Power badges (Cursed, Hordes of, Marauding, Ransacking & Were-)
1 spare Race Banner (to add a Race of your own design), 1 spare Special Power badge (to add a Special Power of your own design) and 1 spare Lost Tribe token.
The largest expansion to date, this not only brings 10 new Races and Special Powers and their tokens, it also brings the welcome addition of an extra storage tray to hold all the expansions released up to this point.
5 new Race banners and tokens (Barbarians, Homunculi, Leprechauns, Pixies & Pygmies)
5 new Special Power badges (Barricade, Catapult, Corrupt, Imperial & Mercenary)
1 spare Race Banner & 1 spare Special Power badge
This was initially a Kickstarter reward only but was eventually made available to others. Some powerful ones in this one.
3 new Race banners and tokens (Fauns, Igors & Shrubmen)
3 new Special Power badges (Fireball, Aquatic & Behemoth)
The final expansion of its type to date. More Races, more Special Powers, and other storage tray.
3 new Race banners and tokens (Ice Witches, Skags & Slingmen)
3 new Special Power badges (Copycat, Lava & Soul-Touch)
This is by far the addition that makes the most impact to the Small World game.
It’s a deck of cards that impacts every round of the game (excepting the first one) from subtle VP and combat buffs and debuffs to compulsory game-changing actions. The cards are graded by theme and by impact for different styles of game play…or the lot can be shuffled together to make a truly interesting game. Each round, the card that’s going to affect the following round is on display so players can plan ahead.
This is not an expansion as such but a complete stand-alone game. Thematically based underground, this is essentially the same game as Small World but with a couple of differences.
Most notably is the river that splits the board down the middle. The river can be occupied with only 1 token, but must be abandoned before scoring. Both land masses also have a chasms that cannot be entered, even with a Special Power or Race ability.
The other big difference is the addition of Sacred Relics and Popular Places. The Lost Tribe tokens have been switched out for Monsters and two of these sit on the designated spaces. When defeated, the player picks the top Mystery token to discover which Popular Place or Sacred Relic they have discovered. They essentially add and extra Special Power to the Race that controls it, but can change hands due to conquest.
Lacking any of the multitude of expansions that Small World has this makes for a decent vanilla game, though not as strong as Small World. There is an expansion that allows for both Small World and Small World: Underground to be played at the same time.
The new Races and Special Powers are mostly rehashes of those from Small World but there are a number of new ones too. For the most part, the Races and Special Powers from both games can be played on either board, but there are a couple of thematically-tied Races than only work Underground.