Dylan Birtolo
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General Information
Number of Players: 2 - 5
Length of Game: 1 - 1.75 hours
Difficulty of Game:
Strategic Depth:
Fun Factor:
Popularity at local game night:

Overview
Yes, it is in fact a small world, and there is not a lot of land left for all the races that inhabit it. Your goal is to take control of a race and grab as much land as you can. But, every other race in play will also want to grab as much land, and as you will quickly learn, there can be disputes. Don’t worry though, each race comes with a special ability that will help you take more territory. Can you take more than anyone else and lead your people to victory?

Game Materials
I continue to be impressed with the materials from the Days of Wonder people. With very few exceptions, I find that they take box design into as much account as the actual game design. This game proves to be no exception to the rule. The plastic box container holds all of the tokens in individual spots that make it easy to access them. There is even a separate container that can be removed for each of the race tokens. You can get a small image file that you can print out and paste around the edges of the pull-out container to clearly show where the races are. The artwork is cartoony in a good way and well done. As for durability, all of the tokens are heavyweight cardboard and hold up well to multiple plays.

Play Summary
The purpose of the game, as I said earlier, is to make as much of a land grab as you possibly can. At the end of the turn you are going to score points. Discounting any special abilities (more on those later), you will receive one victory point for each territory of land that you control. The game has a limited and preset number of turns, so your objective is to maximize the points that you score each turn.

On the side of the board you will have five races and five powers. Each race comes with a power attached to it. These are stacked in a row. The selection of races and abilities is random, so while you may have flying Halflings one game, the next game you might get berserker Halflings; then again, Halflings might not come up at all.

On the first turn you must select a race and power combination. If you want the combination on top, you can have it for free. Otherwise, if you want one of the lower options, you need to place one victory point on each of the races above it. So, if you want the third race-power combination, it is going to cost you two victory points. Merely place one victory point on each of the combinations above the one you want. Then you select your race-power combination and receive the number of tokens indicated on the race and power cards. Each race or power token has a number on it; that is the number of tokens you receive. So if you have Halflings - they have a 6 - and they have the beserk ability - that has a 4 - you receive 10 Halfling tokens. After you select your race-power, a new one is revealed. On later turns, if a player wants a race-power that has tokens on it, they get to keep the tokens.

Now, pay attention to the special abilities of the race and power. Each race has an ability and each power has an ability. Check the instruction manual to see what each of them does.

Then you begin your conquest. Unless you have an ability that says otherwise, you need to start your invasion from one of the lands that borders the edge of the map. This includes land spaces that touch water that borders the edge of the map. Once you start your conquest, all further conquests must be adjacent to an area you currently control. Again, special abilities may change that. To conquer an area you need a default one race token. You need to add one race token for every enemy race token in the area, including lost tribes. You also need to add one if it is a mountain. There are special abilities that require more tokens to be used, but again, that is beyond the scope of this review. You can continue conquering regions as long as you have tokens. When you want, you can make a final conquest. Regardless of what happens, when you say you are attempting your final conquest, that is your last region. To do this, you commit all of your remaining race tokens. Then you roll the die. The die essentially has one 1, one 2, one 3, and three blank sides. If you the total of your tokens and the number you roll on the die is enough to conquer the region, you conquer it, even if you didn’t have enough tokens otherwise. To do your final conquest, you do need to have at least one race token left.

After your do your last conquest, you may redeploy your troops. You can move around any of your troops to fortify areas on the map. You are required to leave at least one token in each area you controlled, but otherwise, you can redistribute however you wish. You must put all tokens on the board. After you finish redeployment, you score victory points and end your turn. Then it goes to the next player.

On every turn after your first, you have two options. You can either continue to expand with your current race, or you can abandon them if you think you got the most out of them that you can, and take up a new race. If you are continuing your conquest with your current race-power combination, pick up as many of your tokens on the board as you wish. You can even completely abandon regions to use the troops to conquer other areas. If you pick up all of your tokens, you follow the rules I described above about needing to invade from an area bordering the edge of the board. Otherwise, you conquer from the regions you have left on the map. Then the turn proceeds as normal.

