Gratuitous Space Battles is game where you select a race, edit 2-d ship templates by placing some icons of equipment into blank boxes, drag a fleet based on scenario limitations to a 2-d map. After deployment is over you press play and sit and watch explosions, listen to various noises and then get a score if your fleet wins. You can’t control the ships themselves like Rome Total War or Warcraft 3: you just watch. If you watch your fleet win you get some points to spend on unlocks (new ship hulls, equipment and races).
GSB does all these things very well, but without a campaign wrapper I found myself setting up the battle, tweaking ships a bit and then walking away to go do something else while it ran through the explosions. That said, the explosions and sounds are fantastic and it’s really fun to watch, the ship designs are gorgeous huge 2-d sprites, but it gets sort of old and you just want the results after awhile.
My main tactic that worked pretty much all the time was to take rockets and put my ships all squeezed as tightly as possible into one corner of the map, so that the enemy fleet (usually spread out across the board) had to attack my huge lump of ships piecemeal and be thus destroyed piecemeal. Since my fleet mass cannot be flanked (the space map has a ‘corner’) this worked really well and I won almost all the scenarios on normal on the first go without tweaking or even buying much new equipment other than better rockets.
If you’ve ever played Dominions 3, Evernight or Ultracorps, you can see very clearly that this battle method would work perfectly as a component to a multi-player friendly 4X strategy game: you set up your armies/fleets, you give them orders, then you complete your turn and at a certain time each day (or when all the players turns are complete) the turn ‘ticks’ and all battles are resolved. Since the players have no in battle interaction, you aren’t waiting around for players to fight out their battles making the entire multi-player experience far to long to actually complete a game ever (ala MOO2). Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen of the strategic portion in development for GSB, you will have one choice during battles (rather than none or setting orders for your fleet BEFORE the battle) and that is to retreat. While not a design flaw for a single player 4X game, this is a fundamental flaw if the developers of GSB want to move into the multiplayer realm with this game– it will have the same issues as MOO2– the game takes too long (and by too long I mean MONTHS too long) because players have to fight out their battles by hand rather than just watching (if they choose too) after a turn ticks.
Where Dwarf Fortress has tons of stuff to do and explore, but is so incomplete, graphically challenged, poorly documented and with a monumentally bad user interface (even for a Nethack style game), Gratuitous Space Battles has a fantastic interface, looks just stunningly beautiful and is really well documented– however, there’s just not very much to do in the game but wait around for some sort of campaign mode to be completed. That said, I do like the game and bought it immediately when the strategic portion was announced. If you’re thinking of picking this up, I would wait until they implement the 4X campaign.