The old adage of "If You Keep It Tidy, Gamers Will Come" is certainly true. Actually it's more like "If You Invite Gamers To A Place With Indoor Plumbing They Will Come". If there's a decent-sized gaming table, enough seats to accommodate a few sedentary asses and coupla "Mountain Dew's" on da chill, your true friends won't give a rat's ass what shape your place is in. But, hey, I care and that's the number one reason why I don't host game night as often as I want to.
But two Wednesdays ago I made a special point to get my digs in order. It was Matt's pick and he went with Small World, primarily to test drive all of the expansion Races that he'd been feverishly collecting over the past few years.
I've touched briefly on Small World before (right here and here) but now it's time for a proper in-depth session report and review. So, without any further ado, here's Days of Wonder's version of "Once Upon A Time...":
"Designed by Philippe Keyaerts as a fantasy follow-up to his award-winning Vinci™, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth."
Looking for the full tale of this epic saga? Then click on the following link to read the full rules.
INITIAL RACES AND TURN ORDER
MIKE: BEHEMOTH SCAGS
Racial Trait: Randomly select and place one Loot marker face down in each Region you conquer. You may look at it only only after you have selected it and placed it on the board. When an opponent conquers one of your regions, reveal the Loot marker. If the Loot marker is a Skag Attack marker, the conquest is cancelled and the opponent loses one token (he cannot re-try any attack against this region during this turn). Otherwise, the opponent collects the Loot token. If you abandon a Region, leave the Loot token behind. When you go in Decline, or at the end of your last turn if you didn't go in Decline, reveal all Loot tokens in your regions and collect them.
Special Power: Your two Behemoths are each represented by a stack of tokens that matches the number of Swamp regions you currently occupy. These two stacks can never be split or mixed. Each Behemoths’ stack counts as an equivalent number of Race tokens for attack AND defense. The number of tokens in each stack is adjusted each time you capture or lose a Swamp region. A Behemoth must always be accompanied by at least one Race token. If the region it occupies is conquered, only the accompanying Race token is lost; redeploy your Behemoth (keep it as a single stack) at the end of your attacker's turn, as normal.
MATT: HILL PYGMIES
Racial Trait: Each time you lose a Pygmy token, roll a reinforcement die and receive as many new Pygmies from the storage tray as you rolled pips on the die (up to the number of Pygmies left). Deploy them on the board at the end of the current player's turn.
Special Power: Collect one bonus Victory coin for each Hill Region you occupy at turn's end.
ME: HISTORIAN ICE WITCHES (WTF???)
Racial Trait: Ice Witches collect one Winter marker for each Magic Source they control at the end of their Redeployment phase. At the end of their Redeployment phase, Ice Witches may place their Winter markers in their own Regions or any adjacent Region (there cannot be more than one Winter marker per Region though). A Winter marker permanently augments the Region's defense by one. It remains on the board as long as the Ice Witches are active. Regions with a Winter marker that are not controlled by an Ice Witch earn 1 less Victory coin than usual.
Special Power: Collect one bonus Victory coin for each Race In Decline at the time you select the Historians. While you're active, collect one bonus Victory coin each time another Race goes In Decline, and one final bonus coin when your own Historians go In Decline!
ANDREW: RANSACKING FAUNS
Racial Trait: During Troop Redeployment, collect one new Race token for each active region you conquered this turn. Your victims also receive one new Race token for each of their regions you conquered.
Special Power: Each time you successfully conquer a Region containing an opponent's active Race token, he must immediately pay you one Victory coin from his own personal stash (unless he has no coins left).
Mike's Scags made short work of the southwestern quadrant of the board. By the time the dust settled, four enigmatic-looking Loot Markers were left scattered all across the realm, virtually goading the rest of us into attacking him just to see what they were. Before passing his turn, Mike stationed his two Behemoth bodyguards in the southern and eastern hinterlands of his domain.
Lured by the heavy concentration of Hills in the northwestern section of the board, Matt's Pygmies made significant in-roads there.
