What is it?

Small World for iPad is a digital board game based off the award-winning tabletop game by Philippe Keyaert. While both games feature highly-detailed board game environments and fantasy characters, the digital translation of this civilization board game provides a unique experience that could only be possible on the iPad.

How do I play?

The main menu provides four options: Play; Champions (results & high scores); Quick Rules; and The Boardgame, which opens an in-app browser to the developer’s website. ‘Quick Rules’ offers a well-written, albeit long-winded, set of rules that define how the game works, but first-time players may find it easiest to just start playing rather than attempting to understand all of the rules and gameplay beforehand. An optional Tutorial is also provided in the Play menu.

‘Play’ sends you to an options menu for the upcoming game. Though the app is intended for two human players, updates now offer Human-or-AI sliders for both player slots, which in turn allows for single-player or zero-player games (Bot vs. Bot). Players can pre-determine who goes first if they like, or it can be left random. Additional updates have also added Expansions, which are available as In-App-Purchases.

Hitting ‘G0′ starts the game, which will slide six pairs of randomly-generated Race & Special Power combinations toward whomever was selected to go first. Each race and power offers its own benefit that can affect gameplay in a unique way, thus some combinations will be better than others. To win, you will almost certainly need to pick stronger combinations than your opponent, but to actually win the game, you must have the highest score at the end of ten turns.

After you’ve selected an active race, you’ll be prompted to conquer some regions. As you drag your tokens over the map regions, green borders will signify conquerable regions and red-bordered regions will signify places you are unable to conquer. Empty regions will cost the fewest tokens and should be your first conquest (in most games). It will take time to learn the intricacies of combat and movement (for which I would suggest reading the Quick Rules), but focusing on spreading your troops over the largest amount of regions possible will ensure you rake in plenty of Victory Coins at the end of your turn.

When you’ve finished conquering regions or have run out of tokens to play for the turn, you will have a chance to redeploy your troops for defense during your opponent’s coming turn. After that, hit “Done,” and a number of victory coins will be sent to each region you occupy. Typically, one victory coin is awarded per region, but certain races and powers can make some regions double or triple their worth. After the coins fly neatly to your hidden coin stash, it will be your opponent’s turn.

At the beginning of subsequent turns (excluding the final turn), you will have the option to “Decline” your active race and pick another in the following turn (hence disallowing Declining in the tenth round). Tokens from your declined race will be flipped over and shown without color to signify “In Decline.” Declining your race ends your turn, scoring one victory coin for each region you occupy.

After you pick a new race, your “In Decline” tokens continue to score coins at the end of your turns, so to score the highest totals every round and win the game, you’ll want to cover more of the map than your opponent using both your active and In Decline races. However, keep in mind that the total score after ten turns determines the winner, so you may be required to decline several races over the course of only one game!

The Good

Small World for iPad’s biggest strength lies in its presentation. The interface is packed with movement and detail, and it forces even the most unknowledgeable new player to play by the rules. Games can be played in 20-40 minutes, and with all the possible combinations of races and powers (not to mention the expansions, which expand both races and powers), this app should have enough depth to keep you and your opponent busy for rematch after rematch after rematch. And even without a human opponent, the app offers a one-player experience that would be impossible with the tabletop version of the game.

The Bad

Small World’s complex rules and gameplay can be frustrating, especially for beginning players. Even if one has learned how to play, the AI’s single difficulty is merciless, which makes it difficult to win when playing alone. Because this app is intended for two players, it does not feature the board game’s other three maps designed for three, four, or five players per game. Playing on the same map every game may begin to feel stale for some players, which will only add to the temptation to purchase the expansions.

Is it for me?

At $6.99, Small World for iPad will be most rewarding to pairs of people who enjoy turn-based strategy games. Due to the AI difficultly, it is tough to recommend this app as a single-player game unless one has prior experience with the tabletop version of Small World or a particular interest in playing alone. However, if you are looking for a two-player board game with enough depth to last the life of your iPad, Small World won’t disappoint. Even for one player, this Small World app offers a unique board game experience perfectly adapted for the iPad. So who do you want to play with?