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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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SIMPLE RULES

Small World is a game of conquering and holding onto regions. How small the world is, depends on how many players are in the game; but rest assured it will be crowded.

The 2 player world.

The 5 player world.

To begin the game, 6 races and powers are randomly laid out and paired together. Each race has varying special abilities and token-counts as determined by the layout, and each player chooses a race.

For example, the Flying Wizards comes with the Power Badge ability (Flying) to conquer anywhere on the map, and its racial ability of getting a bonus coin for every magic region that it holds. Moreover, the Flying Wizards starts with 5 plus 5 or 10 Wizard tokens.

The players may then enter the small world with their racial tokens. To do so, they start by conquering a region that is on the edge of the map, and then continuing to conquer adjacent regions.

The racial tokens.

To conquer a region, you need to put two (exception: three for mountains) plus the number of defending tokens in that region. So for example 2 Dwarf tokens are holding a hill region, to conquer it you would need to spend 4 tokens.

You may then proceed to conquer more regions that are adjacent to regions that you are already holding. (Regions you just conquered count as regions you are already holding.) The conquering ends when the player chooses to stop, when he has no token available for further conquest, or when he has rolled the reinforcement die. The reinforcement die can be rolled to reduce the number of tokens needed to conquer a specific region, by either 0, 0, 0, 1, 2 or 3. Since conquest must stop after the reinforcement die is rolled, a player can only benefit from it at most once per turn.

When the player is done with conquest, he redeploys his tokens, redistributing them among his regions any way he wants, provided that he leaves at least 1 token per region. (Cannot abandon regions after conquest.) This is purely for defensive purposes.

On his next turn, he picks up all the tokens he wants, even the last token in a region to abandon it if he so desires. Essentially, he leaves behind single tokens in regions he wants to hold. The extra tokens may then be used for conquests. And after conquest, he may redeploy for defensive purposes.

To recap, a turn consists of picking up spare tokens that aren't needed to hold already-owned regions, use these to conquer, and then redeploy for defensive purposes. You can only abandon regions at the beginning of your turn, and if you abandon all of your regions you may then reenter the board from any map-edge region just like on the first turn.

When a race is conquered, it loses one token, and redeploys the rest at the end of the active player's turn. So a single token that is conquered would just go away. Three tokens (in the same region) that are conquered would see one going away, and the other two redeployed to other regions that race holds.

Eventually, your race will run out of steam to wage further conquests. A player can choose to go into decline on any turn, and spends the entire turn doing so (no conquest, no redeployment). To do so, he flips all his active racial tokens over to the declined side, leaves behind only one token per region that he holds and removes the rest. A player can only have one declined race at any given time, so any race of his already in decline would be completely removed from the board. On his next turn, he may choose a new race and reenter the board from any map-edge region like on the first turn.

Points are scored at the end of every turn: one for every region that the player holds (active and declined races combined), plus whatever scoring bonuses granted by special abilities.

The game lasts a predetermined number of turns, and the winner is the one who has the most points at the end.

WEALTHY GAMEPLAY
A common perception among gamers is that Small World is a lighter, fluffier version of Vinci. More of a family game than a gamer's game. It may be marketed as such, and can certainly be enjoyed that way, but that is hardly its defining merit. The game is hardly as simple as picking the best race, and then conquering as many regions as possible each turn without rhyme or reason, sin ton ni son. There is a bit more to it than that: a layer that eludes most first timers, a layer I stumbled upon almost accidentally.

Some races are better for scoring lots of points quick (blitz), some are better in decline (decline), some have better staying power while active (enduring). The order and timing in which you pick these races must all work together. For example, there are seven turns left in the game, do you go into decline? If there is a very enduring race out there, then you may want to decline right away. If there is a semi-enduring race, then you may want to decline a turn or two later. If you plan on using two blitz races, then you may want to decline right away so you can squeeze in two races in the time left. And of course, it also depends on how well your current race is doing.

One of the strongest racial spreads, if possible to pull off, is to open with a good decline race followed by an enduring one to run the rest of the game. Out of the 13 games I've played so far, 2-races have won 9 times, 3-races 3 times, and 4-races 1 time.

One of the strongest 2-race spreads in the game: Trolls followed by Skeletons

But no matter how many races you run, you generally want to follow up a good decline race, with a race that has the potential to go the whole way. If you opened with a good decline, you want the next one to be as enduring as possible. If you get a good decline as your second race, then a blitz to follow may be fine if there are only 3 turns or less left in the game anyways.

