Board game night (well, whole day, really) today and the star of the show was very much Days of Wonder’s excellent lightweight strategy game Small World.
For the uninitiated, Small World casts players in the role of some sort of omniscient entity guiding the development of several different races struggling for supremacy in a world that isn’t big enough for all of them. Players must capture territory and make use of their various peoples’ special abilities to score as many points as possible after a set number of turns have elapsed.
To begin with, a variety of random civilisations are created by matching a race with a trait. This determines two things: that people’s combination of special abilities, and the initial number of tokens the player will be able to take into their hand. Each race has a special characteristic and so does the trait, making for a very wide array of possible civilisations.
You might be in control of a bunch of seafaring dwarves, for example, meaning that you get score bonuses for every mine you capture, and are also the only people able to capture aquatic territories. Or you could have control of a band of pillaging giants, who find it easier to attack enemies near mountains, and who gain additional bonuses if they captured an occupied territory rather than an empty one.
If a people is no longer proving efficient at scoring points — perhaps a few conquests from the other players left their numbers a little depleted, for example — it’s possible to spend a run putting them “in decline”, which means they continue to score points so long as they are not obliterated from the map, and are unable to move or attack. The player then gets a brand new race to play with on the next turn.
The game is fast-paced, fun and exciting. Relatively little of it is dependent on luck, but the strategy isn’t so hardcore that it is inaccessible to newcomers. It has a fair bit in common with Risk, but is immediately superior due to the fact it doesn’t take three hours to play and inevitably end in a stalemate. The built-in time limit keeps play pacy, and the very design of the game ensures players are at each other’s throats as often as possible.
In short, its good reputation as a quality board game is well deserved. It’s straightforward and accessible enough for board gaming newcomers to be able to pick up right away, while its strategy has enough depth to keep things interesting — and pleasingly different each time you play.
There’s also an iPad version available, but this unfortunately only supports two players, while the physical version will take up to five.