Title: Galactic Civlizations
Developer: Stardock Corporation
Publisher: Strategy First
Date Published: Mid 1995, re-released March 2003
Platforms: IBM OS/2, PC Windows
ESRB Rating: G (General)

Galactic Civilizations (hereafter reffered to as GalCiv) is a single-player space strategy game, with an amazing depth and colourful history.

Set in the not-too-distant-future, the game presents the leap forward from our traditional Earth-bound existence to a massive interstellar race for domination of the galaxy.

The story so far...1
"The year is 2178. But our story really begins fifty years ago. For this is when humans first came into contact with an alien civilization. As the faint signals of an Arcean probe were picked up on sensors in Australia. It didn’t take long for a very basic level of contact to begin between Earth and Arcea. It was the beginning of our interstellar education.

For thousands of years, several interstellar civilizations have been sending probes throughout the galaxy. Transportation between different outposts was done through star-gates. These star-gates were immense structures that were obscenely expensive to use and maintain. As a result, the civilizations actually have had very limited contact with one another (and none with humans obviously).

Once human scientists understood the concept of star gates and how they worked, they set on a course to try to improve on them. About a decade before the start of the game, these scientists introduce to the galaxy a new technology called “Hyper-drive”.

Humans by the 22nd century had concluded that any civilization capable of interstellar travel must certainly have long since grown out of their violent militaristic stage and one of the leading scientists involved with the project shared the design of hyper-drive with all five of the major alien civilizations. Almost instantly, communication with the other civilizations came to a halt.

After months of silence, government of United Earth came to the conclusion that hyper-drive would allow the colonization of the galaxy and what was likely to occur was a race to claim star systems that contained inhabitable planets. It was decided that Earth must not fall behind and the design for a colony ship developed.

This brings us to 2178, the beginning of the era known as “Galactic Civilizations”. The first colony ship has been created along with a survey ship to explore the numerous anomalies throughout the galaxy.

Now the race is on to find and colonize unclaimed star systems with good planets (class 15 or better), find and claim galactic resources (by building constructors that can then build star bases on them), and ensure humanity can survive in a potentially hostile galaxy..."


History of the game
Galactic Civlizations is by far the best selling OS/2 game OF ALL TIME. Released in 1995, it swept to fame as the first "multithreaded" game, available for the first real commercial operating system for PC. This multithreading took the form of the computer AI calculating their moves within the human player's turn, removing the need for the annoying "Please wait while computer players think". Because of this extra time, better AI could be built in to the game, making the game play remarkably well. Fast forward a couple of years and a few GHz processing power, and you can build that in to the new Pentium 4 Hyper Threaded technology, making the game run even faster.

So what's it look like, anyway?
Overall, GalCiv is well designed. This game, while its basis is old, is remarkably well rounded in "modern" times. Aimed at those strategists that REALLY want to avoid micromanagement, it has sufficient depth of tweakability to keep the slathering click hordes happy. With nice, futuristic menus sporting pale blue on deep blue (tres chic sci-fi wise) and suitably muted graphics, the GUI for doing day-to-day chores is pleasant. The main gameplay is in the centre of the screen, with simple stylised ships, planets and starbases, along with a pretty starfield behind.

Playing
GalCiv is different to any other strategy game I have played. You can tell it's designed from the ground up, because manipulating the GUI is sometimes a little counter-intuitive. Starting out, you occasionally launch ships, kill colonies and do a few things you VERY quickly learn never to do again. Irritating, but you learn that this is NOT a copy of some other games.

Moving on from the GUI inconsistancies, your main aim is to juggle the military, social and research production of your empire to colonise the planets, establish starbases, and reach one of the four victory conditions...

Winning, hey?
Unlike most other strategy games, you CAN actually win more than just wiping everybody out. In GalCiv, there is every reason you can conquer, but just as easily win through tech advances, or just as easily through culture or political wrangling. Conquering will suit those people wanting to get their violent urges out on an unsuspecting alien population, and is fairly simplistic. Technological wins are possible, however, be aware: there are over 150 techs to research. Luckily, you can do it in as few as 11 (almost impossible, but hey, shoot for the moon!) or a more realistic pure-tech win of just 34 advances. Culture wins are also possible, where you simply control 7/8ths of the sectors on the map, or through political allies, coercing your fellow space-farers to support you in the quest for galactic domination.

So what about...
I know, I still haven't said very much. That's because the game, while having simple goals, graphics and playability, underneath it all is a game engine that is complex if you want to delve that deep. So here's GalCiv101: Empire building. You start off in Sol, with Earth as you base, and two ships: the first colony ship and a survey ship. The colony ship is quite simple, settling planets. Der. The survey ship - well, think USS Enterprise - it boldly goes... and is the only ship that can investigate anomalies, be they space junk, weird energy signatures, wormholes, asteroids or any of the huge range of THINGS on the map. The map itself is divided in to sectors, around 12 units (parsecs to be exact) square, and ranges from 3x3 quickies to 12x12 monsters that even the DESIGNERS say will take months to complete! You colonise, build ships, colonise some more and once you feel secure, dominant, in control, you sit back and suddenly realise just how deep this game is...

