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Subject: It's not a Small World after all. rss

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Rick Steeves
United States
Durham
North Carolina
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I've played a fair amount of Vinci. After a number of people wandered up while I was playing Vinci and said, "Hey that looks a lot like Small World", I decided I might as well pick up a copy.

Thoughts:

Generally it's just like Vinci, simplified. Most of the "one off" rules removed. No Rule of Cohesion, no attacking advantage from mountains, no specialness that is "forests". Purchasing a later civ is only one point instead of two. When you go into decline you wait to select it until time to play it. No extra number of pieces based on the number of players, and a turn track instead of needing to know how many points it takes to win. Only about half the spaces start with "natives", the rest are empty/open.

The civilizations are divided into a "race" stack and a "powers" stack, so that each combination is a race and a power. While there are more overall abilities (34 in Small World, 22 in Vinci), this significantly decreased the number of civ "pair" options (280 in Small World vs. ~ 3700 in Vinci not counting the distinction for civs that function in decline). While the civ abilities are mostly different (though similar) to Vinci, game-wise I didn't see anything that adds any new distinguishing characteristic, except maybe to say that some civs are "better/stronger/faster" than the Vinci civs.

Functionally Small World is almost the same as Vinci. The distinguishing functional difference is that score is hidden. Because score is hidden, the game is restricted to a fixed number of turns (that varies by the number of players).

A corollary difference is that, much like the difference in scoring, Vinci varies the number of pieces you start with (and thus the amount of territory you can capture) by the number of players. Small World instead provides a different map for the different number of players, with a different number of territories on each map based on then number of territories.

Turn-wise a 5 player Small World game lasts 45 turns (8 turns/player). In comparison a four-player game of Vinci was 48 turns (12 turns/player). Between the duration difference and that the civs in Small World are a bit more durable, in a game of Small World, you're likely only going to play two or three civs, where in Vinci you're likely to play four to five (or to look at as more of a comparison, twice as many civs in a 50% longer game). In one test game, the players with 3 civs also fared worst, emphasizing that at the least there’s not a huge advantage in declining.

Some of the combinations in Small World also have a much stronger "that's good" factor (which is bad generally because getting the better civ is a bigger adv.) That means the disparate power of the civs in Small World is exaggerated, because everyone's going to play fewer civs. And to exacerbate that further, "buying up" (purchasing a civ in advance) is only one point (half the cost of Vinci). Civ choice (or lack thereof) becomes VERY important. Since you pick a civ at the time you play it, not at the time of decline, if others have declined prior to you, you don't really know which civ(s) will be available to choose from. And since "buying up" is cheaper, it's a lot more likely that civ you're eyeing won't be there by the time it's your turn to play.

What that translates to is that it doesn't cost much (or give many points away) to buy up, and it's extremely important to have a "good" civ. So buying up is more prevalent, and taking the skipped over civ has a much lower payout.


In looking at scoring, my comparison is between three games:
a) Small World, 5 players, 8 turns.
b) Vinci, 4 players, 120 points (roughly 12 turns)
c) Vinci, 4 players, 100 points (my typical preferred cutoff, roughly 10 turns)

a & b were about 2 hours, about 15-20 minute shorter.

Scoring Comparison:
a) Two to three civs, scoring 76-87 points, averaging about 9.3 points/turn, with a min/max of 4/15, a median of 9 and mode of 11.5.
b) Four to five civs, scoring 104-120 points, averaging about 9 points/turn, with a min/max of 3/17, a median of 9.8, but a mode of 11
c) Four civs, scoring 79-101 points (points same as b)


In Small World on average you score more points in a turn, and you're likely to end up on the up side. Vinci consistently has a wider point spread but across more civs.

Note that for this example, the hidden score actually has a smaller point spread than the "gang up on the leader" one.


Civs/Theme: It's got a fantasy theme, which I generally enjoy more. However, in many respects the theming doesn't work, because when you match the "race" side with the "ability" side you get odd very non-fantasy configs (i.e. aquatic dwarves) which hurts things in that it doesn't feel themed right. The race abilities only nominally tie to the races, so the theme doesn't greatly assist remembering what the powers are.

The board: The board is very pretty/artsy. Too pretty. It takes some thought to readily distinguish which types of terrain are which. And that brings us to ...

The pieces: Where it really sucks. Each race had its own separate counters, an attempt to remove the "rule of cohesion" and distinguishing between an active and declined civs. But the civ tokens aren't visually distinctive from each other, so they're hard to keep track of. The flip side of a race token (for indicating "in decline") are mostly all greyish, which makes them even harder to distinguish. With the artsy-ness of the playing board, that only exacerbates the problem. And due to how some of the civ advantages work (and no rule of cohesion), you're a lot more likely to have pieces all over the board to find in order to score.

The box is one of the rare cases that all the pieces have a specific spot, and everything fits together well. But that means all of those pieces have to go back in the box in the right place, as the # of them is important (some race/ability combos can grow, but are limited by their # of pieces, which vary). And when you're putting them in the box one at a time, they stack flat instead of sideways, making them a pain to remove. And at the end you're stuck sorting through it all to put the game away.

To make that even more irritating a few of the races/abilities provide offense/defense tokens. They're heavily themed and all different as well, which does help others remember at least that there's _something_ special they need to ask about. But making more clutter on a board that's hard to distinguish already.


