Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Small World - Fantasy Empire Building

In a fitting followup to my Zooloretto escapades I located another game with such a cute cute title that it was a shoe in for another review aimed at younger players. To my surprise Small World is not a game which celebrates the many things that children over the world have in common (see Mem Fox's Whoever You Are (1998) for a nice example of that). Small World is instead a game in which you build a vast kingdom and kick the other players Out of the small world you're living in. That would have been enough to make me look elsewhere but it seems like Small World is also very fun so let's talk about it.

Players in Small World take control of a race of creatures. You get a basic type of being: giants, amazons, and sorcerers being examples. Your race is then assigned a special ability, such as being able to fly or being very diplomatic. In the course of the game the players move tokens into empty spaces on a map of a fantasy land. The more space you possess, the higher you score. If someone else already owns the space you can kick them out by using more tokens to move in than they already have in the space. Say the Flying Skeletons own a space. The Commando Orcs can conquer it with two tokens plus one for each Skeleton unit already there. If the Skeletons had two tokens it would take four total to conquer it. Player's conquests slow down as they run out of a finite number of tokens. When they run too low they can start a totally new race with a new special ability. They continue to score points for anything left from the old group as well.

The strategy in Small World comes from several factors. Some areas on the board are more difficult to conquer because of mountains or fortresses. Some races may do better or worse in various areas based on their special ability. Some races also score special points for certain areas, dwarves for example scoring extra if they control mines. This results in a fun and simple conquest game with a fair amount of potential strategy.

I liked the simple rules of Small World. While the game is listed as ages eight and up I think it may be better suited slightly older children, but still it's a generally approachable game. In addition the random combination of powers and races means that each game will play slightly differently and that adds good replay value. I think Small World has a far more limited audience than, say, Gift Trap. I suspect a parent will know immediately if their child wants to play a game of conquering fantasy kingdoms with elves and dwarves. Small World players, you know who you are.

The components of the game are high quality which is typical for the publisher, Days of Wonder. I was struck by some of the character illustrations. The skeletons look pretty funny but the ghouls and ratmen are a little spooky. The dwarves appear to be drinking beer. And the amazons look, well, hot. Just be forewarned.

Small World is a very nice conquest and strategy game with simple rules and fair replay value. It has a limited audience but for what it is, it looks like a winner. It's recently published but is probably available soon through Pandemonium Books in Central Square or through Hit and Run Games in Lexington.

Pros: Great beginners strategy game, humerous theme and graphics

Cons: Like most strategy games has a fairly restrictive target audience

Beyond the Basics: Good replay value and supplements are planned.

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