Philippe Keyaerts


No. of Players:
2 - 5



Following their established tradition of publishing boardgames with a very high artistic design, DAYS OF WONDER has made another coup by releasing their latest "big" game Smallworld. This new game finds its roots in Vinci which also was done by Philippe Keyaerts, but whereas the older title focuses on conflicts of different European civilizations, the new title Small Wolrd now has shifted the objective of the game to conquest in a world of fantasy with all kinds of creatures like Dwarfs, Elves or Orcs.

As the name of the game implies, the most restricted element in Smallworld is the number of available provinces on the gameboard. The fantastic races are waiting to establish their empire on the face of Smallworld, and during the course of the game the players will try to use these races to gain and keep control of as many provinces as possible, since by the end of each turn a player will be assigned victory points corresponding to the number of provinces occupied by his race. Thus, to keep the game competitive with any number of players, DAYS OF WONDER has not just included one gameboard, but instead two nicely illustrated double-sided boards are included, offering just the right challenge for playing groups from two to five players.

Essential for each player’s ambitions is the availability of effective troops, and here each race offers its own combination of troops and special abilities to the would-be conquerors. Before the game is started, a stack of race-cards is shuffled, and a total of six of these cards is placed in a row next to the gameboard. In addition, a stack of special abilities is also shuffled, and one special ability is assigned at random to each of the six race cards. The players however do not receive a race before the start of the game; all they have is a number of victory point coins which are not just used as a measure of success, but also serve as a currency when it comes to the acquisition of a race. The preparations are finished by placing a few additional markers of castles and other fortifications plus a Dragon token close-by, and then the game may start with the players entering the first of a total of ten rounds.

In each round all the players will take a turn, and the player order remains fixed for all of the game. The first turn of each player starts with the acquisition of a race, and thus the active player first will have a look at the six available races next to the gameboard. Evaluating each race’s special abilities and the number of available troops (determined by a combination of numbers on the race card and on the special ability), the player then chooses the races which seems to match his ambitions best.

If he choses the first race from the row he will receive it for free, but if he chooses any other of the available races he will be required to place of coin on each of the races which are aligned in front of that race as payment, making this race more attractive for a later player. The player then=2 0is allowed to take the race plus its special ability and he places both of these cards in front of himself, together with a number of troop tokens as determined by these cards. The gap in the row of race cards then is closed by moving all later cards forwards, and a new combination of a race and a special ability is added at the end of the row.


Formative element of Smallworld is the fact that the players will not stick to their initial race for the whole duration of the game, but instead a player may forfeit one of his turns to declare his current race to perish. All a player does in such a turn is that he makes this declaration and removes all troop markers but one from each of the race’s provinces, but he also scores once again a victory point for each of the race’s provinces. During his turn in the following round the player then once again is allowed to acquire a new race which he can use for conquest, but he will also continue to gain victory points for his old race’s provinces as long as there remain troop markers of the old race on the gameboard. So, in effect each player is allowed to have two races on the gameboard, an active race and a perished race. No actions can be taken with the perished race anymore, and it will continue to go down until it either loses all prov inces to conquering efforts of active races or until its former player decides to let his active race perish once again. In that case the newly perished race forces the older perished race of the player out of existence, effecting the removal of any remaining troop markers from the gameboard.


Returning to the playing mechanism the question remains how the players may conquer new provinces with a race. When a new race is chosen, it must enter the gameboard from one of its sides, so that the player chooses one of the outer provinces for his first attack. Once the race has established a foothold on Smallworld, all further provinces must be adjacent to provinces which already have been conquered, so that a race slowly establishes a dominion of several interconnected provinces.

An unoccupied province requires the player to place two troop units into the province to effect an annexation, whereas the presence of each troop unit in a province requires the active player to use an additional troop unit. If the active player can place the required number of troops, all defending troops are removed from the province, forcing their owner to discard one of them and to take any remaining troops back to his stockpile.

The current player continues his turn conquering provinces until he either runs out of troops or wants to stop conquering. If he runs out of troops he may try to occupy a final province (if he has at least one unit left) by rolling a special attack dice in the hope to roll high enough to succeed with the attack. After all conquests are made, the player is allowed to reorganise his troops, giving him the possibility to move them freely between his provinces to reinforce his defences or even to take them back to his stockpile. At the beginning of his next turn the player then has the possibility of another reorganisation, allowing him to take back to his stockpile as many troops as he desires. These troops, together with any troops which might have been forced to retreat by other player attacks, once again can be used for conquests.


While these basic mechanisms may sound fairly straightforward, planning and fun comes into the game through the different special abilities. Here the game designers have invented quite a load of different abilities, ranging from the scoring of additional victory points in certain kinds of provinces to the ability to move overseas or through caves. However, these are just some basic abilities, and so things may get even more strange with resurrection (gaining troops from battle), undead (actions still possible even if the race has perished) or Dragon tamers (sending a cute Dragon to do the dirty work). Even other special abilities may allow different kinds of fortifications (making it more difficult to remove the race from the gameboard) or a bonus while attacking, so that players have to look rather carefully at the situation on the gameboard when they chose a new race.

Most difficult is the question at what time a player should declare his old race to perish. Depending on the race’s abilities it can last for several turns, but usually it is quite sensible to go for a new race once the race has reached its maximum expansion. This will result in other players picking on that race, forcing its player slowly to discard some troop tokens, and thus the race will lose its effectiveness and offensive punch. However, the decision sometimes is not as easy as it sounds, since things like the availability of a new suitable race, the situation on the gameboard and the prospect of future conquests need to be taken into consideration.

A fairly balanced gameplay is ensured by the use20of neutral troop markers which are distributed into several provinces before the game starts and by the available combinations of races and special abilities. Here the designers have put forwards a good degree of care in order to prevent combinations of overwhelming strength, and although some races might spread dangerously fast with certain special abilities several testing rounds have shown that a good combination by no means is a save bet to win the game.

However, even though the game has some tactical options, it should be kept in mind that Smallworld primarily is a humoristic family boardgame with short-time one-turn goals and a strong tendency for long-time plans to go awry. Thus, the brooding type of gamer who likes to see his carefully nourished kingdom grow will not find the constant removal of his possessions very amusing, and this type of players should avoid Smallworld due to its restricted scope (sorry – silly pun). Even more, as testing revealed the fact that Smallworld tends to end with a narrow lead, it became obvious that the rule which allows the players to keep their victory points secret is not needed for creating tension but instead it is a precaution against too much calculation. Otherwise perfectionist players might be tempted to brood over the gameboard for minutes, squeezing out the maximum effect of each turn by taking the effects on other players’ scores into consideration as well. Thus, try to befuddle calculators and throw them off balance by bombarding them with random combinations of numbers, making it harder for them to memorize your current score!

As you can see, Smallworld has strong elements of a beer-and-pretzels game which plays best in a light-hearted spirit. In terms of long-lived strategy games like Kings & Things* or History of the World might seem to be a more fulfilling choice, but if you want interaction and entertainment in combination with hilarious artwork, Smallworld does the trick much better!

Looking for this game? Visit Funagain Games!

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2009 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany