Components: Small World starts off with incredible artwork from Miguel Coimbra and soars from there. The game doesn't have any plastic figures, but the plethora of thick card stock tokens is both functional and pleasing on a tactile level. The game comes with 2 double sided boards that are used for different numbers of players. Each of these boards is colorful and easy to read with a layout that divides the world into various regions - forests, mines, plains, etc.
Gameplay: In Small World, you'll be competing for victory points over a set number of turns. Players take control of a variety of fantasy races that are combined with a random special power. Often hilarious and sometimes scary, much of the strategy and replay value of the game is nested under the different race and power combinations that come up. These races conquer regions by either claiming empty lands or giving a swift boot to whoever happens to be there at the time. As play progresses, players will reach a point where their current race can't spread much farther and they must go into decline. From there, the player will choose a new race and power combo and start all over again! Deciding when to go into decline is a very compelling aspect of the game. Generally, you'll get less points on a turn when you put a race into decline, but it's worth it for the opportunity to start fresh conquests!
Rules: Small World is sheer elegance in its simplicity. The basic rule for conquest is to place 2 of your tokens on the territory of your choosing plus 1 additional token for each piece that is already there. For example, if you're conquering an empty territory, you'd just place 2 of your race's tokens down. However, if an opponent has 2 of their race tokens in said territory it will cost you 4 of yours to take it (2 as the base + 2 for the two enemy tokens present). This rule is further modified by the a player's race ability and their special power.
Overall: Simply put, Small World is a masterpiece. The game is gorgeous to look at and fun to play on a tactile and strategic level. It works as a gateway game, plays casually and yet has enough meat on its bones to keep even the most curmudgeonly gamer satisfied. The only downsides (if they can even be called that) are that there are a vast amount of cardboard pieces to keep track of (which can make cleaning up after a game a lengthy process) and the random distribution of race/power combinations (which can lead to some very opportune turns for someone lucky enough to get the right combo) - but those are nitpicky negatives at best. Small World should be in your collection, hands down.