What is it? A fantasy-based game all about different races
How many people? 2-5
How long does it take? 60 minutes
Who is it for? Much more accessible than it looks, so most people would enjoy it
Buy it: On Amazon here
Why we recommend it
Board games and fantasy go hand-in-hand. Lovers of Lord of the Rings tend to also like Dungeons and Dragons, and Game of Thrones makes for a perfect bedfellow with Magic the Gathering. The problem is that these fantasy tropes can be enough to put off new players, and repel those that otherwise might fall in love with our tabletop obsession.
In fact, I personally don’t like fantasy. Don’t care for it. And so it’s perhaps surprising that Small World is so brilliant to people like me, meaning that despite appearances it’s an excellent example of a game that new players and curious gamers might enjoy.
Small World is a board game that employs many familiar hallmarks of a fantasy game. There are elves, goblins and trolls, of course, and just visually it comes across as though it’s probably laden in a dense anthology of lore. Fret not. These indicators are largely superficial, and underneath the otherworldly veneer lies a fascinating, fun and accessible game of invasion.
At the core of Small World are a series of races, such as Ghouls or Sorcerers. Each time you play, these races are randomly coupled with a particular trait. These traits include things like being wealthy, being good seafarers or having a skill in diplomacy. When combined, each race will offer a unique blend of skills and advantages to the player that controls them. Plus, by randomising the combinations, it means that each time you play the options are refreshingly different, and veteran players can’t always rely on tried and tested techniques.
The aim of the game is to get your race to occupy as many territories as you can, with cash rewards given to successfully expanding players. The player with the most cash at the end of the predetermined number of rounds wins the game.
As players invade land and slowly lose forces, they eventually will start to run out of units and can opt to put their race into ‘decline’. This costs the player a full turn in which they can effectively do nothing, but will then allow them to select a new race with a full compliment of units.
Choosing a new race isn’t simple either. A ‘marketplace’ of races creates an organic price range for each of the generated races. In this system, one race will be free for all players to select as their team, but all the others will come at a price on a rising scale of desirability. This dynamic forces players to invest their winnings (ie. their victory points) in order to play as more powerful or preferable races, adding an element of risk to the game that doesn’t always pay off.
But why would you want one race over another? Well each race and their corresponding powers grants all kinds of bonuses that can aid or reward conquests. Some will give extra cash for certain types of invasion, while others will make it easy to defend land. Others still give players the option to build forts or use dragons, and there are some races that have advantages over types of terrain. The list of strategic nuances is lengthy, and players must capitalise upon the unique strengths of their race to maximise the coin payoff before the inevitable decline.
Small World plays out in a series of waves, as players invest in new races and rampage across the board, before eventually starting to decline as the rise of another race spells the demise of their newly created empire. As a game, it offers newer players the chance to delve into something they don’t often get the chance to explore, and as asymmetrical board games go, this is one of the best and easiest to get into.