How To Play: Small World – Setup, rule summary and strategy

Small World is an area-control board game where players pick fantasy races with unique powers, expand across the board, and manage the timing of their race's decline. Mastering the balance between conquering, defending, and declining at pivotal moments leads to victory in this dynamic game.


Welcome to the definitive guide on How To Play Small World! Whether you’re brand-new to the game or looking to hone your competitive edge, this guide is chocked-full of insights and tips. I’ll first walk you through the basics with a concise outline of the rules to get you started quickly. But we’re not stopping there! I’m also spilling strategies on how to emerge victorious in the fantastical land of Small World. Having tested these strategies myself during many game nights with friends, I’m bringing personal experiences and victorious moments straight to you.

What’s in the box

  • 2 Double-Sided Game Boards
  • 14 Fantasy Race Banners
  • 20 Unique Special Power Badges
  • 10 Troll Lairs
  • 9 Mountains
  • 5 Fortresses
  • 6 Holes-in-the-ground
  • 2 Heroes
  • 1 Dragon
  • 109 Victory Coins
  • 6 Player Summary Sheets
  • 1 Reinforcement Die
  • Rules Booklet

How To Play Small World: Rules Summary

Welcome to ‘How To Play Small World’, a fantastical land of conquest and conflict! I remember the first time I unboxed this gem with friends—eager to learn and conquer. Here’s a roundup of the basics that I found most helpful for new players to get the board game journey started.

Initial Setup

  1. Unfold the game board and select the side based on the number of players.
  2. Distribute the Race and Power combos among the available slots at the game’s start.
  3. Ensure each player has their Victory Coin stash nearby.
  4. Place the Lost Tribes tokens on the board according to the icons.

Gameplay Basics

  1. Choose a Race and Special Power combo by spending Victory Coins if necessary.
  2. Conquer regions using the tokens of your chosen Race according to its powers and bonuses.
  3. At the end of your turn, tally up Victory Coins according to the regions you control.
  4. Consider putting your Race into decline to select a new Race and Special Power combo when the timing is right.

Claiming Victory

  1. The game ends after a set number of turns, which varies based on the number of players.
  2. Tally your Victory Coins & add bonuses from Regions and Powers.
  3. The player with the highest number of Victory Coins wins the game.

Special Rules & Conditions

  1. Understand that each Race and Power comes with its own set of unique rule augmentations and bonuses—study these well.
  2. Defending regions is as consequential as conquering them—certain Races and Powers enhance your defenses.
  3. Some regions on the board offer extra bonuses or protection—utilize these strategically.
  4. Be aware of your opponents’ moves—anticipation is a key strategic element.

Best Small World Strategies

Mastering the Art of Selection in Small World

To succeed in Small World, selecting the right combination of race and powers is paramount. It’s a dynamic process that can boost your chances of dominating the map. Let’s dive into the essentials of making these crucial choices.

Assess the Current Board Situation

Before you snatch up a race and power combo, look at the board layout. Identify areas that can be your strongholds. Choose a race/power pairing that suits the territory you’re eyeing—some excel in open expanses, while others are formidable in mountainous regions.

Anticipate Your Opponents’ Moves

Insight into your opponent’s strategy can guide your selection. Ask yourself, what races and powers could threaten their positions or disrupt their plans? Opt for combinations that offer a counterbalance to their strengths.

Prioritize Race-Power Synergy
  1. Consider the inherent synergy between the chosen race and power. An aligned pair can significantly enhance your conquest capabilities or defensive strength.
  2. Don’t disregard fading combos—sometimes, a less popular race/power holds the key to victory when wisely deployed against popular trends.
Look Ahead to Future Turns

A potential race-power pick isn’t just for the immediate turn. Consider its scalability. Can it prosper over time or is it a quick flash in the pan? Your end game is as critical as your opening moves.

Don’t Forget the Victory Points

In the end, ‘How To Play Small World’ is about maximizing victory points. Don’t get sidetracked by attractive powers that don’t translate into points. Sometimes the race-power combinations that seem understated will lead you to a steady influx of wins.

Mastering the Art of Decline in Small World

As your journey through How To Play Small World unfolds, one golden rule continually stands out—timing your race’s decline is paramount to conquest. You can’t ride one set of abilities endlessly as you navigate Small World’s packed map.

Recognize the Peak

Initial success with a race/species might be thrilling, but keen players will identify the crest. Look at your troops’ spread—is expansion looking tight? It’s often that moment right before your reach falters when declining your race is most beneficial. Forward-thinking is your friend.

Maximize Your Active Race’s Potential

  1. Analyze your current active race’s control on the map. Stretch them to the most profitable areas before considering decline. Have they lost their edge? Moving swiftly can often secure a few extra coins.

  2. Assess your powers. If their utility is waning, it’s a signal. Choosing to decline too early or too late can be the difference between victory and defeat.

Plan Your End Game

In the latter stages, watch the rounds. Declining too close to the game’s end offers little benefit. Wise players decline with enough time to leverage a new race and their special abilities for a strong finish. Again, its all about forward-thinking—envision where your new race will thrive post-decline.

Mastering the Battlefield: Effective Conquest and Defense in Small World

Winning at Small World isn’t just about picking the perfect combo; it’s also about knowing when and where to conquer and defend. After all, you can’t score points without controlling territories. Let’s talk strategy. Here’s a term you’ll get to know well: ‘overextending.’ It’s when you’ve stretched your forces too thin. I did that once during an intense game with friends⁠—lost a critical region and my stronghold! Poor move indeed. Strategize your expansion with a keen eye on defense.

Establishing Strongholds

First, look for territories that offer natural defensive bonuses, like mountains or borders of the map. Capture and fortify these areas, relying on them as steady income sources.

Diversifying Regions

Next up, let’s diversify. Don’t clump all your units in one area; spread out responsibly to make it harder for opponents to predict your moves and conquer your regions.

Borders and Buffer Zones

Analyze the map. Borders with active enemies? More defense! Passive neighbors? You might risk a few less troops there. Building buffer zones can also pay off in the long run, deterring aggression from rivals.

Timing Attacks

  1. Consider the turns left in the game. Early on, spread out for vast control, but as the game winds down, get strategic⁠—capture necessary high-value targets.
  2. Pay attention to opponents’ power declines. It could open up valuable real estate. Strike when the iron’s hot, my friends!

Selective Conquests

  1. Overcommitting troops to minor regions is a trap. Go for territories that yield maximum returns.
  2. Keep an eye on the reclaimed vertical regions of defeated players’ tokens. They’re typically easier to conquer.

Conquering Your Way to Victory in Small World

And that wraps up our journey through the whimsical realms of Small World. Armed with a thorough understanding of the rules, key strategies in race and power selection, the savvy to time your race’s decline, and a toolkit for effective conquest and defense, you’re now equipped to take the game board by storm. Remember, in Small World, a strategic mind melds masterfully with the luck of the draw, and flexibility is king. Every game is a new adventure complete with quirky races and unique power combos, so stay adaptable, revel in the variety and may your civilization rise above the rest!

Want to know what we think of Small World? Read our detailed review of Small World here

Jamie in his proper element: With all of his board games
Jamie Hopkins

With years of dice-rolling, card-flipping, and strategic planning under my belt, I've transformed my passion into expertise. I thrive on dissecting the mechanics and social dynamics of board games, sharing insights from countless game nights with friends. I dive deep into gameplay mechanics, while emphasizing the social joys of gaming. While I appreciate themes and visuals, it's the strategy and camaraderie that truly capture my heart.