Opening with a good decline, followed by a blitz race that is poor at endurance and decline is usually a bad idea. You will score shitloads of points mid-game with a strong decline and active, but when you need to decline your blitz race you will get 3 points on that turn and be strapped with a nearly non-existant decline race thereafter.

In a 5 player game, who gets the best racial spread can be kind of a crapshoot, but in a 3 player game, players have more control over their racial spread and plan further ahead. The races available may affect how many turns you want to run your current race; and how many turns you want to run your current race may affect which and what type of other race/s you want to run for the rest of the game.

Racial combos.

In short, the racial choice, and the timing of the declines, is very important to any competent Small World strategy. But I think most gamers know that already. What they don't seem to understand as well, is that a race's character is hardly solely defined by its special abilities and the timing of which it comes onto the board. The same race can be used as an enduring, decline, or blitz race depending on one's boardplay, an under rated aspect of Small World in my opinion.

Boardplay (lacxox)

Some regions are better than others. Some regions are more likely to be attacked than others. This rarely comes into play if a player is just trying to conquer as many regions as he possibly can, which a lot of players tend to do. But by voluntarily holding onto fewer regions, one can afford to be more selective of the regions he holds. You might think I am crazy for voluntarily holding onto fewer regions than I could, but it works. Abandoning regions is a viable strategy that is often too easily overlooked.

More specifically, striking the right balance between region count, and token count, is important. Stacking 10 tokens in 1 region isn't going to help. Spreading out 10 tokens in 10 regions can be suicidal too. Yes I know, it's the regions that score the points, not the tokens, but consider this: you score around 90 points in a game, and you get around 20 or 30 tokens in a game. Giving up one point, to save a couple tokens, may very well be worth it.

A rule of thumb I like to use is the rule of ten: aim for roughly ten points per turn, even if you can score more. Ten points per turn on average is often good enough for a winning score. I based the rule of ten on two principles. First, the more regions your decline race holds, the more valuable it is to keep your active race alive. Because if you are forced to decline your active race, all your declined tokens will go along with it. Second, the fewer regions your active race holds, the better you are able to preserve its token count and therefore keep it alive. In other words, if your decline race is holding 6 regions, hold 4 with your active. If your decline race is holding 2 regions, hold 8 with your active (which usually means as much as possible because it's hard to go over 8 with any given race).

Now you may ask, what is the point of keeping my active race alive if I am only going to score 3 points with it per turn? If I hold 3 regions this turn, I can hold 3 or 4 regions again next turn comfortably; whereas if I hold 5 regions this turn, I may have problem holding even 4 regions next turn. Suppose I have 9 tokens. I can spread them 3-3-3, or 2-2-2-2-1. In the former case, I may lose 0 or 1 tokens, and easily claim 3 or 4 regions next turn. In the latter case, I may easily lose 2 or 3 tokens, and barely claim 4 regions next turn, with fewer tokens left. And so on and so forth on subsequent turns. The effect isn't that pronounced over the course of 2 turns, but it may be the difference between completely wiped off, or still going strong, on the fourth or fifth turn.

Most people don't mind that, because they think being able to pick a new race and start over softens the blow, or even more than make up for it. But here's the catch, by allowing others to wipe out your active race, you are in the lose-lose scenario to either keep running a crappy active with a good decline, or start over with a good active but crappy decline. By forcing others to wipe out your decline race while preserving the token count for your active race at the same time, you can ensure that when you need to start over with a new race, you will do so with a strong race going into decline.

When giving up region count to preserve token count, I very often abandon regions. In fact, not counting turns going into decline and bringing a new race onto the board, I probably abandon region/s on more than half of my turns. Migrate towards the mountains, away from the edge of the board, away from a strong active race, towards the hills if that is your power badge (+1 point for holding hills), etc. Many people see the Hill, Forest, Humans, etc as ways to hold the same number of regions to score more points. I often look at them as ways to score the same number of points while holding a smaller number of regions. In fact, I think I won one of my earlier games of Small World because I kept missing my reinforcement rolls for my Merchant Sorcerers, with Trolls in decline.

Of course, preserving token count isn't nearly as important if A. the game is about to end, or B. you plan on going into decline next turn. Namely, token count is most important when using your second race (third one is usually close to game end, and first one usually declines soon). Knowing when and how much to value token and region count is vital to any successful Small World strategy. Specifically, token count is more important for an enduring race, and region count is more important for a blitz race, or a race going into decline.

