The game has players compete against each other with randomly generated fantasy races in an attempt to grab as much land as possible in the - as the name suggests - small world. Races invade and replace each other over a fixed number of turns determined by the number of players and the player with the most amount of victory points at the end wins the game.
The rules are super simple, players pick a randomly generated fantasy race that combines race tile with a trait tile - such as Merchant + Elves or Flying + Giants. Each tile has a number on it, and combined together the numbers of both tiles tell the player how many "units" his race will have.
Once the race is picked, the owner begins deployment, each empty space on the map can be conquered by placing 2 unit tiles, while spaces that are occupied by mountains or enemy units cost 1 additional friendly tile for every enemy tile to be conquered. Regions under player control yield 1 victory point each, but can also be worth more if you have some kind of bonus in your trait - Humans for instance get +1 victory point for areas with farmland.
Combat in the game is also easy. In order to conquer an area from an opponent you place your units on it, if you have enough unit tiles to beat the enemy the opponent loses a single unit that was defending while withdrawing with the rest of his unit tiles to be redeployed next turn. At the end of you turn you can also gamble and roll a "reinforcement die" of a D6 that has 50% of not giving you any bonus and a slim chance of adding 1, 2 or 3 reinforcements to your attack. The reinforcement die can help you make one last conquering attempt at the end of your turn with a single unit tile and you have nothing to lose giving it a try.
When your turn is over you may redeploy your unit tiles in your area, strengthening border regions that may be subject to enemy attack - and then you count victory points before passing the turn to the next player.
After a turn or a few, your race will reach a point when it is spread thin or just unable to conquor anymore due to insufficient unit tiles. Once this happens a player may choose to have his race go into a "decline" and pick a new race the following turn. The race in decline still provide victory points to the owning player but cannot conquer anymore and is left weak and fragile - while the player picks a new race+trait combination and begins conquering additional regions. It is not unusual for a player to go through 3-4 race combinations over a session and much of the games lasting appeal comes from how the races and the traits are randomly generated which in turn provides different tactics and strategies.
What I personally like the most however, is that the game scales the map and number of regions according to the number of players. The boxed set comes with 2 two sides maps allowing 2, 3, 4 and 5 players to play at a perfectly sized map providing the right amount of challenge and competition.
One may argue that Small World's strength of being a simple and easily accessible game is also a weakness, as it is very similar to games such as Ticket to Ride - meaning a game that can be played by people who want to "play a game" rather than delve into a deeper theme and complexity of rules that may offer a different type of gaming experience.
And as I write this review I may also mention that you can buy the game for both iOS and Android devices, it's called "Small World 2" and has everything that the boxed game has along with expansion packs. The core game is definitely worth the money, but I find the expansions are very thin on additional content and in relation to the price of the core game they are overpriced. The great thing about the digital version of the game is that it supports a nice variety of game modes for both single and multiplayer.
I rate Small World the boardgame a 7.5/10, it's a solid game, easy to learn and fast to play with a broad target audience.