Hey there! We’re Chris & Valerie and we like to play games together. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy for us to find others to play with – this means we often have to pay special attention whether the selected game is a good fit for two players. Here we explore these games and help you decide the all-important question, “Can this game work well with just two players?”
As usual with our write-ups, we’re not going to go over the game play in its entirety. We all know others have covered that before and of course we’ve linked a few above. That said, a very brief overview of the core play mechanics can’t hurt for those that don’t have the time to watch a few videos prior to reading an article on a game that will take you less time to play than the above research.
The basic play mechanics Small World depends on are this:
- The board is too small to avoid conflict and attrition. (No pacifists here!)
- You get to choose a variety of races with a variety of attributes. (What are we going to get, exciting!!)
- You get to slam them all on a tiny space and watch what happens. (40 minutes of good quality action)
So how does this play out for two players? LETS FIND OUT!
We feel it’s important to point out early, the creators of Small World didn’t just back-in a 2 Player variant. They built us couples our own board on the back of the 3-player board. Wait, what? The game comes with two boards. There is a smaller rectangle board with a 3-player landscape on one side and a 2-player landscape on the other, and a larger square board with a 4-player landscape and 5-player landscape respectively. With that, let’s see what Chris and Valerie think!
I have a “love-meh” relationship with Small World. I love the idea behind all three of the above mechanics but in the half dozen or so two player games Valerie and I have played I’ve seen the same patterns emerge. Let me explain:
I love the 2-player board. It tells me that the area I’m playing in was created and tested for two players in mind. You’re not using a larger board and some wonky ‘variant’ rules. You’re playing in an environment setup just for you.
One of the ways to get ahead is to spread out as far as you can without over exposing yourself to conquest from your opponent during their next turn. In the early stages the easiest way to do this is to claim unoccupied land. That only costs 2 of your units (out of 7-12ish) to deploy. Sure that statement is not an absolute, some species and attributes enjoy benefits on land areas with specific properties, but the axiom holds true none the less. If you want to conquer an area which is already occupied you need to spend an additional unit for every unit your opponent has in that area. This can get expensive and slows your movement (though it does weaken your opponent if that is their land tile). So what does all this mean? Well, in the early game the “lost tribes” occupy certain areas, they only have one tribe per tile. More often in rounds 1-3 its cheaper and easier to attack a lost tribe than your opponent. The downside is neither you nor your opponent are feeling the pressure to put your race into decline, so you push off declining until rounds 6-7. By the time rounds 8-12 come around you’ve finally got your second Race deployed and you’re accruing points. By the time round 13 comes along, you’re out of options as if you did have a chance to deploy a 3rd Race (thus removing your first race from the board) you’re not going to get its full use.
That said, this just minimizes two of the three mechanics listed above. You’re not feeling that land claustrophobia thanks to the buffer of the Lost Tribes and you’re not enjoying the ‘decline and choose another’ mechanic as much either. I have played this in a 4-5 player game and these mechanics play beautifully.
Overall I won’t turn down a game of Small World if offered. I do enjoy it greatly and if you put my nitpick aside that third mechanic (having a great time for 40ish minutes) is maintained very well. It’s great to play a game that is so colorful, slightly humorous (dragon taming cowboy skeletons), and won’t have you fall too deep into your cranium for your next move.
Honestly, I don’t think I won a single two-player game, but even so, I found myself wanting to play this game often. It wasn’t free of problems – even on the two-player board there is a lack of conflict for a good chunk of the game, as Chris mentioned – but regardless, the game is fun. I’ll admit – Small World is a lot more enjoyable with multiple players. The board fills up quicker and forces you into “combat”, the premise of the game. And I agree 100% with all of Chris’s comments about combat with Lost Tribes vs. your opponent and putting races into decline. The suggested house below rule might correct this. But for two players, the randomness of the of the roles always creates excitement, the game length is appropriate, and set-up is reasonable. I enjoyed playing this game every time (even if I always lost!) and was eager to play again – a good sign for a two-player game.
Suggested House Rules:
- You have some extra Lost Tribe tokens after setting up the 2 Player board. Put a few additional tokens on some Lost Tribe-controlled areas to make them less appealing to conquer. You then may find the easier attack is your Wife’s ratmen whom keep multiplying.
Small World is a good game for two players. It has little problems that can be addressed with a house rule or two. It’s accessible to newcomers, pretty to look at, won’t give you a headache, and the play time is just right. You’ll never walk away frustrated or angry. Even if you lose you’ll have a good time. Thank you Days of Wonder for keeping us 2-player couples in mind when designing Small World; it shows and makes a difference.