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on April 15, 2010
Remember Risk? Remember how fun it was to attack your opponents' armies and take over their land? Remember how that fun lasted for a while and then, several hours later, you'd hunker down in the corner of Australia, waiting for the game to mercifully end?

Small World is the answer to that. It takes all the good parts of Risk and repackages it in a clever construct with a beautiful design. The premise here is that instead of simply having armies compete to take over territory, players control races, each with their own special set of powers. The powers give you the ability to, say, attack lands more powerfully, or defend them more toughly. What makes it fun is that these powers are embodied by various races -- e.g. Dwarves, Amazons, Giants, Tritons -- each represented by colorful, gorgeously drawn tokens, and each with a special power. Because the races and powers are randomly combined at the beginning of the game, each game is different than the last and requires a completely new strategy.

STRENGTHS:

* Variety of strategy. This is requirement number one for any game that's going to hold my interest over time. If it's too "solvable", then the challenge of playing the game quickly diminishes after just a few games. Because the possible power-race combinations number in the thousands, it's unlikely any two games will ever be the same.
Interaction. Requirement number two. So many board games these days involve four people tending to their own pieces, playing their own separate games. You can't do that in Small World and expect to win. You have to both a) be very aware of the other players' movements, and b) be ready to attack them without mercy.
* Design. Days of Wonder puts out some of the best-looking games out there. Lots of little visual flourishes make interacting with the pieces and board that much more enjoyable.
* It scales. There are actually four boards in the box: one for each number of players (2 to 5). This makes the game board perfectly balanced, no matter the player count.
* It's relatively quick. A two- or three-person game will take about an hour. A four- or five-person game less than 90 minutes.

WEAKNESSES:

* There are a LOT of pieces. This presents a few problems: it takes a few minutes to set the game up; you'll be screwed if you lose a piece (they don't include extra player tokens); and if you buy one of the expansions, you'll have a hard time fitting it into the box, because it's a very snug (though well-designed) fit as it is. Not sure how they could have gotten around this without making the game pricier.
* There are a lot of small rules. This is a byproduct of having dozens of races and powers -- each has to have a paragraph of explanation in the rulebook. Each player gets a cheatsheet for quick reference, but it can seem a little overwhelming at first. Again, not sure how they could have avoided that, and they did a good job making the text quick and to the point.
* It can take a few games to get the hang of how it flows. Not really a weakness; just a reason to play the game more.

CONCLUSION

If you're ready to move past Risk, and you're ready to take on a little nerdery (hello, Berserk Goblins and Forest Elves) in your games, pick up a copy of Small World. The best part may be that it's highly expandable, evidenced by the two expansion packs already available, each with a number of new races and powers. With a foundation as solid as this, it should take a long time for it to grow old.
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on July 20, 2011
Plenty of people have done an admirable job of explaining the games in their reviews, so this is instead an attempt at a comparison between a number of games, the pros and cons of each and which may suit different people best. The games in question are: Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Castle Panic, Smallworld, and Forbidden Island.

We have had Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne (with a number of expansion packs) for quite a few years now, and only recently added the other games above. We usually either play just as two adults, or with our two older children (age 9 and 8), and so our conclusions are based on how these games work in those settings. So here's what we've found:

Settlers of Catan
We got this around the same time as Carcassonne and initially just didn't latch onto it. Partly it's that it's supposed to be 3 players or more, and we often play as just two of us. Once we found online some instructions for playing as 2 players it came out more often, and as time's gone by it's become fairly 50-50 whether we play Settlers or Carcassonne on a quiet night in. The choice will usually depend on how much we want to think. With Settlers, you're always planning and calculating; with Carcassonne, you're taking it a card at a time.

Who should get it: Settlers is well-known as one of the great modern games. I'm not as sold on it as some people, and it takes quite a while to learn and feel comfortable with, but once you get the hang of it, it is an entertaining and enjoyable addition to a games collection. There are several 2-player rule variations out there if you need them and they work well (we found one that worked for us and we've stuck to it). But this isn't a game for kids; I would suspect not until they're 16 or so. Amongst other things, I think they'll find it too dull.

Carcassonne
This has been a favorite for years now, and everyone we've played it with has gone off to get it themselves. We usually play without farms because it then becomes less directly competitive and more sociable. Kids can play it, adults can play it, it's relaxed, it's fun and it's simple to learn. Here's one nice thing about it: you don't have to be constantly thinking and planning ahead. You don't know what card you're going to draw next time, so you just play one card at a time. You're encouraged to discuss where to put a card, and since you don't know what piece you're getting next, your comments to another player are usually pretty unbiased.

