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Reviews - Small World: Tales and Legends
by Lee Valentine

Tales and LegendsSmall World: Tales and Legends
Published by Days of Wonder (2010)
Designed by Laurent Verrier and developed by Philippe Keyaerts
Contents: 54 large format Event cards, 1 Current Event card, 1 Upcoming Event card, 1 double-sided rules card, 1 double-sided game variants card, and 2 blank Event cards


Small World: Tales and Legends is Days of Wonder's newest expansion for its award-winning board game Small World. The expansion was created by Laurent Verrier, Special Prize Winner of the 2009 Days of Wonder Small World design competition. Philippe Keyaerts, the base game's author, did additional development work on the set.

Previous expansions have focused on increasing your number of available unit tokens in a fight (Leaders of Small World) or introducing new races and special powers (Cursed! and Grand Dames of Small World). Tales and Legends goes in an entirely different direction.

Tales and Legends features no tokens at all – just a single deck of Event cards. Before play starts, you select (either randomly or by theme) a number of Event cards equal to one less than the number of turns in your current Small World game (which varies with the number of players). You shuffle up those Events into a small, face down Event deck. At the beginning of the first turn, you flip an Event face up and mark it as the "Upcoming Event" with a special card provided in the set. It does nothing during turn one, but during turn two the first Event becomes the "Current Event" and becomes active, while another Event is flipped face up to become the new "Upcoming Event". On turn three, the first Event you had is discarded, the turn two Event becomes current, and so on, as you get a small conveyor belt of Events, one per turn.

Tales and Legends cardsMany Event cards grant you a simple global effect in one of the following categories: the Event grants you some new way to attack; the Event gives everyone a power similar to a known special power like "Ransacking" for the duration of a turn; the Event creates a prohibition against attacks in certain types of regions; you score additional victory points for occupying specific types of regions; the Event costs you victory points for certain game conditions; or the Event changes how and when you will decide to take a race into Decline and pick a replacement race. A fair number of Event cards offer unique effects in the game that do not fit into the preceding list of categories.

Most cards are simple, and offer fairly modest benefits, like "Forest Clump", which says "Each Forest occupied is worth 1 (additional) Victory coin this turn." Others have paragraph-long effects in a smaller font like a CCG card of some sort.

In play I have found that some Events are situation-specific, and can sometimes end up being duds. One such Event that came up during my last game of Small World was a bonus to In Decline races; since it was the "Current Event" on turn two, that was before anyone had a chance to go into Decline. Other Events purport to offer a tasty tactical target for everyone, like "Magic is in the Air", which makes occupying Magic regions worth more Victory coins, but as a practical matter an Event like this will tend to favor players with Wizards who are already zealously attacking and defending such regions. Still other Events like "Wheel of Misfortune" can fundamentally undermine strategic play by rotating your active race and all its tokens to the player next to you. In a two-player game, Wheel of Misfortune can, with a flip of a random card, change your position from winning the game to losing the game.

One interesting idea introduced in the set is to give a single player a power for a turn or longer. That power is auctioned off to the highest bidder in a single-round blind bidding auction, where the high bid returns his bid coins to the box and everyone else keeps the coins they bid. Where this idea potentially falls flat is when there are ties in bidding (a situation which could be more or less common depending on the play group). The rules say that the shortest player always wins ties in these auctions. This is a funny, but strategically undesirable tie breaking system for a game that had a rich strategic underpinning. It is a minor complaint, however, because groups could choose to alter the tie breaking mechanism to suit their own play style.

All of the Event cards have two icons – one small one showing the amount of relative impact the card will have on gameplay, and one showing the card's general theme. There are six themes. Sometimes the theme permeates the actual type of effect that the related Event cards produce. For instance, the "Bloody Well Right" set is nominally about making combat a bloodier affair. However, a lot of times the card's theme merely reflects the art and title of the card. For instance, one card in the Bloody Well Right set is called "Peasant Riot" and it simply prevents everyone from conquering Farmlands, which actually prevents combat in spite of showing a giant mob of angry farmers with pitchforks for the art.

Rules Clarity
The game comes with two double-sided rules cards. The first tells you about the setup and management of the Event cards as well as how to handle auctions. The second card lists some possible variants of play and options for Event card selection. Both cards are well written and simple to understand.

