Small World Board Game and Alternatives

This article gives an in-depth review of the board game Small World.

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Finding a great family game can be a challenge. You must find a game that appeals to various ages, is easy to learn but still challenging, doesn’t take too long to play but lasts long enough to be fun, and that can be played by the number of people in your family.

Small World by Days of Wonder is a game that potentially fills all of those criteria. In order to help you decide if this game should make an appearance at your next family game night, I’ve broken down the features, the pros and cons, and even some alternatives for you.

Ready to learn more? Let’s begin the (fantasy) races!

What to Look for in Strategic Conquest Board Games

I’ve quickly broken down some things for you to consider when choosing strategic conquest board games.

Ease of Learning

You might enjoy complex games that take hours to learn and set up. Or, you might prefer games with straightforward rules that are easy to understand.

This can be influenced by who is playing the game, as well. Are you playing with your kids? You might want a simple board game. Playing with a group of serious gamer friends? You might go for something more complicated.

Length of Play

There are few things more frustrating than starting a game, becoming totally engrossed in the play, only to realize you won’t have time to finish it.

If you have several hours to dedicate to a game or don’t mind spreading out games over multiple sessions, you might want a board game that takes several hours to play. On the other hand, perhaps you prefer a game that can be played in one sitting. Again, this is influenced by who is playing.

Small World - Board Game, 2-5 Players

Thematic Elements

A board game can go from “blah” to “yeah!” with the right theme. If you enjoy history, you might find games that feature historical civilizations or stories. If you’re a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings fan, you might enjoy a game based on those epic tales.

There are almost limitless options, from fantasy or horror to mystery or adventure. Small World by Days of Wonder is definitely in the fantasy genre.

Tactical Depth

Sometimes I just want to play a great game that doesn’t require me to think too much. Other times, I prefer a game that involves long-term strategy and high-stakes decisions.

Before purchasing a game, consider how much tactical depth it will require. If you’re playing with competitive adults, you might enjoy a highly strategic game. But if you’re playing with younger children, a lot of strategy may take away some of the fun or make the game lopsided.

Game Pieces

You’ll want to consider what type of pieces each game contains. If you hate dice rolls, you might go for a deck-building game.

On the other hand, decks are often specific to the game, whereas dice can be exchanged. If you have small children, you may prefer a game without small pieces that can be swallowed.

Number of Players

Obviously, if you want to play on your own, you’ll want a game that works for one player. Most conquest games are designed for a minimum of two players, but many board games can handle up to five or six players.


If you’re the type to get bored with games, you might want one that has expansions available. Game expansions serve to add variety and interest to a core game.

Sometimes these expansions drastically change the rules, while other times they add new characters or elements. Expansions allow you to experience a new game without having to learn a new board game.

Small World Board Game by Days of Wonder: Overview

Players: 2-5

Playing Time: 40-80 minutes

Age: 8+

Designed by Philippe Keyaerts and published by Days of Wonder, Small World is a popular, light-hearted civilization game with a zany cast of characters and exciting game play.

In Small World, players rush to expand their empires – often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory!

Players can choose from 14 different fantasy races, including dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs, and even humans. They also have 20 unique special powers to choose from for their races. Picking the right combination is a challenge!

Players vie for conquest by using multiple tiles of their chosen race of creatures to occupy adjacent lands. They also have the option of letting a race go into decline by flipping over the tiles.

Players receive victory points when they occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands. At the end of the game, the player with the highest score wins.

Customers enjoyed playing this fun game. They liked the simple rules, the endless combinations, and the highly competitive gameplay.

Rodney Smith breaks down gameplay in this in-depth video:

Small World: Game Features

Fantasy Races

Small World is a fantasy follow-up to Vinci, another Philippe Keyaerts game. Vinci features a lot of the same elements but is set in Europe.

Small World is inhabited by a host of different races. These include orcs, sorcerers, tritons, wizards, dwarves, halflings, elves, ratmen, amazons, giants, trolls, ghouls, skeletons, and humans.

Each fantasy race has special abilities that help them conquer regions. This fantastical element adds whimsy and colorful fun to this great game.

Small World - Board Game, 2-5 Players

Game Components

Speaking of color, this board game features vivid artwork and game pieces. There are no miniatures, only a cardboard game board, and cards. However, the quality is surprisingly good.

Plus, this decreases the overall cost of the game and makes it more affordable.

There are a lot of pieces to Small World, but fortunately, the game includes a storage tray for the race tokens.

