A creativity blog - including reviews, photographs and discussion on a variety of things; such as dragons and other things almost but not quite completely entirely unlike tea.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

The continued tales of a packomaniac - Small World

I wondered if I should have entitled this post "Tokenomania", but I decided to stick with the packomania theme so that people can more easily link this board game post with my previous board game post, and such and such. Also, "The continued tales of" has a nice ring to it.

My love/hate relationship with Small World (published by Days of Wonder, designed by Philippe Keyaerts) started around the time the game was first published. It was another one of those long-haired, heavy metal -listening board game and rpg -people I learned to know in the university, who first introduced me to this game. At first I thought it was cute and nice and fun and a lovely pastime, but I wasn't seriously impressed by it. And then came the expansions.

Currently, I'm the very proud owner indeed of Small World (SW), along with the Grand Dames of Small World (GD), Cursed! (C!), Small World: Be Not Afraid.. (BNA), Royal Bonus (RB), Small World: Necromancer Island*, Small World Tales and Legends (SWTaL) and Small World Realms (SMR) -expansions, alongside Small World Underground (SWU). As is visible, the game keeps getting Smaller and Smaller.

Let's start by looking at the contents of the original SW box. It currently houses the basic game, as well as the tokens for the RB -expansion, as they don't fit on any of the trays. There is an extra tray that comes with BNA -expansion, which houses basically all the tokens from GD, C! and BNA - I also like to pack them so, that the basic game is in it's own box and the expansion things are in their own tray - that way it's always possible to play a vanilla game whenever one wishes.

The packing is really neat. There are actually directions for you when you first open up the game box on how to pack the game - as most of the tokens come in punch-through cardboard sheets, you should save the sheets once you've removed the tokens and put them under the black plastic tray - this serves to raise it's level from the bottom, which packs the pieces nice and tight against the rules sheets and the lid - you no longer need the extra space on top once you've removed the tokens from their cardboard sheets, you see? And as the cardboard sheets are still of the same width as they were when they were on top, they push the black tray up just the correct amount. It must have been a genius who designed this box. Or an idiot, as he/she turned out to be, when all the expansions started pouring in. Design a new box for us, to fit everything! Please! And I mean EVERYTHING!!!! (coughs)

So, here're most of the tokens inside the box - minus the coins. There are race and special power cards, or whatever you want to call them, each naturally with their own tokens, should there be any. With trolls, for instance, you'll get the troll tokens and their stone houses, all just with the race card. If they happen to be, say, Fortified as well, as their special power, then you'll get those tokens too! Joy and happiness! Not all special powers come with tokens, though, such as Hill, which only gives you extra coins for all Hill areas you occupy at a turn's end.

The token tray that comes with the BNA expansion, sadly does not fit into the boxes. But it is a much better design than the original tray was, as it has curved, yes you read it right, curved slots. This means easier pick up for each row of tokens, as they are wont to fall down and get stuck to the bottom of the tray. But with simply rounding up the corners one's life become infinitely easier. What a stroke of genius! 

I'd like to point out, that during me taking photos I didn't notice that the game was still in the previous gameplay packaging - which means that I had been helped by other players to pack the game and tokens and cards and thus, stuff was in places it wouldn't have been in, had I packed the game carefully and precisely myself. Luckily I noticed this grave error while repacking and was able to correct it, but I couldn't be bothered to take new photos anymore... But that's what you get when you are too tired to say "no" to eager helpers. ;)

SWU is a complete game in and of itself. It has basically all similar pieces to the original SW, just with the Underground special twist. Rules sheets, boards and tokens all have their own kind of artwork, only the coins and the die resemble those of the original SW.

An example from SWU, where you'll have eleven Shadow Mimes, who've decided to be Vengeful for this game, and thus receive the Vengeful tokens.

SWR is a map expansion. It comes with several (I could count them, but I won't) tiles, which can be turned one way up for SW map and the other way for SWU map. You also get the tokens for the tunnels, which were at least at some point also sold separately. The purpose of the tunnels is to join the SW and the SWU maps together - they cannot be built together due to the edges of the tiles not matching with one tile being the other side up. There are also smaller tiles for mountains, peaks (a new terrain type), and impassable regions - all of which are two-sided too.

SWTaL is a card expansion. The cards describe events which occur during the game turns and affect everyone. There are good things, such as that this turn, forests will produce one extra coin to anyone occupying them, or really, really bad ones, such as no active race scores points this turn. You get the amount of game rounds - 1 event cards a game, so there's no event on the very first turn. You always reveal the Upcoming event on the round before it comes, and on the next round it becomes the Current event, and you reveal a new Upcoming. There are themes to the cards, so it is possibly for you to pick a single theme for any game, or you can make a complete mix of them and get 7-9 completely random cards too.

So, as a mini-example of all of my games, here are two maps, SW and SWU, side by side, but not joined. There is one tunnel leading from SW swamp to SWU mud plain - so the Mudmen occupying that particular mud plain are adjacent to the swamp on the SW map. 

Amazons have used their extra tokens to conquer a peak, which takes four tokens to conquer - also they've slaughtered some Indigenous people on the swamp close to the peak with three tokens and ridden through it to the empty hills beyond, requiring only the normal two tokens - the latter two regions they choose to protect with their Heroic tokens, meaning no other race tokens can come there to bother them - not even the dragon.

The Mudmen started from the mud plains, as is their right to do since it's on the edge of the SWU map, and they also took the caves on their right. After that they started lusting after the treasure they knew was being guarded by the two hideous monsters in one of the mushroom forests, so they attacked there with their two remaining tokens and a die - which was a huge success to the relief of everybody, as they rolled exactly the two extra tokens from the die they needed for the conquest. They are thus rewarded with the control of a relic or a popular place, whichever happens to come from the randomized stack of treasure. They are a bit worried about the Amazons, even though they're not yet occupying the swamp on the SW map - but if they do, they'll be right adjacent to the mud plain and could steal it away from the Mudmen- and where would one get one's extra Mudmen then? Nowhere else on this map, that's for sure.

And let's not forget that there are both a Current event and an Upcoming event to worry about! Oh dear, whatever is going to happen next, I wonder. No forest conquests at least, as it's being denied by the Upcoming event card. The Current event would require everyone to abandon one of their current regions, but as both of the races just started this turn, it doesn't affect them. The first round wouldn't even have an event card in any case, so it's clearly cheating being on top of the current event card.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, in a nutshell - or, in three boxes, a separate token tray and a deck of cards, is Small World. It's a disaster to pack, terrific to play and a great way to gain new enemies, at least until the next time you play. The arguments I have witnessed (and had!) over this game, oh, I could tell you stories... But I shan't.

The game also comes with empty race and special power cards, as well as with empty event cards. I've been meaning to bring some science fiction into the game with Aliens (equipped with a mothership, naturally), Space Marines, and possibly some eastern flavour along with Samurai and maybe Ninjas. But I need to think how to fit them together with the rest of the game first - and I use the word "fit" in the most endearing way I possibly can. 

(*I've never got the chance to try Necromancer Island, mainly because it's a scenario of co-operative play, which players of Small World are not often inclined to try... The game is, in my opinion, the epitome of competitive play. My ex-boyfriend had tried the Island once with a group of friends when I was off visiting parents or something such, and he said it wasn't any good - not that I trust his judgement in all things, but I've been disinclined to try it after that.)

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