Tag Archives: Small World

A Whole New World – Small World Underground review

As it so often goes, let’s begin with a confession. The first time I played the original Small World, I utterly utterly hated it. Chris (the splendid fellow who helps me answer questions on the Little Metal Dog Show podcast) brought a copy round for a bunch of us to play. We’d actually spent the whole day playing loads of different games while slowly working our way through a few little drinks and by the time Small World hit the table (at around 11pm) I was far from in the mood to learn a new game with a million pieces that involved thinking.

Five of us were huddled around the table as Chris attempted to explain the rules, most of which I seem to recall ignoring in a fit of “can we not just get on with it?”. Naturally I did terribly and – of course – declared it was awful and completely disregarded the game for months on end. Perhaps six months later I was coerced into a game at the local club I go to and realised that which most others already know: I am an idiot. Because Small World is actually pretty darn good.

Phillipe Keyaerts’ game of fantasy armies attempting to dominate their homelands is a masterpiece of simplicity and timing – and thankfully it’s way simpler than it initially looks. And now Days of Wonder have a follow up for us to throw ourselves into: Small World Underground.

What's in the box? Why, lots of stuff, of course!

If you’ve ever played the original, you’ll pick up Underground in no time at all. For those who’ve not played it, the idea is nice and easy to get your head around. Before the game starts, a selection of races are laid out before the players, each of which is also allocated a special power. As these are combined randomly, there are a ridiculous amount of combinations that can occur. Players select a race and power combo, take a set amount of tokens from the box and proceed to place them around the board, taking over as many little areas as possible.

Another combo is added for the next player to choose from, then they do the same thing: take their tokens and dot them around the board. And so it goes on for a couple of turns as people place their little avatars about the board taking control of areas until… the space runs out. And then the game turns supremely nasty as it actively encourages you to beat on your opposition, muscling in on their territories. Small World is mean.

But it doesn’t stop there, because once you’ve decided that your current race has outlived their usefulness, you put them into decline, flipping the tokens over on the board. You still score for them, but now you have a second race at your disposal complete with a brand new power. Time this switch right and you could end up with a massive advantage over the other players – and that’s exactly what you need.

A few of the available races' tokens. Personally I'm a fan of the Kraken.

Small World Underground takes everything from the first game and ramps it up ever so slightly. The included races and powers are a bit darker in theme and are all completely new ヨ they’re also compatible with the original game and all expansions. There are brand new maps to play on, specifically designed for two to five players, all fitting into the Underground theme. The major differences though? First of all, each board has something new for players to contend with – a river that requires crossing if you’re to expand enough to win! Only one of the races, the Kraken, can actually stay in the water, so you’ll have to consider strategies carefully.

There’s also the addition of special relics and ‘places of power’ that bestow special abilities upon the race that controls a given area. However, it’s not quite as easy as walking into a space and taking them – these spaces have monsters that need to be vanquished first. Once beaten, these powers grant some very useful boons, though they’re selected randomly at the game start and placed face down on the board so you’re never 100% sure what you may stumble across.

A few of the possible combinations available in Underground. There's fifteen races and twenty-one powers, which makes... many many combos.

Gameplay, once you get into the swing of it, is nice and simple especially if you’ve had any experience with the original game. However, even players who are new to the franchise shouldn’t have too much of a problem picking it up. The game comes complete with big help sheets that give you all of the information you’ll need about the races, powers and special relics, and as there’s only a few combinations available in a round you won’t need to refer back to it that often. Components are of the high quality that you would expect from a Days of Wonder title and production throughout is second to none.

There’s a rather large question looming above Small World Underground, however. If you already own the original version, is it worth picking Underground up? It’s a bit of a cop out, but yeah… if you’re a fan of the series, you should get on this one. If you’ve not got a copy of the first game, Underworld is definitely the one you should go for – should you dislike the Relics and Places of Power, you can always just phase them out of the game. While they’re not exactly necessary, they certainly add extra flavour to your plans for domination. Looking at it objectively, this is pretty much Small World version 1.1 – not a big enough leap for it to be called a true sequel, but certainly well worth playing. Another excellent addition to the DoW catalogue and one of the finest, nastiest games I own.

Small World Underground was designed by Phillipe Keyaerts and released by Days of Wonder in 2011. Between two and five players can vie for control, though I’ve found it best with four – games take about 60-90 minutes. It’s available now from your local game store or – of course – online for around £40 / $50. Now, Corrupt Dwarves or Royal Cultists…?

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Come Together – Session Report!

