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How to Play – Small World

How to Play Small World

Small World (from Days of Wonder) is a game of little land and too many people living on it. Your ancestors bequeathed the land to you in hopes that you would build your empire and dominate the Small World.

Each turn a player will command his fantasy race and its unique special power to conquer the various regions of Small World, collecting victory points as they do; but nothing lasts forever and eventually your race will become overly extended and you will need to abandon it in order to build up a new race and their new empire. To win the game you will need to master when to decline your race and to maximise the race and special ability powers to the utmost.

The Great Wild World

Small World, designed by Philippe Keyaerts, comes with two double-sided boards; the side that you use will depend entirely on how many players there are. There is a different side for two, three, four and five players. The player count is marked on each side in the top right corner. Place the board in the centre of the play area. Take the 'crown' turn marker and place it on step one of the round counter. The game will end when the round marker is on its last step and the round has ended.

All the race tokens are organised into the storage box for ease of play, place this near the board.

Shuffle all the race banners and deal out five in a single column near the board. Then shuffle all the race power badges and deal five alongside the race banners (their shape means they will slot together nicely). Keep the race banners and special power badges nearby at the top of the column so it is easier to replace the used races as they are taken by players. You have now created six races each with a power, creating six fairly unique races (including the top race and power of the stack).

Next, place a lost tribe marker on each of the lost tribe icons on the map, the number of lost tribes varies depending on the map and a mountain marker on each mountain region. Finally, each player gets five 'one' victory point coins, these are kept secret from other players through the game until the final scoring at the end.

The person with the pointiest ears goes first.

Rise and Fall of an Empire

The aim of the game is to have the most victory points after the final round. The first player starts by picking a race and its conjoined power. The race/power that is furthest from the main stack is free to take, each race that is a step closer to the main stack costs one additional victory point (this is placed on the race badge); so the second one costs one victory point, the third on costs two, the fourth - three, the fifth costs four and finally the one on top of the stack costs five. On subsequent turns any race that has victory tokens placed on it are taken by whoever chooses that race.

Once the race/power combo is placed in front of the player the selection of races is replenished by sliding the race/power combos to fill the void revealing the next combo on the stack, there should always be six options for players to choose from when selecting a race.

The player looks at his race and power, there will be two numbers in golden circles in the corners, these numbers represent who many of the race tokens that the player takes to use. The different combinations make different total tokens. Some special powers also allow the player to take extra tokens and are explained on them.

With the right number of race tokens in hand the player may now begin their conquest of Small world. On subsequent turns when players might not have needed to choose a race they take, they retrieve tokens from their regions leaving one race token there. They may remove the final token from a region, but they will not control that region any further.

The first conquest must be played in any region that is adjacent to the edge of the board or a region that has a shore in a sea region that is adjacent to the edge of the board. Each region must be conquered with two race tokens plus one more for each token that is already in the region, that could be tribes, mountains, special tokens or other players' race tokens.

At the end of the player's turn they may have spare race tokens with nowhere to conquer (if they only have one left then they cannot conquer anywhere). The player may select a region they don't have enough tokens to conquer and roll the reinforcement die, if the total on the die plus the race tokens left are enough to conquer the region the player is successful and places all their remaining tokens on the chosen region.

If any other player regions are conquered the player who owns that race takes all the race tokens out of the region, discards one back to storage and after the active player has completed their turn, they can redeploy them.

Once the active player has conquered all the regions that he wants he can redeploy his tokens across his regions as long as at least one token remains in each region he controls. Finally, the player scores their victory points, each region is worth one point and added to that there may be bonuses from the race and/or their powers, the player receives these victory points and places them face-down in his victory pile so no one else can see them.

At this point any players who removed race tokens from being conquered can redeploy them in any region they control. Play then moves to the next player and continues as described above.

Once the round comes back to the first player, before they do anything else, they move the turn marker forward one place, when it lands on the final space there is one more round before the final scoring.

At some point a player will not be able to expand his empire any further; there will be no more race tokens. Or a new better race might come out to choose, at the start of any turn a player can place their race in decline, all but one race token are removed back to storage and each of the last race tokens in regions are flipped face-down. The player flips his race board over and then flips his special power board over, if it has a red mark in the centre it is placed on the bottom of the race powers stack.

