October 18, 2011

Patience has never been one of my strong suits and honestly, these last 10 days have been downright torturous for me as I await Baby Nia’s arrival.  So much open space on the calendar and nothing to do but stare at my belly and will her to come out…

Sensing my growing distress, Nick came up with a brilliant idea at the end of last week.  He charged me with finding us a new 2 player strategy game to keep us occupied until she arrives.  I immediately took to the idea and started researching.  Since we intended to play it a lot over the next few months, I knew it must have a good combination of strategy, complexity and variability – namely, each game needed to feel new and exciting to keep us interested.  With that in mind, I took to the Board Game Forums.  I came across BoardGameGeek.com, BoardGameReviews.net and State of Play, a blog by the editor of Games Magazine.  From there, I found out that Games Magazine published a Best of Awards each year and perused that list.  I didn’t have to look far, because I clicked on the 2010 link for Game of the Year and was immediately enchanted with SmallWorld.

One of the things I appreciated most about it (and that got major thumbs up from reviewers) is that there are 4 different boards to accommodate 2-5 players.  What that ensures is that the board isn’t too big or too small for the number of people you have playing, keeping the challenge at an appropriate level.  The board above is the 3 player board and the one below is for 5 people.

The game has a bit of a RISK feel to it, as the objective is to build and expand your overall territory, collecting victory coins for holding land as long as possible.  You do this by deploying your fantasy race to acquire territories.  Unlike RISK however, there is no dice rolling for each territory acquisition, which makes it go much quicker.  Typical play for this game is anywhere from 40-80 minutes.

However, that’s where the similarities to RISK end.  Each game changes in variability due to the combination of Race and Special Powers that you select.  Strategy comes into play when selecting each randomly assigned combo.  Take the Race cards for example (on the right side of the picture above).  Each one has both a unique feature AND a number of representative tokens to conquer with (noted in orange).  Depending on what’s going on in the game at that moment, you may be more in need of sheer token numbers OR the special feature of that race (like collecting extra victory coins for certain holdings if you’re behind in coins).

That doesn’t even take into account the additional Special Power (represented by the cards on the left of the picture above).  Each Special Power has a unique capability to help you.  You may get to place markers that make your territory unconquerable or be able to conquer a territory for a reduced number of tokens.  Again, the fun comes in seeing which pairings come together and deciding the appropriate moment in the game to use them.

At this point I should throw out the one other caveat that makes this game exciting.  At any point during play, you can determine if you have over-extended your race and put it into decline.  This allows you to select a new Race/Power combination on your next turn and begin a new offensive move.  Additionally, you get to keep your declined race on the board, although it loses any Special Powers associated with it as well as the ability to attack with that Race.  You do however still collect Victory Coins for the territories those pieces occupy, adding another fun strategy element to the game.

Below is a picture of the various Race tokens that get used in play on the board.  The number you get to deploy is based on the combination of orange numbers on the cards (see above).

I know that may have sounded like an overwhelming description… and yes, we referred to the instructions non-stop for the first game but by Game 3 we had it all figured out and were thoroughly engrossed.  So engrossed in fact that we’ve played 7 times in 3 days and already ordered 2 new expansion packs to increase the variability of the game.  Does that make us obsessed?  YUP.  And we’re A-OK with that because we are desperately in need of good distractions as we wait for Nia’s arrival.

Ready to get your own game?  Head on over to AMAZON to order your own and get playing!  You’ll thank me, I promise.

I’d also love to get some comments on what other favorite strategy games you LOVE, especially if they’re good for 2 people!

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  1. Tracy says:

    Hi! I found your blog through Naomi Hattaway, and have been following you for a little while… my husband and I like to play “Monopoly Deal.” It’s like Monopoly, but it’s a card game, so there’s no board, no dice, etc. It’s quick and fun and easy to learn. Nice for when you’re bored but you don’t have an hour to devote to other games…

    Good luck while you wait for baby Nia! Excited to read your upcoming posts about her arrival!

    -Tracy Stoneberg

  2. Sarah Novak says:

    Hi Tracy- Nice to meet you! Thanks for the suggestion, we’ll definitely check that one out. I love finding new games… Cheers, Sarah

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