Review: Grand Dames & Cursed! – More Races In a Small World
As can be seen from my previous review, I’m a big fan of Small World. One of the best aspects of the game is the way in which each race (with its own standard power) is paired with an additional random special power. As a result, sometimes you play with the Flying Wizards, and other times you must contend against the Underworld Wizards. Relying on this mechanic, Days of Wonder has produced a few “mini-expansions” that include additional races and powers. If you like Small World, then I have three words for you: Totally Worth It.
The Basics. Reviewing an expansion is always tricky. By its nature, some bleed-over will occur with the base game. It can be difficult to separate between the two. That is especially true where, as with Cursed! and Grand Dames, they don’t really offer any new mechanics, but merely expand and rely on the base game. As a result, I won’t be using my usual grading scale, and I’ll skip straight to a single “Overall” score. The first thing I can say is that if you don’t like Small World, these are definitely not for you. The inclusion of this expansion will not change your opinion of the game. However, if you’re like me, then you may want to look into it.
Both mini-expansions include new races and new powers for play. Between the two of them, you’ll get five new races and seven new special powers. To be frank, I was hesitant when I heard that new races and powers were available. I think there is a tendency in game designers to try to outdo their previous cards/abilities/items/powers. Whether it’s because the designer wants each expansion to be more awesome than the last, or because having higher powered items moves product, it isn’t uncommon at all. And I hate it.
I hate when you buy a new expansion and suddenly you have three or four game rending god powers to be mixed in with now comparatively mediocre powers. The players start watching for those items, or cards, or tokens, or what have you, to make their appearance and then pounce. In essence, it ruins the dynamic of the game because it becomes important to hold something in reserve in order to compete for those new items. Doubly concerning was the fact that all of the races and powers were designed by contest winners. If anyone can create a broken power, it’s a contest winner.
Happily, this was not at all a problem in these expansions. Each race and power, while unique and engaging, is about on par with what came with the base game. Interestingly, a few of the races also balance their powers with the number of them that you receive. For example, you get 11(!) Kobolds (plus the number from the special power tag), but there have to be at least two in every region you conquer – thus blunting the effect of their numbers. They can conquer anything, but they can’t hold much. Contrast that with the White Ladies. Once in decline, those ladies cannot be conquered by any means. Points forever! But, you only get two ladies (plus special power tag).
Likewise, the special power tags had a few very unique abilities. There is the “were-” tag which provides a bonus on even-numbered turns. And the “peace loving” tag (designed, conspicuously, by a contest winner from France), in which coins are awarded for not attacking other active races.
Overall: 4.5 of 5 (if you like Small World to begin with). Small World has a lot of variety with 20 powers and 14 races. Even with so many variations, though, you do tend to see some repeats. Or powers that are similar (such as Hill, Forrest, and Swamp) recur. Adding in the additional powers and races creates a whole wealth of variety. They also are all a little bit different than anything you’d see in the main game which helps them add freshness to the game, rather than more of the same. And since each expansion is fairly inexpensive, it doesn’t take a whole lot to obtain this great addition.
The one downside is that there’s really no room for the tokens in the box. However, the newest expansion (soon to be reviewed) takes care of that problem.