Who should get it: In my experience, pretty much anyone, except those who want ultra-competitive games. The first few expansion packs are also well worth getting, but don't bother with anything from Mayor onward.

Castle Panic
The kids love this one, again it's simple to learn and it has the added bonus of allowing them to get out their aggressive instincts and go postal on monsters! They don't like the `master slayer' option, but prefer just straight cooperative play. After the first few plays, I've found the basic game is too easy, and so we're experimenting with making it more challenging, such as starting with no walls, or drawing 3 monster cards at a time instead of 2. I think Castle Panic will become a game that we get out pretty regularly to play.

Who should get it: People with kids, who want to play cooperative games. Could be fun as a party game too!

Smallworld
While the kids have enjoyed playing this, I think their interest is starting to wane already. I suspect it will work better as a game with a group of adults, or when the kids are older. It has a lot going for it, especially the creative cards and board, but as others have noted - what's with the box for the tokens? Very poorly designed and adds unnecessary annoyance. Most of the time when playing we've found it's not too directly competitive, it's easier to attack lost tribes or declining races, so generally it doesn't get too personal!

Who should get it: I think this would make a fun addition to a games collection, but I don't think it would be a go-to game, especially with kids. The rules are more complicated to learn and explain than the other games, and this makes it hard to just sit down with new players and get on with a game. Having said that, we've enjoyed playing it , and I think it'll get pulled out every now and then over the years.

Forbidden Island
Although the kids would prefer Castle Panic, when we've played Forbidden Island (at my insistence!) they've thoroughly enjoyed it. As the island starts to collapse in a heap toward the end of the game, the tension levels rise and people are on the edge of their seats! The game always ends with voices rising in pitch and tension as cards get turned over - it's fun! It's a pure cooperative game, and that works well for us as a family - no one feels bad, we're all in it together. We're still using the `Normal' level of play, maybe we'll notch up a level soon!

Who should get it: If you like cooperative games, I think this is excellent to have. I love how easy it is to set different difficulty levels, and it's definitely the game that's had the most excited tension - Castle Panic has this at times, but not sustained (at least as the basic game). It doesn't have the whole monster thing going for it that Castle Panic does, and I think that's why the kids haven't latched onto it so quickly (kill trolls or wander round an island getting treasure - which is your average kid going to choose?) but I suspect that long-term it'll have more staying power.
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on September 27, 2009
My husband and I bought this on a whim - we'd gone to our local game store to pick up Settler's Of Catan because we'd played that recently with friends and liked it. However, this caught our eye, and we bought it instead! I was drawn the cover art, I'll admit!
We brought it to a friend's place to play after dinner. It took a while to get a hang of the way the game is supposed to work and the dynamics of each round, but after a few turns, we were able to get it all figured out.
I really liked all aspects of this game - the 'Risk' aspect of trying to take over the map, the fantasy aspect of the characters, and the unique way the game's races are developed. Every game you play will be different due to how things are set up!
My only complaint is with the tray the Race Tokens are stored in... it was pretty hard for me (who has small fingers, even) to get the tokens in and out of the little squares they are supposed to go in. Especially when some were in use and the remaining ones would fall forward.
Overall, I'm really happy that we got this game, I'm looking forward to sharing it with other people!
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on May 24, 2009
My game group played this recently and although I enjoyed my experience with Small World, I'm not aching to replay it like I do with other board games. Overall, Small World is a fun game. A little action, a little randomness, some important decision making, excellent flavor, but also a little bit on the slow side.

The game itself isn't that long of a game. Our first game, even with all of the rules lookups took only about 2 hours (which is a little big long) but I think on future plays, an average game would take about 45-70 minutes.

The gameplay is fairly simple here, but be prepared to look up a lot of rules throughout the game on your first play. A series of races with special powers are placed on the table. Players choose a race and power, and then proceed to conquer various areas on the board. At the end of their turn, each area currently occupied by that player scores a point. That player may earn additional points based on his special ability. Then the next player goes and so on. At some point, a player decides that he can progress no further with his race (generaly either because it'd be hard/impossible to expand, or because it'd be hard to defend his position), and sets them in decline. The player now chooses a new race and special ability, and as a bonus, collects points on any territories that his race still controls at the end of his next turn.

After a set number of turns, the game ends and whoever has the highest point total wins. Simple enough.

The problem with this game comes in the fact that a turn is fairly long--about 1 to 2 minutes for each player, and when it's another player's turn, there's precisely nothing for you to do, but watch. You can't work on your strategy too much, because the board changes a lot in any given round, and players actions may affect your standing on the board, but you can't react to it at all. All of this makes small world feel a little longer than it needs to be. Still a fun game, but a bit on the boring side.