I’ve not actually written a session report before, so I thought I’d give it a shot after this weekend’s fun and games. By way of backstory, aside from going out to my local games club night, I don’t actually get the chance to play much in the way of anything more than two player stuff all that regularly. It’s not the best of situations, but that’s fine by me – however, when the chance of having a few friends over for a whole weekend of gaming came up there was no way I was going to turn it down. Saturday morning rolled around, myself and Steph cleaned the house, people arrived and an entertaining time was had by all. Along with the pair of us were Chris (who helps out with the questions bit on the podcast), his girlfriend Daisy and our mate Rach. Here’s what we got up to, and while this is in no way a review, I’ll invariably drop a few opinions on some of the games we got round to…

1. Arkham Horror:

Well, may as well start with something big, yes? Steph has been clamouring to play this classic for a while and I’ve not actually had a go at it in a very long time. As soon as we sorted out the weekender, she immediately put her foot down and said that AH would be first to the table – so who am I to refuse? I’d spent a couple of hours the previous day reminding myself of the rules, reading through the book and watching some of Grudunza’s excellent tutorial videos to remind me of what’s what. We chose our characters (ignoring the fact that you should really do it randomly) and ended up going into an Arkham that was facing the threat of Ithaqua. We had a couple of slow first rounds as we were all finding our feet but got into the swing of things. Our various investigators wandered around the town getting supplies, waiting for the inevitable doom that you associate with the game but… well, it never really came. I think the five of us may well have had the most uneventful game of Arkham Horror that has ever occurred. Not that we didn’t enjoy playing it – not at all, in fact, it was a great laugh – but absolutely nothing happened! It felt like almost every time we drew for a new portal to appear, it came up with either a location that already had a portal on it or (later in the game) had already been dealt with. Ithaqua barely stirred in his/her/it’s slumber as we placed the final Elder Symbol on the board, returning it to the Other Dimension and saving the townspeople. I swear blind that I shuffled that Mythos deck, but I’ll take the win however it comes. And I got to shuttle around the place in the police car!

2. Forbidden Island:

Next up was a quick journey to Matt Leacock’s island of mystery and treasure (for the others – I was despatched to go make the dinner). Steph had played this with me loads of times, but had never tried it with four. Turned out that it was a very quick journey indeed – she ran through the rules, handed out roles, set up the tiles (which I still think look amazing – have a read of the review I wrote a while back right here), began at the lowest level… and they promptly had their asses kicked by the game. Actually, it wasn’t that bad – they worked well together, managing to claim the first three treasures pretty quickly. However, the final elusive one (the chalice, I think) was just out of their reach. The island was very much against them, flooding the two tiles again and again until eventually they were out of options and were beaten. Just goes to show – this may well be a kids game, but you can still lose if you’re not quick enough!

3. Last Night On Earth:

Perfect timing actually, as dinner was ready as soon as the last treasure sank beneath the waves. We took a little break to chow down on food while Daisy decided to bust out Last Night On Earth. I’ve played it once but it was a loooong while ago, so she ran us through a how-to, then we decided on our scenario. Chris took on the role of Zombie Master as we selected our roles (true to form, I took on the Science teacher and even though he was a bit squishy, he held out!) and we began. We chose the Supply Run set-up, where all the players are holed up in a central mansion and need to get 12 points worth of non-described ‘stuff’ from areas dotted around the board. These six mystery boxes have hidden numbers (from 1-6), meaning that you can probably discover enough supplies to hit the target pretty quickly – however, as each player can only hold a maximum of three at a time,we had to leave stuff behind a lot! Luck was again on our side though – we hit the big stashes very early on in the game, and even though the zombie menace managed to get into the mansion a couple of times (those barricades we started with were worth bugger all!) a victory was assured for the humans.

4. Small World:

Having spent most of the day in humanoid form, we decided to wrap up the evening by messing about with some different life-forms. Small World was a new one to me, despite the fact it’s hit the table a few times at games club I’ve never been involved in a game. First impressions were that it was really complicated (though looking back I changed my mind – my brain was flagging a bit by this point!) but after a few turns I got into it a little more, shifting my little minions around, sending my races into decline (possibly a little early on a couple of turns) and trying to gain the upper hand. First plays of Days of Wonder games always seem to leave me a little confused but I always end up wanting more. The girls flew as they left both Chris and I in the dirt – Steph and Daisy actually ended up tying the game and I trailed in a distant last… I enjoyed it though, and like the way that DoW has sorted out separate maps for different numbers of players. I’m also interested to see how the expansions that are currently available affect the gameplay – hopefully next time round.