Some abilities grant flexibility on how to use a race, depending on how you play the race on the board. As mentioned, Hill and Forest can be used to score extra points, or preserve token count, so they can be useful for a blitz or enduring race. Take Pillaging Orcs for example. They are obviously a very good blitz race, but they can be used as an enduring race too, by pulling off completely,and conquering 2 or 3 regions each turn for 6 or 9 points. The Commando (bonus 1 attack) is good for a blitz race, and alright for a decline race because it allows them to spread out faster. The Wealthy (7 free points) on the other hand, is only good for a (virtual) blitz. The Skeletons is just sick as an enduring race.

In conclusion, finding the best racial spread (timing and choice) isn't trivial, and finding the right balance between token and region count to best match your boardplay with your racial spread isn't trivial either. The game is hardly as trivial as, pick the best race for the moment, conquer as many regions as possible, as fast as possible, rinse repeat with another race.

SPIRIT VINCI
I've played half a game of Vinci, and a dozen or so games of Small World, and I like Small World more. I consider myself a gamer, and Small World very much a gamer's game. (Granted, it's not Imperial or Chess or anything, but still.) The dice in Small World didn't bother me as much as I was afraid it might. In fact, the reinforcement die actually adds a little bit of strategical consideration to the game. I am also inclined to prefer a historical theme over a fantasy one, but the artistic presentation and production quality have me liking the theme in Small World by a huge margin.

But the biggest innovation Small World introduces to Vinci is seperating the abilities into two distinct groups, which allows the designer to come up with more creative abilities that would be broken or not make sense otherwise.

Another simple change, that is no less of an improvement, is the different boards for different number of players. The fact that Vinci couldn't be played by 2 players simply because of the fixed board size is one of the dumbest restrictions on a game. With Small World, Days of Wonder has really given attention to small, simple details that matter. The changes aren't cosmetic; Small World is a bona fide upgrade.

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Jamie Pollock
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Great review! What's your opinion on the Dwarves and if you do think they're poor what would you do to fix them?
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mojo shivers
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One of the best reviews on Small World I've read so far. Your thoughts on pulling up stakes to preserve token count gives me another nuance to think about that I would have never thought of before. Also, the more I read about your "rule of 10" the more I can appreciate its effectiveness.

Thanks for this.
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Wendell
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What a great review, thanks.

drunkenKOALA wrote:


Some regions are better than others. Some regions are more likely to be attacked than others. But this rarely comes into play if a player is just trying to conquer as many regions as he possibly can, which a lot of players tend to do. By voluntarily holding onto fewer regions, one can afford to be more selective of the regions he holds. You might think I am crazy for voluntarily holding onto fewer regions than I could, but it works. Abandoning regions is a viable strategy that is often too easily overlooked.


Trying to defend everywhere, and thus weakening your DEFENSES everywhere, is a classic mistake for many kinds of games, from big hex-and-counter wargames to games like Small World. Good point.
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Steve Wessels
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Nice work.
 
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Erwin Lau
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Coming from a wargaming background, I could not agree more how important to consolidate and withdraw from non-strategic regions.

You have articuled this idea brilliantly.

In T&E, a similar approach is also used often: withdraw the leaders when facing eminent defeat in external conflict in T&E.
Any thoughts on resemblance or differences?
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Djali
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Nice review!
That rule of ten is really interesting and I'll keep that in mind next time we play.
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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Thanks everyone for the endorsements, and the tip.

Quote:
What's your opinion on the Dwarves and if you do think they're poor what would you do to fix them?

I think they are too weak. Like I said, I like using the bonus terrain scoring to score the same number of points, while holding fewer regions to preserve my active race. But the Dwarves only advantage over say Wizards (unless the map position somehow favors them or something) is that their power stays in decline.

I mean, with an active race, like I said, it can be very useful to score 5 points with 3 regions, instead of 5 points with 5 regions, because you can clump up your tokens and prevent others from attacking you. But in decline, I'd prefer the opposite: score 5 points with 5 regions instead of 5 points with 3 regions. Because in decline, you get more tokens and bonus "defense" from the base 2 for each region by spreading out more, so it's better the other way around.

But of course, if people don't take out declined Dwarves, they can be really strong. But people usually do, because you can take out 2 points with one region, so it is very worthwile for others to attack you.

I'd give Dwarves a 4, or some additional minor benefit.

Quote:
In T&E, a similar approach is also used often: withdraw the leaders when facing eminent defeat in external conflict in T&E.
Any thoughts on resemblance or differences?

