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Monthly Archives: April 2016

Game Review: Small World

They’re coming. You can hear them, their howls and war cries. You can bunk down in your bivouacs, relying on the wood and canvas to protect you, relying on the strength of your militia to fight off the invaders… But you wish you were far more confident in them than you are. Maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe you’ll be proven wrong, and the beasts coming for your land will be fought off. But they want it. The world is not big enough for you all, and the orcs coming, flying on their wings of fire and death, want your land.

Maybe you shouldn’t have chosen to vie for a land against Flying Orcs, Commando Trolls, and Underworld Ghouls… But that’s what happens when you playing in a Small World.IMG_4826

Small World is a Fantasy-themes territory building game for 2-5 players. Published by Days of Wonder and designed by Phillipe Keyaerts, it serves as a sort of fantastical take on Keyaerts’ older game, Vinci.

In Small World, each player controls a specific race with a specific power. They then take turns playing their group of race tokens to claim territories. At the end of each turn, a player is awarded victory points based on the amount of territory they control.

There are a few hitches in this otherwise fairly basic-sounding gameplay, though. First comes through the unique abilities granted by each race and power, allowing players to get bonus points for certain areas, perform some unique actions, or otherwise breaks some sort of basic rule. Moreover, the territory board – as the game name suggests – is simply too small for all the players. Even the most peace-wanting player is going to have to clash with another players sooner or later. Finally, the ten turns of the game are almost always too many for a player to get through with one race; sooner or later they’re going to run out of tokens and have to start fresh with a new race and power combo.

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This world just isn’t big enough for the Ratmen and Skeletons to get along.

The basic rules of the game are fairly simple. It takes two racial tokens to claim a territory, plus one extra token per piece of cardboard (such as another player’s token) that’s already there. If your territory gets conquered, one of your tokens dies (is removed from the board) and any other tokens can retreat to another territory you own. On your turn, you can try to claim as much territory as you have tokens to conquer. All in all, fairly straight-forward.

The diverse abilities granted by race and powers can get a bit more complicated, however. While the race and power banners all have icons to explain the power, the pictographs tend to be fairly unclear. So to really understand the powers, some comprehensive reading of the rules or the player aides is required. And the sheer number of races and powers (14 races and 20 powers in the base game, plus dozens more of each added by expansions) makes it fairly unlikely that anyone could memorize all of them.

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Some heavy reading? These aren’t even the rules… It’s just a player aide.

Speaking of the power and race numbers, how many there are and how they are randomly combined adds a fair amount of replayability to the game. Different races and powers are put together in each game, and so play style changes for each player each time the game is played.

It’s worth pointing out that some might find some problems with the art and game design of Small World, especially in terms of some awkward choices of representation. The Amazons (the only female race in the base game) are busty and half naked. The elves are sniffing flowers and prancing, and their ability is to run away (but the clearly fairy characters aren’t supposed to be gay or anything, right?). And I’m not even going to touch on the colonization themes inherent in players wiping out the “lost tribes” that inhabit the Small World at the start of the game.

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Yup, no stereotypes or problems here at all…

If you can get by the icky feelings that those kind of problems might cause, Small World is a lot of fun. It’s a bit silly, and can get fairly competitive, but its rules are fairly simple. On the other hand, the amount of reading required to understand and remember all the abilities of the races and powers might make gameplay run smoother if all players have a fairly good grasp of reading (not that the abilities couldn’t be explained to a player who can’t read them all themselves, but it would likely slow the game down). While I think the game works best with 3 or 4 players, the fact that a different board is used for different numbers of players to ensure that it’s always big enough, but also still too small, it works well enough with any number of the 2-5 players range.

So is it worth making sure you don’t just delve into the stereotypes and colonization that comes unbidden in the game? Of course. But is it a fun game to play, and worth adding to a collection all the same? Absolutely yes.

It’s a fun game. Like the box says, it’s a world of (s)laughter after all.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2016 in Board Games

 

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Game Review: Dixit

Close your eyes. Let your mind wander. Let it wander to a place of wonder, of adventure, maybe a place it hasn’t been since you were a child with dreams of pirates and dragons and monsters. Now open your eyes, and tell us what you see. A boy with a stick… No, with a sword. A wooden sword he’s using to fight off a dragon, twenty feet tall. A girl in a dress made of rainbows, chasing an apple glowing gold. A monster in the shadows, hunting children to carry them off for super. A chorus of angels, playing jazz music in the clouds.

