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Subject: I don't normally like this type of thing - A rather surprised review! rss

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Chris Jones
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I’ve never played Vinci before but it must have been good enough for Days of Wonder to rebirth it as Smallworld; a theme change, rules trim and graphics redesign producing much more than an old game in a new suit. We all gathered around the gaming table to play test a copy ‘borrowed’ from a friend.

THE BITS

First up Days of Wonder produce lovely games. I’ve got Pirate’s Cove and the pieces, board, cards and counters are all beautifully designed, with a rather jolly flavour to the whole product. Smallworld is nothing less than beautiful. Quality card pieces, ‘mountains’ of bit (and some bits ARE mountains), 2 double-sided folding boards (each side a different map for 2-5 players), an ‘angry dice’ and a covered box to keep the creature tiles ordered – which frankly is an awesome idea.


SETTING UP
Choose the board for the number of players, place native barbarian tiles on regions with crosshairs (these indicate the indigenous population of the Smallworld), take 5 ‘coins’ each (these act as payment as well as final victory points), shuffle the long Race cards (concave end) and the Power tiles (convex end) and lay out 5 of each, randomly linking each Race to a Power (plus a sixth pairing on top of the draw pile).



Choose the start player. They choose a Race and their linked Power. If you want the one at the bottom of the list, it’s free. You place one coin on each Race card you don’t want and then take the next one above. So if you fancied the third Race up the rank, you place a coin on each of the bottom two Races and then take the third.

When a race has been chosen from the Rank (you can choose the top of the draw pile if you’re willing to pay the coins) move the 4 remaining paired Races/Powers down and draw the top Race/Power from the deck and place it in position 5, thus revealing the next Race/Power on the top of the deck. The number on the Power tile and Race tile are added together and that’s how many creature tiles of that race you get to place… So far simple.



The thing is it stays that way from here on out.

PLAY

In turn each player moves their Creature tiles in from an edge of the board. The universal rule is this “To win an area you must move two creature tokens into an area plus one for each piece of card already there.” Pieces of card include Lairs, Creature tokens, Mountain markers, Fortresses and Troll Lairs.

So a Hill region containing 2 enemy creatures (2 bits of cards) is captured if you move 4 creatures in. Beyond this, that’s it. If you lose a space you normally get back all the creatures on it (to place again at the end of the turn) minus one. If you don’t have enough pieces to capture a tile you can risk the ‘angry dice’ which can award you extra virtual tiles, to try to tip the balance in your favour.

But here’s the crux of the game. You fill the board up very, very quickly. So combat is constant and dynamic. For every region you ‘own’ at the end of your turn you gain a ‘coin.’



The number of rounds the game lasts varies with the number of players. At the end of the last round everyone counts up their ‘coins’ to decide who’s won.

RACES AND POWERS
Race and each Power tiles have unique abilities. Some are weak but allow you to place lots of creature tokens (Ratmen) or give you bonuses if you hold certain types of regions (Hills or those with specific symbols – Dwarves, Humans, Wizards). It’s the combination of these aspects that give Smallworld a significant repeat play value and can create constantly changing dilemmas for those having to choose which combination to purchase or get rid of.



CIVILISATIONS IN DECLINE
After a round or two you’ll be spread out and unable to hold onto regions when people bring new cultures on the board. At this point Smallworld gives you the option to send your active Race into decline (just turn over the Race and Power tiles, plus Creature tiles on the board – leaving one in each region you control). Some Races and Powers still have active abilities when in decline, but commonly the fading civilizations are dead tiles, unable to move or take new regions. Creature tiles in decline still claim regions for you so still gain you ‘coins’.

Putting a Race into decline when your low on tiles or really spread out is great as it allow you to choose and play a second race in your next go, so you have new Powers and more Creature tiles to extend your dominion of Smallworld. Sadly, you can only have one active civilization and one civilization in decline. Place your active Race into decline forces you to completely discard any Race ‘already’ in decline. It’s a difficult call to make, but sometimes you see that sweet spot where you can decline, still generate a pile of points and then get a whole shiny stack of new Creature tiles to place next round.



