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A Small World of (S)Laughter
As a child, I attempted to play Risk several times. Those experiences left me with an utter dislike of that game that is with me to today. My struggle to understand the rules at the time - and my frustration with constantly having my attempts at strategy ruined by the dice pool - have made me very wary of trying similar games.
Small World has many similarities to Risk, particularly the core goal of the game: victory comes by taking and holding territory. Knowing that, I was more than ready to dislike it, thinking that it was Risk with cartoonish elves and tritons, but Risk all the same. I was wrong, and happy to be so. Since that first game, Small World has taken its place among my personal favorites.
The Small World game has a lot going for it - the board and the play pieces are very well designed and illustrated, game play is brisk and interesting, and there's a huge helping of humor. More importantly, the game's basic strategy is simple enough that anyone can grasp it quickly, but with more than enough depth and nuance to keep the game interesting between adult players. There is also almost no randomizing component to the strategy, which is something I consider a plus - strategy can be planned and executed without being ruined by a lousy dice roll.
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A Family Small World Game
The Small World game is meant to be played with two to five players. Most people seem to think that four players is best, but all permutations of the game are fun. The game comes with a different board for each number of players. This ensures that the size of the map is always perfect for the number of players - meaning that the board is just small enough that players have to attack each other if they want to expand their army to its fullest ability.
More importantly, Small World is meant for ages eight and up. The strategy of it is simple enough that it can be easily explained - the point of the game is to take territory and hold it to earn points. Territory is taken by placing enough units to equal two plus whatever units are already on the territory. It's that simple.
And considering that grown ups who play this game secretly imagine ourselves as a troll in charge of an army of our bretheren, I can only imagine that children will feel the same way - they'll just be willing to admit it out loud.
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Mixing It Up
The strength of any game shows up in how often it can be replayed. The Small World game is extremely re-playable. Randomization is introduced by a rotating set of advantages that can be matched with any race. Shuffling the races and advantages means that every game, each player will likely have a different set of armies to work with. Since each player gets to use multiple races in every game, this allows an exploration of the best strategies to be employed by each race, and helps each player develop his or her own unique play style. Everyone has their favorites to play, but the game set up forces us to mix it up a bit, and the game is stronger for it.
This is one game that makes an appearance at every party and every game night I hold, and it hasn't gotten old yet.