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In Small World, the only combination we've encountered that we consider "broken" in any way is Merchant Elves - the Merchant property doubles the value of every occupied area, while the immortality of the Elves means that eliminating that race becomes impossible.

Especially deadly is the situation where Merchant Elves are taken by a player who put his first race into decline early.

Has anyone found a counter for this (admittedly rare) problem in Small World?

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Why is it so deadly when the merchant elves put their first race into decline early? –  Nick Feb 10 at 19:15
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3 Answers 3

up vote 21 down vote accepted

In Small World, as soon as you discover that someone has a combo that seems powerful you need only to do a couple things

  1. Kill off any declined empire of his
  2. Regularly snipe a territory or two of his every turn.

If at least one other players agrees with you, the declined empire should be gone by the start of his second turn with the powerful combo (at the latest). Without a declined empire regularly gaining a few VPs/turn, it is very hard to win.

Next you have to deal with the elves. You definitely don't want him expanding to 8 territories and taking 16VPs/turn! 8 elves can be knocked back pretty easily. He has no combat bonuses on either offense or defense, so you should be able to reduce him to a max of 2 territories at the start of his turn pretty fast. Bottle him up with stacks 2-3 high, this will limit his expansion and should keep his VP generation below yours.

Don't be afraid to go into decline early and often. Grab any combo with a combat advantage of some sort and exploit it. Once it plays out, get another one. The Merchant Elves will be stuck fighting for the same 2-4 territories every turn until he goes into decline.

Merchant only gives +2 troops, everything else except Fortified (+3) gives at least +4 troops. This means that Merchant is meant to be a very powerful ability, on the other hand, you will almost certainly outnumber him. Grab a combat oriented power on top of that and the battles should greatly favor you.

Some combos that might be particularly annoying to the merchant elves are:

  • Flying Ratmen or Amazons (attack his soft underbelly with a ton of troops)
  • Mounted Skeletons should have him restricted to the mountains in no time
  • Stout anything - just throw them at him and go get another empire while he cleans up the carnage
  • Commando Giants - grab mountains, anything around them will probably fall to 1 attacking giant!
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The "Solution" to Merchant Elves is anything Sorcerers. With only 8 tokens, ME's are not terribly strong (but are rolling in VP's). If they have ANY one token space, get next to it, and convert an Elf. The Elf player drops a token, and can't get it back, and further, just lost 2 points of maximum potential income.

If the Sorcerers are not to hand, just beat up and reinforce the heck out of the edges.


"Place the substituted opponent's Race token back into the storage tray." SW rules page 9.

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When an overpowering combo like that appears, you need a game-wide coalition to form, where players focus more on stomping the winner than growing their own empires.

Most overpowering combos gradually experience attrition, so the coalition gets to dissolve over time. Merchant Elves are exceptional because the coalition never gets to dissolve (unless, as Michael pointed out, Sorcerers manage to convert some Elven singletons).

This isn't necessarily bad, but it does mean the game will be dominated by a standard game theory defection scenario. If the coalition is strong enough, the players who 'defect' and see to their own empires win, but if too many players do that, the Elves win.

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I would also add that the sorcerers are a great counter to elves to remove them a token each turn when they overexpand. –  Michel Daviot Apr 12 '11 at 7:40
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