In Smallworld, the world is too small to fit all of the different races (you use a different map depending on the number of players to make sure that this mechanic holds true). On any given turn, the active player is able to either 1) pick a new race if they do not have an active one and expand using this race, 2) expand using their current race or 3) send their current race into decline. After they have taken their turn, they are able to collect victory points based on how many territories (and bonuses) their active race and their declined race have.
Now that you know the gist of the game, here are some of the things that the game does very well.
- The game scales well. As mentioned before, the map that is used is dependent on the number of players in the game. This helps the game play well anywhere from 2-5 players.
- The game also has a lot of strategy involved in 1) which race to pick 2) how to use that race 3) where to attack and 4) who to attack.
- The game is also very easy to learn. The play mechanics including the battle mechanic allow new players to start playing this game very quickly.
Unfortunately, Smallworld has a few con's as well.
- The replayability is somewhat lacking. The game is worth playing and playing repeatedly, but because of the limited number of races and powers in the game, you will quickly be very familiar with all of the different elements and at that point the replayability will go down (but it will still be okay to play occasionally, and if you really love the game, there are several expansions to breathe new life into the game: Smallworld - CURSED!, Smallworld - Grand Dames Of Smallworld, and (the one I have) Smallworld - Tales And Legends.)
- Also, the battle mechanic is a little lacking. This (I think) was intentional so that it would be easier to teach new people and could focus on the mechanics of expanding and declining races, but it seems like there could be a little more to how this works. (In the battle mechanic, you must have 2 tokens to take a normal empty place, and 2 tokens + however many things are in your way on others - other player's tokens, mountains, etc. If you have enough tokens, you win.)
Overall, Smallworld gets an 8.0/10. As with all Days of Wonder games that I have played thus far, this game is definitely worth playing, but the replayability is a concern that knocked it down from being in the 9.0 range.
If you like Days of Wonder games, you might also check out Shadows Over Camelot, Pirate's Cove (one of my favorites), and Mystery Express.