I made a point of staying well-clear of the brewing fracas, opting instead to enter the board from the northeast. Pretty soon my horde of Madonna-bra'd frozen tartlets had redecorated a Swamp, two Forests and some lakeside property with a sparkling sheet of wall-to-wall hard-ice flooring. As a final exclamation point, I used the two Magic Sources I'd captured to drop a pair of snow-globe Winter Markers on the board to bolster up my defense.
Well in-step with his aggro style of play, Andrew's Ransacking Fauns made their debut. His marauders entered the board from the northern Forests and then streamed down through two Farmland Regions, isolating one of Matt's armies in the process. At the end of this rampage he collected several bonus Race Tokens for conquering active Regions and stole a couple Victory Coins from Matt to boot!
Mike continued his inexorable drive north, annihilating a Lost Tribe Token in the process. In a classic pincer maneuver, the Scags made an amphibious landing on the northwest peninsula, swarming the Farmland and then steam-rolling over yet another Lost Tribe living in the Swamp next to Matt's borders. This resulted in three more uber-tempting Loot Markers getting plopped on the board. Anticipating an attack to the north, he moved Mr. and Mrs. Behemoth to the vanguard in an effort to dissuade any potential aggressors.
Kicked around in the previous turn, all Matt could do is re-capture the northern Forest that Andrew had used for his entry point. At least the two Hill Regions he retained provided some measure of reparations.
Like Elsa from Frozen on a baths salts bender, I continued to capture and deep-freeze every single eastern Magic Source, snatching up a Swamp and two Hills in one fell swoop. This gave me dominance over no less then three mystical sites and when I blanketed my entire empire with Winter Markers I couldn't help but wince. I'd expanded very far, very fast and I knew that my rivals were thinking about sending some flamethrower-armed Welcome Wagon volunteers my way.
Meanwhile, Andrew continued to kick the crap out of Matt, driving his forces out of a Hilly region out west, collecting more bonus Race Tokens and ill-begotten booty in the process. This put him on a collision course with Mike, foreshadowing an epic conflict in the next Turn.
Since Mike's Behemoths got a major perk from Swamps, he smashed his way through a Farmland-dwelling Lost Tribe and then conquered my marshy lakeside holdings. This also prompted the introduction of yet another Loot Marker to the board. He then diverted his two 'roided-up Behemoths to stand guard over these new acquisitions.
Still slavishly devoted to collecting his preferred terrain, Matt annexed the Mountainous region to the south and then made Mike run from the Hills to the West, scoring an unremarkable Loot Marker in the process. During this time, the Reinforcement Die was pretty cruel to Matt and he failed to score any bonus Race Tokens from the Pygmy's Special Power over the course of three separate turns.
Thinking that my Ice Witches had run their course, I decided to be the first player to put a Race into Decline. Not only would this give me the pick of the litter for next round I also scored a bonus Victory Coin thanks to my Historian Special Power.
Andrew's Fauns took back the Forest region to the north and also wrestled a Swamp away from Mike. He then expanded into the Mountains along the north bank of the central lake. Between his ability to snag free Race Tokens with every successful battle and rob Coins from his victims, this Era continued to be quite lucrative for him. This, of course, begged the question: would the Fauns ever go into Decline?
Mike's Scags went into Decline, and not a moment too soon! By the time the Turn was over, everyone else around the table did their best to make this Race of no-necked, meat-headed goons as extinct as brontosaurus shit. Mike still made out okay since he got to keep all of those stupid Loot Tokens that he'd been hoarding, many of which paid off with free Coins!
When the Scags faltered, Matt was quick to step into the vacuum, helping himself to a Swamp and a Forest Region. The luck with his special Racial Trait seemed to improve slightly and he finally scored a few free re-enforcements but it was definitely a case of too little, too late.
Meanwhile, I came roaring back onto the board with these guys:
Racial Trait: Each time a Homunculi Race combo is bypassed, in addition to a Victory coin, you must also add a Homunculus token taken from the storage tray (if any left) to the combo. These tokens are added to those normally received when the Homunculi combo is finally picked, along with any Victory coins.
