Small World Underground: A Step Below the Original
I love Small World. I love the theme, the artwork, the variable player powers, the strategies. I love all of the expansions. So when I heard that a whole new base game with a new board set in a subterranean world with all new races and powers was going to be released, I was very excited. Its like a new Star Wars movie was coming out, or like a new book from A Song of Fire and Ice was being released (consequently, Dances with Dragons was released very close to Underground). I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Its going to be hard to review the game without comparing it to the original, which is why I will be comparing it to the original a lot. Underground is similar to the first Small World game a lot, but does make some new additions which make it a little more complicated and ruthless. They are small changes on paper, but they affect the game quite a lot and give it a much more different feel than the original.
There are a bundle of new races, such as Gnomes, Mummies, Kraken, and Ogres. I have to admit that these races are quite a lot more interesting than the Dwarves, Wizards, Orcs, and Halflings of the first game. There are also new additions, such as relics and places, which change the nature of the game slightly. The board introduces new regions, just mud pits, mines and mushroom forests, as well s the mighty river, which really changes the landscape.
So it goes without saying that there is a lot of great new stuff to find if you choose to explore the depths of Small World. But how does it compare to the open air of the surface? Can Underworld give battle to its predecessor?
The gameplay of Small World Underground is similar to Small World with two big differences: the new races and powers, and the inclusion of Popular Places and Righteous Relics. The new races are simply fantastic. They are admittedly a lot more interesting than most of the original Small World races, especially races like Flames, Drow, and Cultists, who all have quite unique abilities. Personally, my favourite of the new races are the Mudmen, and Muddy Mudmen are especially good! I must say that the creativity of the new races and powers really steps things up a notch here.
The Relic and Places are a really new idea for Small World, as it adds extra places and objects which can be found on the board which can do interesting things for the player who controls it. For example, the Scepter of Avarice doubles the point value of a territory of your choosing. This adds some extra competition to gain control of these items.
The places and relics are a really neat idea, but at times they seem to pull the whole focus of the game towards them. Small World had a great balance of back and forth battling where the racial and special powers were the focus, but these new additions seem to almost pull the game out of balance a bit. This unbalancing of the game, which continues with the new map features I’ll soon be talking about, are what keeps this game just a step below the original Small World game.
As before, the artwork for Small World Underground is fantastic and is a big draw. The cartoony artwork is becoming very familiar to me and my fellow gamers and its always great to see the depictions of the new races. The board artwork is also excellent, channeling the board from the previous game, but making it darker and more mystical, as you would imagine a fantasy underground world to be.
There are also many more bits in this game than in regular Small World, with the inclusion of the relics and places as well as new tokens for the Balrog, Cthulhu, the Tomb Raider, and more. For people like me who love bits, this game provides a great unboxing experience.
The map itself has a couple of new features which actually change the game quite a bit. The first are the presence of chasms which cannot be occupied, and a river which runs down the middle which can be crossed, but uses tokens to do it. These tokens cannot be left on the river to score either. Both of these features give a really claustrophobic feeling, which is suiting for a game set in the underground. But it does add to that unbalancing I talked about earlier by really restricting you and throwing the dynamics of the game out of whack.
Small World Underground is a great new experience for fans of the original Small World like myself. It doesn’t quite reach the same level of excellence since the new additions, such as the river, the chasms, and the places and relics, make the game feel more restrictive and take a lot of the focus away from the usual gameplay strategies.
However, these added features also provide more variety to the overall Small World experience, and as such should be valued in their own right. Don’t get me wrong; I love the new features in the gameplay. But if I were to compare the two, I still like the regular Small World openness a little better.
But Small World Underground is still an excellent release which gives you the original with a twist. The new races and powers are simply awesome and a lot more interesting than the first batch. I am very, very happy with this new release and I await the oncoming Underground expansions with anticipation.