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Subject: To be or not to be-Small World and the art of Decline (Base Game) rss

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Matt Karpus
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Published by: Days of Wonder
Designer: Philippe Keyaerts

Overview:
When you first get the game, it is a cardboard puncher's heaven. There is is so many sheets of cardboard to be punched before you get started.

The game is set up with five different races and five different abilities set up to begin the game. Each stack is shuffled and randomized at the start of the game. There is going to be more abilities then there are races making each game a little more random because you will not always be able to see all the spacial abilities each game.

Next you will deploy the correct board (each player count has it's own unique board 2, 3, 4 or 5 player count). On the board you will then put down the mountain tokens and one native token on each marked space.

Victory points is tracked by gold coins. Each player begins with five coins and they come in denominations of 1, 3, 5 and 10. These victory points are able to purchase races (more on that in a moment).

The set-up is complete and you can begin. First turn each player will choose their starting race and pull the appropriate number of tokens for your race. (There is a number on the race and ability tiles that determine your race allotment). Each player can take the first race/ability in the row, or they may for one gold bypass a race to select the next one up. If a person wanted the third combination of characters and abilities, then they would place one gold piece on each of the first two. These gold pieces will accumulate so that if a player on a following turn decides to select on of those races with gold on it, they collect the gold and the race/ability combination.

Turns will go around with players placing down their race tokens on the board. Each race when deployed must come in from one of the board sides and each region they conquer must be adjacent spaces occupied with their own tokens. (There are some abilities that will modify this rule). Each space is conquered on one race token plus each piece on the space. It would take two to conquer a mountain and a mountain space with another token would take three.

Combat is resolved as you place your tokens. Each space you conquer, you remove one token from the board and any tokens beyond the first go back to their owner's play area to be used in their next attack phase. If a player has used up all their legal moves and has at least one token left, they can take the single die that comes with the game and roll it (it is called the reinforcement die). Once the region they are attacking is declared, they can roll the die and add the number of squares shown to their race tokens in their hand. If it beats the target number of tokens in the opposing space, then they are victorious and resolve the combat as normal. As the active player finishes their combat phase they can end their turn by fortifying. They can reallocate any number of their tokens (at least leaving one in each conquered space) onto one of their other regions. Then they count up the number of regions they control and any special factors and receive that many gold coins (victory points) to their stash.

Play continues like this for each player, however, this is the fun part of Small World. At some point it becomes apparent that your ability to continue to attack will be weakened and you will decide to put your race in decline. At the start of your turn, you will declare your race in decline and remove all but one race token from each of your spaces and flip those remaining tokens and your race/ability tiles in front of you, as well. You will count up your regions and collect that many gold coins. On your next turn you will proceed to choose and deploy a new race/ability that will be your new active race. You can keep doing this as many times as you want during a game. However, you can only have one active race and one declined race. Two things about declined races. First is that you will count those regions controlled by a declined race at the end of your turn when you collect your gold coins. Secondly is that you can only have one decline race (barring a special abilities that you may have).

Game will end over a set number of turns. Each board has a turn tracker printed on the game and as you have more players, the game will be shorter. Once the last person takes their last turn you will proceed to count up your gold coins (victory points) and the player with the most is the winner.



Component Review:
Box
The box is a standard size box. Very sturdy and durable. The insert is a very functional with a finger slot to allow you to dig down to the bottom of each stack and pull out what is needed. The rows for the gold coins are done to allow each denomination to fill out (so if you put a denomination in one row and there is not enough or too much space, you put it in the wrong spot). Lastly it comes with a nice tray to put all the race tokens in. It is perfect for the bases game and each race has it's own spot to allow it to fit all of their tokens. (If there is a problem about spacing, refer to the rule book, it has a detailed lay out for each tray and insert on what goes where).

The rule book is well done and has good examples. However, the best thing in the box to help you play is the reference sheets for each race and ability power.

Tokens
Each token is thick cardboard and are durable. Each has a icon on it to match their race tile as well as the pictures match. The art is okay. Some of the pictures are better then others in my opinion, but each is unique and not all of them fit the fantasy stereotype for their race, which I like.

Gold
The gold coins are just like the tokens, thick card board. However, I am more concerned about their durability long term then any other pieces. They are being touched constantly. If I was going to upgrade any piece in the box, it would be the coins to something more durable. But I could see them fraying eventually around the edges and that may or may not give away to other players their denominations.

Board Pieces
Each of the pieces are solid cardboard like everything else. But the mountains I like a lot. I know there is not much one can do with mountains, but they picked a good graphic for them. Then there are several different stacks of other tokens to help represent a variety of different ability powers in the game.

Race and Ability Tiles
The tiles representing the races and abilities are solid. Again, thick cardboard with unique cut out notches so that the two fit together. each has a pictorial summary of what they do and a number that you will add together to come up with your starting race tokens. Only down side is that they are not easily shuffled to get the variety.


Final Thoughts:
I like this game a lot. It replaces any need or desire to play Risk. It is a great game I would recommend to bring Risk players into the hobby. (The theme is only issue for some Risk players as it is fantasy). The fantasy theme is great to bring in a non-strategy gamer. My wife does not like war games of any type, however, I got her to try this game because of the fantasy theme and she not only was willing, but it is one of her preferred games to play.

Downsides:
Playing this in a mixed group of experience is dangerous. You may turn off some new players from liking this game. Some of the powers are easier to deploy effectively then others. Some will seem more powerful then others. So the balance of the game can be a very big argument point on this game. I do not think the balance of the game should be a center point of discussions for the following reasons:

Skillful players can counter 'perceived' powerful abilities by getting different race combinations as they come out. Some balance issues may exist in a person's opinion because of the player count. Certain powers get more powerful or more effective in a larger player count game then others. It is a game that should get multiple plays and played with a variety of races to allow a person to see what and how they can be played. For example, Amazons in my own experience in a small player count game are very easy and effective to deploy. However, Sorcerers are not as powerful in a two player game when compared to a five player game.

Recommendation
I would get this game, but be mindful of when and who you bring this out to play with.
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