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Like Risk, but 100x more fun
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.
* 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.
* 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.
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.