5. Descent: Journeys in the Dark:

We got up the next morning, and fuelled with bacon sandwiches and tea, we threw ourselves straight into Descent. Again, it was a first time experience for me. Chris took on the Big Bad role, while Daisy led the four adventurers as she was the only one who knew what she was doing… Despite the fact that there are about a million bits (I think the guys pretty much have every expansion that’s been released!) I found the game surprisingly straightforward. A good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, we played an introductory level which ended up with us facing squishy beasts to kick off with, gradually getting us used to the game mechanic until eventually we got through to the final chamber. In there lay a menagerie of doom (and the Final Boss) which we promptly whupped. It must be said that the dice were on our side a fair bit, and Rach’s mage had an awesome power where she could channel another character. Add that to this huge flame breath thing she had and we were pretty much unstoppable. Chris did manage to get some level of revenge, turning all three of the girls into monkeys by spending a huge pile of threat tokens, but I evaded the curse and managed to land the final (ranged) blow to take the game. On finishing, I checked the clock and saw we’d been playing for a shade over four hours! Utterly incredible – the time passed so quickly. Now, I wonder if I could get hold of a copy of my own for not too much money…?

6. Thunderstone:

Our final game of the weekend was actually the only one I specifically wanted to get to the table – the deck building Thunderstone. My copy arrived while I was on holiday so this was the first time I’d got it to the table, and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. I’ll post up a review here on the blog as soon as I’ve got a few more games under my belt, but first impressions were very good indeed. As a big fan of Dominion, I was interested in seeing the similarities and differences between the two – thankfully, the game is different enough so both warrant a place in my collection. We started with all five playing (complete with a ‘Michael reading through the rules’ explanation) but Chris and Daisy had to bail – however, we played on as a four, with Rach’s boyfriend Mark (who’d just arrived) taking over one of their hands. The usual fumbling about in the dark occurred with the opening rounds, with a fair bit of confusion over the symbols on the cards (which is my only gripe with the game) but checking back with the rulebook – and BGG – helped us out no end. Of course, as it’s my game I got well beaten, with Rach taking the win despite Mark grabbing the Thunderstone… wiping out a seven-VP monster on her last turn was enough for her to get first place. A cracking little game (once we got the hang of it) and one that I really want to play again soon.

And that was it! A splendid weekend had by all, loads of new games played and we organised another session for the weekend after Thanksgiving (despite being in England, we still do Thanksgiving as Steph is American). Cheers to the guys for coming, staying and playing!

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News and stuff – 11th June 2010

While the eyes of the whole world are focusing on football (mine included, I’m writing this just as South Africa have taken the lead against Mexico) the crushing inevitability of The Little Metal Dog News Report arrives to the sound of a stadium full of vuvuzelas!

Following last weekend’s UK Games Expo, the results of the Expo awards have been released. Voted by show visitors and a panel of selected judges, the gongs this year went to the Ragnar Brothers Workshop Of The World (Best New Board Game), Forbidden Island (Best Family Game), World Cup Card Game 2010 (Best Card Game, but there weren’t many others!) and Mijnlieff (Best Abstract). There’s been plenty of talk about the first two, not least on Little Metal Dog, and of course if you’d like to read more about the Expo, you can check out my thoughts right here. As the dust has now settled, there’s been a bit of discussion on how the show can be improved – people who pre-ordered tickets seemed to be a little annoyed that those paying cash on the day got in quicker, for example, but it looks like the organisers are taking things on board and will be continuing to do so when organising the 2011 event.

Days of Wonder are a company who have really embraced their online presence, making great versions of their board games for online play through their website. It’s obvious that their customers enjoy them as nearly 20 million games have been clocked up on their servers since the launch a few years back. To celebrate reaching this momentous figure, DoW have announced a competition of sorts: the players of the 20,000,000th game – no matter what it may be – will recieve some rather nice prizes:  the winner of the game will be sent a brand new 16GB iPad, pre-loaded with one of their more recent releases, Small World. The other players won’t be left out though, as they’ll all get an 8GB iPod Touch to help them deal with the ignominy of defeat. Not a bad little deal at all, so what have you got to lose?

Finally, a few mentions of interesting upcoming releases. Bruno Faidutti (who you’ll be able to listen to on the next episode of The Little Metal Dog Show) and Gwenaël Bouquin are putting out Smiley Face through Fantasy Flight Games later in the year. Another quick card game, players need to match up cards while causing mischief to others. There’s also an element of betting in there, as you can pull out of rounds while nominating someone you think will win – this will give you points as well as them. Bruno has also been talking about the upcoming Mr. Jack Pocket, due to be released in the summer. A portable revision of the excellent Mr Jack, one player must be cunning enough to escape the detective skills of the other – it’ll be interesting to see how it translates into a card game format. Last of all, Founding Fathers – the new game from the team behind 1960: The Making Of A President – sees the light of day in a few short weeks. Knowing how well respected games are, this is getting me excited – if only because I’m a new convert to studying American history. It’ll be nice to see how much of a change I can make!

And that’s it. As I said on Twitter, the latest episode of the show should be available on Monday – there’ll be interviews with legendary designer Bruno Faidutti as well as the Marketing Manager of Esdevium Games, Charles Ryan. If you’ve got a question or comment for the show, email littlemetaldog@gmail.com – it’d be splendid to hear from you! Cheers for all your support, and thanks for reading!

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