The mid game
Colonists are fun, star systems are interesting, but the real depth comes from the remaining elements: Starbases, Trade and Combat.

In reverse order, combat is pretty simple. Attackers roll attack dice, defenders roll defence dice, the difference is the damage that is dealt, and ships are killed. Each ship gets one salvo to and fro, and combat is resolved instantly - no turning back hey! While a bit of a cop-out, it makes the game move VERY quickly if you want it to, rather than obsessing over potential advantages.

Trade. Oh boy. Trade drives everything in GalCiv. You think it doesn't, but it does. You can swear blind that you can make it on taxes and production alone, and then you see a single freighter from another race that contributes over 60% of your income. You may say big deal, right? Except, they then do the oldest, sneakiest trick in the book: they threaten to remove that income that you've grown dependent on, unless you pay tribute. Smart huh? So that forces you to establish your OWN trade routes, and maximise your influence that way...

And finaly, starbases. They are built by constructors - big, slow, UGLY, expensive ships. Once built, you can put a starbase ANYWHERE on the map, but usually on a resource, usually adding a +x% to some facet of your empire. However, things get interesting when you start adding modules to your starbases. Each additional constructor that reaches an existing starbase can add a module to it, given the sufficient tech. These can range from adding defence to the WHOLE SECTOR to mining bonuses, to ferrying "aphrodisiacs" to boost population growth of nearby planets.... The reason I like starbases is that they are totally flexible - they can help trade routes (see above) by up to +100% in quick succession - and you can have anything up to 100 of them in a single sector! (However unlikely that is.) Oh, and if you ever wanted to build that Death Star in your back yard? You can in this game. Terror Stars are truly awe inspiring and can make even grown men scream when they first see them in the game..

Summary (Ha!)
Planets construct starships through military spending, build base facilities through social spending, and discover techs through research spending. Techs lead to new ships, facilities and other techs, as well as abilities, which add bonuses to aspects of your race (like morale, speed, influence, culture) and modules - used to add to bonuses affecting entire sectors to your starbases. Trade drives it all - either through direct selling of techs for quick cash and influence or establishment of trade routes by freighters (a kind of ship, duh!) which turns out to be extremely lucrative, despite its best efforts at looking innocuous. There are also unique goods that add bonuses and can be worth immense riches. You control various sectors through colonised planets and starbases, determined by how you generate influence ("culture") to control those sectors of the map, based on your population. This population needs to keep it's morale up, and hates crowded planets, which can be helped with those base facilities. You can establish friendly embassies at the same time as conducting espionage, all while trading with one of the five other major races, of which there can be an additional 8 minor races. Phew.

Oh. My. God.
Bewildered yet? Don't be. If you want a simple, fast-paced space combat game, this is it. If you want a strategy game with a space feel and traditional playing concepts, this is it. If you want one of the largest and most inventive tech-tree with rich descriptions and plenty of micromanagement and tweaking opportunities, this is it. This game satisfies almost every bizarre variant on the strategist mindset, you can barely be unhappy about your purchase.

This game is HUGE - you don't have to be worried about the scale, and play it just as if it were simple, and it will still be just as enjoyable. I recommend this game to ANY strategy fan - and considering I grew up on Reach For The Stars on my trusty old Amiga with my brother, I am totally head over heels. Backed up with a big following, an active development cycle and what appears to be the most enthusiastic design team with an eye for detail, I can't hype this game to strategy players enough.


Kalon's Aside: This is truly a huge task. I _WANT_ to node for numbers all of the techs, improvements, descriptions and the like, and I actually set out to get the content last night. I got through a TINY portion (15 techs, less than 10%) of the techs in SIX HOURS - playing was a big component, but the background and descriptions are just so rich - as an example, each tech has THREE descriptions, including a description of future goals and what they may lead to, a "just researched" description conveying the enthusiasm of the scientists, and an archived description of the effects that the tech had on society. I have my work cut out for me!
This write-up complies with the E2 FAQ: Video Games standards.
References:
My own lovingly bought, downloaded, registered and heavily played version of the game
http://www.galciv.com
http://www.drengin.net
2003.4.3@17:21 TheBooBooKitty says re Galactic Civilizations: All your votes are belong to us!
2003.4.3@17:30 isogolem says re Galactic Civilizations: spiffy I've been looking at getting this. Now I definitely will. Do you plan to map out the tech tree or is the task to monumental?
2003.4.3@18:21 WolfDaddy says re Galactic Civilizations: well done! I'm *so* much happier with this game than with MOO III, too! :-)
2003.4.30@3:14 Jetifi says Hey there. Excellent wu in Galactic Civilizations :-) I do so want to buy this game, but I don't know how it will cope on my p2/450 w/ 128MB RAM. That, and I'm a reformed civ2 addict. Other cool stuff about the game: Brad Wardell, the CEO and head coder of Stardock, (the company that wrote GalCiv), hangs out a lot on the newsgroup comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic, and is a great guy who spends far too much time in forums, USENET etc. helping and listening to users; the company makes it's money through other stuff so they have a great post-release schedule (unlike MOO3), etc. etc. etc. I want this game, but I'm afraid of what it will do to my social life...

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