The Ghouls remain active when they decline. They can attack, move and use their abilities meaning that some Ghoul/Power combinations are frankly distressing to face.

THE MECHANIC
I don’t always like area control/conflict games and I probably wouldn’t want to play Smallworld every game session, but that said it’s straightforward, intuitive and simple. You move tiles in to displace other tiles - you score points for the territories you control at the end of your turn. It’s a light game in essence with much replay potential due to the combination of Powers and Races. It’s always a tense moment when the Races and Powers are laid out by the side of the board.

Smallworld is an excellent game that scales beautifully due to the custom boards, avoiding the need to design constricting rules for balanced play on one board.

OVERALL

A beautifully designed, simple game with much complexity and guaranteed light hearted fun. It’s short enough to lose and remain happy, fun enough to lose and have had a great time. Player interaction between turns is zero, so with 5 players there is some down time, but you can always be reassessing your position and keeping a close eye on the Race/Power market in case you choose to decline your present civilization before you gang up on the leader to strip his tiles from the board. A great game that presses the reset button on Vinci and resurrects it as a thoroughbred modern board-game. I always like 6 player maximum games and Smallworld accommodates 5, but with a rumoured 6 player extension en route the Smallworld may just get a little bigger and better with more Races and Powers giving even more longevity to a very tempting game that won’t disappoint.


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1603-1714
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Now I can add text to my avatar? Sweet! How do I do it?
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Nice review. Lots of nice details and very clear explanations. I especially liked the self-portrait you included at the end - it made the review feel more personable. I just hope you're wearing a swimsuit!!
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Blorb Plorbst
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I think we're all bozos on this bus.
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Damn it! That's the review I meant to write!

Well done, you hit it all and in fewer pages than the publisher!
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Chris Jones
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cagriggs wrote:
Nice review. Lots of nice details and very clear explanations. I especially liked the self-portrait you included at the end - it made the review feel more personable. I just hope you're wearing a swimsuit!!


It's hell not dropping the lap top over the edge of the rubber ring...

Like I said this game has everything I don't like, but in a light, fun mix that just makes it quite lovable... I'm even fonder of it naw than I was last night!
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Mark C
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Goldenturkey wrote:
We all gathered around the gaming table to play test a copy ‘borrowed’ from a friend.



Code for we killed some guy and took his copy?

Nice review. Couple things from my one play:

Game has a pick on the leader issue. Won't call it a problem, but the game seemed tight, and who you attack in the latter stages seems crucial.

The game is more tactical than Vinci due to the powers being better balanced. The bid aspect, or whatever it's called seems less important here.

Indeed the game is colorful and nicely produced. Typical DOW.
 
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Chris Jones
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Gamer_Dog wrote:
Goldenturkey wrote:
We all gathered around the gaming table to play test a copy ‘borrowed’ from a friend.



Code for we killed some guy and took his copy?...


... not totally killed... and we did ask nicely and thanked him when he came round.

Yep we stole it and returned it under cover of night, but at least one of us will order their own copy this week.
 
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mojo shivers
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Goldenturkey wrote:
Gamer_Dog wrote:
Goldenturkey wrote:
We all gathered around the gaming table to play test a copy ‘borrowed’ from a friend.



Code for we killed some guy and took his copy?...


... not totally killed... and we did ask nicely and thanked him when he came round.

Yep we stole it and returned it under cover of night, but at least one of us will order their own copy this week.


Son, there are two things you never take. You never take a man's dog and you never take a man's board game without his permission.

They would have to mop someone's insides off the floor if somebody ever "borrowed" one of my games. LOL
 
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Chris Jones
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mojo shivers wrote:
Goldenturkey wrote:
Gamer_Dog wrote:
Goldenturkey wrote:
We all gathered around the gaming table to play test a copy ‘borrowed’ from a friend.



Code for we killed some guy and took his copy?...


... not totally killed... and we did ask nicely and thanked him when he came round.

Yep we stole it and returned it under cover of night, but at least one of us will order their own copy this week.


Son, there are two things you never take. You never take a man's dog and you never take a man's board game without his permission...


I am going to burn in hell for this one!
 
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