Review: Small World

(A great little game from the beginning of the IF-renaissance. Experimental (for the time, 1996) map and scoring, robust implementation in a wobbly-fun world: Small World - Details (

He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon…

That’s odd… The miniature globe you got from your great-aunt for your tenth birthday is stuck. It doesn’t spin anymore. You lean in closer for a better look, and before you know it you’re tumbling and twisting through dimensions…
When you come to, you’re standing on the small world that is your toy-globe, your head high in the upper atmosphere, mountains and oceans mere details at your feet far below.

I like this “just because” leap of imagination. No magical powers or SF-ish technobabble to rationalise or justify the weird stuff. Just dive right in and roll with it.

There’s a series of Calvin & Hobbes strips where Mr Watterson went for absurdity for absurdity’s sake. For several days, the strip showed nothing but Calvin just growing bigger and bigger, until by the end of the week he was balancing on the curve of the earth with his head above the clouds. That image provided the visuals in my head while I was playing Small World.

The seemingly simple gimmick of sheer PC size completely changes the perspective on the game world. Movement on a non-rotating globe means you travel to different times of day, depending on where the sun is located. (For example, Noon is one step east of Morning.) Since all natural and man-made objects are tiny compared to you, you have no access to any everyday objects to help solve the puzzles. Better look around and find some stuff more fitting for your size…

Many of the locations have some evidence of human civilisation, for some reason wildly varying in historical time. A medieval witch-burning is happening in one location while your toes get bombarded with atomic bombs in another. Still, a pivotal bible-scene in one location and the appearance of the Devil himself as NPC help to loosely tie the story together thematically. “Loosely” being not strong enough a word to accurately describe it, but well…

The implementation and polish of Small World are impressive. Your examination and exploration of the world goes several layers deep, especially once you find the handy lens in your backpack. However small the lands at your feet may be, there’s a lot of evidence of life and natural processes. Your little globe is not a static artefact at all.
The pesky Devil-NPC is not a deeply realised character, nor does he need to be. His continued presence and insistence you sign his contract make him as annoying as a mosquito zipping around your ears.

As for the puzzles, let’s say a lot of them make about as much sense as the premise of the story. I had fun the whole time trying stuff and tinkering with the parts of the surroundings that I could influence, but I did need some help actually solving a lot of them.
Some are nice obstacles where you need to think outside the box a bit and repurpose certain objects. Most however require unfathomable leaps of the imagination and a large dose of moon-logic to stumble upon the solution. (Thank you @David_Welbourn for the great walkthrough. I would not have gotten the planetary ring without you.)

A little solar system of fun.