Sunday, March 27, 2016

Small World

Wonder what the historian ghouls study

Editor note: The Small World app as well as Ticket to Ride and Splendor are currently on sale for Easter. 

Most gateway games are family friendly affairs.  They leave everyone, wins or lose, satisfied and on speaking terms.  While this is nice for most people, some individuals have much different associations with what games should be.  Those whose strongest game memory is taking over the world from a secure bunker in Western Australia.  Those who discovered that Japan had sailed around the US fleet and invaded Texas through the gulf of Mexico, while they were in the bathroom, and the allies are about to lose, and they didn’t even know that was possible and… sorry where were we?  Oh right, Small World is for the more aggressive gamer who enjoys direct conflict, but still wants the improvements that modern gaming offers.


  Days of Wonder


Philippe Keyaerts

Elevator Pitch:

You select a paired fantasy race and special power attempting to conquer a piece of the world not big enough for everyone.  When your race has outlived their usefulness, put them in decline and storm the board with a new pairing.

Personal Impression:

There was a time where an ongoing epic war game occupied my basement.  We will call that junior year.  Now my time and taste for unending games has diminished, so I appreciate games that take some of those aspects and put them into a more condensed affair.   Small World lets you have cool powers and aggressively attack opponents while keeping a brisk pace and a set end point.  The decline mechanics eliminates the issue of a player being too weak to have fun, though the turn skip can be annoying.  Plus you can discover all sorts of neat power combos.  Who amongst us didn’t want to be a flying skeleton?  There are some downsides to this approach, the fact that many options provide similar points means you might as well gang up on the perceived leader, which is problematic if you are said leader and can’t do anything about it.

Good for People who Grew up Playing:

Ease of Learning:

For a gateway game it is reasonably complicated, but for a “war” game is it exceedingly straight forward.  To take a territory, you need two units plus one more for each piece of cardboard in the location.  It the easiest combat system this side of checkers.  The tricky part is remembering what all the special powers do, but you only need to know a few of those at a time.

Fidgety Index

This is game is chock full of little bits with interesting artwork, though it easier to make a mess than a work of art.

Universal Theme:

It is fantasy which is not for everyone, and it is a dark weird version at that.  Still if you can embrace it, then it is fun to think about the combination created, and what they would be like.

Player Count and Length:

2-5.  Board changes based on player count to ensure things are always crowded.  Game length is about an hour half regardless of player count as larger games last fewer rounds.


Grand Dames, designed by a contest winner, balances out the gender ratio of the base game adding Gypsies, Priestesses, and White Ladies.

Cursed, also a contest winner, adds Kobolds and Goblins along with several new powers.  These items are a bit more situational than the ones in the base game, but used right can be quite powerful.

Leaders as the name would suggest add a leader to each race.  The leader gives you an extra token, but does have a tendency to get kidnapped and ransomed.

Be Not Afraid adds five new races and five new powers and perhaps more importantly a storage container to fit itself and other expansions.

A Spider’s Web, part of a kickstarter campaign, Spider’s web offers three new races and powers.

Royal Bonus is another mini-expansion originally given to backers of the Small World digital campaign on Kickstarter features three more races and powers.

Necromancer adds one against many element to the game.  One player, the Necromancer, battles against the other players.

Tales and Legends is an event deck that impacts game play each round.  It is good for changing things up a bit

6 Player board is doublesided with the other one used for the Underground spinoff.  It changes Small World into a team game where three sets of partners compete.

Realms adds variety to the map setup.  Also usable by Underground, Realms also you to design your own map

Tunnels was originally a promo that allows the Small World base game and the Underground to be connected

Spin Offs:

Vinci:  In this case Small World is the spinoff regimenting Vinci with a fantasy theme.  Some people prefer the historic theme and more interesting maps of Vinci, but I like the streamlined faster Small World more.

Small World Underground:  A stand alone Small World that can be combined with the original one using tunnels.  It adds races and powers that you would expect in the underground as well as relics that provide additionals benefits.  All in all it plays pretty similar to the main game.

Designer Edition For those who like turn large amount of green paper into shiny things.  Everything is deluxe here , wooden tokens for each race, metal coins, custom art, minatures etc, but you could also buy a substantial game collection for the cost to track this down.  

Introducing the Game to New Gamers: 

Being that Small World is at least kind of a war game, the entire premise is that the world isn’t big enough for all of us, being nice to opponents isn’t workable.  The good news is that new players have an easy an obvious way to balance the scales.  Just gang up on the person who knows what they are doing.  You might still try to kind around the edges, attack neutrals over other players and not taking the almost broken race combo, but mostly the game and social dynamics should take care of things.


The Small World app has gone through a few phases.  It is one of the first designer board game apps made for ipads and was fantastic for its time.  However it was neglected for a time and its flaws like inability to play with more than 2 players stood out over time.  In 2014 Days of Wonder rectified it with a Kickstarter.  This led to Small World 2, a great implementation that does pretty much everything you want an app to do. It allows you to learn the game, play solo, locally, or online, and across platforms.  The interface is logical and smooth and the ai can be challenging, and there are expansions available for purchase to increase variety.



  1. I think you forgot to update the "Good for People who Grew up Playing" section since Tichu...

  2. I have mixed feelings for Small World. Just a few years ago I couldn't get enough of Vinci, Small World, and (Brief) History of the World. Now I think the gang up on the leader mechanic is souring me to the game - to the point where I'm thinking of getting rid of some/all of those.