Risk has been a popular game since it was bought by Parker Brothers in 1959. As popular as it is and was, Risk has a few flaws. Among these are the time commitment and the complexity. Typically to teach the game takes time on it’s own and then to actually play, players will be looking at a timeframe that rivals Monopoly. Personally, this has always kept me away from the game, though I’ve been enticed by the Lord of the Rings version a couple of times. The premise of Risk is a good one as who doesn’t love a good strategic war game. Somebody just needed to come along and tweak it to make it work. That somebody was Days of Wonder and Philippe Keyaerts’s game, Small World.
In Days of Wonder’s tabletop game, Small World, players take on the role of a variety of races trying to make it in the world. Expansion is the aim of each player as they use a randomly paired special power along side their race’s ability to spread across the map. This expansion is not uncontested though as the other players are attempting the same thing on a very, as the name implies, small, map. There is not enough room for everyone to live in peace and therein begins the conflict. Players must decide in their conquest whether to make friends or enemies with other players. That group of trolls you roasted with your dragon may just be controlled by the same player as a mob of multiplying skeletons later on with a taste for vengeance.
The component that makes Small World exceptional is its game play. They have captured the ability to be both simple enough to teach within a couple of rounds while not being so simple as to get bored within a couple of times through the game. The game is never the same in part to the random pairing of special powers and racial abilities. The races are pulled directly from the fantasy genre with Humans, Orcs, Halflings, Dwarves, and more which adds a fun “World of Warcraft meets Risk” feel. A player gets a choice of 5 randomly paired races/powers and must pay to pick races that are further up the line. After a player has stretched their race as far as it can go, the put that race into decline as it no longer makes conquests and starts again with a new race combo on their next turn.
Every race has an ability that either helps them conquer more land or receive more points for the land they hold or even stop lands from being conquered by opponents. Alongside these abilities are the special power cards that are randomly placed alongside the race cards to create a pool of race/power combinations for players to choose from. The pairing and race pool creates a component of “working with what you get” as the first race in the pool is a free choice but as a player chooses deeper into the pool, a penalty starts to take effect in the form of spending victory coins. As players conquer more and more land, they receive more victory coins each turn. At the end of ten turns, the player with the most coins wins. This turn limit creates a great mechanic of time that gives players a clear stopping point to avoid those 4 hour sessions at the table.
Every game comes with its faults though. Some issues arise in the games that involve 2 players. The game comes with two 2-Sided game boards to allow a different map for 2, 3, 4, and 5 player games. On the 2 player board, I’ve found issues with it being possible to play most of the game with out ever having to attack the active race of your opponent. Essentially the world is not small enough. There are some power tiles that just don’t make sense in a two player game either. We’ve been able to work around that by just removing them from play before we start.
Small World is a great tabletop game to start your collection with as the replayability will hold you over until you build your collection. The upsides easily outweigh the downs and it doesn’t risk getting old as there are multiple expansions available with new races and powers. It’s great for playing with friends that are unaccustomed to table top gaming with its easy learning curve and will provide hours of entertainment that isn’t lost as conversations shy away from the game at hand. If you’re looking for the go to table top game for your house, look no further than Small World.
If Small World sounds like your kind of game, check it out here!