I've played one game of Small World. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite losing badly. For one, I had no game plan, and was sort of just trying things randomly. Is there an effective, yet basic, strategy I can use next time to at least play with a sense of purpose? At the risk of asking too many questions at once...

  • Should I always spend coins to get a race with more troops?
  • How do I know when to decline an active race?
  • Is there a good VP target to earn per turn?

4 Answers 4


One thing I'm discovering about Small World (especially in games with smaller number of players) is that it's not inherently balanced - your opponents can easily snap up amazing race/ability combos for cheap, leaving you with much less attractive options, just by random virtue of the seating order.

As such, you simply have to play a competitive game. Don't just look at your race/ability combo in isolation: look at it also in terms of how much it can do to hamper the efforts of the player currently winning the game (or the player most likely to stop you from winning).

Barring special circumstances, you will generally have two races on the go at once: one Declined race in as defensible a position as possible, and one Active race doing things. The Active race has a lot of work to do: it needs to take lots of territory (to get points here and now); take defensible territory (to keep getting points while in decline); and also, crucially, mess with the opponents: oust them from defensible areas and force them to go into Decline at points that are disadvantageous to them.

In short, I'd agree with everything the other answers have said about this being a game about adapting to circumstances - Small World is nothing if not a game of taking advantage of opportunities as they arise - but I'd add that it's not a game you can play without reference to how well the other players are doing. If they have some good race/power combos going, then grab an aggressive race, get in there and do them over, as quickly as possible! Defensive powers and play is all very well, but save it for when you're obviously in the lead...

  • Totally agree. To that point, my group considers the tracking who's ahead to be so central to the game's strategy that we open up a laptop and record in a spreadsheet the coins gained every turn. (Yes, this is extreme, and runs counter to the game rule of hiding your coins.)
    – warbaker
    Dec 8, 2010 at 4:16
  • @warbaker Small World's predecessor, Vinci, had public scoring. The advantage was that, as you note, everyone could concentrate on the leaders, which was great for addressing the power combination imbalance. On the downside, though, most games ended with someone having no choice but to play kingmaker. Small World addressed that weakness through private scoring, failed to do entirely solve the power imbalance. Dec 9, 2010 at 20:02
  • 2
    @matthew I generally hate the kill-the-leader mechanic, but somehow keeping things completely open removes the its worst result: the endless, tiresome debate. With a spreadsheet, it is always obvious who is winning and by how much. There's just nothing to say. That said, maybe I take winning a bit too seriously. :)
    – warbaker
    Apr 21, 2011 at 17:23
  • @warbaker I hear ya. Unfortunately out solution is to just not play it much, despite it being a good game in every other way. FWIW, we largely solved the problem in Vinci by having the game have a 1 in 3 chance of ending after someone hits 100 points, checked one each time around the table. This uncertainty largely removed the kingmaking in Vinci, which definitely ended when someone hit 120 points. Apr 22, 2011 at 1:58
  • I've played Small World a lot and i still find that the main strategy isn't even a real strategy: it's to look at the power/race combinations and think about how you might use them AT THIS EXACT MOMENT (so maybe it's all about tactics rather than strategy). Sometimes the other player(s) have a combo which is particularly vulnerable or resistant to some of the available-to-buy combos. You don't need lots of experience with the game to figure out what these are, but when you first play there are so many races and powers to think about that it's quite overwhelming. That doesn't help much :/ Aug 14, 2014 at 8:52

These are just some general suggestions:

  • Go for numbers early. When the map is still mostly empty, it seems like quantity of troops is slightly more valuable than quality. I'm willing to give up a coin or two on the first round to get a few more troops.

  • Don't be afraid to abandon all regions and relocate all your troops. Sometimes this is a very good thing to do.

  • Try to place troops on mountains before declining. They'll hold out a little longer there.

  • Decline early to get two races working for you.

So a simple strategy that may work reasonably well is to start with a race that has a high number of troops, deploy those into as many mountainous regions as possible, and then decline on turn two. So on turn three you will already have two races working for you. I'm not saying it's a great strategy, but it's not a bad place to start.

Beyond that you need to play off the powers you have. The powers and races you get make a big difference in what would be a good strategy and what would be a bad one.

  • 4
    +1 for the "play off the powers you have". Todd and Pat have insightful points, but the single unfailing strategy is: use the opportunities that the game throws into your lap to your maximum benefit. Of course this is not really a useful strategy until you have good insight into what is possible and what the good and bad points of different events are, but it is important to be aware that you need to be flexible about your plans and long-term strategies. Also: note that nothing in this comment is Small World-specific - all of it holds verbatim for many, many games.
    – Erik P.
    Dec 7, 2010 at 5:12

In general...

  • The number of troops is really important. Until the endgame, don't fret too much about how many coins you're spending.
  • You should have have 2-3 races over the course of the game.
  • Target 8-11 points per turn once things get going. Overextending yourself is dangerous.
  • Dwarves deserve special mention: they are terrible.

Your first race should try to spread to mountains, say 3 mountains and 1-2 non-mountains, then go into decline.

A bit on mountains:

Mountains are valuable for in-decline races because they make it much less desirable for someone else to interfere.

For example, if an opponent has 4 troops to spare and already has a race in decline, she's better-off conquering 2 open non-mountain regions than conquering your single mountain region, even if you're winning. She closes the gap with you by 2 territories either way, but she gets more coins versus her peers if she leaves you alone.


Should I always spend coins to get a race with more troops?

No. Those are victory points! Spend them wisely and be eager to grab VPs that other folks put down. Most race/power tokens can be useful if used correctly. Just figure out how you get extra VPs with the combo and keep focused on that.

How do I know when to decline an active race?

The easiest way to know is when your previously declined race has been wiped out or has been reduced to 1-2 territories that look like they won't last long. I believe that you need to earn VPs from declined empires as often as you can. It is better to decline too early, than too late.

Is there a good VP target to earn per turn?

1 more than everyone else? :) Sorry, I can't give a definitive answer here as most of my Small World experience actually comes from the game's predecessor Vinci. Always try to get a few VP's per turn, this fits with my "Decline early and often" strategy. Then make the most of your big turns. Know who is your competition at any point and be sure to take a territory or two from them each turn if at all possible.

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