Conquest and Control

Small World - Board Game, 2-5 Players

Acquiring territory is the name of the game in Small World. To win, players must rally their troops to occupy territory and adjacent lands in order to win victory points. Here’s a skeletal rundown of how to play:

  • The game is played in a series of 10 rounds, and each player gets one turn for each round.
  • For your first turn, choose a fantasy race and abilities combination from a column of race banners and special powers badges.
  • Remove the correct number of race tokens (as shown on the race banner and powers badge) to place in front of you. This is now your active race.
  • Use your active race to conquer one of the border regions. To do this, move two race tokens into the space. Any new location you conquer must be adjacent to regions you already control.
  • If a region has a lost tribe token or a mountain token, you must add another race token to conquer the land, totaling three race tokens.
  • If the space has other tokens (enemy race tokens or special tokens), you must also add the appropriate number of tokens to conquer the region.
  • After conquest, you deploy troops, collect victory points for their territories, and wait for your next turn.
  • At the end of 10 rounds, the player with the most victory points wins.
  • If, during play, you feel like one race has overextended, you can skip conquest for a turn and put your current race in decline. A race in decline allows a player to choose a new race and special powers. Simply turn over your current race banner and choose a new combo.

Easy to Learn

This board game is great for veterans and beginners, alike. The simple rules and intuitive game play make Small World easy to pick up and play.

In fact, most new players can figure out the game rules quickly enough to teach someone else after just one gaming session.


Even though this game is easy to learn, that doesn’t mean it lacks strategy. In fact, strategy is central to winning Small World.

Deciding which of the race banners to select, when to place a race in decline, choosing new races, and where to attack are all tactical moves.

Do you aggressively push the other races off the board, or do you try to gain a strong foothold before advancing? Do you attack that region with the lost tribe symbol or stay where you are? All of these decisions involve strategy.

High Variability

Sometimes games can get repetitive or boring after a while. This game has enough variation to make no two games the same.

There are seemingly endless combinations of special powers and races to add surprising twists and excitement.

Small World - Board Game, 2-5 Players

And if that’s not enough? There are several expansions available for purchase that will keep this game fresh for a long time to come.

Quick Game Play

You can play an entire game of Small World in 45-90 minutes. That makes this great for families to play at the kitchen table in one sitting. It can also hold the attention of younger players or older players who get easily distracted!

Small World is also great for traveling or game nights. You won’t have to leave the board out over the course of several days. Simply play a session (or more!) and take it home when you’re done.


Small World: Underground

Another entertaining game is Small World: Underground, also published by Days of Wonder. This is a stand alone game and is strikingly similar to the original Small World in terms of game mechanics.

Small World: Underground

This game adds new races, such as lizardmen, earthworms, will-o-wisps,kraken, and more. There are also new special places and new monster-controlled areas that protect relics and places of great power.

If you love Small World but just need some variation, this is a great, slightly more affordable alternative.

Twilight Imperium Fourth Edition

For those who want a longer, more complicated game in the fantasy realm, Twilight Imperium is a wildly popular strategy-based game.

It pits one space race against another in an epic battle for galactic control. Players must employ a combination of combat and diplomacy to achieve their goals and win victory points.

Twilight Imperium 4th Edition | Strategy Board Game for Adults and Teens | Adventure Game | Ages 14 and up | 3-6 Players | Average Playtime 4-8 Hours | Made by Fantasy Flight Games

Twilight Imperium has a staunch following, so you know it has high entertainment value. However, it’s geared toward older players that have some time to invest in learning and playing the game.

If you like fantasy race, strategic war games? Twilight Imperium will provide hours of fun. Plus, it has space lions. If that doesn’t spark your curiosity, I’m not sure what would.

If you want a game with simple rules and a shorter playing time, you might want to steer clear of this board game.


For those who like a classic conquest game, Risk is one of the best. In this Hasbro game, players race against each other to conquer territory and achieve world domination.

Risk involves plenty of tactical depth, but dice rolls add an element of luck to this strategic board game. While Risk can be a two-player game, I’ve found it works better when there are 3-5 players.

Risk Board Game, Strategy Games for 2-5 Players, Strategy Board Games for Teens, Adults, and Family, War Games, Ages 10 and Up

I’ve found the game mechanics to be quite similar to Small World, albeit a bit more complicated. It does require more patience, as playing time runs longer.

If you like the concept of Small World but aren’t into fantasy, Risk might scratch that gaming itch more effectively. Plus, this classic game is time-tested and very affordable.

Small World: Yay or Nay?

If you want an exciting, strategic game that doesn’t require hours to learn or hours to play, Small World hits the mark in fantastical fashion. I would definitely recommend it.