Small World – First Impressions

small world game

Continuing my marathon of new game additions I recently received Small World as a gift. As I mentioned in my Galaxy Trucker post I want to give First Impressions of all the games I play and then later on (assuming I play the game enough to give a decent review) write a Review of the game. So, this article is about my First Impressions of Small World.

Small World is the newest game from Days of Wonder. Days of Wonder is best know for its many Ticket to Ride games (of which I own only one) and Memoir ’44 (which I didn’t own when I first wrote this post but have since acquired). The game is a new implementation of Vinci (a fact I have mentioned before) that makes the game a bit lighter but not too light and also gives the game a bit more personality (primarily through its art).

Small World is basically a war game but with a few twists. Players take on the role of different races and have them advance their way across the map, taking over territories and claiming victory points as they go. Unlike most war games (at least most that I have played) there are no dice rolled to determine how effective a battle is. Instead the attacker always wins as long as they commit enough units. These units, however, will become unavailable for the remainder of that player’s turn and points are scored every turn. Thus, taking a hard-to-conquer place is not always in a player’s best interests (in fact it usually isn’t).

The only random factor with regards to attacking is the player’s final attack for a turn. During that attack a player may roll a die and add the number on it to the units they have still in hand as reinforcements. The die however does not actually give the player more actual units and has three blank sides plus a one, two, and three, thus it is never a huge factor.

The interesting thing is that on subsequent turns a player can either continue advancing their “active” race or put that race into decline. Decline in Small World is a bit like prior epochs in History of the World. These units stay on the board (though only one unit generally stays in each place even if the territory had had extras) and give the player points if they stick around. Knowing when to go into decline and when to continue with your race is a big part of the strategy to this game.

For me, I like the way races line up with the special powers. There are a number of different powers like Commando (we had Commando Skeletons for our first game come up which led to some snickering because of the image of skeletons “going commando”), Hill, or Beserking make the races act a little differently each time.

I also like to watch the races spread out and see what territories they get. The board is beautiful and the games move fairly quickly for the most part.

Thus far my biggest complaint and the thing that will likely prevent this from ever being one of my all time favorites is the lack of emotional depth I feel in it. I can’t explain why this is but I simply do not feel engrossed in any race that I play. This might have something to do with how quick the game is or it might be the fact that this is a generic fantasy world but either way it simply does not grab me as much as I might have hoped.

In History of the World when an Epoch I army sticks around until Epoch V or VI people comment on it and it is kind of cool to think about (for me at least) but in Small World you may only have one race in decline at a time (generally) and thus races will not stick around that long. Also, the map is pretty generic so it’s not as if you will ever get a kick out of the fact that your dwarves have just taken over Lothlorien (or any other named place as the spaces on the board have no names) while in History of the World you will occasionally have armies go to places they did not historically go to which leads to comments like “When did the Mongols rule Europe?”.

The only other thing at the moment that bothers me about Small World is the kibitzing. Normally I am a fan of kibitzing; I like discussing possibilities and perhaps attempting to influence people slightly (though sometimes I am just pointing out good moves for people). Small World seems to demand a high amount of kibitzing as players try to explain why they are not really as big of a threat as everyone thinks they are or how another player is a huge threat and everyone should attack them.

Sometimes this aspect of the game becomes obnoxious as the player or players who refuse to help take down the obvious leader have a better shot of winning the game. In fact this can lead to situations where a player can lose the game for themselves and another player fairly easily because they were trying to even the playing field for everyone.

I doubt that my problems with the game will be the same as for others but I have heard other people also have problems. In the original game, Vinci, victory points were open and known by all and the game ended when one player had 100 of them. This also allowed turn order to change based on how good someone was doing. Small World uses a simple clockwise turn order that leaves something to be desired but I personally prefer hidden victory points to open victory points and thus I am willing to accept this. Others have also complained about the reinforcement die but I like a bit of pure randomness (especially when the probability is known) in my games.

Thus far I would recommend that people check this game out but I will have a full review as soon as I have more plays under my belt. It’s possible this won’t be soon as I still have not gotten my fill of Galaxy Trucker (we have hardly touched the expansion material) and Matt just got the new Cosmic Encounters for his birthday and I am looking forward to checking that out as well. Not to mention the fact that next week is my birthday and I hope to get a couple of other new games (actually I already got a bunch of them a bit early but I wrote this before I could post it, more on all of them soon!). Still, I will do my best to get more information up as soon as I can (without flooding the site with new material), now that we have the blog back. Yeah! Thanks Scott!


    Sounds unfortunate that it’s a bland sort of fantasy world; I remember looking at the art previews on their site and thinking it was kind of neat. Flavor can lend quite a lot to a game, when done well.