It’s A Small World…

It’s the human secularist’s worldview:  A world too small for all the peoples that populate it – doomed to continuous war.

But for the rest of us, it’s just a game – with a wild array of creatures and heroes from Celtic, Greek and Norse mythology, Tomb Raider and a touch of Tolkien as well!  Here’s a review of the board game, Small World, and a session report  (geek speak for a play-by-play retelling of how the game proceeded),  in a guest post by Mr.  Garner!

Board Game Review:  Small World

Most of my game buying lately has been influenced by my homeschooled daughter.  I’ve chosen many titles that reflect her studies.  But, for my birthday present, my Number 1 Son chose a game I wanted that had absolutely no obvious educational connection whatsoever.  His choice: Small World! 

Small World is a simplified war game in which randomly generated, somewhat cartoony fantasy races rise and fade in power as they battle to control a varied landscape that is just too crowded to maintain the peace.

The game starts by randomly combining fantasy races like Elves, Trolls, and Amazons with special powers that transform them into unique creatures like Flying Dwarves, Merchant Skeletons or Seafaring Wizards.  Each player chooses a combo and receives a stack of  cardboard tokens featuring their race’s image.  New combinations are then generated to replace the ones chosen.

Four maps of Small World, sized for two to five players, feature varied terrains and features like hills and swamps, mines and caverns.  However, it’s truly a Small World, and conflict is inevitable.

On his turn, a player fights to spread his control over the map.    To conquer a region, a player merely has to have two more tokens than the enemy there, adjusting for any obstacles or special powers.  The loser gets kicked out and the winner moves in.  Battle continues until the player has used all his available tokens, and taken over as much land as he can.  Victory points are counted at the end of the turn, based on how many regions a player controls and what bonuses a player’s creatures can claim, and then, the next player gets his chance at conquest.

After a few turns, each race’s power peaks and wanes, presenting an interesting choice for their controllers: Press on or cut losses.  To do the latter, a player must sacrifice a turn of attacking to send his race into decline, leaving only one lone soldier, stripped of special powers in each occupied territory.  These abandoned creatures are joined on the next turn by an all-new race selection, bent on destruction and dominance!  A set number of tense turns later, and a victor is declared!

Small World is a colorful, amusing game that is easy to learn and pretty quick to play.  It takes a little time to become familiar with all the creature and power options, but with almost 300 possible race combinations, replay value is outstanding.  Battles themselves do feel a little dry, though.  In most games I play, a random factor or clever card play can affect the outcome, but not here.  Here, math rules.  That’s not a criticism, though.  Complicating the combat might add a fun risk factor, but would change the feel and pace of the game.

But, is Small World “educational”?  While it doesn’t recreate any historical battles, drill math facts, or open up discussions on philosophical issues, I’d still have to say, “Yes!”  Small World tickles the critical thinking part of your brain!  In life, it’s tough to learn when to stay the course, and when it’s best to start fresh with new ideas.   Players must analyze the lay of the land, the available resources, and, most importantly, shift mental gears several times to be successful.

Session Report:  Small World

I got to invade Small World first, and I did so from the north with Diplomatic Giants.  As Giants, these warriors get bonuses when stomping down mountainsides to attack their puny victims, and as Diplomats, they can charm one of their opponents into not attacking them.

The Son’s (18 years old) Underworld Skeletons were the Giants’ reluctant allies.  Ordinarily, Small World armies can only attack adjacent territories, but the Underworld trait allowed these Skeletons to use hidden tunnels to pop up all over the map.  Generating extra troops from the Lost Tribes they conquered, these undead monsters swept in from the southwest.

The Daughter (11 yrs old) attacked from the northeast with Hill Elves, hearty fighters who never die when defeated and get extra victory points when they occupy hills.

After a few border skirmishes, the Giants settled into the natural defenses of the mountains and went into decline on turn 3, while the Skeletons and the Elves continued to rake in points.

Bivouacking Ratmen was my next choice.  This huge swarm of rats flooded in from the south and began gnawing on the leg bones of the son’s  skeletons, so he sent his bony battlers into decline on the next turn, followed by his sister.

While my Ratmen set up tents to provide the best possible defense, the Son sent Flying Humans into the land to take over every farmland from the air, reaping huge benefits from the humans who get extra victory points when occupying fertile soil.  The Daughter then cut a huge swath across the map from the northeast with her newly recruited Pillaging Wizards, who rake in bonus pillaging points when they defeat enemies and gain even more when they end their turn in control of territories with magic crystals.  She received 14 points for this turn, the biggest one-turn haul so far.

Humans and the last Elves clashed as did Wizards and Ratmen.  Despite suffering attrition from the Wizards’ rat traps, the sheer number of rodents tempted me into keeping them around through turn 7.  The Son, however, had other ideas, and withdrew his active support from his Humans in favor of Alchemist Orcs gathering in the southeast.

After seriously reducing each others’ numbers, The Daughter and I finally both decided to decline our respective races on turn 8.  I chose Mounted Halflings to carry my banner, and she picked the ever-aggressive Wealthy Amazons.

Meanwhile, The Son’s Orcs were racking up the points, taking advantage of the bonus Orcs receive when defeating armies, and the Alchemist victory points for simply not going into decline.  I used the Halflings’ holes which cannot be attacked as a base from which to stab into the heart of Small World.  The Daughter coolly converted the Amazons’ wealth into points, and then used the massive amount of troops the Amazons have while attacking to wipe out all opposition in the north and northeast.  The Son’s Orcs completely retreated to the ocean and redeployed further upstream, not once, but twice, to conquer fresh new enemies and reap fresh new rewards.

In the end, The Son’s Orcs brought home the victory with 91 points, followed by Grace’s Amazons with 86, and my Halflings barely behind with 85.

Yeah, Dad lost.  It’s okay, though, another battle is just a short time away, ‘cause it’s a Small World, after all!

Do you enjoy board games?  Leave a comment with your favorite!

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