Their turn then ends and at the start of their next turn they can choose a new race as normal. A player can usually only have one race in decline at once, if they decline a second race then the first is discarded to the bottom of the race stack and any flipped race tokens on the board are put back into storage

Declined races do not expand their empire any more (unless they are the ghouls) and they cannot use any special power that was on their boards, they still count towards victory points for the player who owns them.

Races and Powers

There are 13 races to choose from in Small World and 19 special powers, making a total of 247 combinations of races and powers.

Amazons are all about the conquering and gain four extra race tokens for conquering regions that are then removed during redeployment. Amazons can spread quickly through Small World but as a result they can end up in decline sooner rather than later. They get no extra bonus victory points, so in the pursuit of victory points they tend to pair better with powers that let them conquer more territory, such as berserker, commando or pillaging. Equally, they can be paired with powers that make them move around faster among the regions such as fly to really clean up all other regions that other players have gained.

Dwarves are victory miners! They gain a bonus victory point for every mine they control during the scoring phase. But they start with the fewest race tokens (only eight). They tend to get forgotten as they can only last a few rounds of the game at most, so victory points gather on the race before it is chosen. Any power that adds to their ability to harvest more victory points for so few regions that they control; forest, mountain, seafaring, swamp, merchant, hill, forest, fortified, alchemist and wealthy all go well with Dwarves.

Elves suffer no losses after they are conquered in a region, their player does not discard their tokens back to the stockpile, but they can over stretch and extend themselves quickly. Elves are therefore numerous, harder to conquer, and send into decline making them very versatile, especially if they have a power that allows them to gain more victory points per turn like the Dwarves.

Ghouls do not remove their tokens from Small World when they go into decline. They are flipped and may be used as if they were active (they still lose their special power if indicated on the back of the card). Ghouls always go first on their player's turn before their new race and can act just like an active race. This makes ghouls powerful as the player can essentially have two active races. Ghouls combined with Spirit or Stout are especially strong.

Giants can occupy regions adjacent to mountains they control with one less race token, to a minimum of one. Obviously, Giants being around Mountains is a big advantage to them, if they are underworld giants then the caverns are counted as adjacent, however, flying giants are not adjacent to all other spaces so it would still only count for the regions directly adjacent to the mountains they control.

Halflings are versatile in how they enter the game; they may enter the map in any region, not just the adjacent edge regions.  The first two regions that they conquer are turned into holes in the ground with the appropriate tokens. These regions are immune to being conquered or other racial powers, they disappear only if the Halflings go into decline. This makes these two regions powerful especially if they are combined with a racial bonus that adds to the victory points gained.

Humans are farmers in Small World. Each farm they occupy gains them one additional victory point, humans therefore benefit from any power that adds to their ability to spread across the map and conquer regions.

Orcs are the natural pillagers of Small World, for every non-empty region that they conquer they gain an additional victory point. Pairing the Orcs with pillaging adds another victory point to each region that they conquered that contains other race tokens, likewise commando and berserker are also great additions the Orcs.

Ratmen have no innate special power, their only ability is that there are lots of them, Ratman start with the most racial tokens of any race in Small World. Any power that adds to them can change their nature to victory point gathers or to conquerors of regions.

Skeletons during redeployment receive one additional token for every two non-empty regions that they conquer on their turn. This makes Skeletons amass lots of tokens across Small World gaining victory points quickly. Skeletons can therefore gain advantages with both victory focused special powers as well as special powers that empower them to conquer regions more easily.

Sorcerers can convert or Zap a lone race token of another race, replacing it with one of their own tokens; this can only be done once per turn per player. Flying sorcerer’s being the most powerful of this as in this instance all regions are considered adjacent! The zap power is also considered a conquest for the purposes of pillaging meaning they gain the victory point for using it in that instance. If there are no more sorcerer tokens left in the storage tray they cannot use this power, and cannot use it after rolling the reinforcement dice.

Tritons can conquer coastal regions at a cost of -1 race token (to a minimum of one). Some might think that seafaring Tritons would be the perfect combination however the seas and lakes are not considered coastal so there is no benefit to them there. Tritons are versatile and adapt to which ever power they are coupled with and will dictate how they are played.

