Board Game Review: Small World

Name: Small World

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Year Published: 2009

Average Retail Price: $30 – $40

Good: Exceptional replay value – Vibrant and fun artwork – Simple to learn – Incredibly balanced rules – Easily expanded

Bad: Possible for a single player to be ganged up on

It’s a world of (s)laughter after all.

This tongue-in-cheek catch phrase, written on the side of the box, perfectly encompasses the fun, dynamic game which is Small World.

Published in 2009, Small World is a rather unusual game of conquest. Unlike traditional conquest board games, like Risk or Axis & Allies, Small World does not use dice, does not permit players to be removed from the game, and does not allow the defender to win battles. The reason for this non-traditional approach is because the conquest portion of the game is actually the less important part of this strategy game.

The more meaningful portion of the game, and the twist that makes this game very enjoyable, is the race selection. At the beginning of the game, and possibly at various other portions of the game, you choose a race from a randomly created set of choices. Your race is a composite of a base race and a racial feature. For example, you race could be “Forest Humans,” which means the “Forest” tile was randomly picked to accompany the “Human” tile for this game. In another game, “Spirit Humans” might be available as well as “Forest Orcs.”

Each race has a base race and racial feature has a special ability and an army value. The army values are added together on the two tiles to give you a total army size and both special abilities alter the base rules for how your race interacts with game play. Choosing an optimal combination, given the current state of the game board is what primarily affects your score in the game.

Simply describing this mechanic does not even begin to do it justice. First, on a purely aesthetic level, the racial tiles are beautiful. The high quality production value combines with vibrant and amusing artwork to make each race combination look great simply sitting on the table. In fact this tongue-in-cheek artwork proliferates throughout the game.

Furthermore, the racial combinations are each mechanically intriguing. Because the racial features break or expand on the base rules, each combination has the potential to earn plenty of points, making the game delightful for the strategically minded player. In addition, the high number of potential combinations and monumentally high number of sets of combinations gives the game nearly unlimited replay value.

Adding even further to the replay value and enjoyment of the game is the potential this game has for expansion. In less than two years, Days of Wonder has produced three expansions, that each adds new base races and racial features. Just in the less than thirty tiles that were released in those expansions, the potential race combinations nearly quadrupled. Future expansions will continue to be easily and cheaply produced as long as the designers can come up with new creative ideas.

If it seems that this game is perfect, that is because is it is nearly so. The one major flaw with the game is that the mechanics allow for multiple players to gang up on a single player. This action is unlikely because it rarely benefits the individual players, but it is possible and can lead to one player being essentially removed from the game. Unfortunately, it is a necessary evil to prevent the game from having a runaway leader problem that is common in many board games.

Finally, there is one reason, possibly more than any other, that this game deserves such high praise. It is easy to teach, plays quickly, and is remarkably well balanced. These factors, in combination with the vibrant artwork, make the game friendly to all ages and skill levels. Few games are family friend and time friendly while still rewarding good strategic play. Small World is one of a rare breed of games that is perfect in almost any setting and for almost any person.

Rating: 5 (of 5)