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Subject: Small World: A Five-point Review rss

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Sean May
South Korea
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Choose the best race/special power combination and place tokens in territories to expand, attack your rivals and gain moneypoints. When your race spreads itself too thin or is backed into a corner, retire it and start over with a new race. Most points at the end of eight to ten rounds wins.

Aesthetics: 9

Small World is a very nicely made game. I'm a big fan of bright colours in games and this bright and colourful. The areas on the map are well delineated and the iconography is generally pretty straightforward (although I will still refer to the rules and giant cheat sheet multiple times per game). The art for the different races is exactly the right combination of realistic and cartoony. The tokens are all pretty good. The rulebook is well designed, too.

Gameplay: 8

The genius of Small World is being able to retire your race and start again, giving your points acquisition a boost for the proceeding few turns at the cost of a dip right now. Choosing your starting or next race with its near-unique power combo is a fascinating part of the game. I find the combination of tactics and strategy to be eminently playable – you always have options, but you're rarely crippled by analysis paralysis. The decision of whether you go for the easy empty territories or try to hold back another player who may be doing better than you is also an engaging choice.

Fairly often, though, you do get the impression that one player has just either played better or been luckier than you and that there's not much you can do about it from that point on. Largely – with that single, situation-specific die roll – you feel that your performance in the game is in your own hands … and that's a good thing, if frustrating sometimes (even more frustrating than doing badly due to circumstances beyond your control).

There are a few racial abilities or powers that are weak. I've never been attracted to the Heroic or Dragon Master abilities. And the Dwarves – the rationale is clearly that they just hang out in their mines accumulating wealth, but they rarely come out early enough to make them worth taking with their +3 bonus to population.

Interest: 7

I like the ecumenical fantasy flavour of Small World: all the races are there – and if you get a couple of expansions, that's not much of an exaggeration. I like how it's a Risk Lite. It's neither terribly original or deep, but it does what it does very well.

Fun: 7.5

I like how, while it's a fairly light game, it's pretty much as much fun as you make it: you can narrate your faction's progress and rationale for attacking its neighbours. You can subtly bluff other players about how many victory points you have. You can play in your own style much of the time, hogging territory or going after your competitors, and the selection of race/power combos can assist you in that or give you direction for your play. I've had lots of good times playing this with friends and have a couple of the expansions. Haven't played it so much recently, but I still think about getting it out and obtaining further expansions.

Replayability: 5

Much as I like Small World, I don't feel super motivated to suggest playing it these days - it's a bit cumbersome for its relative lightness.

Overall: 7.3

A fun, colourful game. I love the art and the race/power combos.

I've retconned this review slightly to add one more category: Replayability. While I was at it, I dropped the Fun rating from 8 to 7.5.

The previous Overall score was 8.
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