Small World 2 has a misleading name. Technically it isn't a sequel to the venerable Small World, but an update that adds asynchronous multiplayer and allows more people to play it
This expansion sees you controlling a succession of fantasy civilisations squabbling for space on a cramped map. Each turn involves dragging counters around the landscape to conquer regions.
Most regions need two, but if there are enemy counters there you have to put down an additional number equal to theirs to take the space. You get a point for each region you own.
Every time you use a race your stack of tokens gets smaller, and eventually you'll want to skip a turn and pick a new one.
This continues until each player has had ten turns, and then the points are tallied up to identify the winner. It sounds pretty simple, and pretty dull. But Small World has a trick up the sleeves of its voluminous fantasy robe.
A cast of thousands
The races, you see, all have different abilities. For instance, Orcs get bonus points for taking spaces from other players, while Trolls leave lairs behind, which makes their regions harder to conquer.
There's also a separate stack of special powers - like Stout, which allows you to pick a new race without spending a turn, and Seafaring, which lets you conquer normally inaccessible water regions.
You pick races from a randomly generated selection of race and special power pairs, ensuring games rarely have the same sets of protagonists. There's a large draw pile, and lots of surprising combinations. You don't really need more, but additional collections are available at £2 a pop.
The variety of possible pairings is the magic behind the game's appeal. There's strategy in your selections: you pick from a stack, and not only do you need to find a combination suited to the current situation, but each one you reject accumulates a victory point which can be grabbed later by another player.
They also offer lots of fantasy flavour, and the chance for cheap humour. What other game gives you diplomatic ghouls, or historian giants?
A nation of millions
The addition of asynchronous play, including a Quick Play mode that matches you automatically against other eager powermongers, means you can play against other human beings whenever you want.
The interface is generally smooth, but there's one oddity: Quick Play features a turn timer for each player which, if exceeded, ends the game. So your chance of playing to completion is inversely proportionate to the number of players.
Because turns are discrete, Small World 2 works extremely well online. That's a good thing, too - while solo play is entertaining enough, and clips along at a pleasing rate, the AI isn't up to much. I've yet to lose a game against it, and I'm no Small World veteran.
However, even though I'd played before, I sat through the video tutorial for the sake of this review. It's always disappointing not to see an interactive tutorial, and while this video is clear it also misses a couple of important rules over its thankfully brief run time.
A score out of ten
The new Retina display graphics are bright and cheerful, and there are some nice tweaks like colour-coded corners on the tokens to avoid confusion. There are a few amusing animations to be found on the menus too, which, together with the distinctive art, help draw you into the game's cheeky fantasy setting.
Although the deterministic nature of the game means it lacks some of the megalomaniac thrills of traditional world conquest titles, it's curiously addictive. The slick interface, accessible strategy gameplay, and goofy theme make it just too easy to start game after game. You'll be amazed how much time a Small World can soak up.