2010-03-29

Game Review: Small World

After hearing the Small World review on the d6 Generation Podcast, I picked up a copy. This is a solid, interesting game.  But since there are better choices to play on game night, I expect I'll usually end up playing this one with the kids.

I would definitely recommend listening to the d6 Generation review for more details, but I'll summarize the game play here. Small World is a basic area-control game with a humorous fantasy theme. The world is populated by elves, dwarves, giants, and other fantasy creatures, but there just isn't enough room for everyone to live side by side in peace. 

The game uses a different map depending on how many people are playing, so the world is the correct size for any number of players from 2 to 5.  Game play is simple: collect your troop tokens, leaving one in each territory you control; and then place them on new territories to take control of them. Each territory requires 2 tokens for the space plus one for each troop or passive fortification on the space.  If another player's tokens are removed, they lose one and replace the rest as reinforcements at the end of the turn.  This population displacement mechanic makes it clear that this is a civilization-building game, and not a wargame.  At the end of each turn, you gain victory points based on how many territories you control.

There is no randomness during game play. The only randomness is in the mechanic that also generates the game's replayability: the races and special abilities.  At the start of the game, 5 races are turned up, along with a special ability for each.  Both the race and the special ability affect the number of troops required to capture a territory, the availability of passive defenses, and the number of victory points awarded for each space.  For example, Commando Wizards have the "Commando" special ability, which reduces the number of troops required to take each space by one; and the "Wizard" special ability, which gives an extra victory point for controlling magic spots on the board.

There are quite a few different races and special abilities, and they're randomly combined.  This produces many different combinations of game effects to choose from each time you play.

The game mechanics are simple, there is no randomness to speak of, and no hidden information is used during game play.  The current VP total is hidden, but best left secret until the end of the game anyway.  There is minimal reading required, mainly to figure out what each race and special ability does, but even if not all players can read, it's fine to have one person explain things to the others.   And the game only lasts about an hour, plus or minus 20 minutes.

For all of these reasons, this makes an unexpectedly good game for youngsters.  The recommended age range is 8+, but Martine and her friend Levi have played with no problems at age 6+ (first grade).

I expect there's a bit more strategy to explore in multiple plays with adult opponents and higher player counts, but I think this game will come out more often with the kids except as a short duration filler game with adults.

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