Special Power: Collect two bonus Victory coins at the end of each turn your race hasn't yet gone into Decline.
Even though these guys hadn't racked up a lot of bonus Victory Coins, they still had a decent number of starting Race Counters and their Special Power was clear and concise. I entered the board from the unoccupied Farmland to the east, taking care not to do any damage to my now-retired Ice Witches. Next up I booted Mike's Declined Scags outta the Swamp on the east bank of the lake, smashed into his Farmland to the southwest and then rooted him out of the Swamp further west. Contrary to these triumphs, every single time I tried to capture a Region without the requisite number of Race Tokens, the Re-enforcement Die would boot me right in the crotch.
To no-one's surprise, Andrew kept the still-flourishing Fauns a-rollin'. He foisted Mike's flagging Scags out of the Swamp to the northwest and then bounced poor Matt out of his precious Hills along the west bank of the lake. Even though he was still scoring free Race Tokens and thieving Coins left, right and center, Andrew knew that this pace just wasn't sustainable.
Mike's new Race hit the board this Turn.
Racial Trait: Each Mine Region your Dwarves occupy is worth one bonus Victory coin, at the end of your turn. This power is kept even when the Dwarves are In Decline.
Special Power: Once per turn, you may place the Catapult in a region you occupy to conquer any region that is one region away (but not adjacent) at one less token than usual. The Catapult may be used to attack a region beyond the Lake, but not over Seas. The region with the Catapult is immune to enemy conquests as well as their racial and special powers. The Catapult disappears when you go into Decline.
Mike began this new incursion at the southern edge of the map, in a Hilly Region with a Mine. He then wasted no time launching his Dwarves into a Mountain area two spaces away which also contained a Mine symbol. He then back-filled the Farmland space in-between with a single Race Token and finished things off by branching out into the Forest region towards the east.
Deciding not to overstay their welcome any longer, Matt's Hill Pygmies finally went into Decline. In retrospect, he probably should have put these guys out to pasture a lot earlier since the tiny handful of Coins he scored during his first four turns virtually crippled his final score.
Unburdened by any terrain-specific agenda, my Alchemist Homunculi continued to cut a swath across the hemisphere of the board. First up they conquered a Mountain, then snatched up some Farmland and finally they destroyed one of the last Pygmy holdouts in a Swamp on the western edge of the board.
Even though he was still in control of no less then nine different territories, Andrew knew that his Fauns had reached the apex of their civilization. Anxious to occupy another large swath of the board with a new, vibrant Race, he put the Fauns into Decline, forfeiting his turn in the process.
Mike continued his Catapult-based Region-hopping campaign by parachuting into my southwestern Farmland. Unfortunately he ran afoul of Andrew not long after who came galloping through with his new crew. At least Mike managed to score a few bonus Coins just for holding onto two Mine-related Regions.
Matt then introduced us to his new Race:
Racial Trait: All Forest regions occupied by Shrubmen become immune to opponent's conquests, racial and special powers, even when In Decline.
Speacial Power: Collect three bonus Victory coins at the end of each turn during which you have attacked no active Race. You have no love for In Decline Ghouls though, and may attack them without forfeiting your Peace-loving bonus.
True to this highly-thematic and imminently-logical combination, Matt entered the board from the northeast, which was like Boca Raton for my long-defunct Ice Witches. In quick succession he snapped up a Swamp and two Forests, the latter of which instantly became unassailable fortresses for the duration of the game.
Fearing that my Homunculi had no further tricks up their sleeve I decided to put them into Decline. In retrospect this decision was a tad premature since it gave Andrew an opportunity to come bombing in with his...
Racial Trait: Place a Troll's Lair in each Region your Trolls occupy. The Troll's Lair augments your region's defense by one (just as if you had an additional Troll token stationed there), and stays in the Region even after your Trolls go into Decline. Remove the Troll's Lair if you abandon the Region or when an enemy conquers it
Special Power: You may conquer any Hill or Farmland Region with one less Race token than normal. A minimum of one token is still required.