It’s time to let your imagination dance again. It’s time to play Dixit.

Dixit bot

Dixit is a story-telling, party game designed by Jean-Louis Roubira and published by Libellud. For those of you who don’t speak French (and Libellud is a company based out of France), the name “Libellud” is a play on the french word for dragonfly. And for some reason, I feel like the publisher name really captures the whimsy of Dixit.

For 3-6 players, ages 8+, Dixit is a fairly simple game. All the players have a hand of cards with illustrations on them. One player per turn plays a card, face down, and says something to describe it. They can say a phrase or a word, a title, a song lyric, anything they want. All of the other players then have to play cards face down that they think fit the description the first player provided. All the played cards are shuffled and revealed, and everyone but the first player has to vote on which card they think the first player originally played. If you’re a voter, you want to guess the first player’s card, but you also want as many of the other players to guess your card as possible. If you’re the first player, you want some players to guess your card, but not all the players to guess it (so there’s no advantage to being too obvious about your card through the description). Points are awarded based on who voted for what, and play passes to the next player to play a card and description. The first player to 30 points wins.

Dixit board

And it has the cutest point markers I’ve ever seen.

The real beauty of Dixit is in the cards themselves. Illustrated by Marie Cardouat, each card has a unique full colour illustration. The illustrations are all interesting, and range from whimsically fun to oddly disturbing. And, as is important to the game, each one could easily be defined in as many different ways as there are players looking at them. I recall a card played under the description “The Fall”. It was of a man and a woman playing chess, with hearts around their heads; the player had seen the hearts as falling leaves, and meant “the fall” as “autumn”. No one else saw the hearts as falling leaves, but the unintentional play on the theme of falling (as in, falling in love) carried over clearly all the same. Moreover, every card has enough minute details that you can find things in it and new interpretations of it every time you see it.

Dixit nice

There are cute cards….

Dixit scary

…and there are not-so-cute cards.

Beauty of the cards aside, Dixit is, as I said, a fairly simple game. Admittedly, the scoring is a little non-intuitive (if all players guess the active player’s card, active player gets no points, everyone else gets 2; if no players guess the active player’s card, everyone else gets 2 points, plus 1 point per person who guessed their card, active player gets 0; if some players, but not all players, guess the active players card, active player gets 3 points, everyone who guessed correctly gets 3 points, and everyone gets 1 point per person who guessed their card). They’re designed in this strange way, however, to eliminate the benefit of an active player simply describing their card in enough detail that it becomes obvious which card is there, or obfuscating their card so much it’s impossible to guess. The only way for an active player to score points is to be clear enough that some players get it, but discrete enough that some don’t. Even with this logic in my mind, though, I find it hard to keep track of the scoring system. So the explanation of scoring attached to the scoreboard itself is a useful tool.

The one other downside of Dixit is the limited number of cards in the original set. The base game comes with 84 cards. This might seem like a lot, but in a 5 player game, the cards would be played through in a 16 or so rounds. With people scoring 1-3 points a round, and having to get to 30 points to win, a game can easily last 16 rounds or more. In other words, you could see all the cards in the first game. Now, like I said, the various ways to interpret the cards doesn’t mean that the game can’t be played more than once easily enough… But some of the pleasure is lost, I feel, when you see the same illustrations over and over. Never fear, though. Libellud has released hundreds of new cards, as expansion packs or special promotional cards. As such, if you want to make sure you don’t play through your Dixit illustrations too rapidly, it’s pretty easy (if a little costly) to build up a set.

In all, Dixit is a fun, simple, and somehow sweet game. It’s easy to learn and very laid back. It’s the sort of game I would play with my whole family, from my 9 year old cousin to my 90 year old grandma. Even for more “serious gamers” (I term I use with not a small amount of scoffing), Dixit can be a fun, relaxing inclusion to a collection. All you need is a willing spirit and a decent imagination… And the illustrative prompts of Dixit can hep you with at least the latter.

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2016 in Board Games

 

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