IanTheCool's Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Small World: The Next Big Thing

Designer games have exploded onto the board gaming scene over the last decade and as a result board gaming has never been so popular. The success of these designer games has been propelled by three particular games: the Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride. These are the tent-poles of the Eurogame movement. The have a way of instilling a certain excitement in gamers which makes them want more and more.
Personally, the Settlers of Catan was a pretty big deal once my friends and I started playing it. We would get together for afternoons of playing game after game. Then we brought the expansions into it and delved deeper into the experience. A while later, I bought Carcassonne as something a little different. Carcassonne also had its time in the sun playing game after game, throwing in all the different add-ons to try them out.
Ever since, we’ve thrown other games into the mix and have branched out quite a bit. And even though we’ve found some great games, none have quite captured our original intrigue and excitement as those two games did. Until now.
Small World appears to be the next big thing for my friends and I and has the potential to be the fourth tent-pole game in the larger picture. Small World has captured our imagination and piqued our interests so that it is almost always played at least once every gaming night.
The light, goofy fantasy theme is a lot of fun and the countless combinations of different races is always a blast to see and use. Its an easy game to catch onto but also has that extra spark of ingenuity and imagination which keeps us coming back for more every time. Small World has already come out with a number of great expansions, which gives it that movie franchise feel, where fans are always anticipating the next release. Small World has what it takes to be the next big thing in my board gaming life.

Gameplay

Small World consists of players choosing different fantasy races which they use to try to conquer as much territory as they can. The real flare of the game come from choosing these races, which are shuffled and combined with different powers or characteristics. This way you always get some new, goofy combination, such as Flying Skeletons, Mounted Trolls, or Swamp Dwarves. This is where Small World can really play on the imaginations of the players by taking these traditional fantasy creatures and putting a new spin on them. What would flying skeletons look like? What exactly would these trolls be mounted on?
The actual mechanics for conquering territories is really quite simplistic. It involves simply using two more armies than there are opposing armies or additional fortifications (mountains, fortresses, trolls lairs, etc.) in a region in order to conquer it. The number of territories you have at the end of your turn determines how many victory points you have. However, this simplicity is necessary in order to use all of the extras that this game brings through the special powers of the different races without getting too bogged down. Depending on what race you are and what power you have will change the way you conquer territories or gain victory points, so this basic mechanic is always be modified.
The genius of Small World however comes in the option to put your race into decline. As you play throughout the game, your armies will be depleted and you will need to choose a new race and start fresh. This option allows players to try out different races and different strategies. Not being hindered by being stuck with one race throughout the whole game allows Small World to be that much more fun and exploratory.
The set number of rounds allows the game not to go on too long, and the carefully calculated size of the board encourages players to fight one another and allows the game not to fall into tedium. Every part of Small World’s gameplay is constructed in a way which maximizes the amount of fun the players can have in this game.

Components

The components are where Small World really shines. This game is full of incredible artwork. The cartoonish style really adds to a sense of lighthearted fun. Each race is given a badge which includes an illustration of the fantasy creature as well as a summation of their racial powers. Likewise, each special power has another badge which fits with the race badge like a puzzle piece. These badges really add to the aesthetic of the game since the heart of the game is centered upon these race-power combos.
The drawings are wonderful and humourous, and the detail on them is really special. For example, if you look closely you can see a human squashed underneath the shoe of the giant, or see that the wizard is holding a book called “Magick for Dummies” (which becomes “1000 card tricks” when the wizards are in decline). The actual armies for the races are represented by colourful chits with the same illustrations on them. These chits are easy to keep track of and use.
There are other extra chits which represent items and buildings within the game as well. These include cut-outs for mountains, troll lairs, a dragon, etc. These are really well-designed and look great while adding to the overall fantasy feel. I also like that extra fortifications on territories are always represented by a physical gamepiece.
The board itself is actually four different boards. The board you play with depends on how many people you are playing with (2,3,4, or5). Each board has just the right amount of regions so that you don’t get too crowded but which also encourages the conquering of other players. The artwork on the board is very bright and colourful and also richly detailed. No effort was spared in the artwork of this game, and it shows.



Conclusion

I haven’t been this excited for a game in a while, perhaps not since the days of Catan. Small World does so many things right in order to make this an enjoyable experience for everyone who plays it. But aside from the enjoyable gameplay, Small World also has that little extra which really taps into my imaginative side. This is the same little extra which made me fall in love with Star Wars and Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. Small World allows the players to become immersed in the world itself.
Small World is the next big thing for me, and I think that this feeling must resonate with many other gamers out there. It has the potential to be another great gateway game, much like Catan, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride. Small World triggers my imagination and has me thinking of new races and powers to add. It has me wanting to sink my teeth into new expansions which have already popped up and more which are sure to arrive in the future. Small World is a great piece of adventurous entertainment which can be enjoyed by all.

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4 Responses to “Small World: The Next Big Thing”

  1. Great breakdown of this game. I’ve played it about 5 times and for myself, it hasn’t captured my interest in the same way. It’s a game I want to like since the mechanics and and art are both very fun. I’m not sure what the miss is…

  2. I had a chance to test the game on its release and even had a chance to meet the creator, Phillipe Keyaerts.

    I played twice that day and the remain my only games of Smallworld… I admit it was fun and enjoyable. But, whenever it came to playing it again, we just played something else…

    So really, I agree with almost everything you say, but for me Smallworld is just another good game, not a staple 🙂


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