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Sid Meier's Starships hands-on: A stripped down Civ and a complicated board game

Hayden Dingman | March 2, 2015
Sid Meier's Starships comes out on March 12, which isn't that far away. As such, I don't really want to delve too deeply into the game because, well, I'm going to have to write the whole thing up again in two weeks when we review it.

Sid Meier's Starships comes out on March 12, which isn't that far away. As such, I don't really want to delve too deeply into the game because, well, I'm going to have to write the whole thing up again in two weeks when we review it.

But I did spend about an hour tooling around with a pre-release build earlier this week, and it only seems right to give you an idea how this spin-off strategy game (of sorts) is shaping up.

Twilight Imperium

You know that absurdly-complicated board game Ben Wyatt comes up with in Parks & Rec? "The Cones of Dunshire"? If you don't watch the show, here's a clip. If you don't feel like watching the clip, know this: It's identifiably a board game, except there are so many rules it's rendered practically unplayable in a normal tabletop setting.

In many ways, Sid Meier's Starships is its own Cones of Dunshire. And I don't mean that because Starships is hard to figure out. It's not, actually! As a video game it's surprisingly easy to grasp, especially if you're coming over from Civilization's time-consuming, multi-tiered strategy.

Starships is identifiably a board game though — just one you'd never want to play manually a.k.a. on an actual board. There are too many moving pieces, too many factors to each encounter (line of sight, 100+ point damage calculations, et cetera) to really make it feasible. But it still feels like something designed for a tabletop environment and moved over to digital space.

Like Civilization, you'll start the game by choosing a faction leader. These have various buffs from "Gets an extra starship" to "Starts with two random tech upgrades." Of course, the first time you play you'll probably have no idea what any of this means or what's most useful.

Next, Starships presents its basic rules in five steps:

1) Travel to neighboring star-systems to complete missions and gain influence.2) Complete missions to gain influence (two blue ring sections) and receive resources from that system.3) Earn four influence ring sections and make the system part of your Federation.4) Expand your Federation. Control 51 percent of the galaxy to win the game.5) Be sure to use the advice and SpaceOPedia buttons at the bottom of the screen for more information.

Easy, right? I mean, that last one isn't even a rule.

You start with one owned planet — your Homeworld — and one other visible planet. This strategic layer is the primary board of play, and more planets will be revealed as you begin exploring. Moving to an undiscovered planet will bring up a mission, such as "Marauders are attacking!"

Any amount of preparatory work is allowed. You can upgrade your ships, for instance, or examine the likelihood of victory. Eventually you'll either decline the mission and flee or accept the mission and transfer to a secondary map — like a board game glued onto another board game.

 

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