Average Game Length: 45-70 minutes
Turn length: about 1-2 minute per player, about 40-50 turns per game.
Minimum age: probably about 8. Some minor rules may require some assistance.
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on October 31, 2009
Small World is a fantasy combat/civilization game from Days of Wonder. Small World was designed by Philippe Keyaerts whom many of you may remember was the designer of Vinci.

Players take control of one of the many available fantasy races. All the fantasy races of common lore are available (orcs, dwarves, elves, etc). Players gain victory points primarily by controlling spots on the board. The player with the most points is the winner.

Each race has a starting force allotment, usually around 4 to 6. Players take this allotment and strive to take as much land as possible with it. The force allotments are printed on durable cardboard tiles. To claim a territory, a player must place more 1 more force there than that which defends it. The losing player retains all his lost forces save one. Thus, there is a slow but fairly steady attrition in the game.

When a player believes his chosen race can serve him no more, he may elect to go into decline. His race on the board is flipped over. The player still scores points for this race but he may not expand with them. Play continues until the final round is played. The amount of rounds is dictated by the amount of players. The player with the most points is winner.

Small World has a lot going for it. There are two boards and each is double sided. The different boards are used for different amounts of players. The game is nicely tweaked for various amounts of players from 2 to 5. This is such an elegant feature, that this alone deserves 1*!

Small World is also quick to learn. Pretty much what I stated above is how to play. Sure, there are few more minor rules but they are intuitive if you grasped what I wrote above.

Small World also has a great deal of diversity. In addition to the various races, there are various traits. Each race starts with a random trait. The traits are characteristics like, "merchant", or "hill". These characteristics could give a bonus to your force allotment, give you extra victory points for controlling certain spots on the board, or give you an attack or defense bonus. This is so elegant and innovative that this too deserves 1*!

Small world is great for the non-gamer. As a gateway game, it's ranked #2 in book--second only to FFG's Kingsburg. It's a fairly quick game and has a minimal learning curve--all the requirements for a gateway game.

The only reason I don't give Small World a full 5***** is because it's a little bit shallow compared to games I give 5 stars to. The game is fun but it's not the type of game that will really scratch your gaming itch.
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on July 20, 2009
I am an avid gamer, mostly strategy and RPG, and this game was a great purchase. I was able to get some friends to play, that normally would not play this type of board game. It is light hearted and easy to get into. There is enough strategy, that a real gamer will appreciate, but also it is not too in depth that it will frustrate a non gamer. Overall, I would recommend this with 5 stars and will be purchasing multiple copies for friends and family members. Great job Days Of Wonder!!!
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on August 8, 2011
First of all, I apologize to all of you who love this game. I just happen to be one who finds it boring and we're all entitled to our opinions. After reading MUCH about this game, both here and on boardgamegeek, I realize part of my problem might be due to the fact that our games were all 2 or 3 player. I've heard it said that 4 is the number that makes the magic happen.
My husband, 26 y.o. son, and I are the usual players. We tried to like this game. We really did. But it just seemed repetitive and fiddly with little payoff. The best thing about this game is the artwork and the quality. Other people have described the terribly exasperating storage for the armies but I do hear that is remedied in some of the expansions.
The games we love the best 3 player are: Ticket To Ride w/1910 expansion, Stone Age, Macao (omg what fun!), RA, Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers, Survive Escape from Atlantis, Pandemic. For 2 players we love: Jaipur, Jambo, Odin's Ravens, Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers, Battle Line, Lost Cities, Balloon Cup. Bohnanza is fun for more players but still good with 3 and though a totally different game with 2 we enjoy that, too. Besides Smallworld, both Dominion and Zooloretto flopped with us.
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on December 2, 2015
Conquering a map is so satisfying. I don't know why, but it is. Small World is a great game, as long as you know what you are getting. It's a low-to-mid-weight Euro-style strategy game, easy enough for kids to learn, but with enough strategy in it to appease adult strategists. It is not, however, a deep strategy game that will excite people looking for another version of Twilight Struggle, Puerto Rico, Agricola, etc.

PREMISE

The idea of Small World is to take a group (elves, trolls, humans, etc.) and randomly pair them with a special ability (flying, seafaring, commando, etc.) to get a unique combination of special powers, and then dominate your way across the map. Naturally, you will suffer from the "spread too thin" phenomenon of Risk, and your opponents will eventually plow through your pieces like an NFL player on a Pop Warner team. BUT, better than Risk, you don't have to stick with that group. You can give them up, selecting a NEW combination from the table, and start re-plowing through the opponent that just plowed you. (Or, you can conquer a different part of the map.) This keeps the game feeling fresh.

