Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Lesson in Extinction

The by-line of the game is: It's a World of (S)Laughter After All!

And that pretty much sets the tone for the game Small World; one simple letter spells the difference between humor and death. 

In this fantastic game, each player (from 2 - 6) controls one randomly-drawn "race" of beings that has one randomly-drawn special ability. Players go head-to-head, conquering open territories and accumulating victory points. The player with the most victory points at the end of the appointed number of turns (5 turns for a 2 player game, 10 for a 3 player game, etc) is the winner. Simple game, simple rules.

The nuances are anything but simple. In fact, they're complex and change a great deal all depending on the race and special ability each player draws. Uniquely, and entirely unlike most strategy games whereby leaving yourself too thin is a sure way to lose, Small World almost encourages players to over-extend their reach. Go ahead and take multiple territories! March your Orc Commandos or Halfling Berserkers into as many open or occupied territories as you wish! Spread out! Conquering empty territories is easy - you just need 2 troops. Conquering enemy territories is easy - you just need one more troop attacking than they have in the territory. 

And then, here's the fun part: make your race go extinct. Overextend your Dragon Master Amazons on purpose, and then flip them over to "put them in decline." You get a new race the next turn...and you still get the victory points from the territories your old race occupies while your new race gobbles up more!

Isaac's Ghouls battle my Sorcerer's and my brother's Halflings
This world gets really crowded, really quickly. Small World.

The basic box gives you 4 different game boards (for the 2, 3, 4, and 5 & 6 player games), a load of races and everything you need to get greedy. A few expansions are available with some new, fun races and special abilities and expanded game boards for an even more crowded little world.

Backstab your buddies. Backstab yourself! This game is no end of fun, especially given all of the possible combinations between races and abilities. Diplomat Skeletons? Been there. Bivouacking Trolls? Done that.

Isaac, my 9 year old, completely understands the game and is quite good at it (we started playing when he was 8). It's still juuust a bit beyond my 6 year olds, but they like to "help" another older player, and they like to laugh at the utterly ridiculous race/ability combos. At 6, they miss some strategic points and honestly don't read quite well enough to read the race and ability cards. A lot of reading in this game.

I highly recommend this game for families, especially with gamer kids starting around 8 years old. It is perfectly absurd, hilarious, a great intro to turn-based strategy games, and a wonderful way to pass an hour to an hour and a half on  rainy day.

The picture above is a wonderful view of the game. Humans in decline as Berserk Halflings rise, Sorcerers in decline just before a new race is picked, and some Ghouls pre-decline. You see a whole list of available races/abilities to the right of the board, from which players pick as they put their current race in decline.


  1. Thanks for the review. As you probably know, I have only played this with adults, so I wondered how it was with kids.

  2. It's fun to see a 9 year old grasp the finer points of using a special ability with a race's inherent ability. If he gets a mediocre race/ability combo, he swallows-up territory as fast as possible in one turn, and immediately goes into decline the next turn so he can get a new pick. Sound strategy.