It has been called Risk with benefits and that’s not a totally inappropriate tag to hang on Small World, a fantasy global conquest game from Days of Wonder.
Small World came out in 2009 and was designed by Philippe Keyaerts. Though there was some detractors who didn’t favor the game’s simplified combat, many realized the many strategic and tactical nuances of the game.
In short order, Small World became one of the hottest games of the year. In keeping with that popularity, Days of Wonder added value to the product with expansions. But more on those later.
For those who know nothing of the game, Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs, and even humans, who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth. Points are gained by occupying those areas and after a certain number of turns, the player with the most points wins.
In the original game, there were 14 races and 20 special powers that are randomly paired in each game to create a nearly endless array of combinations to make sure Small World has a lot of replay value. The game can be played by two to five players and each has a different board to keep the Small World crowded.
Despite the game having a lot of variety and several expansions, there was still room for new ideas and concepts, so earlier this year Days of Wonder released Small World Underground.
“Philippe Keyaerts had the original concept for an underground version of the game, which went through several iterations,” said Mark Kaufmann, Days of Wonder's Vice President of Sales and Marketing. “As it evolved, it became clear to us that the Underground version simply was too deep to limit it to an expansion. It really is a different world and requires the new terrain, all the new races and special powers, and of course the monsters, relics and places that make their first appearance in Small World Underground.”
As is obvious by the title, Underground takes the land grab struggle beneath the surface where all new races and special powers can be explored. But those with the original game might want to mix the two.
“One of the beauties of the Small World design is the built-in flexibility of the world,” said Kaufmann. “As the previous expansions to the original game proved, we were able to quickly enrich the game with new races and special powers. While Small World Underground is a different view of the world with new terrain types, we knew that many of the previous pieces would be able to fit right in. We didn't try to force the ones that wouldn't work, but the majority just seemed to slide in without really trying.”
The bottom line is that not all of the races from one game will flow seamlessly into the other. Some races have terrain-based advantages in area that only appear in one world but not the other. But the majority will work in either locale.
Grand Dames, Cursed, Tales and Legends and Be Not Afraid are the expansions currently available for Small World. Each adds some races and special powers to the mix and some add some new rules. A couple of other special expansions are no longer available.
“It's our intention to keep the Small World expansions available for as long as there is demand for them,” said Kaufmann. “There were some limited-time promotional expansions such as Leaders and Necromancer Island that will probably not be redone, but all the rest should stay in print for the foreseeable future.”
It is possible for new players to pick up either Small World or Small World Underground as a starting point. “The original Small World game is where new players should start,” said Kaufmann. “It's not that Small World Underground is difficult to learn, but I think having a good grasp of the core rules from the first game, makes it much easier to then advance to the second.”
With such a solid fan base and a wealth of replayability, it makes sense that Small World isn’t yet ready to stop expanding
“We fully expect to continue to develop new things for the Small World universe,” said Kaufmann. “Nothing that we're ready to announce yet, but fans of the game will be able to look forward to more Small World expansions in the future.”
Both new and old fans of the game will rejoice in that knowledge. Small World and Underground each sell for $50 apiece. It can be played by kids starting at around the age of 8.