Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 29 March 2016

Estate agents would call it "cosy":- Small World

Legends tell of the ancients who used to live here, tall giants that strode across mountains as if they were flat land, rumors say that if you head to the tallest peaks you'll still find them, surviving off the few fools that venture so high. But they don't know the true threat of the high mountains. Two words: Flying Skeletons! The world might be small, but it sure is bizarre!

Small world Is a 2-5 player domination game where you take a variety of fantasy races and fight over an inexplicably small amount of land. As a general rule the more land you own the better, though some races might be particularly good with certain land types while others might be more concerned with the whole conquering thing than actually holding territory.

The first thing you do at the start of the game is choose a race, the races actually come in combos, you get a race and a modifier tile, as these get shuffled you’ll not only find that your favourite race aren’t always available, but this time you might find that the ratmen can fly! The races have good variety in abilities, but combined with the varying modifiers each game becomes unique. On the flip side sometimes there are combos that are far more powerful than others. As an attempt to balance this the races are put in a buyable stack, if you want any race that isn’t at the bottom you have to leave a victory point coin on each of the ones below. So eventually even the weaker race combinations can be tempting if they have a lot of coins on them, though with lower player counts this doesn’t build up quite enough to be truly tempting.

The two map boards have a large difference in size, to ensure that you have a limited amount of space no matter how many players there are.
The race combo you choose will give you a set number of tokens which you can use to take over the world. Combat is mercifully quick and simple, you need 2 tokens to take an empty piece of land, then an additional 1 token for every other token on the land. At the start of the game these opposing tokens will be lost tribes that aren’t owned by any player, and some mountain tiles which make land more defendable, but harder to take. You may find that you run out of tokens before taking all the land you want, for the last attack you can roll a dice which either adds 1/2/3 tokens to your attack tempt. This is the only rolling in the game, so turns tend to flow quite quickly compared to games like Risk. After attacking you can rearrange your tokens to defend (remember your opponents need to use an extra token for each one of the tile they attack) and then you earn, ignoring special rules, 1 victory coin for every bit of land you control.

Perhaps the biggest thing that makes Small World special is the ability to put your race into decline. Instead of taking a normal turn you can flip over your race onto the grey side, you’ll still own the land they control and get victory points for it, but you won’t be able to invade other lands or have more than 1 token on a land. The next turn you’ll pick a new race, but keep your declined race, so you’ll be able to invade with a fresh force, while having your declined race hold old territories. You’ll need to decline at least once if you want any chance of a good score, not only does it mean that 2 races are scoring for you, but also you’ll find that you run out of tokens. Enemy attacks give you back 1 less token then the number on the land they took, so sooner or later you spread yourself too fin in search of victory coins and won’t be able to expand any more. You can only have 1 race in decline at a time (barring race rules) so you’ll have to decide carefully when it’s time to put a second race in decline.
The 14 races in the base game, expansions are available which add more races and modifiers for them.
Small world scales well to varying player numbers, it has 2 map boards with different sides for 2/3/4/5 players, so you’ll never find that you can get away without conflict. I do feel that the game starts to lag a bit with the higher player counts, but for 2/3 players the game is fast-paced and gripping. The differing combinations for the races adds a good amount of variety to the game, though I do feel with lesser player counts the weaker combos aren’t compensated enough. The iconography on the races is reasonably clear once you know what it means, but there can be a lot of confusion for new players when it comes to remembering exactly what everyone else is capable of.


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