All in all, Small World is a simplified version of Vinci, which in the end fails because it adds finicky bits (pieces and arts) as it attempts to make the game simpler, and goes overboard.

To improve game play I'm likely to make the game on average at least two turns longer (to make it the same length as my preferred Vinci game.). Also likely to make buying up two points, so if you are getting one of the better civs, it's costing you more and benefiting the skipped over civ more. (Although testing shows that even two points/civ isn't enough to offset the civ advantages.

I'll play Small World again, but Vinci is better.

Rick
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Seth Owen
United States
Norwich
Connecticut
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I generally agree with this review, except I have to say that I like the artwork.

I don't find it hard to keep track of the races on the board.
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Pablo Klinkisch
Germany
Heidelberg
Baden-Württemberg
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But, is it a wargame or not? devil
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Gordon Adams
United Kingdom
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I do not take Small World seriously. Well let's face it, it is a fantasy game. The art work is, IMHO, fair. Nothing to rave about.

Sure, it is often compared with Vinci.....but, I cannot understand why that is. It is a simplified version of Vinci, maybe too simplified ! Yes, the mechanics may sound similar to Vinci players, but come on , elfs etc ! It is a fun game with 4 plus players but not to be taken seriously at all. There seems something missing in SW that makes it just "a fantasy land-grabbing game" with very little substance. Yes, I know: look at the number of different races etc. Still, it lacks depth.

Given a choice, I would pick Vinci. Infact, I had not played Vinci before Small World, but about a month ago someone who has a copy of Vinci brought it round and I really enjoyed it. We had played SW (four players) and we started talking about the two games. When it came to a vote: Vinci won.

I regret that I cannot get a copy of Vinci. Maybe "Elbow" (the Vinci owner/player) might be willing to part-exchange it for one of my latest games that I am not too fond of

Regards.
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Michael Denman
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Katy
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You forgot to mention that Small World introduces a random element to the game with the reinforcement die. I prefer Vinci as well, but I had to face the fact that I could easily find Small World players in my group and could infrequently find Vinci players. So Vinci went out of my collection and Small World came in.
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Tony Chen
Taiwan
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The graphics is harder to visualize, but I've found that the problem is exacerbated in a 5 player game especially if you have to sit further from the board. They sacrificed function for aesthetics, I think it was an alright compromise.

The separation of Power and Races adds to the game in my opinion. It lets the designer separate which ability can never be paired with which other ones, which in turn lets him add some new abilities that wouldn't have worked otherwise.

Quote:
Although testing shows that even two points/civ isn't enough to offset the civ advantages.
I am not sure I would agree with that. I think the one point works fine. It is not the only cost you pay for a good race, you may also have to decline your race one turn earlier than you'd have liked to to grab the next good one.
 
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CJ
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Trump wrote:
You forgot to mention that Small World introduces a random element to the game with the reinforcement die. I prefer Vinci as well, but I had to face the fact that I could easily find Small World players in my group and could infrequently find Vinci players. So Vinci went out of my collection and Small World came in.


Ping-pong. Small World is, at it's heart, a gateway game, and having introduced 6 people to the game they all liked it more than I do. Yes, it is light; yes, it is random; yes, the artwork is garish. These are all plus points and, after TTR, Small World is now my intro game of choice.
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Matt N

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Please use a better title. The title you have is misleading and has essentially nothing to do with your actual review; something like "A comparison between Vinci and Small World" would be helpful to those looking for that type of review. As it is, I came in looking for a classic negative review and find a comparison with a game I've never played. It's a shame because you've actually put quite a bit of thought into your review, and the title doesn't show it.

You should really address the smaller point spread in Small World, since that's an argument that the overall game is more balanced even if the civilizations are less balanced. I generally dislike games that force other players to balance the game out (which is presumably the reason for the lower spread), so you could still fit this into your negative theme.

Incidentally, if you'd play the game again, there's presumably some good to the game. The message I got was that the game is worse than Vinci; that's fine, but how good is it in absolute terms? And again, if you only want to compare two games, say it in the title.
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Trygve E. Rosenvinge
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Arendal
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I generally agree with you, although I personally prefer Small World over Vinci. With me, theme and atmosphere are important factors for my enjoyment of a game and the pseudo-historical setting in Vinci, with a board that only represents Europe and not the Mediterranean area or the Middle East where our ancient civilizations originated, seems very strange. Then I'd rather be playing in a universe that does not pretend to represent anything real or historical. To me, Vinci comes across as too light to be a proper civilization game, while when compared to Small World, Vinci easily seems unnecessarily complex.

Overall I prefer Small World, not so much for the gameplay which I also regard as better, but for the setting which I think suits the mechanisms of the game so much better.

ricks03 wrote:
Civs/Theme: It's got a fantasy theme, which I generally enjoy more. However, in many respects the theming doesn't work, because when you match the "race" side with the "ability" side you get odd very non-fantasy configs (i.e. aquatic dwarves) which hurts things in that it doesn't feel themed right. The race abilities only nominally tie to the races, so the theme doesn't greatly assist remembering what the powers are.


In my gaming group this is a frequent source of amusement with the many bizarre combinations, and it's one of those things that keeps the game fresh and informal. Some combinations are prone to be completely useless, a precious few are very potent and a whole lot of them are just ridiculous when you read the race and ability descriptions together. Then you'll end up with civilizations such as "Flying Giants", "Seafaring Halflings", "Diplomatic Ghouls", "Dragon Master Ratmen" etc.
 
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