The promise of the iPad to revitalize the board game industry was obvious from the outset, and Apple never really shied away from that lofty aspiration. However, as of the system’s launch we’re not seeing the critical mass of board games that we assumed we would. So far we’ve got Small World, BoardBox, and Scrabble. And, well, that’s about it.
Small World is a fantastic board game, but unfortunately for iPad gamers, this adaptation isn’t all that it could be. It’s not terrible, but we couldn’t help but feel that this game may have been rushed out the door a bit early in order to release side by side with the iPad. The strength of the original source material buoys the product, but this is a case of ups and downs.
This land is your land.
The good news, though, is that the price is fair. For half the price of the iPad version of Scrabble, you’re getting a good, but somewhat downsized version of the original tabletop product.
Small World is a game in which multiple races of creatures compete for land and growth in a world that (as the title suggests) is simply too small to hold them all. At the beginning of the game, each race is paired randomly with an attribute. These attributes could be anything from an ability that gives you extra points for conquering forest zones to abilities that let you conquer tiles with fewer units. Races themselves also have several unique traits.
You then have to leverage your specific qualities on the board to collect as many victory points as possible. Victory points are awarded at the end of each turn based on the number of zones you control, plus any modifying characteristics. Things get interesting after a few turns have gone by and each civilization has spread itself too thin over the map, which is inevitable.
Flying vs. Skeletons: The age-old question.
At that point you may choose to put your civilization “in decline” and become dormant. You still collect victory points from the spaces they control, but you can’t move them. Then you select a new race, and the game proceeds much as it first began. Much of the strategy lies in figuring out the best way to combine your two races to control as much of the map as possible, and counter your opponent’s advantages.
The game’s mechanics aren’t the problem, but rather that the whole experience feels a little light. For starters, there’s no computer AI, so you can’t play against an automated opponent. If you don’t have anybody to play with, this game is going to be completely useless. Also, you can only play with two players. The original Small World supports up to four players.
Furthermore, there’s no sound of any kind during gameplay. That means that there’s no feedback when you place a piece, or a round changes. It leaves the whole experience feeling empty.
Also, the game board doesn’t flip around for both players. The camera’s view of the game board is tilted slightly off-center, and it doesn’t change to recognize the angle at which each player is viewing the board. What this effectively means is that one player is always looking at the board from the correct direction while the other player will always have an awkward upside-down view. These are all things that should have been fixed after only basic play testing.
Small World is not a bad game. And if you’re someone who has been waiting for the iPad to revitalize board games, then you’re probably going to love it. It’s just too bad it’s also loaded with those unfortunate shortcomings.