Board Game Night: Small World

One of the first board games I played that really delved me into the world of strategy and management of my pieces was Risk. Risk is a well-known game that involves placing an army in different countries around the world and then using those armies to invade other countries. You roll dice against the defender and the high roller on certain dice wins the fight. I always loved the idea of Risk even though I was never very good at the game. When I was introduced to Small World, I saw that the potential for games like Risk was so much higher than I previously knew. The ideas of dominating an entire continent with an army carries immense opportunity. But what if you could dominate an entire continent as a band of rampaging orcs? Seafaring elves? Perhaps some merchant skeletons? Small World will give you that opportunity to take on the role of a fantasy race and start conquering and overwhelming a mythical world.

Small World is for 2-5 players, takes approximately 40-80 minutes to play, and for people ages 8 and older.

Small World’s set up is actually relatively complicated for the first playthrough, but it eases up after that. Small World has more pieces than most games I own or have played. The first step, however, is to pick the side of the board that matches how many players you have. There is a much bigger board for 4-5 players and a smaller board for 2-3. Put the game turn marker on the “1” spot on the board. Take the storage tray that came with the game and set it next to the board. This tray should have all of the race tokens in it. Shuffle all of the race banners and special power badges. Draw or deal the top five race banners and place them in a vertical column like in the picture above. Do the same with the special power badges placing them to the left of the race banners. Stack the remaining banners and badges at the bottom of the vertical column. Place a lost tribe token on every region on the map that has a small target on it. Put a mountain token on every region that has a mountain symbol on it. Give each player 5 “1” victory coins and put the other coins to the side. You are now ready to play a game of Small World.

The object of Small World is to use a race with a special power to conquer regions on the board. Based on certain criteria, your conquered regions will provide you with points. The person with the most points after an allotted number of rounds wins the game.

Choosing a Power and Race

When it’s your turn, you have to buy one of the powers and races. The cost of each race is based upon its location in the vertical column that was dealt out at the beginning of the game. The topmost race banner is free, but each race below that will require one victory point coin in order to buy that race. With five of the races in a vertical column, you have to put one coin on each banner in a descending order. If you want to buy the fourth one from the top of the column, you put one victory point coin on the first, second, and third race in order to take the fourth one. Anybody wishing to buy any of the races that you put the coins on will automatically receive those victory point coins when they choose that race.

Take the power and race combination and place it in front of you. Then take the corresponding tokens from the storage tray that matches the number of soldiers you are allowed to have. Each special power badge and race banner has a number on it. Combine those two numbers and take that many race tokens from the storage tray.

Finally, move all of the race banners and power badges up one spot, and take the top one off the stacked pile next to the column. This way you always have at least one new race to choose from when one is purchased and each race moves up to make it cheaper to purchase later.

A Standard Turn

After you’ve picked your race, you do two things. First you conquer regions and then you count points. It sounds simple at first, but everything becomes much more complicated as you start to conquer.

The first time you conquer a region on the map, you must enter the board from any border region. A border region is any region that touches the outside of the game board, including any shoreline that is adjacent to a body of water that touches the edge of the board.

In order to conquer a region, you must use at MINIMUM two race tokens from the stockpile you gained when you bought the race. Place your two tokens in whatever region you want to conquer. After that, any conquering you do must be done in a region adjacent to one you already conquered. If you want to conquer a region that has other tiles in it (mountains, lost tribe tokens, other races), you’ll need one additional token per tile in order to conquer it.

As an example, if you want to conquer a region that has a lost tribe token in it, you’ll need 3 race tokens to conquer it; two for the initial conquer and one for the lost tribe token. If another player has two race tokens in a region, you’ll need two race tokens for the initial conquer and two for each of the other player’s tiles.

You must continue to conquest after the first conquer as long as you have at least one race token in hand. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where you don’t have enough tokens left over to conquer a region, so you’ll get the chance to use the reinforcement die to try and conquer it. The reinforcement die has three blank sides, and then one side each with a 1, 2, or 3 on it. If you need three tokens to conquer a space, but you only have one in your hand, you can announce that you’re going to roll the die. If your roll is 2 or 3, then you’ll succeed. (One token + the rolled 2 or 3 equals enough to conquer). If it’s a 1 or blank, you don’t have enough tokens/reinforcements to conquer it, so you can’t conquer that region. You only use the reinforcement die one time per turn, so that last token in your hand will just be used for redeployment.

