11 December 2013

Small World

With both role-playing games campaigns cancelled (too many players with other engagements and/or approaching the end of the year thus having too few games left to launch a new scenario), I had a game of Small World with a couple of buddies. 

The game was fresh out of the mail, as I had finaly remembered about spending that Amazon gift card my brother got me for my last birthday in January... A few week more and it wouldn't have been worth anything any more!

The game sees random traditional med fan races each with its equally random power (I said random twice: each power can be matched with each race, their not fixed combinations) fighting to control a map that's as the game name says it, is definitely too small for everyone. 

The basic system of the game is the kind of simple and elegant mechanisms I came to expect from the makers of Memoir '44 and Ticket to Ride (two other of my favorite boardgames for sheer elegance of their system) Conquering a region requires two "armies" plus one per enemy occupying it (and an extra one needed if the enemy is in a montains region and/or as some sort of other defensive bonus). Providing you've got the required forces, the attack always succeed, the defenders discard one of their armies and will get to redeploy any left in one of their other region. So far nothing worth blogging home about. But two more factors make it a challenging and fun game...

Like most Days of Wonder's games, Small World already as a crapload of extensions:
a seconf full fledged underground themed game with new races (and yes, both games
can be linked), powers, maps; smaller extensions, with new races and powers to add to the
two base games, and a set of geomorphic tiles and scenarios to renew both base games.
Not to mention a iPod app
Each race comes with a special rules (e.g. dwarves gets more points from occupying regions with mines, giants have a attack bonus when attacking from a montains region, etc.) The races powers comes with a special rule too (e.g. a pet dragon able to take over a region all by itself regardless of the strength of its defenders, the mastery of the world's cave network allowing the attack of region normaly not accessible, etc.)

The second big twist is that while each race as limited expansion capacity (you end up running out of troops to defend your empire and conquer new lands), the players as the option to jump horses and put its current civilisation in decline: the special power is discarded, the armies counters are flipped over to their declining side and their number reduced by one per region. Although they become passive and won't expend anymore, they still get their player victory points while he bid for a new combination of race and special power and start building another empire. But then again the world is too small, and declining races are easy prey for active ones...

Beyond nice rules, the theme (beautifully served by its graphics) was also a big hit in a RPG group nearly breastfed with fantasy... This first game came with a lot of interesting and very narative "events" like the map being split early one between a mage empire and it's (evil looking) sorcerer equivalent. I can just imagine them being two sides of a big thaumocratic empire thorn by  civil war. The mage went into decline but their territory remained relatively intact for 4 or 5 centuries (game turns), while the sorcerer where much faster to slid into oblivion, thanks mostly to a zombie invasion (one of their experiment gone wrong?). We saw some short lived empire of orks or giants but the two next big civilisations were a Trolls builders who built a "China Wall" of lairs and fortress across most of the map to keep raiding berskerks at bay. In the mean time, to the West diplomatic hobbits took over most the mages' former empire. I imagine those peacefull hobbit as having always inhabited the mage's land and forced to take the rein of power by the decline of their former masters/mentors/friends. The last century saw Amazons coming out of the world vast caves network and invading both the hobbits' and beserks' lands on both sides of the mighty Troll Wall

How I envision a Troll-built world-spanning wall...
Picture of the Wall in Games of Thrones
My narrative skills probably don't do justice to the game, but all three of us couldn't help thinking about taking snapshots of the game, making an "history book" out of it and using it as a setting for a fairly original D&D game...

The other crazy idea that come to mind with that kind of games is to go the whole 3D modelled board with miniatures instead of counters road... Well, guess what, some Swedish guy did it!


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