GSB: Galactic Conquest Beta- Initial Ruminations

GBS GIBS!
You're going to see your ships get blown up a lot in the campaign game--thankfully it's awful prretty.

This is not a review and I’m playing just the beta (though it’s quite polished). I haven’t finished the game yet because it’s thankfully a challenge!  Hence, this is just a list of five good things and five bad things.  My benchmarks for any space 4x are: Master of Orion and Ultracorps.  For general 4X it’s Dominions 3 and Empire Total War.  That said, I think this little indy game from an English dude is the most important game in 4X space strategy that we have seen since Master of Orion 3 marred the genre.

Things I like:

  • Beautiful and extremely easy to use interface: it is just flat out awesomeness incarnate. Dragging stuff, sliders, the works.
  • Turn button works very fast and is almost always always accessible: when I get sick of mucking around with stuff, I can just click and it’s next turn from almost anywhere
  • Sliders all over the place:  this is what 4X space games are all about.  If you don’t have sliders just go home and let the space piss cascade on you.
  • Combine fleets interface: manual drag and drop and an auto combine to bring units up to full strength from smaller units
  • Retreating: now you have an option in battle.  Though this hoses any possibility of playable multiplayer for Gratuitous Space Battles, it’s growing on me for single player.

Things I don’t like

  • Random fleet attacks from random races: the user-created enemy fleets idea is cool and all, but it’s really not a replacement for having enemy empires
  • No random map
  • Unlocks from the battle game only: there’s no way to get unlocks from playing the campaign. With the campaign, I no longer care to ever play the battle game again, as the battle game is wholly complete within the campaign version
  • No campaign enemy races, empires, technology, no diplomacy: fleets just show up at your door and can be any race
  • Movement is one planet to the next: each move takes one turn, this isn’t the worst, I just don’t like it being this simple
  • You can’t auto-resolve battles until you’ve set up your fleet and started the battle.

It’s 7$ to buy the beta and if you already have GSB– this is a no brainer.  Full review once I win.

Gratuitous Space Battles campaign now out in "purchasable" beta

Purchasable in quotes is because when you try to play, you get a required space to put a registration number– a number that’s not provided to you when you buy the game. I’m sure this will get fixed eventually, but I would wait until release to pick it up if you’re planning on it.

NOTE; steam users– you have to dig down into your steam folder to install the beta files. It should currently reside in VALVE/STEAM/STEAMAPPS/Gratuitous Space Battles/ Remember to CUT the last part of the path string the default setting gives you as it will try to create a new /Gratuitous Space Battles/ folder within your current Gratuitous Space Battles/ folder if you don’t.

Gratuitous Space Battles Campaign trailer action

Trailer is up for GSB: Galactic Conquest.  I’m trying to weigh my expectations (which are high and are all based around waiting for SOMEONE to make a good Master of Orion + Dominions 3 game) and the reality that while this may not be that game, it will still be damn fun and not a cascade of space piss into our open mouths like MOO3 was.  Here is a link to the trailer:

Gratuitous Space Battles: Galactic Conquest

Gratuitous Space Battles review

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.

Gods of Gaming, Please don't let Stardock get the Master of Orion License

Quicksilver’s Master of Orion 3 was personally my biggest disappointment in gaming–and singlehandedly dug the 4X turn-based space game’s grave after a decade or so of good stuff (MOO2, Ascendancy, Reach for the Stars, etc.).  We’ve had some independent efforts since, and some semi-big name games that were incredibly lackluster, either didn’t do multiplayer well (forgivable), were just effectively mods of CIV 4 (Gal Civ I’m looking at you) or just plain huffed a pan-galactic cockle (Sword of the Stars).  With the’ release’ of Elemental War of Magic we’ve seen that while Stardock may have the passion for attempting to recreate some of the older games we love with new graphics, and even the financial clout and true grit to get them published (that’s the hard part), that does not mean that they are able to make good games.

What I’d like to see is Stardock to focus on their Gal Civ games, and now that CIV 5 is out for them to copy all the gameplay from, a new release is inevitable in the next few years.  While I have no interest in the Gal Civ games (I can just go play CIV 4 or 5 and pretend it’s a space field), they have a following that may help to keep the genre alive while someone else– almost anyone else– picks up the Master of Orion Licence from Atari where it sits, languishing after Quicksilver Games cascade of space piss debacle.

The Birthday Imperium!

As we age and degrade due to O3 toxicity, birthdays become less about seemingly random fornication and crop sickness and wrestling and more about exceedingly nerdy pursuits.    Mine for this year is a 6+ hour long game of Twilight Imperium + Expansion hosted by a buddy.  I’ve railed on this game’s 3rd edition for years now because the basic set with the basic set of rules is basically a broken game that has little to do with the movement of your pieces on the map board, and other than the pieces, is altogether worse than 2nd edition.  However, with the expansion, Fantasy Flight has purportedly fixed the terrible issues and I’m using my birthday gaming day to test out once and for all whether it’s a keeper.

That said, I’m completely willing to keep games that are played once every year or two– some are MONSTERS and really only need to be pulled out that often to deserve a place on the shelf.  I obviously would never part with my copy of Republic of Rome, though I’ve only gotten 2 plays with my set.  With the base set of TI3, my local play group essentially asked for it never to be pulled out again after a couple plays and that means it gets shot up to ebay. We’ll see if it’s worth it with the expansion this weekend.  Expect an AAR!

Gratuitous Space Battles getting a campaign

What we’ve all been waiting for since playing the demo of Gratuitous Space Battles (or longer if you played Strange Adventures in Infinite Space) is a campaign wrapper– and it’s coming according to the developers blog!  Though it doesn’t look like it’s currently planned, the best thing about it is that GSB could work multiplayer.  Unlike Master of Orion 2 and the like, the campaign wrapper for GSB would be playable as a multiplayer game because you don’t control the battles themselves: only the set up.

The main issue with all turn-based strategy games is that battles (even CIV) take so long that players that are not involved are off playing some other game by the time it gets back to their turn.  Dominions and Ultracorps (and many other games) solved this by having tick based turns, i.e.: you put your orders in and at a set time, all player’s orders are executed and the new turn begins.   Without this, multiplayer turn-based strategy games with battles simply doesn’t work due to time constraints.  The way GSB has been developed, players can execute their turns, submit and after the next turn starts, they can watch each of their battles unfold.  I may be getting ahead of myself here, as a large grain of salty skepticism needs to be applied to any Space 4X game since MOO3’s cascade of space pysse into my open mouth– the GSB campaign could suck a giant turd straight from the ass of Prosthetic Vogon Jeltz.  That said, I’m going to get the full version of GSB to push some cash to the developers who may have our best interest in mind–and you should too.