Thursday, October 21, 2010

Game Mini-Reviews: Be Not Afraid & Necromancer Island

Be Not Afraid (expansion for Small World)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.19
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $20.00 (Days of Wonder)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.33
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: in print (while supplies last)
  • cost: free w/Small World product purchase (Days of Wonder)
Reviewing expansions is hard. By definition, if you liked the base game (in this case, the off-beat fantasy conquest game, Small World), you're inclined to enjoy the variety that a well-made expansion gives the game you already love. By the same token, if you didn't like the base game, you probably won't bother with the expansions.

That's why you have to be cautious about the ratings for expansions on Boardgamegeek... the folks who are rating these "add-on"s are a self-selected group of fans whose numbers will naturally tend to be higher than average.

Which brings me to my job today - as a fan of Small World (and 3 of the previous 4 expansions - guess which one I less enthralled with!), I need to help the rest of you fans out there decide whether Be Not Afraid and Necromancer Island are worth your hard-earned gaming dollars. (I'm choosing to review them together since they're being released at the same time, btw.)

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid is similar to the previous race/power expansions (Cursed! & Grand Dames) in offering new races:
  • Barbarians (lots of them, but they can't reinforce)
  • Homunculus (who grow stronger every time they are ignored)
  • Leprechauns (and their pots o'gold... though no Lucky Charms, for those of you needing a snack break during the game)
  • Pixies (lots of them, but they're easy to squish)
  • Pygmies (every time you knock 'em down, they have the potential to multiple... it's like fighting a Pandemic virus!)

And new powers:

  • Barricade (you're rewarded for having a small kingdom)
  • Catapult (much like the French & their cows - Monty Python reference alert! - you can heave some of your troops to distant lands)
  • Corrupt (it costs your opponents gold to conquer you)
  • Imperial (you're rewarded for having a big kingdom)
  • Mercenary (spend money to make it easier to conquer regions, thanks to Dial-a-Merc)

The printing/art/components are of the same high quality we've grown to expect from Days of Wonder... and they match the base game & expansions perfectly. If you'd like to see the complete rules for the expansion, they are available here.

The other item in Be Not Afraid is a counter tray for all of the expansion races... which is a welcome addition, especially since they curved the slots, making it easier to find, remove & replace counters than the base game counter tray with straight-sided slots. There's room for the extra race & power boards - and even space for the Ghosts from the Necromancer Island expansion!

Finally, as yet another indication of the high quality of Days of Wonder customer service, there was a printing screw-up with the Catapult token for Be Not Afraid - it, well, wasn't in the box. So, DoW had a new punchboard printed up with the missing token... and added five Leader tokens for the races in the new expansion as well! It will be available with the expansion when you purchase it from your local retailer or directly from Days of Wonder.

Necromancer Island

This "scenario" for Small World consists of a new set of race tokens (Ghosts), a castle on an island (which ends up in the middle of the lake), and "The Well of Souls" (where dead combatants go for their after party... well, not really.) And, of course, the rules.

One player takes on the role of the Necromancer - his job is to get all of his Ghosts onto the board, profiting from the steady stream of dead combatants that the other players send to the Well of Souls. Every four tokens in the Well allows the Necromancer to add a Ghost in his castle... which he then uses to spread out across the center of the island.

The Necromancer player doesn't recruit like the rest of the players - instead, he draws 6 powers before the game begins, choosing one to start with and then buying the others with gold he obtains when his Ghosts conquer territory.

This is not, however, just another "us against him" game - if the Necromancer is unable to place all of his Ghosts by the end of the final turn, the player with the most gold wins!

The nature of the expansion requires at least 3 players - though it does do a nice job of adding an extra player without imbalancing the game. (You can now play with 6 players!)

One thing is unclear in the rules (but clarified by Eric Hautemont at Dow): the Necromancer does not start with any gold. (Our first playings saw the evil wizard winning in the next to last round, but the intial 5 gold bump made it much easier for that to happen.)

I really like the wrinkle this adds to the game - as it doesn't unnecessarily complicate the system while still giving Small World a different feel. I'm hoping they'll do more of this kind of scenario additions to the game!


I think the tandem purchase of these two expansions makes for a great deal - I like the new races (esp. the Barbarians & the Leprechauns), the Barricade & Corrupt powers make some of the smaller/weaker races more viable in the right situation, and Necromancer Island expands the number of players & the style of play.

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