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Subject: Spirits, Ghouls, and Ratmen--Oh my! rss

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Samuel Wallace
United States
California
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After ordering Small World as a Christmas present for myself and salivating over its artwork and components for a couple days after it arrived, I finally had the chance to play it with my sister and her fiance today. I'm the board gamer of the group, albeit a newish one--he's a geek but not usually a gamer, and she's a "Catan-is-fun!"-style newbie. Given the nerdy-looking components and game description, she had to be convinced to play. Let's just say this may have been her first and last play.

Anyway, the sister goes first, choosing the top race, Dragon-master Amazons. Not really knowing what to do, she invades the left-hand side of the board, spreading out to eight squares. Boyfriend pays one to skip the bivouacking giants and takes the Flying Trolls. He invades the top part of the map, although he also flies to claim a few uninhabited spaces. His lairs are establishing a foothold in the north, with five total occupied squares. I also skip the bivouacking giants, choosing the Spirit Ratmen, whom I use to invade the east. My horde conquers five spaces on turn 1.

The game proceeds with the Amazons spreading out to conquer an expanding stretch of the West, although they're spreading themselves awfully thin. My sister is probably, in hindsight, underutilizing her Dragon's awesome power, which she should be using to knock over troll lairs in the North. But she's controlling a good 10-11 regions by turn 2 or 3. The Trolls are spreading south, west, and east, expanding in a limited fashion due to number restrictions but heavily fortifying themselves. My Ratmen, meanwhile, are pursuing a conflict-avoidance strategy, mainly wiping out the lost tribes in the East and Southeast. They're here for the long run, after all. And luckily, the Trolls seem more interesting in wiping out overextended Amazons in the West than focusing on me.

Anyway, the Amazons soon go into decline, and the Bivouacking Giants are skipped a third time in favor of the Merchant Skeletons. This time Ratmen territory in the southeast is targeted, and I look to be in for a catastrophic rollback. The boyfriend declines his Trolls and goes for the now-lucrative Giants, again thankfully pushing westward to roll up those pesky Amazons. I last one more turn with the Ratmen, then decline them. My next pick is a glorious combo--the Hill Ghouls. I want to protect my helpless declined Ratmen, so I follow the Merchant Skeletons into the Southeast and establish a firewall of three and four ghouls. Next turn, the Skeletons turn Westward, thankfully, and I decline my Ghouls to let them have their weirding ways.

At this point, the Western side of the board is a pitched battle between Skeletons and Giants, which I want no part of. The Amazons are pretty much gone by now, and there are no easy pickings (save my Ratmen in the east, who are luckily far away). So I come in from the north with a new batch of Wealthy Elves, taking out some leftover Troll Lairs and even a Bivouacking Giant or two. Meanwhile, my Ghouls are rolling up the east flank of the Skeletons, taking two territories at a time and leaving a wall of three or four tokens per frontal region. The 5-6 Ratmen territories, don't forget, are still sitting happily in the east thanks to my Spirit power, giving me a steady stream of money without being threatened.

By turn 8 or 9 the power of both Giants and Skeletons has clearly ebbed, but the declined trolls still control multiple regions, so the boyfriend is loath to decline the Giants and lose the trolls. And it's probably too late to decline the skeletons. So turns 9 and 10 for the other two are basically rolls of the die with no extra tokens for pure conquest. But my power is peaking--the Ghouls still have a bit of life and nearly eliminate the Skeletons, while the Elves are wiping out some trolls and giants in the north. My last turn picks up some 18 points, and the game ends--if my count is right:
Sister- 94
Boyfriend- 105
Me- 119

A good result (although perhaps we miscounted somehow? Does it seem a little high?). But I won't kid myself that it's repeatable with tougher opponents--my Spirit/Ghoul combo was so effectively precisely because nobody seriously came after me, especially not in the North. Had the Trolls or Giants headed eastward, they could have had captured one singly-defended Ratmen territory after another. As it was, I was able to use both the Spirit and the Ghoul powers to the utmost extent.

Anyway, I loved this first play and can't wait to play it with my regular group. I like that it's an hour-long war game that still has real depth and strategy, and the components and theme give it an added richness.
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David Treetop
United States
Michigan
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We played three 3 player games recently, all having played only once or twice before and scored between 70 - 110 in all. The scores became very tight in game 2 70/71/71 (sadly I had 70) and then again in game 3 90/92/93 (sadly I had 90).

We were all stunned at the end of game 3 as we could have happily played a game 4. The meanest combination we found were Pillaging Skeletons who left the board completely each game and came back to slaughter the board turn after turn until the other two players teamed up to effectively empty the board and conquer the skeletons.
 
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