REPLAYABILITY

As I mentioned in the premise, the various combinations of groups, combined with a blank group card and a blank special power card, give this game a high amount of replay factor. It's also a GREAT game for 2 players. You can even control two different groups each and play on the four-player board, as I've done, for a different, more challenging, and zanier experience.

STRATEGY LEVEL

This is a low-to-medium-weight game. It has strategy along the lines of games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride. Those looking for a good family game with more strategy than average (almost no dice-rolling!) will love Small World. If you're looking for map conquering, this has got it. If you're looking for a long-term strategic, deeply contemplative game with lots of planning, seeing a visionary strategy through to completion, this is not your game. However, I am a lover of the Puerto Rico-type deep strategy game, and I absolutely love Small World to play as a "break" game in between long strategic sessions. It has enough strategy to appease my appetite for that kind of game, but is fun and lighthearted enough that I don't have to think too hard about what I'm doing.

TIME COMMITMENT

You can vary the amount of rounds that you play, using house rules, if you want. If you play the full game, it will take 45-60 minutes for a 2-player game. The first game takes a bit of getting used to, what with the rules and the specific special abilities of every type of group, but the mechanics are easy enough to pick up, and after one tutorial game, you should feel confident. Setup takes a few minutes, and there are many small pieces, so make sure you account for that.

OVERALL

I play it 2-player with my girlfriend all the time, and we love making up various house rules as well as playing it according to the rulebook. I've also played it multi-player, and it's even more zany and fun. A good addition to any game shelf.
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on January 4, 2010
After reading some of the other reviews I war really excited to receive this game, and was not disappointed! The game is much what you would expect from the cover. Players take on common fantasy races (elves, giants, wizards, halflings, trolls, etc.) with various special powers and abilities (dragons, heros, flying,...) and duke it to be top dog of piece of land much too small to contain everybody.

The rule book explained everything fairly clearly, I'd say it takes maybe 15 minutes to read and digest it all. The theme is great, and leads to some really enjoyable artwork. The randomly drawn combination of powers and races make the game fun and different every time. There are two things, in my opinion, that makes this game really shine though: 1) There are different sized boards for different number of player, which keeps the world feeling cramped and basically forces people to attack each other (which is where all the fun is) and 2) If your current race gets beaten down too harshly, or over extended you can easily give it up for another race and get back in the game. In fact, this is half the fun. Over the course of a normal game you get to try at least 2 to 3 different races. This really keeps people from feeling too bad when they get attacked, because they can just try another race.

I'd give this game an easy A+. I have over a dozen games in my collection (Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Puerto Rico, etc.) and I foresee this getting the most play time out of all of them for a while. It's great both for hard-core gamers and to entice new people into gaming. If you think you might like it, you're probably right!
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VINE VOICEon January 26, 2014
I don't know what it is, but I just can't drink the Kool-Aid when it comes to Days of Wonder's "Small World." Don't get me wrong, I think it's a decent game and many of my friends really enjoy it. It is well designed and relatively well balanced. I guess I just don't get why it's supposed to be fun.

Players take on the role of a difference and unique race by combing characteristic cards with race cards. This I do like, customizing a new race every time you play. The different abilities can be a lot of fun, especially if you put them together in fun and imaginative ways. Half of the setup you'll be laughing at the odd combinations you and your friends are able to put together. From there, however, it really goes downhill. You place units of your race all over the board, as do your opponents. The more spaces you occupy, the more revenue you gain. Since you are limited in how many spaces you can ultimately claim by the number of units available to you, you will eventually want your race to go into decline. This allows you to claim board spaces for a younger and more energetic race, while still controlling spaces for your previous race- until they are overtaken by others. Simply put, this is a game of area control that doesn't have a whole lot going for it other than its silly theme- and that wears really thin after a while. One of the reasons I don't really care for this game is how conflict is resolved. Essentially anyone can take a space from another player, provided they have more units than their opponent. It's a form of determinative combat that really takes all of the thrill and fun out of conflict. True, under certain circumstances players can roll a dice to possibly add a few points to their roll, but the defender does not roll, and the result is just a generally bland combat experience.

As I said above, I do not think "Small World" is a bad game, it's just really not my cup of tea. Many people do love it, but I just don't get it. In my opinion Days of Wonder has produced some truly top notch games like "Mystery of the Abbey," "Memoir '44," and the absolute gem "Shadows Over Camelot." If you're looking for a great board game experience, I highly recommend any one of those before "Small World."
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