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Subject: Reviews from the Berkeley Board Gamers #6: Small World rss

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Berkeley Board Gamers
United States
Berkeley
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The Berkeley Board Gamers are a group of gamers who meet as often as 2-3 times a week for game nights held in downtown Berkeley, California. Many of our regulars are also BoardGameGeek members and represent gamers of many different stripes. Some are hardcore euro-snoots, loose-cannon Ameritrashers, elegant abstracters, light card gamers, counter-pushing grognards, social party gamers and everything in between. These reviews are presented as a list of short commentaries from these members who have all have played the game multiple times and with multiple opponents as well as each other in our somewhat tight-knit but still public group.

Other reviews in this series
#1 Dixit
#2 Tales of the Arabian Nights
#3 Snow Tails
#4 Modern Art
#5 Tichu
#6 Small World
#7 Automobile
#8 Prophecy
#9 Mall of Horror
#10 Stephensons Rocket
#11 Piece o' Cake
#12 Imperial 2030

Small World

Summary: Prepare yourself to command your forces to rampage across the land, bring all that you can survey under your mighty rule. Whether it be your rivals or innocent Lost Tribes, all will bend knee to your legions or forfeit their lives. In Small World a player chooses a Race/Power combination and Conquers regions, collect points for regions conquered, declines, and then picks a new combination of Race/Power to conquer some more. Which ever player has the most points at the end wins! Just like real life...

1. David F

David F
United States
Emeryville
California
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Luck in games, in measured doses, is the catalyst which enables shocking game-changers that you'll remember and talk about forever.
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Let the Lord of Chaos rule.
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Small World is tons better than its mom Vinci, because of the denser strategy space (read drunkenKOALA's Strategy article), the zany theme (tones down the cutthroat nature of the gameplay), the hidden VP scoring (so you focus more on the board situation, less on vulnerable leaders), better player scaling (different maps for different player numbers) and fixed round limit (so you optimize your score instead of kingmaking). The only weakness might be fewer combinations, but that's nothing hasty expansions won't fix, and the game is actually more satisfying strategically than Vinci despite that. It also inherits all the salient features of Vinci: three cool mechanisms (tile drafting, combinations & decline), elegant dice-less combat and streamlined Europe-ified Risk. This is a must-play and must-have.

Rating: 9/10 (4 plays)

2. Jeffery

Jeffery Bowling
United States
San Francisco
California
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Was it for this my life I sought? Maybe so, Maybe not.
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I was definitely the most skeptical in the group that this would be an improvement over Vinci and after my first couple of plays I really thought this fell short of Vinci due to the lack of interesting end game play and the memory aspect of who is in the lead. But after more and more plays, I have really come around. The MUCH shorter play time and the fun theme and art moves this a lot on the fun factor. The fact that I can get this to the table with more causal gamers that I could not get to play Vinci has further pushed this up my list. Looking forward to the expansion.

3. Deniz

D E
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San Francisco
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Having not played Vinci, I can't compare this to the source material, but Small World is a fun game that has a good combination of randomness and determinable actions, thrown together with a pretty good (if incidental) fantasy theme. The randomness comes from the combinations of races and powers, but combat is almost completely deterministic. None of the races have any specific advantage over the others, which makes for a good balance, and the game itself can scale well from 2-5 players, using the multiple boards provided. Small World also takes a reasonable amount of time, 60-90 mins, and the dynamics of the board and player abilities keep the game interesting and player interaction high, and the hidden points keep it from devolving to "bash the leader". Overall, this is a pretty good game, and I look forward to the expansion. I would recommend Small World to those who like lighter wargames, but still enjoy a good dose of strategy - 8/10.

4. Mason Louie

Mason Louie
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I've only played Small World a few times too, but I like this game much less than Tichu.

It's a solid game in that it's relatively quick, different at each replay and has a variety of different strategies, some of which are very subtle. But what bores me about the game is the central in-the-moment activity of the game is point counting. I find I spend most of our time trying to attentively (or not) maximize points. It's such a problem that there's a crufty patch rule to hide your victory point tokens. Although there are other activity elements to it, like territory, path, and of course cardboard-flavored aggression (grr!), these elements are far less important that bean counting. I don't like games that encourage me to do boring activities in order to win.
5/10

5. Dylan

Dylan Gould
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San Francisco
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Small World is kind of fun, but I don't take it very seriously. The most important skills seem to be sitting to the left of somebody who's new to the game and sitting to the right of someone who's expected to do well. I'm kidding -- the most important skill is recognizing when a power/race combo is overpowered and exploiting it. The mechanic of paying points to players who choose lame combos doesn't compensate for some of the truly ridiculous ones (I recently saw Flying Sorcerers, wow!), and the 2-part system of determining a race's starting tile count doesn't do the job, either. There's not much to do on other players' turns, since you can't really plan ahead tactically. The cheat sheets that come with the game are helpful, but some of the rules on them are worded misleadingly. The artwork and names of stuff are pretty cute, though.

6. Shanthi

Shanthi Gonzales
United States
San Francisco
California
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There is going to be an expansion!?! When? I love this game, and I think it has to do with the fact that is a really different game each time I play, depending on the race/power combinations. I have never played Vinci, so I can't really compare it to that. What I know is that I really don't like territorial control games, but there is something about this one that really does it for me. In general, I tend to like strategy games that have a high degree of chance, and so part of what makes Small World interesting is the luck involved in the race/power combos available when you go into decline. James pointed out the last time we played that there tends to be a lot of leader-bashing, though, which I agree with. Often someone wins -not by much- who has been flying under the radar. I rarely see someone win by a lot, and sometimes the winner wins at the last minute by taking money on the first choice race (or "Wealthy" as the power - good at game end).