I don't know T&E that well. Seems like withdrawing leaders can be a lot more costly because you are not just giving up a point, but board position to do so. Of course you may have lost that position to external conflict anyways, but now you must find a way to reestablish the position somehow (internal conflict, catasrophe).
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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DjaliRioT wrote:
Nice review!
That rule of ten is really interesting and I'll keep that in mind next time we play.
By the way I don't follow the rule of ten myself, or not strictly. It's not like, follow the rule, then you'll make the right choice. It's more like, make the right choice, and it usually happens to be around 10. But I base my decision on what's on the board, etc, instead of just methodically following the rule of ten. Sometimes, you can get to 12 without overextending yourself. Sometimes, you will overextend yourself by going to 9. It depends on the other active races on the board, etc.

The point is that you may want to hold fewer regions on purpose sometimes.
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Laszlo Molnar
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What a good last photo you have in your review!
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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Sorry, did you want credit?
 
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Laszlo Molnar
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No, I'm usually simply happy to find it when my photos are used by others. I take that as a compliment
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Jamie Pollock
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Withdrawing leaders in T&E only happens in very rare circumstances.

One suggestion for the Dwarves was to make them require 1 less token when conquering mine regions and of all the suggestions I've seen, I think that's probably the most elegant one.
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Chris Norwood
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Very nice review!

But I don't really buy the "Rule of 10". I understand and agree with the foundational idea that it is better to be selective about how far to extend yourself, but I just don't think that stopping at 10 points is a good thing.

I'll give you that in most games, the winner averages around 10 or so points a round. But that is an average. Considering that you're not going to score 10 points in your first turn or two, or on turns when you go into decline, you're going to have to score upwards of 14 or 15 points on each of your "peak" rounds in order to have a shot.

But thanks again for the thoughtful, intelligent review, comments and strategy!
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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I usually win with 2 races, so after getting my second race on I have no (pronounced) peaks and valleys.
 
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Jan B.
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I like the rule of 10 of its interpreted as a such:

Try position yourself to get at least 10 points without thinning out your active race.

If you play that way, make sure that you do not lose that much ground at the beginning. Problems and attacks may arise if you're playing catch-up and desparately score many points per round. That will lead others to attack you and force you to an unplanned decline.

I usually did better with only one decline as well, as it really slows your scoring down.

Bottomline: drunkenKOALA is a good gamer and you should consider his hints ;)

Cool review btw...
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MGS
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I have a question that leads to a point. What are some good declining races? I assume that the Trolls is one of them since you get two tokens instead of one to defend while in decline.

Yours is a solid strategy. On the other hand, It will depend a lot on the metagame of your group and Small World may be more dependent on it than some other games, because of the great possibility of bashing the leader.

So, if the other players perceive you as threat. Either by the childish reason of you winning most of the games or for the better reason of your declining race looking strong and your current race looking unattackable. If either way one or a couple of the other players systematically destroy your declined race, this strategy will not hold.

I think this ability to bash the leader is what keeps Small World from being a gamer's game.

Just to be clear, this the best review of Small World that I have read.
 
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David F
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Great thing about drunkenKOALA's reviews is he almost always waits till he "gets" the game before he puts his insights to the keyboard. thumbsup You know you're getting a thought-out opinion of the game from him, not some random shmuck's screams of the game being awesome/broken, and decorated needlessly by pictures.

One more reason I like playing with fewer players (because more players = crapshoot with picking races, as you mentioned, and more players = more lame butts picking wrong people to whack), is that the higher number of rounds (10 vs 8) makes the decisions with your 2nd race (blitz or endure? how to preserve token count?) much more agonizing. You can't just ride your enduring 2nd race for 6 rounds; you need to do it for 8!
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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Ronaldo wrote:
I have a question that leads to a point. What are some good declining races? I assume that the Trolls is one of them since you get two tokens instead of one to defend while in decline.

Yours is a solid strategy. On the other hand, It will depend a lot on the metagame of your group and Small World may be more dependent on it than some other games, because of the great possibility of bashing the leader.

So, if the other players perceive you as threat. Either by the childish reason of you winning most of the games or for the better reason of your declining race looking strong and your current race looking unattackable. If either way one or a couple of the other players systematically destroy your declined race, this strategy will not hold.

I think this ability to bash the leader is what keeps Small World from being a gamer's game.

Just to be clear, this the best review of Small World that I have read.

Funny you should mention that, because if people like to persecute you, you will need this strategy even more. In fact, part of the reason why I developed this strategy, is precisely because players like to bash on me. I am always a target, even when I am losing, because of my 8-5 record. I know if I spread my active race as much as everyone else does, I will get attacked. Sometimes people get frustrated that others aren't attacking me even though I seem to be leading. But you know what, I paid a lot for that: by holding fewer regions than I could have, by picking a pussy power like Seafaring instead of Commando that let me get fewer points the first couple of rounds, etc. Instead of bitching and moaning about others bashing on me, I adapted my boardplay to dissuade them from doing so.

