Small World of Warcraft review

Who doesn’t love a well done crossover product? We sure do, and Small World of Warcraft is a wonderful collaboration between Days of Wonder/Asmodee and Blizzard and one we look forward to playing more over the holiday break. Time for a closer look.

I’m going to assume most of our readers are familiar with World of Warcraft, but I’m willing to bet that anyone with even a remote interest in board games will also know (or at least have heard of) Small World. Originally released roughly 10 years ago, it was met with award-winning acclaim and has gone on to gather a loyal following of fans while expanding on the original game with several expansions. In the world of board games, it’s carved out a spot for itself alongside other modern favorites like Catan and Carcasonne.

Small World of Warcraft is a reskin of that original game with a few minor tweaks, mostly improvements that were added to Small World through expansions. The core formula hasn’t changed much though, as you’re still playing a competitive strategy game where your aim is to control as much of the (small) world in front of you over the course of a predefined number of turns. And although it’s based on World of Warcraft in name, the strategic elements reminded me more of the classic Warcraft RTS games – although the game, through its races, uses a lot more of the MMO lore that wasn’t in the strategy games.

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This starts with the selection of a race to command, which is partly randomized for the sake of replayability. The randomization lies mostly with the special abilities you gain for a particular round, allowing you to score points more easily with a certain tactic or gain an edge in combat. And as with the original Small World, you can play the game with 2 to 5 players – with a map size that’s adjusted accordingly. There’s a difference here, because this World of Warcraft-flavored edition features chains of islands rather than one continuous game world to explore and conquer – making the game map feel a bit more modular in nature but also forcing you to think about your next move because you might put yourself out of striking distance if you’re not careful.

Capturing new areas on the map is done by placing the necessary number of tokens on a territory – the number depending on where the area you’re trying to claim is, if someone else has a hold on it and the aforementioned stats for your particular race. Some tiles can only be claimed by certain races, with the Naga having the ability to claim water tiles that other races can’t. If an opposing player is currently in control of a territory and you claim it, he loses one of his tokens while the others ‘retreat’ back into his stack to be used again. Not enough tokens to steal a territory away from someone? You can try for reinforcement with a special die – but if you don’t roll a high enough number you’ll effectively lose that turn. Upon ending a turn, players receive points based on the territories they currently occupy.

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As the number of tokens you have is finite, you eventually end up stretching your forces a little thin – which is when you can put your race’s empire “in decline” and select another race to play with. You’ll keep your former race’s units on the board and they’ll continue to earn points for you, until they’re captured by another player. This is a true game-changing dynamic that not only makes every game feel dynamic as it’s going on but also – with a degree of randomization in place, greatly adds to the lasting appeal of the game.

The world that Blizzard has crafted over the world is a great fit for the Small World formula, with a universe that’s constantly at war and the balance of power always shifting. Many of the races also feel like they’re a natural fit, with dwarves gaining a boost once they head into the mountains and benefits that come from battle when you defeat a Horde race while playing as part of the Alliance (or vice versa).

Something that wasn’t in the original Small World is that some locations are home to special items that provide perks to whoever is in control of them. Think “the one ring” in Lord of the Rings terms, and it’s easy to see why these spots on the map are coveted and often fought over by players. Fighting for them might win you the war, but you could also lose too many forces in the battle, so staying away is also a valid tactic, especially with a larger number of players where you let others duke it out.

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Playing with more than two players is recommended for other reasons as well. Having more players (and thus) races on the board means there’s more strategic depth – with opportunities for alliances, schemes and a far less predictable course for the game to follow. There’s a game mode called “Battle for Azeroth” included as well (which is more focused on Alliance vs Horde combat), and the game’s designers themselves also suggest playing it with at least four players.

If board games within this particular genre appeal to you then you’ll probably already have played Small World and this take isn’t much different. It’s slightly more refined and offers more strategic depth though, which is definitely a plus since you’re getting it without having to invest in any of the expansions. The biggest appeal, however, will be for fans of World of Warcraft with a general interest in board games. Small World of Warcraft does justice to the lore, applies it to an existing but excellent formula, and presents it with colorful maps, tokens, characters and cards that all feature artwork that gels with Blizzard’s hugely successful franchise. An excellent gift for a World of Warcraft fan that you’d love to lure away from their desktop for a fun multiplayer experience in the living room.

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