Galactic Civilizations

12_1In a game about building a sprawling galactic empire, tough decisions also add strategic depth and character. Two qualities that Galactic Civilizations has in spades. Random events add flavor and force you to make strategic trade-offs. “Advanced Slavery†is a research option only made available to players that demonstrate a certain moral flexibility, for instance. Periodic meetings of the United Planets offer you the opportunity to vote on galaxy-wide laws that alter the rules for everyone. The galactic map is littered with space anomalies that grant bonuses when you visit them, providing a strong incentive to explore.

The game doesn’t reveal its hand all at once. It seduces you with its simplicity and trickles the good stuff out over time, makes each game a little bit different than the one before, keeps you coming back for more. From the moment you choose your political affiliation in the game setup screen, every choice you make has long-reaching consequences that require different strategies. There are multiple paths to victory, and multiple ways to follow those paths, and an ever-changing set of obstacles along the way.

7_1To its credit, it doesn’t overwhelm you with all of this right out of the gate. The basic mechanics are simple, and there’s a remarkable sense of focus. Anything that takes you away from the business of running your empire is simplified or abstracted out of the game entirely. The opening video tells you that this is the story of how the human race became a galactic civilization, and the game sticks to its guns. You can only play the human race—the AI plays each of the six major alien civilizations, each with its own distinct personality. Combat is simple and streamlined.

The game never uses a complex system when a simple one will do. Your entire galactic economy—an intricate web of trade, taxation, and planetary production—is controlled by a couple of sliders. One slider sets your tax rate, a second one sets your spend rate. Three additional sliders let you adjust how much of your spending goes to military production, social production, and research, respectively. You can ignore all of these sliders until you better understand what to do with them—a consistent defining trait of all of the game’s more intricate details.

15_1It takes about fifteen seconds to learn how to manage your empire’s economy; learning how to manage it effectively is another matter entirely. A short list to the right of the sliders summarizes your income and expenses. Keeping your bottom line in the black is a delicate balancing act. Trade routes give you free income, but they help your opponents as well. Lower spending and you slow down production and research. Raise taxes and you lower morale throughout your empire. You can combat low morale by building improvements or launching propaganda campaigns.

Galactic Civilizations is designed for the long haul—it gets better the more you play it. It’s an understated, thoughtful game that is highly replayable and continually challenging.

System Requirements: Pentium 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win98

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