Welcome to Board Games With OB, a somewhat profane, possibly semi-regular feature where OregonBeast gets a board game he likes and briefly explains how to play it and hopes you would be interested in playing it, too. Because board games are fucking awesome.
Ten! Ten editions of Board Games With OB, ah ah ahhh...
So, with this being a big milestone and shit, I wanted to make this one special. How special? By deciding to talk about my FAVORITE FUCKING BOARD GAME IN THE WORLD. And that game is Small World.
Yes, get the obligatory Disney joke out of the way. And I also fully acknowledge that Small World tends to be fairly polarzing in the board game world. People tend to either really like Small World or absolutely despite it, and often time the things that cause people to like are the things that cause people to hate it. But to me, Small World is a simplified, visually appeal fantasy military strategy game with just enough luck to keep things interesting.
So yep, it is time to talk about Small World after all (see? SEE?)
Game: Small World
Players: 2 to 5
Gametime: 60 minutes
Designer: Philippe Keyaerts (Belgium)
Key Mechanics: Variable player abilities, strategic area control
Story: Small World is a land full of magical, powerful sorts of creatures. As they find their way to Small World, they will use these powers to best conquer as much of the Small World as they can. But it is simply too small for everyone, and old races will die off as new races make their way there. It is up to the players to utilize these civilizations to the best of their abilities.
What do you do?: The board of Small World is a map of a piece of land subdivided into territories. The territories have various types of terrain (mountains, forests, swamps, etc.). Some of the territories also have special features such as mines or underground tunnels. You want to conquer and hold onto as many territories as possible with your chosen civilization.
So, let’s talk about these civilizations. A civilization is made up of a race, such as orcs or human or wizards. Each race has a unique special ability that could impact some aspect of gameplay such as scoring for conquering certain territories, the number of forces needed to conquer a certain territory, etc. The other aspect of a civilization is a unique special ability, which also can have an impact on conquering territory or special defense skills. These are shuffled after each game, creating a random element to civilization makeup. While you may have had Swamp Giants one game, the next game they could be Dragon Master Giants. Or Flying Giants. Or Bivouacking Giants.
Once you’ve picked your civilization, it’s time to go a-conquerin’. You will be given a number of tokens when you choose your civilization, usually between 9 to 12. The general rule of conquering is as follows:
- A completely empty territory costs two of your civilization tokens to conquer.
- For every piece of cardboard in a territory (mountain, opposing civilization token, defensive feature) you add one additional token. So if you want to conquer a mountain space (which has a mountain feature), it would take placing three tokens there to do it. If there’s a mountain and a token, that takes four tokens. If another player has six tokens on a single space for some reason, well, you better want it pretty fucking bad.
It’s important to say this is the “general rule” of conquering since some races have special abilities that alter this and allow them to take over some kinds of territory for fewer tokens.
You are allowed to conquer territories held by other races. Any time an active race has a territory conquered, one unit is completely lost (exception: the Elf race) while any other units goes back to the player to redistribute on other territories.
Toward the end of a turn, you may want to try to conquer one last territory, but find yourself a token or two short. Well, that’s where the reinforcement die comes in. This six-sided die has three sides that are black, while the remaining sides has one, two, and three pips. Roll the die, and however many pips are on the side facing up will be how many invisibile “reinforcement” tokens get to try to conquer the territory. You only get to use this die on your last attempt at conquering on a turn (exception: the Berserk ability)
Once the conquering is done, scoring is done. Basic scoring is one point scored for each territory. Again, there are races and special abilities that have special scoring rules that adjust from this. But that’s all part of the strategy. Players then can reinforce their holdings by redistributing their tokens for defensive purposes, then it’s on to the next player and their civilization of choice.
After a few rounds, your civilization is going to stretch itself out too thin to be able to expand or defend itself properly. That’s fine, because that just means it’s time to put your civilization into decline. To put a civilization into decline, you start a turn by declaring the race is going into decline (exception: The Stout ability), leave a single token on each space you claim, then flip them over to a side that’s gray instead of color. A civilization in decline loses it’s special abilities (exception: The Dwarf race) and the ability to continue to conquer territories (exception: The Ghoul race). But you will still get a point for every territory a declined race holds onto.
On the player’s next turn, they pick a brand new civilization and the whole process of conquering and expanding happens all over again. Basically, living in Smallworld has to be similar to what it’s like being in fucking Poland.
How to taste sweet, sweet victory: A game last a set number of rounds depending on the number of players (either 8, 9 or 10 rounds). At the end, everybody adds up their points. The players with the most points wins. Huh. Go figure.
So, what makes this game awesome?
- Random draw of civilizations. In the base Small World Game, there are 20 special abilities and 14 races, maxing it possible for there to be 280 different civilizations to play with.
- Yeah, it’s military-style and conquering and all that, but it’s really simplistic to pull off. Count how many tokens you need, drop them on the spot, and it’s yours. No round-after-round of dice-rolling like in Risk or battle charts to consult like miniature wargaming.
- Blind scorekeeping. When players get their point tokens, they’re kept upside-down and nobody knows anybody else’s scores until the end of the game. You can only gang up on the leader if somebody’s really good at keeping score in their head.
- Players all develop their special affinity for various races and abilities. I cackle anytime I get the Spirit ability (you can score from two civilizations in decline instead of one) or I nab the Amazons. The Amazons are fucking bad-asses.
- You will make Disney jokes. Hell, the side the Small World box even has the tagline "...it's a world of (s)laughter after all!". The damn game is in on the joke itself (and somehow isn't getting sued by Disney)
Variety is the spice of life: Since Small World is so damn popular, there’s been a several official expansions that have come out that add extra races and abilities, along with a second stand-alone game, Small World: Underground, that in theory you can combine the Underground races with the races from the original Small World. If I did my math, if you combine all the expansions and the Underground races, the number of potential civilizations goes from 280 to 2,352. And then there’s also fan-created expansions out there to find that can increase that number into the tens of thousands.
Other ways to play: Talk about timing: The Small World 2 app was just released for iOS (no Android or Steam versions yet, but plans are allegedly in the works)
Watch it being played: Small World was featured on a particularly entertaining edition of TableTop in Season 1 that featured Wil Wheaton, Day, Grant Imahara and Jenna Busch.
Photos via BoardGameGeek