A step-by-step guide to the rules for how to play Small World. Small World is the incredible combat strategy board game set against a fantasy world backdrop. Even though it came out ten years ago, it is still quite popular because of how well its made and how much it is set up for replayability. The game is built for 2 – 5 players and has a different board configuration depending on that number. This is how to play Small World.

FOR MORE: Small World Page | Small World Review | Games Like Small World | Buy Small World on Amazon


Space is getting tight in Small World. There are just too many races living off your land – land your ancestors bequeathed to you in hopes you would build an empire with which you could dominate the world. In Small World, players will take on the roles of various races each with their own special powers. Then you try to conquer and hold as many regions as possible to gain victory points. Your civilization will fall but don’t worry, then you will take on a new race and continue your conquest.


Time Needed: approximately 1 hour 20 minutes.

This is a step by step guide for how to play Small World the popular combat strategy board game. Additional notions and special rules can be found below the list. These will be referenced for your convenience.

1. SETUP | Put Out Correct Board
Learning how to play Small World kicks off with choosing the right game board. Small World comes with two different two-sided boards. In the corner of each has a “2”,”3″,”4″ or “5”. You choose the side based on the number of players playing.

2. SETUP | Add Starting Tokens To The Board
Depending on the board you choose, there will be symbols or tile types that correspond to two things you need to add to the board before starting. (1) Lost tribes – these are warriors that go on every space that has a little white square with a faint bullseye. (2) Mountains – these tiles go on every mountain square. These both basically eqate to an extra defense hurdle that is going to take an extra warrior to take over that space.

3. SETUP | Put Out Victory Points & Random Game Tokens for Play
There are various pieces that need to be placed around the board for access throughout the game. The main thing is money/victory point tokens. These have numbers ranging 1 – 10 and are the main marker collected and used throughout the game. The other, more random, pieces correspond to the various abilities that may or not come up throughout the game and include troll lair, fortress, encampment, hole in the ground, hero and dragon. Then put out the one die, which is used to get you reinforcements in your final attack each round. Finally, put out the tray of the tokens for the 14 races next to the board.

4. SETUP | Add The Turn Marker
A wide crown symbol is included with Small World. This should be added to the “1” space on the turn track in the corner of the board. This is moved every round to signify the turn and when the game ends. A very important thing and easy to miss when going through how to play Small World.

5. SETUP | Flip-Up Race and Ability Cards
The game comes with 14 race cards and 20 special power cards. Learning the strategy in how to play Small World with all these will take some time, but a good time. These are the weird long with half-circle pieces that appear to fit together. That is because they do. Shuffle these up and put one stack of each side by side. Move up the pairs above these piles until you have a column with five pairs above it. You can choose any of these throughout the game, include the “6th” which is what is on top of the pile.

6. SETUP | Hand Out Starting Gold
The only thing people get to start are victory coins. To start, give out five “1” coins to each other face down. These are always kept face down so people don’t know who is in the lead. You are ready to go, get ready for the meat of how to play Small World.

7. GAMEPLAY | Choose Who Plays First
You really should make this random and not a gimmick like who is older because it really does matter. This person will be the active player who gets to take a full turn before it moves clockwise to the next player.

8. GAMEPLAY | Choose A Race & Ability Pair
On each player’s very first turn, they need to choose a race to play with. The 6 race/ability cards you put along the side of the board are your options. Starting from the top of that column, the very first option is free. If you want to pass a pairing, you need to add one of your victory coins to it. So say you want the fourth pairing down, it is going to cost you 3x coins because you need to put one each on the three cards above it. After taking, move everything else up and take the top pairing off the stack to fill the gap, revealing a new option.

9. GAMEPLAY | Take Your Race Tokens From Tray
The race you just took is going to correspond to a creature type in the black tray with all the race icons. It is in the bottom right corner under the profile picture. To determine the number of troops you get, you add the special power number plus the race number (the big numbers in the bottom corners of each card). It will usually be around 8 – 13 total. Take that many from the tray and put them next to you.

10. GAMEPLAY | COMBAT | Understanding Combat
There is no back in forth in Small World combat, you see a territory you want to conquer, you know what troops you need to get it, and then you do it. Any territory takes a base amount of two troops to take it over. If it is just a blank space with no troops or obstacles on it, you only need to use two of your troops to get it, but for every additional thing on it takes one additional troop. For example, you want to take a territory but it has a mountain and a troop on it, this will take four troops, the base two and one for each thing.