Well, as we should all know by now, the worse thing you can do is give Andrew an excuse to be even more conquer-y. Sensing that I'd become his greatest threat, his Trolls entered the board IN THE EXACT SAME FRIGGIN' PLACE THAT MY HOMUNCULI CAME ONTO THE BOARD LAST TURN.
He annihilated my active minions in the eastern Farmland, made my Ice Witches extinct by subjugating their Hilly homes, kicked another Homunculi off his Farm on the southern side of the lake, terrorized some poor frightened Lost Tribe in the woods down south and finally crushed Mike's Dwarven guards presiding over Farmlands to the south. I swear that he only stopped 'cuz he ran out of map. Even worse: he dropped a friggin' Troll Lair in every single one of these territories, making them doubly-hard to recapture. Well, fux.
Still preoccupied with leap-frogging from one Mine to another, Mike doggedly kept using the Dwarves. He snatched the Swamp from my Homunculi in the south-west corner of the board and actually captured a few more Regions before experiencing some collective kick-back from the rest of us.
Matt continued to play to type, polishing off his own defunct Pygmy in the Farmland to the north and then evicting two of Andrew's old Faun Tokens in both the Forest and the Farmlands.
I started Turn Six by introducing my new Race to the world:
Racial Trait: Slingmen may conquer a Region that is one Region away from one they currently occupy, provided they do not control a Region adjacent to it. When a Region is conquered this way, they immediately take one Victory coin from the stash. They may conquer Regions beyond the Lake, but not over the Seas.
Special Power: Collect one bonus coin from any opponent each time they successfully conquer
one of your active regions.
I picked these guys mainly because they'd been passed over a few times and had a small stockpile of Victory Coins on them. Plus I just assumed that Andrew was going to come after me so I wanted to give him pause for thought via the Corrupt trait. My newly-minted Slingmen then landed on the Farmland at the tip of the north-west peninsula, deposing one of Mike's last remaining Scags in the process. Next up they drove two of Andrew's endangered Fauns out of the connected Swamp and Hill Regions.
When Andrew sent his Trolls into Decline after only one turn it might have come as a surprise, if not for the fact that he'd expressed an irrational desire to play the Lava Orcs as soon as they became a viable option. Compared to my one turn with the Homunculi, it wasn't as crazy as it sounded since those damned Troll Lairs made Andrew's territories a helluva lot harder to conquer.
Mike flung yet another one of his Dwarves onto the centrally-located Mountains. I think holding on to the Dwarves this long was a major oversight on his part. Yes, he now controlled four Mines for four bonus Coins, but at the end of the Turn he only occupied four Regions in toto. Bottom line: if you're not earning at least double digits per turn in Small World then you need to realize that someone else around the table probably is.
On the other hand, Matt had learned his lesson from his overdue Pygmy declination (?) and turned his Shrubmen to the monochromatic side.
I stayed the course, swallowing up a Farm, a Swamp and a Forest in the north-west corner of the board with minimal effort. I was trying to be as brazen as possible, daring Andrew to come at me, bro-style.
And eventually he did, with these clowns:
Racial Trait: Each not empty Region your Orcs conquered this turn is worth one bonus Victory Coin, at the end of your turn.
Special Power: At the end of your turn, for each Mountain Region you occupy, you may place one Lava Token in any Region adjacent to that Mountain Region (excluding Regions protected by Special and Racial Powers). All tokens in this Region are taken in hand by the defeated player and treated as if the Region were conquered (except there is no loss of tokens). The Region may not be entered by any other player until after the beginning of your next turn. At the beginning of your next turn, remove all Lava Tokens from the board and proceed as usual.
Andrew is nothing if not consistent. One again he'd selected a race that dove-tailed perfectly with his style of play. Funneled between Matt's verboten Forests, Andrew surged across the northern reaches, trampling Shrubmen into the bog, then uprooting more Shrubmen in the Hills and the pasting even more Shrubmen in the Farmlands. Unfortunately he ran out of gas before he could Fed Ex some bribe money to me.