The majority of the game text on the cards was also clear as to its intent, but about 15% of the cards will raise the eyebrows of the rules lawyers in the crowd. Most of the errors or omissions are fairly minor and nitpicky which you can work out for yourself without outside input; these are probably better classified as cards needing simple clarifying errata, such as when the phrases "the turn" and "his turn" were inadvertently swapped on one card. Another card effect was a bit too vaguely worded and nobody at our gaming table could quite figure out how it even was intended to work until we asked Days of Wonder. A handful of other cards seemingly have undefined effects without house rules or some additional feedback from the publisher. For example, the rules allow you to control two races at a time (one Active and one In Decline). The "Spirit" special power gives you the ability to have an extra In Decline race. If "Spirit" is made "useless" for a turn by an Event, does your Spirit race go away (per the rules requirement to have just two races), does it stay on the board unable to attack, or does your race continue to function normally in spite of the Spirit power being useless? These were the kinds of questions that my play group asked when we first looked at the cards in this set, and the rules provided don't answer these and other similarly nuanced questions about other race and power combinations and how they interact with the more fringe Event cards.

Days of Wonder is not known for posting FAQ files on their website's product pages. Nevertheless, their staff is courteous about responding to inquiries, and in the weeks after the product's official release I expect that you will eventually find answers to your questions in the forums at the Days of Wonder website. So, I expect that any rules questions will probably be a problem only for early adopters of the product.

Components and Packaging
The cards are gorgeous. Illustrator Nicolas Fructus goes in his own direction, but the art continues to fit in thematically with the work done by Miguel Coimbra earlier in the product line. Fructus continues to provide over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek, fantasy illustrations that keep the cards feeling light-hearted regardless of the details of the actual mechanics presented on the Events. The tuck box that is the game's packaging is similarly well illustrated.

The cards themselves are on a nice stock. They have great color and a good "slip" to them when handled. They are about 2.5" by 3.875". The extra card length let Days of Wonder include more text on the Events while keeping reasonable font sizes, but unfortunately American and Japanese poker-sized CCG sleeves won't cover their full length. This is of little concern, because only a handful of cards are used each game, and they will see only light handling as a result.

Were the entire Event deck in Tales and Legends composed of auctioned off powers, this could have been a particularly interesting set to me, and I would have probably rotated the set in for play pretty frequently. Given that amassing Victory coins is the ultimate goal of the game, spending them to buy abilities at auction seems to be entirely in keeping with the basic framework of the game.

As it is, I would skip out on any session of Small World if the Events featured the "Wheel of Misfortune" card. I found some of the other Events ranged from strategically interesting, to those that could unilaterally benefit one player. Small World offers a lot of interesting choices already, and this set adds only minimally to strategy while potentially increasing the luck factor (either a little or a lot depending on the Events in question). I view Small World as a game with a lot of strategy already, and I prefer that more whimsical or chaotic games be shorter in play time than Small World. As such, I won't likely use this expansion very often.

The set does have its place in some game collections, however, for groups that like a bit more chance in their games. Particularly, this set might be a good way to handicap skilled players against those neophytes who haven't mastered the intricacies of the game yet. Event cards can definitely interfere with a too carefully honed strategy, and thus tend to benefit people who are willing to "go with the flow". If your play group has players of widely different skill levels in it, then this expansion may also interest you. It might throw curve balls at your local Small World master strategist the way a chess variant might even the odds up a little against the guy who has memorized way too many chess games. Tales and Legends could also appeal to play groups who like to play more casual, less competitive games, as there will tend to be more highs and lows for Small World games with this expansion.

For Retailers
Small World not only sells, its inexpensive expansions can sell out entirely, just as Cursed! and Grand Dames did. Each set also had strong secondary market sales before Days of Wonder announced a reprint of these products. So, if Small World sells well at your store, Tales and Legends will be a no-brainer to carry. The packaging is definitely sharp, and the price is right for impulse buys. This product is an inexpensive expansion to a very popular game, but my fear is that it may not have the same wide appeal as expansions that added new races, powers, or other "must have" features to the game. Still, as the game is sold in individual units, rather than by the POP display, this is an easy product to try out in your store, and you should probably do so.

Lee's Ratings:

Overall: B
Gameplay: B
Rules Clarity: B- (A for most cards; C- for some; easily fixed by a good FAQ)
Appearance: A
Components: A-
Packaging: A-
Retailer Salability: B+


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