Now, if you choose to use a new race, your current race goes into decline. What this means is that you flip over the race token and discard the power token. Remember, there may be exceptions to this rule, such as with the spirit special power. Now, you remove all of your tokens from the board except for one in each region that you control. That last token left in the area gets flipped over to the grey side. This indicates that that race is in decline. Then you purchase your new race-power combination. This turn, your turn ends. You do not get the chance to conquer regions on this turn. But, you do score one point for each of your areas that are in control by your race in decline. That is also turn in subsequent turns if those in-decline tokens are not removed from the board. The following turn, you will enter play with your new race-power combination following the rules under your first turn.

Now, if you already have a race in decline and you choose to decline a second one, then all of the tokens from your first race in decline are removed from the board. Again, there can be exceptions to this rule based on special abilities. Otherwise, you continue as I described above.

Finally, it is important to note what happens if you conquer a region containing an opposing player. When you conquer the region, the player removes the race tokens from that region. One token is discarded and placed back into the container. The player holds onto the rest of the tokens. When your turn ends, that player can redistribute the tokens he is holding into any region he controls.

Just to make sure we got it, here is an example. I am leaving out special abilities at this point. If my opponent has a mountain region that contains three race tokens, I will need five tokens to conquer that region. This is because there is a base of one, plus one for the mountain, and plus three for my opponent’s tokens. Let’s say it is my last turn and I only have three race tokens left. I decide this will be my final conquest, so I roll the die. I roll a three. Three plus three is six, which is more than enough to conquer the region. My opponent removes her tokens and discards one of them, holding onto the other two. If I rolled a one or a blank face, I would not be able to conquer the region and I would have extra tokens that I could only use to redeploy. Now I redeploy my troops, my turn ends, and I score victory points. My opponent gets to take her two tokens and put them in any region she already controls to bolster her forces. Then it goes to the next player.

Play Experience
This game is a lot of fun and contains a lot of replayability thanks to the random combination of races and powers. You can play it a couple of times in a row and not have the same combinations appear. While the skeletons may have looked wonderful before, with the beserk ability, they may be less tempting now that they are paired with diplomat. Considering how often I play games and how often the same games are pulled out, a bit of flexibility in the system that adds a random element (without making the game suddenly depend more on luck than strategy) is a nice thing.

However, certain combinations do tend to be horrendously overpowered. For example, flying sorcerers. That is a combination that in any game is usually a game winner. I have seen people use that power-race combination and never have to put a race into decline and still win the game. Yes, there are these insane combinations, but for the most part, they are few and far between. Or at least, they are very situational and not necessarily a guaranteed power house.

With two players, the game is a lot less intense. However, with five, it can become absolutely chaotic very quickly and there is also the possibility of having long times between your turns. Personally, I find that this game plays best with four people, with three coming in a very close second place. While the board is smaller with two players, there are still enough spaces available that a person can survive and win with a minimal amount of conflict by more or less staying in their territory until a powerful combination comes up. This game thrives when you do truly get the feeling of multiple races squished together and trying to push each other out for space. If you have seen the box cover for this game, it is very appropriate for what the game is best at.

Probably one of the most strategic decisions you will ever have to make in this game is when to put a race into decline. It is a tricky thing. You want to do it when you have already stretched yourself out just about as far as you can go. But, if you wait too long, you won’t be able to take advantage of the bonus victory points you will receive; remember that you still get a victory point for each territory that is controlled by your race in decline. Not to mention the fact that you effectively lose a turn when you opt to try a new race. This means you should almost never grab a new race on the last turn. I say almost never because there are exceptions such as special abilities that are immediately worth a certain number of victory points. Or, it can be a simple matter of a race-power combination having several victory point chips on it, more than you can achieve by conquering new areas. Of course, going into decline means you will only have one army in each region, giving someone the perfect opportunity to sweep in and take all of your land. As I said, this becomes a very difficult and strategic decision very quickly. And that is also what makes this game great: the simplicity yet strategic gameplay.

Notable Praise
This game is fun. Even players who are not as focused on the strategic element of the game enjoy playing it. As I mentioned before, it gets quite chaotic around the table when you have four or five people playing it, but the chaos works towards the game’s advantage. You are almost always interested in what is going on, so the game keeps your attention. It is not one of those games where you will take your turn, get up and walk away, and then come back to the table when it is time for you to do something. There is something about the way the game is designed that encourages a significant level of player interaction, more so than several other games in my game cabinet.