Trolls change the landscape around them; every region conquered by trolls has a troll lair placed in it, making it harder to conquer the region. These lairs remain even after the trolls decline and can only be removed after the troll player abandons a region or when the region is conquered. This makes Trolls a very defensive race that can fortify its hold on regions easier than other races. They go well with victory bonus powers.

Wizards gain bonus victory points for every magic region they control. The wizards are one of the versatile races that can adapt to different ways of play depending on the power that they are coupled with.


Small World comes with 19 racial powers, each very distinct and with its own rules. Alchemist allows the attached race to gain an additional two victory points every round; very useful for anyone who has a smaller number of race tokens or struggling to rake in the points.

Berserk allows the race to roll the reinforcement die before each conquest instead of at the end of the final conquest. This is a great power for those who want to really conquer Small World fast, as long as the player has enough tokens as it still takes at least one token to conquer a region.

Bivouacking lets races camp down in their conquered regions, the bivouack tokens are placed in the regions that the player conquered (there can be more than one per region) and in subsequent redeployment phases they can be taken back and moved to a different region. Each token makes it harder to conquer the region providing lots of extra defences.

Commando, this race is a force to be reckoned with; they can conquer regions with one less race token than usual, to a minimum of one.

Diplomatic races can, at the end of their turn, declare peace between their active race and one other player; this can be changed each turn. That player cannot attack the diplomatic active race on their next turn but can attack declined races. Very challenging and interesting in two-player games!

Dragon master races control the Dragon! She can be used alongside a single race token of the owner to conquer a region no matter how many opponent race tokens, or other markers are present. This does not affect other immune tokens (they are roundish with four points in the corners) such as the Holes in the ground or Heroic tokens. The region containing the dragon is also immune to conquering. When the Dragon Master race goes into decline the dragon also leaves Small World.

Flying races can enter the map in any region and may conquer from any region, not just adjacent ones. It is important to remember that flying does not make distant regions adjacent for other purposes in the game. Forest, hill and Swamp races all gain one extra victory point for each of those types of regions controlled.

Fortified races build forts across Small World, once per turn a fort token can be placed in any region controlled by the race. These forts add one to the defence of the region and also an additional victory point during scoring. The forts cannot be moved once placed and remain even when the race goes into decline. They can only be removed after they have been conquered or abandoned. After the race goes into decline the forts still provide defence but not victory points.

Heroic races gain two hero units which can be placed with the normal race tokens in regions and moved each turn. The regions where the heroes are immune to conquering and other special abilities.

Merchant races are all about victory points and good for anyone needing a boost to their scores. Each turn the merchant race gains an additional victory point for each region that they control. Mounted races ride into battle and can conquer hill or farmland region with one less race token than normal, to a minimum of one.

Pillaging races are the epitome of conquerors in Small World, they gain one extra victory point for every region they conquered this turn, and this race is not going to stay in its region of Small World. This power stacks with the Orc’s power, so they get more victory points for conquering regions yet again.

Seafaring races may conquer water regions as if they were normal regions and continue to score these conquered regions after they go into decline.

Spirit races do not count towards the limit of one in decline race. So, in effect, you can have two in decline races at the same time and you do not remove your already in decline race; powerful when combined with ghouls.

Stout races can go into decline at the end of their turn instead of spending the whole turn declining. A useful ability if you want to use a one shot race before getting another. Underworld races can conquer cavern regions with one less token than usual to a minimum of one. All cavern regions are adjacent.

Finally, wealthy races gain seven victory points on the first turn that they score, and then there is no further advantage. Coupled well with any race that can spread across Small World fast (like the amazons).

Small World Strategy

The key to Small World is using the races and powers that you have to the best of their ability and be adaptable to your own play style depending on how the race and power combinations fall. Being aware of not only how you own race functions best but also how it will interact with the other races that are in play or could be brought into play. Ghouls, for example, are always best played as one turn then declining them to get a second race out on the Small World.

Another key factor to victory is to know when to decline your race to maximise their use and the choices you have of new races. Decline a race that is spread too thin is a waste of a turn, declining them just before they become useless is the best way; declining at the height of a race’s power might seem illogical but it creates a sequence of high scoring turns with little to lose between declining and choosing a new race.

Each game will be different, and each will require a unique and adaptive approach; it’s a Small World after all.