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Don't Decline the Invitiation: A Review of Small World

John Moller
United States
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The fantasy flavor and slightly comical/kidsy art on the box for Small World have kept me away from the game for a long time. I like the Days Of Wonder aesthetic, mostly. I’ve enjoyed the tone of Ticket To Ride, Cargo Noir, and Mystery at the Abbey. I approve of Memoir ’44 though it’s not for me. Small World has just put me off every time.

I weakened a little last week, I actually played it. The lesson I’ve tried to teach people most of my life is true. Every now and again you need to be reminded that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover (or a game by it’s box.) Small World is good and it’s now on my list to acquire at some point in the future…

I can only give you the briefest of overviews, but I hope this helps and is at least moderately correct.

You are given an opportunity to choose a race and a special ability. These come as a set and the sets are different in every game. You can choose 1 of six different sets, but you’ll have to pay a price for some of them. They are placed in a random order from 1 to six. If you take the first one it’s free. The second one will cost you one dollar, the third will cost two dollars, and so on.

Once you have a race and special ability you get the tokens for the race, a number equal to the sum of the special ability and the race. This number is going to be between 8 and 11 mostly. Though it can swing.

On your turn, you take your race tokens and starting on the edges of the board, expand inward claiming open lands and attacking occupied lands. When you run out of people’s to play, you can alter the amount of people within each land, and then gain points for the lands you control.

Your next turn allows you to redeploy your peoples if you want, for further expansion and more points…or you can put your race in decline and choose a new race.

Putting your race in decline is a really interesting concept, and during my recent game, I didn’t make use of it nearly enough. I was actually trying to get through the whole game with one race, I didn’t want to lose a turn. Sadly, what I didn’t realize that even if my race was in decline, I still go points. Otherwise I would have done it sooner. The thing is, as time goes on you’re feeling a crunch of diminishing returns, and THIS is why it’s called SMALL WORLD. It’s a world to small to contain all the races. They have to decline in order for you to succeed!

Once I did decline my race, my point totals ran back up to where they were a few turns ago. I felt awful, but it was a great experience. The thing about declining a race is that it is no longer active. You can’t expand with it. They tokens get flipped over, you lose the power…but you can get another race and power (and maybe leverage your declining race!) You can only ever have 1 active race, so keep that in mind.

Small World is an area control game, to be sure, but it’s cute, clever and quick. There is interaction, but it’s more the interaction of preparing and discouraging. There wasn’t any real “attacking” going on. You were either ready for an attack so it would never come or….you were going to lose the attack. No biggie.

One of the things about the game I appreciated the most was the fact that it’s a finite game. There is a set number of turns that you play towards. You see the end coming. As you know, I like being able to work towards a deadline. It’s helpful…or at least better for me than working towards and achievement.

I had a lot of fun playing this game and I was really digging the potential for nuance. I was really happy with Small World, you probably will be too. It may not have been a world of laughter or tears, but it’s a world that made we want to visit again, that’s no small feat given how much I really didn’t want to go there in the first place.

Small World was designed by Phillipe Keyaerts and is published by Days of Wonder.
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