Small World: River World Review - Did We Really Need Two Worlds?

Right, well now that I've gotten Small World out of the way I can now give you my thoughts on the recent River World expansion from Essen 2016. Firstly it's going to get annoying saying Small World: River World on a regular basis, did they really have to use "world" twice? Maybe "Seven Seas" would have worked out better.

Most expansions have added in new races and abilities, but here there's none of that. Not a single one. In fact the rulebook even recommends that you remove one of the original abilities for fear of being overpowered. So just what are we adding here?

Designer: Philippe Keyaerts
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5
Time: 60-90 minutes
RRP: £20.99

From the Days of Wonder website:

“- Arrr, ya scalawags, here thar be booty. Prepare for battle!”
Armed to the teeth, a ferocious bunch of pirates is descending the river, directly threatening your harbors. How will your Merchant Dwarves fare against the sea rats? Maybe you should have left before, as the Elves did… they told you that they had foreseen great trouble in the Temple of the Seer, but as usual, you didn’t listen. After the pirates, who knows what could happen?
With River World, discover new Small World maps and new places and enemies! Control harbors to score more victory points, use the caravel to reach the far end of the board, or use the temple of the seer to see the future… Each turn, a special Event occurs: pirates, storms, freezing cold – it is not that easy to live in River World.


Considering this expansion doesn't throw in any new races or abilities, you might be wondering where the RRP comes from. Well Small World has prided itself on being a game that scales extremely well with different player counts mostly due to having a separate board for every occasion. River World does the same thing, you get a completely separate new board designed for this expansion only balanced to cater for a specific player count.

Aside from that there are only some weather event tiles and pirate markers to note and the odd extra token here and there. So you're really investing in the boards. On a plus note however you can fit the whole of River World inside of the original box without removing the insert. It takes a little creativity with some of the landscape tokens like the mountain pieces, but it can be done. Of course, once you start including those mini-expansions with the extra races, all bets are off.


The river on its own is no big deal, we've seen one used in Small World Underground - what's really impactful here are the new pirates. A few start on the board and then on some rounds they'll spawn back in force until taken out in the same manner as a Lost Tribe. Sounds simple enough except they drain a victory coin from any neighbouring land territory and you'll quickly notice that each river space can border several land spaces at once and that there are very few spaces on the entire map that are fully part of the mainland.

The mentality therefore shifts almost to a temporary alliance with other players as everyone wants these pirates off the board otherwise their income is greatly reduced. You may think that this means players won't get attacked as often, but actually it balances out by the fact that once some pirates are off the board, the territories that share borders with those river spaces become more tempting regardless of who owns them. Why beat up a bunch of pirates in one corner, when another player has very kindly eradicated them from his own corner? I think I'll move in!

The next big change are the weather tiles that track the number of turns in the game as well. They spawn pirates, but I like how they can also make the river almost impassable (3 tokens to cross instead of 1) and sometimes even freeze it so that they function just like a normal land territory. They help to change up the tactics a bit as you'll have to react to them as they appear. Because you don't use all of them in a game, you can't always predict what's going to turn up next.


This expansion is a neat little twist on Small World, but little is the key word here. What this expansion essentially boils down to is a map pack and you're paying for those new boards. Other than the rules for rivers which are nothing new if you're familiar to Small World Underground, the only differences here of any substance are the pirate ships and the weather effects.

These do make the game better compared to the original, but again it's a small change, though one that means you could feasibly teach this to a brand new player.  It's nothing substantial, certainly not essential, but it changes up the original for those who were getting burnt out.


BROKEN RATING - 7 Frozen Pirate Ships


You don't want a complex expansion, but something to tweak the rules a bit.

You like the idea of a group mentality regarding the pirates.

You want to keep the original insert - a bit of shifting and it all fits easily.


You were hoping for more races and abilities as you get none here.

You feel it's a bit much for essentially a "map pack".

You hate the extra maths that comes with spotting where pirates are affecting regions.