11. GAMEPLAY | COMBAT | Understanding Race/Ability
The game comes with a handy dandy reference sheet that shows what each race and each ability does so we are not going to go into that here. What you need to know is that these are going to do all sorts of things from helping you score more, getting more people to attack with, leaving behind defensive landmines or move into the water. Utilizing these are going to be very key to your strategy.

12. GAMEPLAY | COMBAT | Coming Into The Board for the First Time
You can choose to enter any territory you want, it just has to share a border with the edge of the board. This is shown by a black border. It is up to you where you want to generally get to start, you just can’t go anywhere. Learning to play Small World is easy, it is mastering the right moves in these types of situations that is the hard part.

13. GAMEPLAY | COMBAT | Attacking
After initially entering the board, you can continue to attack new territories as long as you have at least one troop left, but you can only attack connecting territories (spaces that touch at least one other space you control). As previously mentioned, this just happens, there is no back and forth. But there are still casualties. If you lose troops, the first one is gone forever (going back in the tray) and the remaining (if any) get redeployed into any controlled territory at the end of that turn.

14. GAMEPLAY | COMBAT | Reinforcement Dice
On the very last attack of the turn, players get to use the reinforcement die as part of their attack. This gives you additional fake troops at that moment for the purpose of taking over a territory. The dice is six-sided and has a single 1, 2 and 3 and three 0s, so the odds are against you. Say you need four troops to conquer a territory and you only have two, you could use those two and then hope you get a 2 or 3 which would give you enough troops to take over. If you didn’t get what you needed, you would have to redeploy those two troops to somewhere else you control.

15. GAMEPLAY | Troop Redeploy
After combat, the active player can pick up any of their troops and put them into any other territory they control (doesn’t have to be adjacent). This is for defensive purposes, putting more of a wall up against your opponents. You have to leave at least one troop in each territory you control. On the other side, any troops that were lost on the non-active player side now get replaced somewhere. a key part of how to play Small World so make sure to pay attention.

16. GAMEPLAY | Scoring
At the end of the turn, score all victory coins to collect. You get one victory point for every territory one of your races control and you most likely get some kind of score addition or bonus from your race/ability cards like “+1 VP for every mountain you took this turn”. Take those coins and put them in your personal stack, face down.

17. GAMEPLAY | Other Players Go & Move Round
After scoring, the turn moves to the next player to do exactly the same thing. Every first turn starts the same, but after that things start to diverge. Each turn you will have the chance to continue attacking with your race or to go into decline and start a new one. When each player has taken a turn in a round, move the crown player marker to the next space to move toward the end of the game.

18. GAMEPLAY | New Turn When You Have Territories
If you are going to continue to attack with your race, pick up as many of your creature tokens off the board as you want. You could even take them all out of a territory but then you wouldn’t control it. You could even take everything off, but then you would need to re-enter the board on a black border like in the initial attack. Once you grabbed everyone you want, you repeat the attacking phase of the previous turn.

19. GAMEPLAY | New Turn But You Want To Go Into Decline
Instead of continuing with your current race, you can go “Into Decline”. This is you saying, your last race has done what it needs to do and now it is time to move on. When you do this, you get to select a new race/ability but keep these guys on the board to get you some points for hanging around. To do this, you flip over all your declined race on the board to their gray side. They are still there and get you points, but they are inactive and can no longer be used. You discard your ability (because it is worthless now) and flip over your character card to show it is in decline. Sometimes it may have an extra bonus on there like “+1 per mountain” or something like that. When you go into decline, you just do it and move to scoring, you do not select your new race and attack until the next turn. If you are staring a turn after going into decline, you would choose a new race/ability combo to play just like you did in turn one. This is the most complex thing in how to play Small World.

20. WINNING | Add Up Victory Points
Once the turn marker has reached the final space, that is the final round fo the game. After the game has ended, whoever has the highest total of victory points, wins the game. Sure there is plenty going in learning how to play Small World, just take it one step at a time and you will be fine.



  • 2 Double-Sided Game Boards, one for each player configuration!
  • 14 Fantasy Races with matching banner & tokens
  • 20 Special Power badges
  • 10 Troll Lairs, 9 Mountains, 6 Fortresses, 5 Encampments, 2 Holes-in-the-ground & 1 Game Turn Marker
  • 2 Heroes & 1 Dragon
  • 109 Victory Coins
  • 6 Player Summary Sheets
  • 1 Reinforcement Die
  • 1 Rules Booklet


I hope you can now say you know how to play Small World board game. The quick is decently long but not too bad to be a burden. The game is quickly becoming a combat strategy classic and staple. Once you understand the basic mechanic of combat and the interesting wrench of declining a race, the game is fairly easy to play, but mastering it is difficult. That is why Small World remains on many top lists despite being out in the world for a while.