Tales and Legends is an upcoming expansion set for the board game Small World (read our review of the full game here), that adds special events and rules twists to help shake up the game. If you're a Small World player looking for a fresh experience, read on for the full review:Just the Facts: Players: 2-5 Playing Time: 40-80 minutes Age: 8 to Adult Publisher: Days of Wonder MSRP: $15.00 Release: July 14th, 2010 [xrr rating=4.0/5] The Gameplay: A game of Small World using the Tales and Legends expansion begins no different than any other. However, after that first turn, players will start subsequent turns by revealing an event card. Most event cards impact only the current turn, although some will create lasting effects and force the players to adapt their strategy on the fly. The expansion consists of 54 event cards, and players can choose to incorporate them in several different ways. Standard rules state to begin by shuffling all 54 cards into one large stack. Determine how many turns the game will last, subtract one from that number, and then deal out that many cards into a small face-down stack. Aside from the event cards themselves, there are also place-marker cards for the current event and the upcoming events stack. To start the game, the random deck of cards should be placed face up on the "upcoming event" spot to show players how the game will change in turn #2. When that turn does arrive, that card will move over to the "current event" spot, and the new upcoming event card below it will be revealed. Beyond the basic setup rules, a more advanced version uses symbols printed in the top-left corner of each card that allow players to customize the way the cards will impact their game. Instead of randomly shuffling all 54 cards, players can chose to use only cards from one of six themed categories. A second symbol on each card denotes how large of an impact that card has on the game, separating them into three different tiers. For a crazy game of Small World, the rules also state that players can choose to play only with the most game-changing of cards, and eliminate the "upcoming event" slot so that all events are drawn blind on the turn they take effect. This version of the game will handicap the ability to strategize, but it should be good for at least a few laughs.
The six categories that cards can be separated into are the following:
- "The Gods Must be Crazy" A general mix of cards, this set provides a balance of positive and negative effects on the players. Favorite Card: "A Gift From the Sky" Each player may place one victory coin in the region of their choice. For the remainder of the game, that region is worth an additional victory coin at the end of every turn.
- "A Wind of Change" Tied with "Pax 'the Menace' " for the most heavy-impact cards at 4 (all other decks have 2), this selection has drastic impacts on the game. Many of these cards relate to the rise and fall of races, and will force entire races into decline, off the board, or into play earlier than would be expected in a standard game of Small World. Favorite Card: "Blue Genes" Stars a blind auction amongst the players for the right to pick and choose any upcoming race and special power. This new combo is then set aside and will come into play the next time the winning bidder must select a new race. This is the only card that allows players to break apart the upcoming race & power queue, and can really shake up other players' strategies.
- "Miracles for Sale!" This selection focuses on the use of blind auctions for the right to bend the rules in many way. Players will vie for the ability to apply a second power to their race, including Commando (-1 required for each conquest), the Ghoul racial ability (stays active in decline), or a randomly drawn special power from the bottom of the stack. Favorite Card: Youth Potion No. 8 During their turn, each player has the option to abandon an in-decline region and re-populate it with one token of their active race, taken from the storage tray.
- "Bloody Well Right" As you can probably speculate from the title, "Bloody Well Right" puts the focus of Small World squarely on combat. In many situations, the conquest of other regions is made much easier, or permitted in situations where it otherwise would not be allowed. Favorite Card: "Mercenaries" Each player can reduce the number of tokens required to conquer a region by 2 at a cost of 1 victory point. This may only be used twice.
- "One For the Ages" The cards of this selection generally reward players for taking various actions, such as entering decline, conquering no regions, or discarding in-decline race tokens. Favorite Card: Bling-Bling At the start of the turn, all players must announce their current score.
- "Pax 'the Menace' " As the second deck with four heavy-impact cards in it, this themed deck puts a clear focus on the negative with such cards as "Pestilence", "Plague", and "Famine". Often, cards from this selection will have players scoring less points than usual for a turn or losing members of their race(s). The only beneficial card sticks with the theme and rewards owners of the swamp territories.Favorite Card: "Drakkars From Afar" This card forces each player to abandon a coastal region at the start of the turn. Each of the newly-abandoned regions is now occupied by two Forgotten Tribesmen. They return!
Tales and Legends is a well-made and fairly-priced product, but is not an expansion filled with content that is essential to enjoy a game of Small World. If you have never played Small World before, I highly recommend purchasing the base game and keeping an eye on this deck. However, if you are already a Small World veteran and have begun to grow tired with the basic gameplay, then purchasing this expansion is a no-brainer. One of Small World's best assets is that due to the random pairings of races and powers, no two games are ever the same. If the novelty of that mechanic begins to wears off, though, the randomized selection of 54 possible events adds a touch of unpredictability that will keep the game fresh for a long time.
The saving grace of Tales and Legends is its customizable nature. There is no right or wrong way to play with this deck; it is simply up to the players at the table. One potential problem that players could encounter is a gaming group of mixed experience, with varying desire to mix in the Tales and Legends events. An agreeable compromise would be to limit the deck to minor impact cards, and thereby avert this situation through use of the impact symbols. Try all of the cards out and find out what works best for you, and then look forward to many more great rounds of Small World.
Where to Buy: Small World: Tales and Legends is not yet available for purchase at the time of this post's publishing, but it is available for pre-order online direct from Days of Wonder for $15. You can also pre-order online at many of their distributors, or wait to purchase it at your neighborhood’s fine local game store once it ships on July 14th.
Disclaimer: The Modern Day Pirates were provided a complimentary review sample of this game.