Once you are done with your conquest, it’s time to redeploy your troops. You can now move as many of your tokens around to all of the regions you currently control as long as you leave at least 1 token in each region. It may be strategic to do this to help support certain regions that might be at risk of loss to other players on their turns. You do not have to redeploy.

Now that you’ve redeployed, you’ll count your victory points. You gain one point for each territory you control. You may get other points based on your special power or race. Take the appropriate number of points from the stockpile and place them face down in front of you. You can count your points any time you want, but the other players should never know what your total point count is until the end of the game.

Picking a fantasy Race and Special Power combination, you must use their unique racial traits and skills to conquer surrounding Regions and amass Victory coins — often at the expense of weaker neighbors.

Eventually, your race will becoming increasingly over-extended (like those you have already crushed!) and you will need to abandon your civilization and look for another. The key to your victory is knowing when to push your empire into decline and ride a new one to supremacy in the land of Small World!

Small World Rulebook

Losing Race Tokens

If you have control of a territory and another player conquers it and kicks you out, you will lose some tokens. If you only have one token in a region and another player conquers it, return that token to the storage tray. If there is more than one token on that region, take all but one of the tokens and put them in front of you. The one leftover token should be returned to the storage tray.

When the conquering player has finished their turn, you can now take the tokens that you put in front of you and redeploy them to any region you currently control. There is no limit to how many tokens you can have in one region. Once you’ve redeployed the tokens, the entire turn for that player is officially over.

All Following Turns

After the first round of turns is over, move the turn marker to the next ascending number. You now have a choice to make on your turn. You can either take your current race and expand them even further across the board or you can send your current race into decline, thus ending their reign.

If you decide to further your race’s conquest, here is how you do so. Take back all of the tokens from the territories you control except for one in each region. If you have four regions with two race tokens in each one, you will take back four tokens, leaving one in each of the four territories. You’ll now use these four tokens to start conquering more regions. You don’t have to come in from the border since you already have conquered regions, but you have to conquer regions adjacent to the ones you already control. Then you continue your turn like normal, redeploying and counting your points.

If you decide that you’re stretched too thin and it’s time to pursue other races and powers, you put your race into decline. Flip over the race banner in front of you. Take your power and add it to the discard pile (unless it specifies that it stays while in decline). Take all the tokens you have on the board except for one token in each region and return them to the storage tray. Flip over each token that remained in each region. After taking those steps, count your points and your turn will be over.

At the beginning of your next turn, you’ll be able to purchase a new power and race to begin conquering. This does mean that your entire turn is taken up by choosing to go into decline on the previous turn. Once you choose that new race and power, you’ll have to come in from a border region like your first turn. Your declined race remains on the board and gains you points at the end of each turn, but you cannot conquer or do anything with that race (unless the race or power says otherwise).

You are only allowed to have ONE race in decline at a time, so if you decide to decline the second race, the first one that went into decline must be completely removed from the board.

End of the Game

The end of the game is signaled by the turn marker on the board. When it reaches the final round (this number is dependent on which side of the board you’re using for the appropriate number of players), and the last player of that round finishes their turn, everybody then turns over and counts all of their victory points. The person with the most points is the winner!

Small World seems overly complicated when you first look at the massive amount of pieces and a rulebook that’s 10 pages long. But once you play that first game, everything after that is simple to play yet overly complicated to strategically plan. Unfortunately, there isn’t much interaction you have with the other players in terms of interrupting their play. Instead, you affect them by purchasing certain races, conquering territories they own, and reinforcing yours during the redeployment phase in order to block them from easily taking over. The combinations of powers and races will change every single game since you have to shuffle the banners and badges. This provides an unlimited replayability factor. One of the things we like to do is come up with stories about our races and how they tie into the story of the different conquests and why they’re conquering the regions.

As it says on the game box: “Small World…It’s a world of Slaughter after all!”

Board Game Geek: Small World

This episode of TableTop showcases the playstyle and rules for Small World. I was first introduced to the game because of this video. I also do not own the rights to this video. I am using it for the sole purpose of educating those interested in playing Small World. All rights reserved to Geek & Sundry.

As one final addendum to the post, I wanted to include a section dedicated to all of the different powers and races. That section would have been the full length of an entire blog post, so instead, I’ll share this photo:

Written by Sean

Sean is currently a freelance writer that spends much of his time worrying far too much. He is a board and video game enthusiast, an avid watcher of movies, a lover of sports, and a certified nerd. While he has no specific writing style, he likes to think he can adapt as needed to different writing styles, tones, and intonations. He likes to cook, read books and is currently engaged to the love of his life!

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