Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's a Small World After All


Happy Thursday to all who read this and I hope that today passes with ease for each and everyone of you because Friday is tomorrow and heaven knows I am ready for it. With that out of the way, let's talk reviews.

I have decided to review Small World today. This is a game I feel that everyone should have as it makes a great "gateway" game or, in non-geek parlance, it is a wonderful game to introduce a non-board gamer to the concepts and play style of board games. Bust this out at the family's Holiday party and watch the heads roll, in a purely cardboard sense of course.

It's a world of Slaughter, and a world of fears.

The Buildup

Do you remember when you were a kid and you heard the "Small World" by Disney for the first time? Remember how catchy it was and how we sang it all day because it was just so AWESOME? Remember when we drove our parents mad by singing this song over and over? Now, if you take that parental anger, distill it into complete rage, tack some simple game mechanics on it, layer over a nice fluffy theme of humor using caricature artwork and set it loose into the world of cardboard chits, what do you get? That's right, a complete and total SLAUGHTER the likes of which had never been seen before in the sweet, innocent land of cardboard. What you get is Small World by Days of Wonder.

The Game

And how, one might ask, does this free for all death parade roll on by? Very smoothly and enjoyably is the answer.

To begin the game, the board is setup according to the number of people playing. There are 2, 3, 4 and 5 player boards. On each board are several different terrain types. There are plains, hills, marshes, mountains, forests and lake / oceans. On some of the places is a special looking cross-hair mark, this is where the Lost Tribes (read as people to mercilessly slaughter on your road to world domination) reside. Each mark gets a single Tribe Token. Each mountain gets a mountain token to help remind people that they are mountains as that affects how easily your troops can swarm over them.

Next, each player is given 5 coins, or victory points and the race and special power cards are shuffled. Randomly select 5 race and 5 special power cards placing them face-up on the table as you do so. The rounded ends of the special power cards should fit snugly into the concave end of the race cards. Then you should place the stack of race and powers at the top of the five other combos, combining them in the same way, giving you six race / power combos to choose from. The beginning should look something like the below.

From the rule book
The person with the pointiest ears is the first person to play. The First turn for all players is as follows:

  1. Pick race / power combo
  2. Conquer some regions / kill some stuff
  3. Score some points.
On Subsequent turns you make a choice to either continue expansion through more conquests or put your current race into decline. To go into decline you remove all but 1 of your race tokens from the board and flip the remaining ones over. Then you score points. On your next turn you are allowed to choose a new race. While your in decline race is still on the board, you continue to gain victory coins for each territory they own.

The decline mechanic is the crux of the game. As you continue to conquer, you will becomes spread out and it will be easy for a fledgling race to conquer your territories so knowing when to go into decline with your active race and choosing good race / power combos is essential to victory. If you would like more in depth info on the rules, you may go here: Slaughterin' Rulez

The Review

Rules - 15 / 15 

I found myself trying to explain the rules to the game above and everything I said made the game sound uber complex, which is not the case. I finally decided to just post a link to the rule book as I think it is probably one of the best written rule books out there. There are plenty of excellent pictures, everything is broken into readable chunks and there is good use of font type, size and style to help accentuate different parts. I can even excuse the lack of an index and table of contents as the rules aren't that long to begin with. Hands down, best rule book I have reviewed so far.

In addition to the rule book each player is given a hand out that covers all of the games phases as well as all of the racial and special power abilities so that you should never even need to reference the rule book.

Game play - 10 / 15

The game play for Small World is good. The rules are simple to understand and everything has its place on the board. Turns move smoothly and any issues can be resolved quite quickly. It is also lots of fun to see what kind of random race / power combos come up during the game. Mounted Wizards? Flying Giants? It could happen. That being said, I wouldn't call the game play gripping. It is well done but lacks a kind of spark that really makes the game come to life. This, incidentally, may be one of the reasons it is such a good "gateway" game. It is easy to understand and play but lacks significant depth.

Components - 14 / 15

The double sided boards are absolutely fantastic as is all of the cardboard chits. They are printed on very thick cardboard and are easy to punch out. The artwork is also absolutely gorgeous especially the race caricatures. See below for examples.

Race tokens.
My one complaint with the components is that there are a lot of cardboard chits....A LOT OF THEM. While they give you good storage space so that they don't get mixed together, getting the chits out of this storage tray can be a bit of a bear especially if you have sausage fingers like me. I know I know...super nit picky but it is what it is.

Re-Play Ability - 13 / 15

Small World has a load of re-pay ability inherently built in to it so you should be able to get hours and hours of fun out of this game. I know that I played it regularly for about a year or so and never really got tired of it. Eventually though you will have seen all of the combos possible or the simplicity of the mechanics will begin to wear on you as the game loses its novelty. While this game isn't a King of re-play ability it certainly ages better than most titles.

Theme - 12 / 15

The theme of this game is well done. It is a humor filled rage fest where no one is safe from anyone. Your race will rise in power only to be smote to the ground on the next player's turn. Slaughter can be found in abundance as the colorful, cartoon like races destroy one another with impunity. This alone will keep you playing long after the play mechanics begin to wear thin.

That being said, I don't ever feel like I am engrossed in the game. I don't ever feel lost in it like with some games. This is why there is a less than perfect score. The theme is good but it fails to fully envelope me.

Fun - 20 / 25

Small World is fun. Hands down fun. New board gamers will love it and old ones will more than likely like it. It isn't the most fun I have ever had playing a game but it certainly isn't the worst either.

Overall - 84 / 100

Final Thoughts

Small World will forever hold a special place in my heart because it is one of the first "modern" board games that I ever purchased. It is a well written, playable piece of art that can be revisited time and time again. Like all things though, it eventually begins to wear a bit thin due to the thing I loved in the beginning, the simplicity. Get this game and love it like no other game. It will reward you with several days of excellent play time and a place of nostalgia on your board game rack afterwards.