But yeah, if everyone decides to wipe out your decline race at their own expense then there's nothing you can do. So in a way, Small World needs players to behave reasonably in their own interest for the game to work "properly." Not sure if that makes it more or less of a gamer's game.

Good decline: Troll, Ghoul, Seafaring, Stout, Spirit, Triton, Commando Ratmen (defense through sheer numbers in decline, and getting there fast).
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Homo Ludens
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Thank you for the thoughtful review and the great tips on strategy.

I've only played 2 5-player games so far, and somehow I've managed to win them both (88 and 90 points respectively).

It's seems to me that a lot depends on what happens to your race in decline. In the last game I started with Bivouacking giants, which was great because I quickly took over 7 territories in the bottom right corner of the board. Nobody wanted to attack me, and when I put them in decline people had already invested in other parts of the board and didn't think of pulling up and starting elsewhere. Plus having your declining race on mountains can be a good deterrent. For the rest of the game I played the Alchemist Sorcerers - I got beat up on a good deal, but I tried not to overextend myself too much (as you suggest) and I was generally willing to move shop and start elsewhere.

Lastly, a lot depends on table talk - who is the perceived threat. But your strategy of playing a safer game and bunching up units a bit more should result in consistently competitive scores I would think.

Again, thanks for the suggestions.
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Johan Papadopoulos
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Really thank you for your review and strategy tips.

I have played many games till SW came out. With this review you made me look the game more seriously.

You are right about the things you say. Specially about abandoning lands and the balance between scoring one more coin or one less but not losing one unit.

I reckon these strategy points came from a 4 or maybe 5 players games. But I want to ask you how these came up on an 1vs1 game or what your prospective is for this match-up.

I acknowledge that this is a light game and you can easily have fun with it. But it is obvious that you can search it thoroughly and become better player for sure.

Thanks koala.
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ronaldinho @boardspace.net
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Thanks. Since attacking other players becomes even more worthwile in a 2 player game, I would say that token count becomes more important in general. The player who spread out in a 2 player game may score more points for one round, but the other player could potentially "seize control" of the game from thereafter with his superior token count.

The first player may still have an advantage from picking the races first. But playing second may be a slight advantage in that you always get the opportunity to attack your opponent first.

Try using Wealthy Ghouls, followed by Pillaging Skeletons in a 2 player game. I am not sure if it is a beatable combo when used properly. The thing with the undead strategy is that the Ghouls give you the most token count for a decline race, and the Skeletons for an active race. So with these two races you get a huge token count advantage.
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Paul
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It's true, I love bashing on this guy. Then again, I'm the one who is second, a lot, on his wins. LoL
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Ron Olivier, Sr.
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Wonderful job reviewing this, though it is a bit long it’s all pretty good information. I’ve heard that this game is a re-hash of Vinci, and that kinda turned me off. I’ve played Vinci and did not really like it very much. But it looks like some of the things that I didn’t like have been removed for ‘Small World’. Your review does a great job of pointing that out. I will have to try it out in the near future.
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Stian Kristiansen
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Even though this thread hasn't seen any activity in a while, I want to post my 2 cents.

I have been considering getting my hands on this game and I've read every review here on BGG. The positive reviews highlight a lot of things that really appeals to me; a fast and not to complicated conquest/area control game that in short seems "fun" to play. This description fits me and my current playgroup very well.

But I do have friends that like a little heavier games as well, and the negative reviews pointed on some possible weaknesses; too simple and to few interesting decisions which makes the game uninteresting after a while, less a "gamers game" than vinci and that vinci really is a better game just not as pretty, that all that matters is to get the best power/race combo.

But after reading this review I am sold. Its stunning looks, short playing time and not too complicated rules but still interesting mechanics makes it a possible hit for one of my gaming groups, while the "hidden" depth brought forth in this review makes it a possible hit for my other group as well.

In short, I am going to buy this game!

I have a weak spot for games that have a lot of interaction/conflict, are simple to learn, but still have a enough depth to create a lot of situations where you have to make difficult decisions. My all time favorite game is T&E, which also is quite easy to learn (or at least does not have to many or complicated rules), has a lot of conflict and have a great deal of interesting decisions. SW might not quite reach T&E on the last point, but I still see enough positive tendencies to hope that this games become a real winner for me.
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