Recently I was able to get a few games of Small World Underground in, thanks to Days of Wonder sending me a review copy. I’ve had a blast playing the original on my iPad, and was ecstatic about getting the chance to try this new version.

Underground is a stand-alone game, but is fully compatible with the original. All the pieces between the two games can be swapped back and forth, and used in combination. There’s a section in the Underground rulebook that explains how to work this.

For those not familiar with Small World, it’s an area control game where players take control of various races vying to take and hold territories on the board. Once your race’s numbers thin out, you can decline that race and choose a new one, scoring bonus points each turn for the previous race markers you have on the board. The original was pretty straight forward in this aspect, and every race had its own unique powers combined with a random special power attached to it. This helped serve to mix things up a bit, and give players a chance to one-up each other and try various tactics to achieve more ground.

Underground takes this premise and expands upon it greatly. There are now fortifications that make it harder to take over certain territories. There are also monsters placed on the board at the start of the game that aren’t controlled by any player. By overcoming these monsters you can uncover treasures or monuments that give you even more special abilities to use in your conquest. While that may not seem like it add much to the game, it really does. There were times when a single artifact was able to turn the tide of a game and get me back on the path to victory.

The game is professional from top to bottom. Something I’ve come to expect from a Days of Wonder game. Even the game insert is functional for both storing, and playing the game. DoW even provides instructions for how to setup the insert and repack the box. No space is wasted.

I do have one complaint about the game. The rulebook is horrible. It’s well and good to get you going, but it also leaves a lot of questions about certain races’ powers, when they can be used, and how exactly they’re used. It seems vague in a lot of places, and feels like they trimmed power explanations in order to keep the rulebook shorter. Is it enough to keep you from buying and playing the game? No. Is it annoying? A bit.

Overall I’d say that Small World Underground is worth a purchase. If you have the original, this is a great way to expand your game. If you don’t have the original, skip getting it and move straight to Underworld. It’s by no means necessary to have both, and you’ll get more game out of Underworld.

Days of Wonder provided a copy of Small World Underground as a review copy to Purple Pawn.