Review: Be Not Afraid… of Continued Small World Awesome
Last week, we took a look at the earlier two mini-expansions for Small World. This week, I thought we’d continue on and take a look a the third mini-expansion from Days of Wonder, Be Not Afraid… as well as the Necromancer Island variant. The Be Not Afraid expansion continues the work of Cursed! and Grand Dames and introduces five additional races and five special powers that are unique and engaging. Necromancer Island, on the other hand, and despite its thin rule book, greatly impacts the dynamic of Small World. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends largely on how you like your Small World.
Be Not Afraid
The Basics. Be Not Afraid introduces some unanticipated racial powers that make use of some interesting mechanics. The Leprechauns, for example, can place pot of gold tokens on their conquered spaces. If they are still there by their next turn, those pots turn into coins. But, if another player captures them, then they get the points. In this way, the Leprechauns play a dangerous game that incentivizes their opponents to attack them.
The Homunculi bring the most “out of the box” power. Each time they are passed over when a player chooses a new race, a Homunculus token is added to their plate in addition to the one coin. When they are finally chosen, the player gets the extra tokens in addition to what he would receive from the race/power numbers. This presents the player with an interesting choice. Take the Homunculi now – which means they won’t have any tokens and therefore no real power once it comes time to conquer things – or pass it up, and thereby given an advantage to the opponents.
The Barbarians and the Pixies, in exchange for a massive amount of troops, suffer drawbacks on their ability to redeploy after they conquer. I found this to be well-balanced in actual play since the inability to redeploy was a substantial handicap. The Pygmies are the least inventive. They are similar to elves, but only have a chance to receive a conquered token back. Their benefit is that it can be placed immediately, rather than kept in reserve as the elves.
The special powers in Be Not Afraid are highly unique. Four of them involve manipulating the coins and making certain actions more valuable than they otherwise would be. Barricade rewards players for conquering three or fewer regions, while Imperial gives a reward for four or more. Mercenary allows a player to use coins to make conquests easier, and Corrupt allows a defeated player to take a coin from the victor. In play, these powers resulted in very calculated attacks and brought new play styles to Small World.
One of the best parts of Be Not Afraid is the special tray. Cursed! and Grand Dames were great, but there was nowhere to put the additional tokens in the base game. They ended up in ziploc snack bags in my collection. This made them look like the reject races since the other ones had a nice labeled tray within the box. Be Not Afraid’s tray ameliorates this problem nicely. It includes space for all the expansions, including Leaders of Small World, and it makes my inner OCD gamer rest easy.
Overall 5 of 5. As with the other mini-expansions, a single “overall” score is used to avoid having to tease out the expansion vs. the game. With the exception of Pygmies, the races are, by far, the best of the expansions. Their powers are unlike anything in the base game and really bring new tactics to bear. The special powers, while all operating on a similar theme, also provide new strategic considerations. If you like Small World, this is a welcome addition. Also, the handy-dandy case is fantastic. It holds all the mini-expansions to date and saves your nice Small World box from being overrun with ugly plastic bags.
The Basics. Necromancer Island is a Small World variant that adds a Necromancer player – bringing the game to 3-6 players. Unlike the other players, the Necromancer isn’t out merely to control territory and get victory coins. No, the Necromancer’s plans are far more sinister. Instead, he has a number of special powers that he can obtain over the course of the game, and when a race token is killed, it goes to the Well of Souls. Four tokens in the Well of Souls and the Necromancer gets a ghost. Fourteen ghosts on the board, and the Necromancer wins. Game over. Everyone else loses.
For those of you experienced with Small World, you might be thinking, 14 ghosts? That’s only 56 deaths on the board. Including Lost Tribes and declined races, that could happen as early as halfway through the game. Yes, yes it could. But the players are not without hope. They will have to attack the ghosts, sending them back to the Well of Souls. If you send four ghosts back, then only one comes out and the other three go back to the reserve.
This results in two interesting effects. First, the players now have a common enemy. Previously, players would sometimes gang up against the leader, or the player they thought was the leader (since victory points are kept secret). But those alliances were tenuous at best and easily dissolved. Now, there is a clear enemy of all the players. In our games, some amount of cooperation took place as each player would devote their turn in a given round to stopping the Necromancer. This makes sense since if they don’t, they all lose.
However, equally intriguing was the second effect: the free loader. In our games, ghost territories tend to be less lucrative to control since the Necromancer is going to try to reconquer them on his turn. Plus, our necromancer tended to double up his ghosts making them more difficult to take down. So, while three of us might beat the necromancer back a bit, the fourth would take the opportunity to slide in and pick off a teammate. After all, if the other three kept the necromancer in check, then there was no reason not to take the easy road against another player.
I very much enjoyed Necromancer Island. I wouldn’t necessarily want to bring it out in every game, but I could see mixing it up in a good 60-70% from here on out. I really enjoy the common threat element that exists, even as players attempt to win against each other. It creates a tension absent in the base game.
Components: 4 of 5. Necromancer Island includes ghost tokens which are the same kind and quality as the other race tokens. The rulebook is a slim, three language manual. All the rules are on two pages.
Mechanics: 3.5 of 5. A first play is a little confusing with regard to when ghost’s spawn, when they redeploy, and what happens to conquered ghosts. However, well before the end of the first game, it’ll all make perfect sense. The one negative here is that there could have been a little more clarification about how the ghosts interact with certain powers. For example, does a Pygmy which died, but gets rerolled back onto the board go to the Well of Souls? These are easy enough to “house rule” and continue, but some official clarification would have been nice.
Overall: 4 of 5. Necromancer Island is a fun tweak to the Small World experience. Like I said, I wouldn’t want to do it every time, but I think the majority of my games from here on out will include a Necromancer. I love the way it creates a common enemy, and it creates tension between striking out against the common threat, or attacking a fellow player for individual gain. Our games tend to stay allied against the Necromancer, and it shows itself in much closer matches with fewer points.
*A special thanks to Days of Wonder for providing a review copy of Be Not Afraid… and Necromancer Island.