Furthermore, the game has an impressive amount of strategic depth for being so simple. For me, that is what keeps me coming back. A large part of the game is timing and trying to know what other people will do. For example, it is to your huge advantage if you are the first one to go into decline and everyone else goes into decline in the same turn. This is because you get to come in first with your new armies, but on the turn that you skipped, everyone else skipped it as well. But, how do you know others will be going into decline? It mandates paying attention to the game, watching how things are going, and just reading your friends.

The game is surprisingly balanced considering the random combination of races and powers. There are very few combinations that are always completely daunting. For the most part, the races and powers are well controlled by the number of race tokens you receive. I don’t know how they did the play-testing short of trial and error (and that’s a lot of trial and error), but they did their job well.

Finally, the game scales well. Days of Wonder took a good approach for modifying the game for multiple players and provided a different board for each of the possible number of players. The four and five player boards are larger than the two and three player boards. Each of the boards is double-sided. This helps to keep the game playable. The world is small enough; I wouldn’t want to try to fit five people into the two-player map!

Notable Gripes
The biggest gripe that I have is when those race-power combinations come up that are daunting. It hurts when you see them and a player instantly begins cleaning up in victory points. Yes, for the most part the combinations only get to the “really strong” part and have ways of being dealt with. However, there are a few that just are maddening. If you don’t believe me, play a game with flying sorcerers. Thankfully, these are extremely rare and don’t show up often.

I should not be surprised, but I would like to say again that I do not think this makes a good two player game. As a two player game you do not get the feeling of stress and overcrowded-ness that you do when you have multiple players involved. Plus, as I said before, it is completely possible to win the game without even interacting with the other player. This is obviously totally dependent on the people playing the game, but it does take away from what I find to be the most fun aspects of the game.

Summary
In short, I think this is a wonderful game. The only reason that it is not more popular at game night is because it has been a recent addition. I am fairly confident that over time, this is going to be a much more regular staple for our game nights. It is a lot of fun with multiple players, and the random element involved makes it a lot more fun to play over and over again. This is a game in my collection that I will very rarely turn down playing; usually only when there are two players involved and someone wants to play. But, if you have a regular group, I would strongly suggest you get this for your collection. It is both decently strategic and fun.
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Rick
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EyesOfWolf wrote:

I should not be surprised, but I would like to say again that I do not think this makes a good two player game. As a two player game you do not get the feeling of stress and overcrowded-ness that you do when you have multiple players involved. Plus, as I said before, it is completely possible to win the game without even interacting with the other player. This is obviously totally dependent on the people playing the game, but it does take away from what I find to be the most fun aspects of the game.


I've played mostly 2 player and find it hard not to interact with the other player. It's actually just as fun as the bigger maps in my opinion.
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My wife sneaked up behind me while I was working in the garden. I was so startled I soiled myself.
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I think that all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired. I’m certainly not, and I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
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Our family just played this for the first time recently and loved it. In fact, my wife was so entranced by all the beautiful bits and maps that she was almost ready to order a copy, even before we began play. Afterwards, she still wanted to get a copy, but we decided to wait a couple of years until our kids (currently 8 and 10) are older and have more ability to think strategically (we were playing at our local game club and each kid teamed with a parent to play against the others -- it worked out well).

My only complaint -- and this is minor -- is that I thought the maps should not have their colors quite as bright. If they were a bit duller, it would make it easier for old eyes like mine to spot the different race markers on the territories. Sometimes the markers would get lost in the combination of overhead glare and the beautiful, bright land colors.

Apart from that, I can't think of anything negative about the game. With 14 races and 20 special powers (plus the fan-created races and powers) you could probably play this game for the rest of your life and never see the same combinations twice. Now that's replayability!
 
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Dylan Birtolo
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RiffRaff14 wrote:


I've played mostly 2 player and find it hard not to interact with the other player. It's actually just as fun as the bigger maps in my opinion.


Then I am glad it is working for you! All I can share is my own experiences. I have played the two player version multiple times and find it to be much better with more people. There are other games I would much rather play with two players. But as always, that's just my opinion too.
 
