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House Rules VS. Game Rules
on October 14, 2014
Small World is a fantasy game of victory points and area-of-control designed by Philippe Keyaerts. The object of the game is to collect victory points by controlling different regions of the map and have the most of the previously mentioned victory points at the end of nine or ten turns. You pick random races with special powers and use them until you are done--then you "go into decline" (get rid of them) and pick a new race! So let's get started:
Games like Small World are difficult to review for several reasons:
1. I love the originality and my friends enjoy it as well, but....
2. There are some Race Balance issues
3. Some of the Rules are not explained well or are incredibly stupid/illogical.
Let me get this out of the way up-front: I like Small World. I don't love it and it is not the best game I have played in the last six months, (that award goes to the amazing Twilight Imperium Third Edition), but it is a good addition to my collection.
First of all: Components. 5/5
I really love the way that Mr. Keyaerts built this game.
The two maps that are included are basic cardboard (and double-sided to accommodate different numbers of players). The artwork is nice and imaginative.
The part that I really like are the race tokens and race "cards".
The races are a variety of fantasy creatures (like Orcs, Elves, and Giants) who get a special power. Example: Seafaring Orcs or Alchemist Humans. The "cards" are randomly connected to the special power add-ons and your race is ready to pillage (pun intended) and wreak havoc upon the other players. The tokens that are used to conquer regions and defend regions are thick cardboard and don't bend. They have nice artwork on them as well and are just very well made. There are coins that represent victory points that are, again, thick cardboard and hold up well.
My favorite part of the components is probably the cheat sheets that were added. The sheet contains all the races and their special abilities. You don't have to flip open the rule book every turn to double-check what you're race can and can't do and you don't have to ask the most experienced player what everything means.
This is really the only place that I have a problem with the game. Some of the races seem to be better than others and leads to balance issues. The Sorcerers and Skeletons, in particular, have a tendency to swing the game HEAVILY in favor of the play who picks them. On the other hand, Dwarves and Halflings felt like a last-resort pick in every game I have played. Not only that, but there are some special powers that can make me want to bash my head against a wall because they have almost no counter-play potential.
For instance: Dragon Master and Commando. Dragon Master means that you get a dragon token (Who we always refer to as Trogdor the Burninator in honor of Strong-Bad) and this dragon removes all enemy tokens in an area with just one of your units. Normally it takes two units plus the number of units the enemy has defending the space to take it over. So if the enemy has three units on a space it would take me five to take over their place. With the dragon it only takes one--no matter how many they have defending. Not only that, but the dragon cannot be attacked so you can cut off portions of the map and make the enemy go where you want. Commando means you take every space for one less unit than normal.
This gets into another problem I have--unit death. When you lose a spot all your units except for one are returned to your hand and you can place them back on the board next turn. I play with house rules and ignore this. When your spot is taken all of the units there die and cannot be replaced unless they can retreat to an adjacent space controlled by the defender. It makes no sense that all of your units would survive if you're completely surrounded.
The last problem is movement. On your turn you take all of your units (except one to leave on the places you control) and put them into your hand and use them to attack anywhere adjacent to a spot you control. This again makes no sense. I can't get an Orc army halfway across the world in a turn. So we play that you must attack a spot adjacent with units from those adjacent spots.
Those rules might not be for everyone but they bother me and all my friends so we made up our own set and really enjoyed the change.
Like I said before, Small World is a fun game. I know a lot of people that play with normal rules and love it. I also know people who hate the rules and enjoyed it more the way we play. Great components, cool races and special powers, and lots of fun for 2-5 players.
Give it a try if you have a friend who owns it. If you don't have a friend who owns it then I would say to pick it up if you enjoy similar area-of-control or light war games.