Small World is a strategy board game, published in 2009 by Days of Wonder. It is also hardly something that would seem at home in the realm of computer games. Yet in 2013 Days of Wonder released Small World 2, a digitized version of the game for computers and mobile devices. The game is available on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux; the Appstore for Apple devices; and GooglePlay for Androids.
In the far off ages of early computers, particularly the late 90s and early 2000s, desktop computers came with a complement of simple games like Solitaire, Hearts, and Chess. These games were very simple, easily to repeat, and required little on the part of the gamer to utilize and enjoy. Small World 2, being a digital projection of a token-based strategy board game, follows a very similar vein.
A game of Small World 2 consists of a static landscape with plain, hill, mountain, swamp, forest, and ocean terrain tiles. Players are given an option to choose a randomized mix of race and type, the type being a single word that describes the style of mechanic for that race. Each race and type comes with a special ability. For example the Troll race always places a lair when placing a token on the board. If the Troll race had the Mounted type, the Trolls would get a bonus to taking over occupied plain and hill tiles. The game features over two dozen different races and types with no limits on which types and races can be mixed.
Each race and type comes with a number of tokens. These tokens are placed on tiles of the map that the player wants to control, with each tile providing one victory point per turn. When the player runs out of tokens their chosen race goes into decline. The tokens are flipped over and continue to generate points, but can no longer be moved and their abilities cannot be used. There is no limit to the number of times players can put their races into decline, however it normally takes a full turn to put a race into decline.
On a player’s turn they take all the tokens in their pool and begin placing them on valid tiles. Normally a tile requires two race tokens to be initially occupied with an additional token required for each enemy token on that tile, if any. Once all possible tokens are placed, the player can redeploy excess tokens (only one is required to hold a tile once taken) to other friendly tiles, then end the turn.
A four player game runs for nine turns and the player at the end with the most victory points is the winner. Territory control is the obvious method of winning in Small World 2 and there are a number of ways to go about this. Other players’ tokens can be eliminated by placing a superior number of tokens onto their occupied tile. Only one token is lost during a hostile takeover, any excess tokens are returned to their player’s pool.
Some races and types have abilities that generate additional victory points for occupying certain tile types like forests, or for controlling certain locations like mines or mana nodes. This allows some races to gain a large number of victory points without being spread too thin. On the flip-side it is rare for such sites or locations to border each other, and tokens can only be placed an tiles adjacent to a tile that is already controlled by the same player.
The game board and available races and types don’t change over the course of games, but they don’t really need to. It’s the combination of races and types that keep Small World 2 new and interesting over each play-through. Different threats and options necessitate different strategies each game, yet through all the random shifting the moves and actions required of the player never really change and that is what makes Small World 2 a simple yet attractive distraction. Players can relax in front of the computer enjoying the art and shenanigans of the AI or their fellow players while trying out whatever strategy suits their whims.
Small World 2 features a single player mode against up to four AI opponents and a multiplayer mode against up to four human players. The AI can be predictable and easy to manipulate, but is quite random and very well served by the random assortment of races and types generated anew for each game. There are no teams in Small World 2, but depending on the races and types available players don’t necessarily need to fight each other to achieve victory, although such situations are rather rare.
As a stop motion board game with about eight different sounds the Small World 2 has very enjoyable, cartoonish visuals and practically no operating requirements. The games are turn-based and playable on the lowest level of internet connections. The animations of AI movement and tile scoring at the end of each turn can drag on, but the game does feature a skip-phase button speeding up the process. The average load time in Small World 2 is about 0.8 seconds and the game can be saved and closed with the push of a button at any time making it one of the most manageable distractions available.
Small World 2 doesn’t break new digital ground and doesn’t awe with graphics and design, but that isn’t the point. This simple adaptation exists merely to entertain the average gamer, or even just the average computer user, in a casual way. It might seem like a meaningless distraction given all of the impressive current and future titles in the modern market, but if a gamer ever desired a little simplicity in their day Small World 2 is the game to turn to.