How to Play the Small World Boardgame
Playing the SmallWorld Board Game
The mark of a good game is one that every time you play, you're excited to play it again, if you lost you have the drive to want to win the next time you play, and people with equal skill levels will have an equal shot. The Small World board game hits on all marks. The game plays like Risk with a population problem, but all of the different races (as opposed to Risk's armies) have different powers.
The premise of Small World is that the world has an overpopulation problem. There are just way too many races, and not enough room, so it's your job to take up as much space as possible. The big gimmick is that you may have started playing the game with Forest Elves, but a few turns in you have utilized their skills as much as possible ,and it's time to move on, so you go and buy one of a half dozen random options. Now that you have Barbarian Skeletons, it's time to take over land again.
How To Play Small World - Rules, Instructions
Here's an overview of the Small World rules. These aren't meant to take the place of the Small World instructions which come with the game.
The board takes a bit to set-up, especially if it is your first time playing. This isn't because there is a lot to the board itself, but because many of the countries/land masses are in need of tokens that might or might not be removed as the game continues. Every player starts with enough gold to buy a starting race, and then those are placed out.
The races and their special powers are laid out, with the first on the pile being free, and the next five costing a coin. The further up the scale you go, the more it costs. When you buy one, you put the money spent on the ones below it. This means that as the game goes, the less desirable choices become a little more because they come with a few extra coins.
So now that you have your race, it's time to start taking over the world. Every place on the map needs two of your army to take it over. Anything that's there, such as a mountain, or random native (referred to as 'The Lost Tribe) adds another army. That idea is what is going to take you through the whole game. When you're facing your opponent, start with two armies, and add one for every army they have in that spot. If you want to dedicate that many, then the land is yours and they get their armies back in hand with the exception of one that goes back into the box.
At the end of each turn, add up the land you own and get one coin per area. Some special powers or racial benefits will give you bonuses here. 'Forest' gives you an extra coin for every forest you own, where another power might give you an extra for every country you took over without killing. This is where picking your race and power comes into play, because it is these edges that are going to dictate how you fight.
Given that each race only has roughly a dozen units (give or take a few depending on which race and power it is) you can see that after a few turns you are going to be running out of characters to fight with! This is where the real magic of Smallworld shows up. On any turn you can declare your current race 'In Decline'. All extra armies get removed, leaving one flipped over army on each of the countries. You still get coins for owning them, but no extras or special powers can be used. Your next turn you buy a new race and start over.
At the end of the set amount of turns, as dictated by how many players you have, everybody adds up their coins and the winner has the most. In a good game, the numbers will generally be within five of each other. I've played in quite a few games where I thought myself or my opponent had the clear and decisive edge, but come to find out that our scores were neck and neck.
Small World Strategy Tips
One of the really intriguing and unique parts about this game is the idea that eventually you're going to give up your army and start over. You get to do this with the cost of a lost turn, but your opponents are going to have to do it at least once (and sometimes twice) during any game. The key Small World strategy is knowing when the right time to go in decline is.
Look at the game board and count up how many points you plan to make this turn. Is it drastically better than last turn? Is there any real benefit to holding out one more turn? How much of your army is in trouble of being taken over by your opponent? If after all of those questions, you can't see any benefit from fighting on, then it is definitely time to start with a new race.
After a few games you are going to learn what powers are good, and what powers are amazing. Some races are going to really shine with certain powers, where when you give them the a different one, they will just be bland and useless. When a new set come on the board (a new one shows up anytime another is bought) figure out whether you are going to get a small bonus from these new guys, or they are going to run across the board like the Huns.
A regular game of Small World, once you know the basics, can take as little as an hour. This means that after you have played once, you can just start again. Also, the game comes with four different boards based on how many players you have, so even though you feel that you have mastered the two person game, it is going to be an entirely new war with three or four people. Take this, add in the expansions that have come out that add in new characters and a couple new game dynamics, and the infinite number of combinations gets even larger.
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