My only complaint about Small World is the crappy box the tiles come in - what a pain. Maybe the expansion will fix this!

Oh, and I reiterate my call for a Small World tournament!

7. Mark Strecker

Mark Strecker
United States
Murrieta
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I like Small World. I haven't played it a ton of times, but I've enjoyed it each of the six or seven times I have. It's got pretty pieces, is highly re-playable, plays quickly, and best of all, has been massively popular in our large gaming group. Almost anyone at the meetup will play this, and it is one of the more popular games to hit the table. A game with that kind of demand indicates it must be a good one.

8. Gabe

Gabe Alvaro
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Berkeley
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I eagerly looked forward to the release of Small World because I was so taken with the basic mechanics of Vinci. I was not disappointed! There are three elements that really excite me in this game. The first is the theme and the map upon which you spread your civilization and grow your empire to its fullest potential. The second is the combination of special powers you utilize against the other players which you must analyze in terms of effectiveness and costs. The third is the psychological and turn order aspects of figuring out which areas and whom to attack. These elements packed into a finite number of turns in a game that typically takes about an hour to play makes this one a real winner.

9. Julie Southworth

Julie S
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I have only played Small World twice and, given my status as a gaming newbie, feel unqualified to compare it to other games. I am, however, struck by its theme and art. As opposed to historical themes, fantasy-based games allow us to reimagine our world. Small World failed to do so in the case of gender. Only one of the images of a race (Amazons) is clearly female. The rest either are or seem to be male. This is even the case with "gender-neutral" races such as the Dwarves, Giants, and Humans. The Grand Dames expansion should began to rectify this, although it would have been nice to see more female images in the base game.

10. Tony

Tony Chen
Taiwan
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When the game just came out there was a lot of discussion on BGG, and I was active in some of the threads devoted to the topic. Well, I've just about ran out of ways to say "You don't get it."

I cannot stress this enough: the average player, and by average player I mean you, yes you, do not understand the value of the token count. All he sees is the region count, and mindlessly expands as far as possible, and then claims that the game is light fluff because gameplay is so trivial.

If your understanding of the game is trivial, then your gameplay will be trivial too--yes that is true.

A good player generally abandons his regions on most turns, and voluntarily holds fewer regions than he could've.

Please read that line again.

A good player abandons his regions, and holds fewer regions than he could've.

ABANDONS his regions, and voluntarily scores fewer points on many of the early turns.

This may sound more like a strategical pontification than an actual review, but it is essential, because understanding this strategical fact is necessary to understanding Small World the game.

Full review.

Many of the improvements Small World made to Vinci have been touched upon, but one that is often missed is the separation of Power and Race. By doing so, the designer is able to implement some creative/interesting abilities that wouldn't have worked properly without the restriction that some abilities can never be paired with certain others. It's a subtle but very significant change.

Have a nice day.

11. Charles

Charles
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Small world is an easy game to learn to play and fun to go around attacking everything right and left. The strategy is usually to go after the leader if you can figure out who is leading since all points are hidden. Some animosity can be built by being attacked and usually inspires retaliation which is interesting to watch, though it sucks to be a part of it. The races and abilities are interesting to pick from and provide a lot of variation from game to game. I would recommend this game to others for its ease to understand and enjoyable to play.

12. Paul

Paul
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Berkeley
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I'm a big Small World fan. I really liked Vinci the first time I played it and I feel Small World is a huge improvement over the original. The game is easy to teach, but really tough to master. The art and theme are great. The variable board size based on number of players often forces conflict and really creates some tough decisions. The balancing mechanism for picking races and the "decline race" mechanic really make this game shine.

In any given game of Small World there is usually at least one and often times a 2 or 3 race/power combinations that are obviously not quite as good as the others. There have been plenty of games where I had to really go into the think tank on whether or not it is worth paying the coin and skipping it or just take the money and run.

To really score well in Small World a player has to maximize points scored with a declined race as well as points scored with an active race. Except for the Ghouls, a decline race is pretty much dead weight that scores points, just waiting to be attacked. For a game that puts so much emphasis on attacking opponents, this mechanic is a brilliant way to give each player something critical to protect.

My favorite thing about the game has to be the Lost Tribe. The "Natives" if you will... The idea of each player using their "Race" to displace the "Natives" in a rather Manifest Destiny sort of way is a delicious bit of dark humor.

The shouts of, "Wait! We were here first! This is our land!" fall on the deaf, non-existent ears of the Skeletons as they Pillage through the innocent Lost Tribes assimilating more dark warriors for their own legions, is just so magnificently, politically incorrect!
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Lionel Jacques
United States
Casselberry
Florida
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It's ok - I always roll this bad.
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Thank you for the great report - I appreciate the varied inputs and views - I was on the fence about this one but think I'll bite the bullet and give it a try now!

I was originally put off somewhat by the more lighthearted 'look' and the pitch my friend used about flying halflings or somesuch - lol but it should make for a fun romp based on what I've read here.

Thanks for the review!
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James Klemm
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Concord
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BBGS wrote:


To really score well in Small World a player has to maximize points scored with a declined race as well as points scored with an active race. Except for the Ghouls, a decline race is pretty much dead weight that scores points, just waiting to be attacked. For a game that puts so much emphasis on attacking opponents, this mechanic is a brilliant way to give each player something critical to protect.



Recently, I had a very good combination of races in a 4 player game. I chose a great decline race (seafaring ghouls) followed by an enduring active race.(diplomatic halflings)

I conserved my token count, abandoned regions, voluntarily took fewer regions and points than possible, and basically played the best I ever have. The fact that I lost to superb play and a nice race combination (stout amazons, trolls and swamp sorcerors) makes me realize how great and replayable this game is.
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