Review: Small World Realms – Scenarios Abound
It’s no secret that I’m a big, big fan of Small World. I named it my Game of the Year in 2010. So, when Small World Realms was announced, I eagerly followed its production and was very pleased to get my hands on a copy.
Realms brings you the ability to not only create a modular, randomized Small World experience, but also all the tools you need to create unique scenarios that have new and potentially dramatic impacts on the game.
The Basics. Small World comes with 26 tiles that display the various lands common to the game. The tiles are lettered A through Z and are double sided with Small World regions on one side, and Underground regions on the other. Realms can be used with either (or both) base game.
The other major item that comes in Realms is the scenario book. That book provides tons of new worlds for your races to conquer. One scenario might have the whole World along one massive river. Another might include specific regions that give bonus coins. Nearly every map is created in such a way that it can accommodate between two and six players merely by adding tiles as indicated.
The scenario book also includes guidance on how to create your own scenarios – including how big the board should be and how many regions or special sites should exist. The game also comes with several tokens used in the scenarios as well as additional tokens for use in your own creations.
The scenarios generally use the basic Small World or Underground rules. Then, they layer on an extra consideration or two to make the map new and different from everything else. A maps include huge changes and interesting challenges. And, for anyone that missed out on Tunnels, Realms includes that expansion as well.
The Feel. When I reviewed Underground, one of the strongest improvements I felt it made over the original was the inclusion of Places and Relics. This one tweak increased interaction because now there were certain sites that all races wanted regardless of whatever their race or power bonuses were. Realms takes this idea to a completely new level.
One scenario includes a Rusted Throne surrounded by six other spaces. At the end of the turn, the controller of the Throne levies “taxes” against anyone in an adjacent space. Lost Tribes money is paid from the bank, but any neighboring players must pay to the controller of the throne. As you can imagine, contests over that space are particularly fierce.
The scenarios also can dramatically impact the worth of the powers of certain races. For example, in the Go East scenario, all races must start on the west side of the board. But, the easternmost regions actually are worth two coins each round instead of one. Well, suddenly the Halflings, with their ability to pop up anywhere and have two unconquerable regions look pretty good.
And that’s really the best aspect of Realms. It forces you to recalculate the worth of all the races. Even if you’ve seen them dozens of times before, now those same powers may be better or worse on a given map. Everything is reconsidered and it’s like seeing all the races and powers for the first time.
Plus, Realms includes a DIY aspect. You have everything you need to create your own board, your own maps, your own special rules, your own special relics. It’s all there. I can see this expansion launching numerous home brew creations.
The only real negative (and it is a slight one at that), is that if you were hoping for a modular board that you could simply flip over and start playing with, you’ll be disappointed. Because you have to balance mountains, symbols, terrain, and even how big the board is based on number of players, it isn’t the kind of thing where you can just flip over the first twelve tiles and have a go at it. Creating a board on the fly is certainly possible, but it might take several minutes.
(As an expansion, not all categories are relevant)
Components: 4.5 of 5. Realms is put together with the highest quality. The double sided tiles are very thick and will stay in place easily. The new relics have great artwork. The scenario book is very clear and easy to follow. The only hint of a negative is that the game includes river borders to prevent you from sailing down the river. And those borders aren’t fully explained in the rulebook leading to confusion as to whether they are uncrossable at all, or whether they simply require that you pay another token. Plus, they are simple white sticks and seem out of place with the rest of the art and tokens from the game.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. I haven’t yet had a chance to play every one of the many, many scenarios, but so far so good. It’s not that any particular scenario is brilliant or groundbreaking. Instead, it’s the way that the new layout or rules require you to reevaluate the old powers and races. You get to play the same races and powers through a completely new lens.
Replayability: 5 of 5. With the randomization of races and powers, Small World has always had immense replay value. The Merchant Skeletons for example, will play much differently than Berserker Skeletons or Merchant Giants. But now, Realms layers on a whole new dimension. Those same Skeletons or Merchants might be far more beneficial in a particular scenario, or they might be far less valuable. It’s also a great way to push some traditionally discounted races (like Dwarves or Kobolds) into new prominence.
Overall: 5 of 5. Realms is a wonderful, enjoyable addition for the Small World fan. But its important to recognize that it has two limitations. First, it cannot create a randomized board “on the fly.” Second, this expansion is really geared towards those who already have fallen in love with the base game. This is not the kind of expansion that will turn Small World detractors into believers.
However, this is quite possibly my favorite expansion for Small World. New maps, new rules, new combinations, and the ability to put the original and Underground together in a cohesive way. Not only does Realms breathe additional life into the base game, but it also has me thinking of potential scenarios for those unused tokens. And I can’t wait to play them all.
(A special thanks to Days of Wonder for providing a review copy of Small World Realms)