Seemingly oblivious to the impending conclusion of the game, Mike just kept tossin' his Dwarves (?). This time he launched one of the runty little bastards clear across the central lake in order capture yet another Mine Region from me. Again, Mike really needed a fresh start at least two turns ago. By the time Matt's new Race careened through the southwestern corner of the board, Mike's Turn Eight score was only six Coins.
Indeed, Matt really came aboard with this populous new Race:
Racial Trait: You may never occupy (nor conquer) a Region with less than two Kobold tokens. When going In Decline however, keep a single token in each Region, as normal.
Special Power: I don't have a clue. The photos don't reveal this and no-one can remember. Boo-urns.
A veritable tidal wave of these multitudinous, foul-smelling, dog-faced, mean-spirited little shrimps poured across the southern border. They quickly overwhelmed Mike's Hill Dwarf duo and then murdered two of my last Homunculi, one a tranquil Mountain-dwelling hermit and the other a poor jobber who was just tryin' to eke out a peaceful life in the Swamp. He then blitzed through some southwest Farmland and finished up by going all ISIS on Mike's Swampland Mine Dwarves. Yeeeeeeesssh!
I expanded briefly but then ran afoul of Andrew's advance. This wasn't such a bad thing since I earned a few cheap Victory Coins by playing Quisling to a bunch of magma-fueled Orcs.
My anonymous Benedict Cumberba...er, Arnold gave Andrew the back-door key to my Farmland just northwest of the central lake. I earned even more payola when the traitor in my midst leaked some key military secrets, leading to the overwhelming defeat of two Swamp-stationed sentries. Oh, the humanity!
This pretty much ended Andrew's expanse. The vanguard of his army settled into a nice little patch of Farmland, literally surrounded by the armies of every single one of his opponents.
Matt...75 Victory Coins
Mike...79 Victory Coins
Me...80 Victory Coins
Andrew...85 Victory Coins
- Like every other game produced by Days of Wonder, Small World looks gorgeous. The board is practical and colorful. All of the game Tokens are high-quality and charmingly-illustrated. It's just a tremendous production all-around.
- The game is a breeze to set up and learn. Once you've played a Turn or two, you don't have to worry about dippin' back into the rules to puzzle stuff out. You might spend a few seconds wrapping your head around some of the more esoteric expansion Races and Powers but even the more complicated ones are intuitively designed. Basically the rules serve the fun and there's plenty of fun to be had here.
- The sheer multitude of Race Banners and Unique Special Power Badges provide a lot of variable play options. Even Small World veterans will be be left scratching their heads when faced with such oddball pairings as Barricade Amazons, Historian Igors and Were-Halfings.
- Even though combat is heavily abstracted, the Reinforcement Die provides a nice little dash of random luck.
- Since there's no running tally of Victory Points, players are kept guessing about the winner right up to the very end.
- Going first sucks. Like, really, really sucks. If everyone decides to lean on you in the same Turn it could prove disastrous to your final score.
- Although the art style is a huge draw for some people, I prefer my fantasy more Warhammer and less Disney.
- The game's a bit too light n' fluffy for me. Given the choice I'd much rather play History of the World.
- Some of these expansion Races and Powers feel pretty "bottom of the barrel". Marauding Barbarians I get but Diplomat White Ladies is all kinds of yawn. What the fuck is that anyway, an army of Hillary Clintons?
Small World is a fast, fun, easy-to-learn-n'-play area-control game that fans of light fantasy will positively love. It's devotees would probably argue that it belongs in everyone's game library and, quite honestly, that might very well be case. It just doesn't belong in mine.
As such, Small World gets four pips out of six with a slight (and disturbing) tilt up towards the Hung Giant's crotch.
Wanna annihilate your opponents with a slavering horde of Peace-Loving Pixies? Then click on the link below to learn more about Small World and ensure that this blog never goes into Decline!