Welcome to a review of Small World: River World by Days of Wonder. River World is designed by Philippe Keyaerts and illustrated by Miguel Coimbra and Cyrille Daujean. This is an expansion to the popular game Small World, winner of the 2010 Games: World of Puzzles Magazine ‘Game of the Year’ Award.
What's in the Box?
Inside, you will find two double-sided gaming boards (similar in style to the original game) that allow between two and five players to ply the Rivers of Small World and conquer all the nearby lands…
In addition to the two boards, you also get a few sheets of counters which comprise of some pirate tokens, a caravel token and a set of 11 event discs.
The Ice! The Pirates! The Storms! Oh My!
Small World: River World adds a new feature to your games in the form of events. Rather than move a tiny crown from one number to another each turn to determine when the game ends - you now have small round discs (painted like shields) that you turn over every turn.
On the reverse of these is an event. So, on any given turn, you could have:
A pirate token appears on every empty water space and reduces the victory coins of each coastal region they are connected to by one. A pirate token also makes a river space slightly harder to conquer (needs one extra race token to do so).
Storms manifest on every river space on the board and make it difficult to fight or cross these zones until a new event appears, raising the number of tokens needed to take a water/river space to three (it’s usually one to take a river in this game).
The rivers and waterways all become frozen making them count as new areas of conquest for as long as the ice lasts. Now you can charge forth from your coastal regions and claim new icy zones for victory coins. Note, if pirate tokens are still in these zones - they remain for the duration of the ice. (This conjures evocative imagery of you fighting around pirate ships frozen in the ice!) Note, you can only keep and earn victory points from these locations whilst they are frozen - so act quickly!
Nothing happens this turn...the rivers are safe...for now!
The number of events varies on the number of players and the more players you have, the less turns and thus less events that trigger. This mirrors the number of turns in the core game, as determined by the player count.
Sites to Seer!
In addition to these features, the maps of River World also contain several locations that will alter the gameplay in new ways, and they are:
This location, once captured, will allow you to secretly view the next event at any point in your turn and then choose to reveal the information (truth or lies, up to you!) to the other players or not. Having the ability to peek at an event, prepare for it and then sit smugly when it gets revealed next turn and everyone else cries out in anguish can be great fun.
This location, again once captured, allows you to ‘build a caravel’ - giving you the ability to place the caravel marker on any empty river space on the map. Once this is placed, you can begin or continue your conquests from this location. This one is sneaky as it forces other players to avoid leaving big gaps in their defences that could be exploited and encourages more balanced race token deployment from your opponents.
Scattered across the map are several harbour locations which earn the holder of these spaces extra victory points based on how many they control (the first is worth one, the second is worth two and so on). As a result, these areas will often be hotly contested.
Will it Blend?
Small World is a game of many expansions - there are now two conglomerated Power Packs rounding up the smaller race/banner supplements, Realms, Sky Islands, Necromancer Island, Leaders, Tales & Legends and thus, the question is asked - does this play nicely with the other expansions or not?
We mixed this game with two expansions (Small World: Realms and Small World: Power Pack 2) to see how it fared.
Realms added the power to create new weird maps where rivers and waterways suddenly had a lot more power due to the events provided from this expansion. Building your own prospective piratey/stormy/icy waterways with this expansion was fun!
Power Pack 2 worked well adding new race / banner combos to compete over this rivery (it’s now a word) land and yet again enhanced the options and bountiful replay-ability this game this already has.
Is it Better, Down Where it's Wetter?
Take it from meee! (Sebastian, shh!) Yes it is. Whilst it's not the strongest expansion in the set, it’s still a great one to add to your Small World collection. Sure, it’s a bit thin on content (but I think this is reflected in the price), but it does have new options which will freshen up (moisten?) existing (dry?) games of Small World.
I think the 'events' are the strongest part of the expansion without doubt and add a nice tactile element to the game. Each player at the table eagerly watches the flip of a tile wondering if it will enhance their dastardly plans or dampen them.
The events, of course, can be a mixed blessing and sometimes you'll benefit from it and sometimes you won't. A recent game had me on the back foot with Hordes of Trolls about to pour across one of the rivers into my peace-loving elves, but then storms appeared! This made conquering the wet line between our empires too costly and I was free to frolic and pick flowers in safety for another turn!
However, there is a flip side - using the above example - if you were the trolls and your plans rested on the conquest of those peacenik pointy-ears then now these storms have spoiled your plan and you'll have to look elsewhere...fortunately, those nearby halflings look tasty, don't they?
The events do add a randomness which is mostly missing from the core game, but their effects aren’t game-breaking. Plus, as there are only three ‘negative’ event types, you usually have a rough idea of what to expect so you can kinda plan for them.
However, the static nature of the rivers on the maps from this expansion does mean that you can end up seeing similar strategies form, though of course one could say similar about the core small world (hint: snag a copy of Small World: Realms if you don't already own it!) map too – so this isn’t really a gripe.
Finally, some of the race/banner tiles from the core set just don’t work in River World (the rules even stipulate not to use the ‘Flying’ banner) but I’d say most of the ones we used from the expansions worked fine. The ‘Seafaring’ banner and ‘Tritons’ race are perhaps the worst as they benefit so much from the rivers, but you can of course just agree to remove these before the game starts.
Closing Comments on Small World: River World
In summary –River World does add new features and with so many options out there it can be hard to pick which one to add to your games of Small World. Personally, I’m glad I bought this one and I think it’d feel strange not including River World’s event tiles in a game of Small World now!
You Might Like
- Events replace the turn marker, sometimes making each turn more interesting, tactical and tactile.
- All the usual light-hearted fantasy charm of Small World, just wetter!
- A low priced expansion to add new dimensions to your Small World experience.
You Might Not Like
- Events replace the turn marker, sometimes making the game a little random and unpredictable.
- Some race powers / banners don't work as well, one or two are a bit overpowered.
- A bit thin on content / no new races or banners.
You Might Like
Events replace the turn marker, sometimes making each turn more interesting, tactical and tactile.
All the usual light-hearted fantasy charm of Small World, just wetter!
A low priced expansion to add new dimensions to your Small World experience.
You Might Not Like
Events replace the turn marker, sometimes making the game a little random and unpredictable.
Some race powers / banners don't work as well, one or two are a bit overpowered.
A bit thin on content / no new races or banners.