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Trevor May
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EyesOfWolf wrote:

Length of Game: 1 - 1.75 hours


Really? Unless the people I am playing with are taking tons of time for every decision they make, I have finished most of the games that I have played in just over an hour (or even just under an hour).
 
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Dylan Birtolo
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gatordude wrote:
EyesOfWolf wrote:

Length of Game: 1 - 1.75 hours


Really? Unless the people I am playing with are taking tons of time for every decision they make, I have finished most of the games that I have played in just over an hour (or even just under an hour).


Yeah. With people who have played before, it takes only about an hour, give or take. But, with people who have not played before and are thinking about their moves a lot, it takes a little over an hour and a half. It totally depends on who is playing and how familiar they are with it. I think more of our games are in the lower end of the scale.
 
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Brian Bennett
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Dylan,
Thank you for the excellent review. It inspired me to go out and get the game. I agree that it is a great game. Very fun and easy to learn.

I do have a question/comment about something you said though. It has to do with the "Flying Sorcerers". Either one of us is misinterpreting the rules or I don't understand how they are so strong. Keep in mind, I have only played two, two player games.
In our second game, Flying Sorcerers came as the first Race/Special ability combo, having read your review, I knew this was a great combo, so I took it. I hadn't even read all the rules for the special powers and races yet. We were learning them as they came up.
As it states, flying allows you to "conquer any Region of the map except Seas and Lakes. These Regions do not need to be adjacent or contiguous to ones you already occupy." Which doesn't mean that all Regions on the board are considered adjacent, it just means that they don't need to be adjacent for you to conquer them. As opposed to Underworld, where it says that "...all Regions with a cavern are also considered adjacent to each other for your conquest purposes". The difference here becomes evident when you read the ability of the Sorcerers.
"The token your Sorcerers replaces must be the only race token in its Region.....and that region must be adjacent to one of your Sorcerers'."

As I read that, you cannon "fly" to a non-adjacent region and use the Sorcerers speacial power, it must be an adjacent one. You could interpret it that the speacial power superceeds that requirement, but then you must ask, why was the statement "...and that region must be adjacent to one of your Sorcerers" even put in the text, since you can only conquer a region that is adjacent to your's anyway, unless you have flying. So, it must have been written in that way to prevent flying sorcerers to be able to fly and use their ability at the same time.

If this is the case, then I don't see them being all that great. But, this was a two player game and I am very very new at the game, I may not know how to use them to their potential.If it isn't, and I am mistreading it, I am sorry.


Please let me know what you think of this interpretation. Thank you again for the excelent review.
Regards,
Brian
 
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Dan Schaeffer
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This has been addressed in other threads, and the official answer from DoW is that Flying Sorcerers do not need to be adjacent to use their zap power. The rationale, as I see it, is that the zap is a means of conquest (in fact, it is described that way in the rules). Conquest requires adjacency under normal conditions, but Flying eliminates the adjacency requirement for conquests. Hence, a Flying Sorcerer may zap a one-token region anywhere on the board.
 
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Brian Bennett
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Thank you for the explanation. It does seem to be a fairly powerful combo them. It still seems wierd to me that the description for sorcerers specifically states that you need to be adjacent. But, if that's how they meant it, then that's the way it is.

 
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Dan Schaeffer
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It is a powerful combination (though Flying adds a lot of power to pretty much any race). I think the specific reference to adjacency in the description of the Sorcerer zap is in the context of making it clear that it is a conquest -- i.e., subject to the conquest rules -- and not some other animal.
 
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Brian Bennett
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That is what I figured after reading your reply. And it sort of makes scense as well. Otherwise, it would be the only combo that one special ability negates another to some extent.
 
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Grimbolina
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Quote:
... we decided to wait a couple of years until our kids (currently 8 and 10) are older and have more ability to think strategically ...


We play with our two boys, aged 5 and 7, and they have no problem understanding the concepts or strategy. In fact they have long discussions about desirable combos and made up races and powers, and how they will rule the (small) world next time.
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Dylan Birtolo
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Thanks for the compliment and the response! Sorry for the delay, but it looks like someone else beat me to the punch with the explanation. I agree completely with what is said above about how flying does enable the sorcerers to use their ability as if all territories were adjacent. That is why that is a deadly combination!

I am glad you are enjoying the game and found my review helpful and informative!
 
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