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Sid Meier's Starships review: Beyond earth and beautifully bite-sized

Hayden Dingman | March 12, 2015
I wish there were more strategy games of Starships's scope and scale. I love Civilization, I love Total War, I love Europa Universalis IV, but every time I sit down to play one of those games I can practically see sand falling through the hourglass. Cue the crazy time-travel montage where the day/night cycle progressively speeds up and suddenly I wake up and it's three weeks later, there's drool on my chin, my beard is burly and lumberjack-esque, and I've finally--finally--completed a single campaign.

I wish there were more strategy games of Starships's scope and scale. I love Civilization, I love Total War, I love Europa Universalis IV, but every time I sit down to play one of those games I can practically see sand falling through the hourglass. Cue the crazy time-travel montage where the day/night cycle progressively speeds up and suddenly I wake up and it's three weeks later, there's drool on my chin, my beard is burly and lumberjack-esque, and I've finally — finally — completed a single campaign.

If I'm really lucky, I might even win.

But those 30-60 hour campaigns are intimidating to me as an adult — particularly as an adult whose job is to play a lot of video games every year. Long games are great, but they're typically great for me to play once or twice. Then I, of necessity, have to move on.

Sid Meier's Starships is the solution, for me at least.

Everybody wants to rule the world(s)

What Starships does is condense the turn-based Civilization feel down into a few hours, and I love it. I can sit down, play through an entire Starships game (or two!), and still make it to bed at a reasonable hour.

In my preview a few weeks back I compared Starships to a board game, albeit one that's too complex to feasibly be played with physical pieces. I stand by that comparison. You've got two layers to pay attention to: strategic and tactical.

The strategic level is a galaxy map, full of planets — one of which is your faction's homeworld. You need to capture 51 percent of these planets in order to win the game. Your main tool in conquest is a single fleet of ships which you'll pilot from planet to planet.

Once you arrive at a planet you'll be given the option to accept or decline a mission to help the locals — for instance, chasing off pirates. Here's where the tactical layer comes into play. Your fleet is transferred to a smaller, hexagonal grid representing local space. You maneuver your ships around this hexagonal grid to try and get a bead on the enemy ships, exchange shots, and use the "terrain" (asteroids, planets) to your advantage to provide cover.

Defeat the pirates (or, occasionally, complete tasks on an objective-based map) and you'll gain influence with the planet. Gain four bars of influence (by completing more missions, purchasing influence with energy, or taking shore leave/ending your turn at a location) and the planet becomes part of your Federation's territory. If you capture another Federation's home territory (which is a massive battle) then you get all their territory and knock them out of the game.

 

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