Note: This review pertains to an expansion for Small World and requires the base game to play. We are also assuming that you are familiar with the base game, or at least have read its review.
The land of Small World isn’t really known for things being all that permanent. Except for war. That’s pretty permanent. Races have been fighting as long as anyone can remember, from high-brow Wizards to Ghouls who may or may not even still have a brow. So, it only makes sense in the midst of this land’s perpetual power vacuum, now is always the perfect time for some opportunistic race to swoop in and steal anything that isn’t nailed down. And that’s precisely what is about to happen.
Some new rabble have landed on Small World shores from lands beyond, bringing with them all sorts of strife. These scavengers trot out a handful of powers never seen before, but who this bodes well for is anyone’s guess. Things are about to get a bit darker around these parts. Given these parts already have undead things, smelly things, and ugly things, that says something.
Rules Creep Factor
As a mini expansion to Small World, Cursed! in its entirety adds two new races and five new powers. Although each comes with their own unique abilities, there are no overarching rules changes by adding this to the base edition.
One of the reasons Small World works so well is because of how concise it functions. Cursed! infuses that same success on a minimal scale, adding new options without disrupting the game’s established balance or game flow.
Of the two new races, Goblins are the more interesting. The penultimate scavengers, Goblins allow you to conquer In Decline races at a minimal cost, making it far more lucrative to attack races already on their way out than trying to go toe-to-toe with someone still running around plundering. This is an interesting twist on conquering, similar to how Tritons and Giants get situational cost reductions when attacking from certain locations.
By contrast, the Kobold race is nothing more than a derivative of Ratmen. Like Ratmen, Kobolds have no useful ability beyond numbers, rewarding a player with a whopping 11 units by themselves. Although this sounds impressive, the catch is that you can never have less than two on a space. While they offer the appearance of a truly swarm-like race, they’re unfortunately rather forgettable, being only marginally better than a group you already have access to.
Yet the five new powers in Cursed! are where this expansion shows merit. Several of these powers are slight variations of existing abilities but are different enough that they can still stand on their own. Ransacking, like several powers already seen for example, rewards you with money when conquering, but it takes that brutality one step further as the affected player then has to pay you for being killed.
Similarly, the Were- ability is the Commando power that’s been, well, cursed. With Were-Giants or Were-Elves, rather than a static -1 requirement for attacking, half of the rounds you are able to conquer at a -2 whereas the other half offers no reduction at all. Something about the lunar cycle. The use of Were-creatures can be quite powerful when used correctly, adding slight bit of new strategy.
At the same time, the Hordes power is like the Amazon’s numerical attack bonus, except that Hordes simply provides two extra units to your army – even if the combined total would already max our your army size.
Marauding is easily the most powerful of the new abilities though, and one that will fuel the many bloodthirsty warlords of Small World. Borrowing the Berserking notion of one-sided combat bonuses, Marauding gives you a second attack phase every turn. Simply pick up your units and start all over again. This brazen style caters both to those who want to cut a wide swath of destruction as well as those who prefer to attack with wild abandon for as much loot as they can. Or both, really. With Marauding, this is now possible.
The final new power, and the one for whom this mini expansion is named, is Cursed. Unlike the other powers, Cursed is an unfavorable power. Not only does Cursed not provide you additional units, it also costs three coins instead of one to skip when selecting a new race. This slight tweak adds a new sliver of tension to the mix, forcing players into a minor game of chicken over who ultimately has to take the Cursed race. Otherwise, the curse’s influence continually exact its toll on the players. You know, like curses do.
Searching For Identity
Beyond the gameplay additions, Curses! is also notable in that the contributions are all player-made. Sourced from hundreds of suggestions in multiple countries, these final seven were compiled into an expansion that really channels the aggressive and unpredictable nature Small World offers.
On the other hand, while a couple of these powers are commendable with how they evolved existing abilities, Cursed! is hardly a must-have addition to your Small World experience. None of these new components fundamentally alter or upgrade the game in any significant way, and none are so game-altering as to affect your interest in Small World. Its biggest asset is providing a handful of new Race / Power matchups with very little effort, effortlessly infusing new game variety without detracting from Small World’s inherent stability. In that sense, the true curse to Cursed! is that it doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out on its own, designed instead to be blended into the game with little notice.
Although this mini expansion contains curses, its impact on Small World is certainly not one. If anything, its overall impact to the core experience is minor, adding a mere seven new stacks of powers and races to the game. Although none of these new options are groundbreaking, the abilities added by Cursed! seamlessly provide players with aggressive new combinations that blend in to Small World without any notable uptick in complexity or alterations of gameplay. Cursed! may be a small addition to Small World, but it turns out there is room in these lands for even more chaotic outcomes. This minor expansion adds a moderate new dose of variability to the game, and so long as players don’t mind putting up with Hordes of Kobolds, Cursed! is a decent – albeit optional – influx to the never-ending Small World conflict.
Small World: Cursed is a product of Days of Wonder.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 5
Replay Value: 4.0
Physical Quality: 4.5
Overall Score: 4.5