Another Classic review from the Voice of E, This time it is Small World Underground from Days of Wonder
Small World Underground is a stand-alone game set beneath the surface of the same fun, light-hearted Small World universe of epic conquests and fallen empires. It features all new Races and Special Powers, and introduces Monster occupied regions that protect Relics and Places of great power!
Recommended for players who are already familiar with Small World, you can play Small World Underground on its own or combine it with other Small World game elements.
I will admit, I had never played Small World or Small World Underground. Now I have played them both multiple times and can share with you my enjoyment of the games.
Small World Underground is the sequel to Small World. It is completely independent of the original game, but can also be combined or mixed together with it to add more races and options to your game.
The first thing that I have to mention is the included storage system that comes in the box. Those familiar with Small World will know what I am talking about. So many games and publishers give no consideration to how their game will be stored, to facilitate game play and setup time for their game. Most simply include a few Ziplock bags, if that. Game storage and setup is part of the gaming experience, and can really make a difference in playing a certain game. Many players will develop their own, just to make it easier to get one of their favorite games to the table more often.
That being said, Underground has literally hundreds of tokens and tiles included in it. This would necessitate many ziplocks to keep everything separate like you need. The included storage tray has spaces for every type of token. The race tokens even have their own removable tray with clear plastic lid, so that you can just pull it out and start using it when you want to play the game. The rules include a diagram on how to set up the storage tray, and even tells you to take the leftover cardboard punchout frames and place them in the bottom of the box under the storage tray. This will raise the tray up high enough so that you can store the game vertically in bookcase fashion without all of the tokens getting mixed up in the box. I love it!
The rules are full color, glossy, contain many examples and illustrations, and take you step by step through playing the game. They are very well done. Each player also receives a full size player aid, with descriptions of all of the races, their abilities, special powers, relics, and races. Invaluable to new players, and lets you plan without passing the rulebook back and forth. There is also a full size game turn summary sheet, with the different terrain types listed across the bottom. All of these aids are full color, glossy, and heavier weight.
There are two game boards. Both are double sided and are selected for the game based upon the number of players. The game board consists of a number of regions that are closely set together to facilitate the players running into each other fast and getting into it. It is a small world after all.
The premise of Small World Underground is that this time, you are now competing for land, well… underground. Thus the races included in the game reflect this. The Liches, the Mudmen, the Flames, the Shrooms, are all examples of the races included.
The object of the game is to collect coins on your turn by taking over different regions on the map. At the end of each turn you get one coin for every region on the map that you control. At the end of the game, the player with the most coins wins the game.
Race Tiles and Special Power Badges
The game includes 15 races, these are on tiles and are laid out in a row along the edge of the board. Only the top six races are visible, the others are stacked under the sixth tile and will become available as the visible races are selected and used.
There is also a stack of special power tiles, that are dealt out along with the race tiles to form a new type of race that can change with each game. You could have the Vanishing Liches, or the Muddy Flames, or the Mystic Shrooms. When you select a race, you also get the special power tile next to it. These will also be revealed as the visible ones are selected.
At the start of the game, after setting up the board and placing the turn marker on the turn tracker at turn one, the player selects a visible combination race/power and places it in front of them. They add the two numbers together on the tiles to find out how many conquest tokens they receive, and pull that number of tokens out of the storage tray. These are race specific, so it is great to have the tray to keep them all separate.
You can now proceed to use your tokens to gain control of regions on the board. You must start by taking control of one of the regions along the edge of the board, which I believe represents your new race becoming a player in the Underground world. From there you spread out to adjacent regions, taking control one by one and using your tokens, until you wish to stop or you run out of tokens.
Taking control of a region is easy. It will cost you two tokens, plus one for each enemy token, and plus one for each mountain, monster, or other bonus to take over a region. So a region with a black mountain and one enemy token will cost you four tokens to conquer. Place four of your tokens there and repeat with the adjacent regions. Once you are out of tokens, you can redeploy your troops around the regions you control as you see fit, then gain one victory coin for each region you control. Play then proceeds to the next player.
After a few turns, you will be unable to expand your race any further. You need to keep a minimum of one token in each region you control in order to gain the victory coin. Eventually you will either run out of tokens because you have expanded to the maximum number of tokens, or you will have lost a bunch by being conquered. Either way, you can’t do anything else with this race.
You will need to place your race in decline at this point. Flip the tokens on the board to their monotone in-decline side, discard your special power, and flip your race tile over to its in-decline side as well. You collect the victory coins in each region your in-decline race still exists, but after that your turn is over. On your next turn you will select a new race and power, and start expanding all over again. Your in-decline race will slowly be wiped from the board as their regions get taken over by other players, but you will still get points for the regions they are in until they are defeated.
This continues throughout the game, until the last turn is completed. Everyone adds up their coins and the winner is announced.
There are other interactions that occur. The special powers all have various effects. There are relics that also have special powers that you can carry around with your civilization. Powerful Places stay in one region, but give a powerful bonus for the player who controls that region.
Let me say a few words about the differences between SW and SWU. Small World Underground has Monster tokens, instead of Lost Tribe tokens. In SWU there are Righteous Relics and Powerful Places, which are both new to the game. The river spaces in SWU can be conquered, but your units cannot stay there. You must abandon all of the River regions by the end of the turn, before you collect your victory coins. This allows you to pass through the river, but not control it. Other than the new races and powers, that is it.
The game is compatible with Small World, so that they can be mixed and matched to play together. Just ignore the rules that don’t make sense and you should be ok. There is a FAQ on the Days of Wonder website that answers specific questions about questionable race/power combinations that come up when combining the games.
The game is a hoot. I really enjoyed it. It goes fairly quickly, is simple to understand, and looks great. There are some questions that pop up when dealing with specifics of different abilities, and we had to guess, so that was a pain, but overall I highly recommend Small World Underground.