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All the World’s a Stage – ‘Small World: Realms’ Reviewed

Game Name: Small World Realms

Publisher: Days of Wonder

Designer: Philippe Keyaerts

Year: 2012

Players: 2 – 6

Ages: 8+

Playing Time: 40 – 80 Minutes

Retail Price: $35.00

Category: Expansion to Fantasy Board Game of Area Control

Components:

  • 48 Geomorphic Two-sided Terrain Tiles:
    • 26 Geomorphic Hex-shaped Terrain tiles featuring 3 Regions each
    • 12 Mountain tiles
    • 6 Chasms
    • 4 Peaks
  • 12 Tunnels
  • 10 Victory Coin Mines
  • 8 Miscellaneous Tokens (Rusted Throne, etc.)
  • 6 River Border Markers
  • 1 Game Turn Track
  • 1 Rules booklet with 12 Scenarios

From Days of Wonder:

Renowned for their superb cartography, the maps of the Imperial Wizards detailed even the most obscure caves and secretive races of Small World. But the Great Cataclysm (Mystic Orcs at play?) shook the landscape, redrawing frontiers and creating new Realms to be explored the world over…

Small World Realms features scores of puzzle-like geomorphic Terrain regions and a dozen new Scenarios, including such instant classics as The Rusted Throne and A Game of Gods. Players can also creatively combine the Terrain to build their own custom maps and scenarios making Realms the definitive world-building toolkit for Small World and Small World Underground fans alike.

Small World Realms is a big box expansion to Small World and Small World Underground. What this expansion allows you to do is to build your own small world, setting free your imagination and adding an vast amount of replayability to an already fun game.

The way Days of Wonder accomplishes this is by giving you a bunch of puzzle-like tiles that you can use to assemble a board in any configuration that you choose. One side of each tile is covered with terrain from Small World, and the reverse has Small World Underground terrain on it. If you only own one game or the other, you’ll really only be getting half of the benefit of owning the expansion. You need to have both to get the full value from it.

The tiles are large, about five inches across I’d guess, and there are smaller mini-tiles that can fit on top of them to represent other unique terrain, like the impassable chasm’s from SMU and the new mountain peaks that you place atop mountains, adding another level of difficulty when conquering this type of terrain. The rulebook gives you guidelines for building an appropriate world depending upon the number of players that you have.

Speaking of the rulebook, it is huge. Album-sized (does anyone remember what an album is?) with 52 pages in glossy full color. The reason it is so large is because it is in eight languages, and most of that is the 12 scenarios that come with Realms. The actual rules take up a single page. Although it is big and impressive, it took me a while to understand the rulebook. It is simply TOO light, like the instructions for assembling furniture that you bought at Ikea. Each scenario has pictures on how to assemble it, which will take a bit of head scratching to decipher.

The components are top notch and the insert holds them in handily. Also included in the game are tunnel tokens, so that you can combine Small World and SMU on the same map, and other tokens that get used in the various scenarios. A few sticks of wood used to block off areas that cannot be crossed, and finally a turn track. The original games had the turn track printed on the board, which of course you no longer use. Unfortunately, they don’t include the turn marker, you’ll have to pull that out of one of the original games.

There are some tokens included that have no explanation for them at all, Like the Yeti token, and several Popular Places and Relics that are not used in the scenarios. I guess that these were included for you to use in your own scenarios, I just wish they would have mentioned that in the rules so that I didn’t waste a lot of time looking for which scenario they were in.

A nice bonus is that the expansion can handle up to six players, unlike the originals which only go up to five, and that means you can play with a bigger Small World.

Set-up of the game will take you substantially longer than it would playing one of the original games. This is due to the fact that you are assembling the board yourself, and whether you are using one of the included scenarios, or building your own map, it simply takes longer to do. Each tile has a tiny letter on it to help you follow along with the map picture in the book, one side with a legible font and the other with a fancy barely legible font so that you have to flip it back over to verify you have the correct tile.

You have to add in all of the extra second tier map pieces, and place all of the correct tokens and such depending upon the scenario that you’re using. These might be in the box, or you might have to pull them out of one or both of the original games.

The real challenge of the game comes from the 12 scenarios included. A few of these have new rules or additional twists, and they really add to the fun of the game. Seven of these are for Small World, Two are for Small World Underground, one is for either/or, and two are for both games combined. You could probably play the Small World scenarios using SMU by flipping the tiles over, but you wouldn’t know where to put the SMU tokens because the map is specific to Small World. It can be done though, so the option is there.

Here’s a quick look at a few of the more interesting scenarios:

The Rusted Throne: For 4 – 5 players, In the center of the map is an island atop which lies the rusted throne. The player who controls the rusted throne gains a tribute of one victory coin from each region surrounding the throne, paid by the players controlling those regions each turn. A Rusted Throne Popular Place token is included in Small World Realms.

Adrift: For 2 – 6 players. In this scenario the tiles are all separated from each other, looking a lot like a bunch of small islands in a vast sea. The twist here is that each turn you can slide one of the tiles to another location, as long as you don’t pick it up off of the table. A lot of interesting options for mounting sneak attacks in this one.

Crops of Power: For 2 – 6 Players. Six special power badges are placed like islands and surrounded by terrain. If a player can control at least five territories around one of the badge islands, they get to use that special power immediately.

A Game of Gods: For 2 – 6 Players. The players actually build the board as they play. A great way to save on set-up time. Plus each player starts with a hand of three face down races and powers to choose from. They will use only these races and powers throughout the game.

A Dig Too Far: There are three veins of gold on the map filled with random victory tokens. Mine the veins to get the gold, but watch out, a slew of monsters are guarding the treasure. They respawn and attack you during the monster turn. Yes you heard me right, the monsters get a chance to attack in this one.

All Together Now: For 5 players. This map is the underworld vs. the above ground races. Half of the map is from each game and they are connected by tunnels. Two teams fight it out one playing Small World races and the other using Small World Underground races, while the lone fifth player can choose from either side.

The other scenarios are: My Precious (World), a nice introduction to using rivers, chasms, and peaks; Life is a Long – But Not So Quiet – River, in which you can only enter the board at one of the ends of a long and winding river; Go East, where each player starts on the westernmost edge of the map and compete to control the easternmost countries for the victory coin bonuses offered there; I’ve Been to the Mountaintop gives player’s bonuses for each mountain peak they control during scoring; The Sword in the Cavern puts the Sword of the Killer Rabbit Relic on a center island surrounded by water and land bridges for the players to struggle over; and finally Night and Day has two boards (Small World and Small World Underground) with tunnels. Once in decline, players can choose which game to select their next race from, and then they enter on that specific board.

Small World Realms adds a lot to your games with the unlimited capabilities that the modular map provides. If you are a Small World addict, you can put together scenarios limited only by your imagination. I’m already working on an Undead vs Humans scenario that should be a lot of fun. A must buy for fans of the game, but for the casual player the extra setup effort might be a turn off.

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Elliott Miller

Elliott is well versed in all subjects and brings his expertise to bear on strategy, family, and Euro-style gaming. He no longer actively contributes to TGG and runs his own website at voiceofe.com.

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