Small World is a European and American hybrid wargame, a reworking of Philippe Keyaerts own previous game, Vinci. Like a good Eurogame, the rules are streamlined and easy to follow. However, Small World is unlike typical Eurogames, which favor indirect conflict. Every turn you attack and seize territory from your enemies and thus your gain is their loss. The combat is an almost diceless system that uses an auction-like system derived from Francis Tresham's Civilization boardgame. There is also an auction system for picking your faction. There are fourteen Race banners and twenty Special Power badges; both are shuffled then interlocked to create a six Race and Special Power Combo, or a faction. The numerous permutations of Race and Special Power Combos create numerous factions making every game different. There is also two, double-sided map boards, scaling for two, three, four, and five player games to ensure that crowding occurs, which produces territory conflict.
The combat system is as follows. You need to commit two units (chits) of your faction, and one additional for every cardboard chit that occupies a territory. Say your Elves faction want to attack one Troll faction in a Fort on top of a Mountain. The Troll is a chit, as well as the Fort and the Mountain; making it three chits. Therefore two Elf units plus three Elf units, a total of five, are requires to conquer the territory. Making terrain into a chit, is a UI marvel. No need for charts--just count the cardboard chits. At the end of your turn, your final attack, you get to use the Reinforcement Die, a six-sided die with +1 unit, +2 units, +3 units, and three blanks. The die gives you an opportunity to take one additional territory with little resources. The Reinforcement Die is a brilliant scheme, adding tension to each turn, and yet because it only affects the acquisition of one territory, it does not overwhelm the game with chaos.
The game's best feature is the rise and decline of your factions. As you battle and hold territories, your faction will stretch thin. At this point you must choose your faction to go into decline. A declined faction no longer moves but still counts for scoring. On your following turn you will get a new faction and you get to score from both declined and active faction. You tend to go through three to four factions per game. Going through multiple factions does a few interesting things.
- Catchup mechanism--if a player's faction is crushed, he can return next turn with a new faction.
- Encourage alliances--since each player will often have two factions on the board, players will be fighting a multi-front war and only can defend themselves with shifting alliances.
- Strategic element--timing when to go into decline is an art. Timing your declines and setting up for the next faction is crucial.
Small World plays great with any number of players except for two. With two players, there are no alliances and it becomes a Eurogame of point-maximizing rather than a game of diplomacy. There is a excellent softboard version of Small World for the iPad by same publisher. It is designed for only for two players but nevertheless is a great way to practice.