Conquer an entire world? Nah, I want the galaxy.
Sid Meier’s Civilization games offer epic strategy in which players have the chance to build up a civilization and control this world through technological advancement, diplomacy and good old fashioned warfare. A single game can last many, many hours as the player works towards their goal. Last year’s Beyond Earth took the game a step further by having the player leave Earth and colonize an alien planet. The game was still the same epic strategy at its core, but was given a gloriously alien paint job and a large dose of the unknown.
And now we have Sid Meier’s Starships, a game set in the same universe as Civilization: Beyond Earth, but focusing on the bigger picture, whilst at the same time offering something much smaller in both scope and price. Starships is a more mobile game, much more suited to pick up and play than any civilization title, which may not be that surprising considering Starships has also launched for the iPad alongside for PC and Mac. Despite the fact that Starships may well be a port of an iPad title, playing the game on PC or Mac is still a whole lot of fan, as long as the expectations are not for the deep and lengthy Civilization style of game.
Players begin by choosing a leader and a faction, each of which offer some slight bonus that will tweak the game in a minimal degree. Then it is off to the big campaign map, littered with planets that the player must bring into their federation of choice. Build influence with the various planets in order to bring them round to your way of thinking by doing them favors, paying with cash, or using their planet for shore leave.
Moving from one planet to the next, back and forth across the galaxy, planets may request your help with whatever problems they have, which invariably leads to the turn-based battle map, but more on that in a moment. Once the player has made all of their moves, it is then the turn of the other leaders on the map, which are revealed as the player comes across them. There is some light diplomacy available, but declaring war on the other factions always seems to be the more enjoyable direction for relations to go.
Once a planet comes under the control of your particular faction, improvements can be made including building cities and improving the planets defenses. In return, the player will be able to gather more of the various resources in the game, such as energy, science and food. These resources can then be used for research and improving, or adding to, your fleet of starships.
The starships themselves have a variety of uprgrades available and are customisable to a certain degree. The class of ship changes depending on where points are spent and the player is free to create heavily armoured ships bustling with close range weaponry, ships that spawn little fighter squadrons which can be controlled independently to harass the enemy, or lightly armoured, fast moving ships which can speed across the battle map, hidden from view with a cloaking device. The available options are not huge, but are plentiful enough that the player can control a fleet of varied ships which can deal with any situation.
The campaign side of Starships has a fair amount to do, what with research, fleet management and such, but doesn’t have anywhere near the depth of a Civilization game. However, it is the turn-based space battles where players will spend the majority of their time, and they work really well.
The battles take place on a hex-based map and, despite this representing battle in the depths of space, takes place on a 2D plane. The player takes his turn at moving his ships and performing actions, then waits as the enemy AI makes their move. The conditions of each battle vary depending on the mission, and before the player will be given a percentage chance of success, which in my experience is wildly inaccurate, suggesting failure is more than likely when the actual battle goes smoothly in my flavour.
Anyway, the different missions will sometimes see the player simply having to remove the threat of space pirate ships, other times it will have the player defending a space station. It may have the player racing towards a point on the map, or accompanying another ship and protecting it from raiders. The missions are quite nicely varied, as are the maps which are littered with asteroids for the player to move around, planets to hide behind and even worm holes which have the ships appear somewhere else on the map.
The presentation of the game is disappointing. While the battles are not too bad to look at, although still not pushing any boundaries, and the campaign map is certainly functional, the game seems to lack polish. This is especially noticeable in the various “choice” scenes. Not that it really affects the enjoyment of the game, but rather is shows the games budget nature and origins as a tablet game.
Sid Meier’s Starships is what it is, a more casual turn-based strategy game set in deep space. It is highly accessible and can provide hours of fun, depending what you are expecting. It is not a Civilization game, and anyone expecting similar depth will be disappointed. however, go into the game looking for a light strategy experience at a budget price, and you will find plenty of enjoyment here.