Small World seems to be a polarizing board game. People either seem to love it or hate it, with little room in between. It was popular enough with gamers that a couple of expansions were created, giving Small World more powers and more races. While these expansions were nice, having one map got a bit old. Now Days of Wonder is changing things up in the Small World universe with Small World Underground.

Underground can be considered a stand-alone expansion to the original Small World. Underground includes everything needed to play the game, but most of the pieces are compatible with the first game. If you have played the original, then Underground will feel familiar. Some changes made to Underground that make the game a little more challenging and make it a fresh experience from Small World.

The original Small World was very light-hearted. Even races like Skeletons, Ghouls, and Trolls had a playful look to them. Underground definitely has a darker theme. The areas on the board have darker shades of brown, purple, and black. The races like Kraken, Cultists, Gnomes, Drow, and Liches have darker undertones. It’s quite a turn from Days of Wonder, a company known for its brighter colors. The artwork is all superbly drawn, and fits the same art style of the original.

Conquering regions is handled the same way as before. You need two more pieces than number of pieces of cardboard in the space to claim it. However, on each of the boards in Underground is a river that goes through the middle of each map. Each of these river spaces only need a single unit to be conquered, but they must be emptied during the redeployment phase. This allows you to get from one side of the board to the other, but you have to use a piece to do it.

The map for Underground has less real estate for races to take up residence in. This means that the map is more crowded and will make getting along with your neighbors more difficult. Small World is about attacking your enemies, but Underground takes this to the next level. This might change your strategy of when you go into decline. It really makes for a more cutthroat experience.

There were lost tribes in the original Small World, but Underground has monsters. Instead of placing a single token in the marked areas, Underground places two of them in the area. While this makes these areas harder to get, Popular Places and Righteous Relics are special rewards revealed when the monsters are defeated. The Places are stationary and benefit the race in that area.and can give bonuses like making a certain area immune from attack or bonus points for occupying a specific terrain type. The Relics can only be used once per turn, and generally make it easier for an area to be defeated.

Most of the races and powers are compatible, and the instruction manual shows how they work between the two games. Mountains and Black Mountains are basically the same across both versions. Powers with the lake and sea can be translated over to the river. Monsters can be introduced to the original Small World game by using two more monster tokens than twice the number of players. Mountains, mines, forest, and others are all able to work together.

Small World Underground is a great addition to those who felt the original Small World was getting stale or want more races and abilities. It also has more strategy and more tension because of less spaces on the board. I don’t think that it will convert those who didn’t like Small World in the first place. I would still suggest the original Small World to those who haven’t played either and want to get one of them. Underground is highly recommended to fans of the original.

You can find out more about Small World Underground at the Days of Wonder web site here.