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.

Distant Worlds! (?)

To begin, let it be known throughout the lands that I’m extremely skeptical of any Space Strategy games these days.*

Matrix Games has recently put out two space strategy games, Distant Worlds by Code Force and Armada 2526.  Distant Worlds is another go at the RTS/4X genre muddle and has most piqued my interest since it’s release in March. Yet, not enough to actually buy it.  It has ship design, a MASSIVE galactic map and pretty sweet graphics for it’s suite of earth animal-influenced  alien races.   Here are a couple videos that may pique your interest as well– and if it’s enough to actually buy it… please let us know.

Moving your fleet around and fighting

Exploration (with a shot of the massive galactic map)

*After Master of Orion 3’s cascade of space piss into my open mouth a few years back, I  lost hope in the genre as, almost by design, the games kept getting worse and worse from the high point of Master of Orion in 1993, Ascendancy in 1995 and Emperor of the Fading Suns in 1996.  Since the heyday, we’ve had the mediocrity of Sword of the Stars, a mess of what are really RTS games that, while OK for RTS games, fail to really hit the mark with the 4X turnbased crowd (Homeworld, Hegemony and Sins of Solar Empire) as well as the excellent but multiplayer-only Ultracorps.

What’s more, the game series that is considered the current king of Turn Based 4x Space strategy games: Galactic Civilization is such an incredible rip-off of Civilization 3/4 that I consider it simply a graphics swap rather than a new game.  The galaxy in Galactic Civilizations, like Civ 4, is just a big flat map with planets (cities) that you move your units on.   Sometimes in Galactic Civilization there are asteroid fields (forests) that slow down your movement.  What’s worse it’s not a ‘globe’ like Civ so managing a big empire, multiple fronts on a big flat map is even more tedious than Civ. That said, please note that it is with a mountainous level of distrust that I even mention any current 4X space games on this blog in light of the simple question: are they better than the original Master of Orion? If not– why would anyone bother? Better graphics? who cares.  Better interface? Really? Is that even possible? Seriously: you can have the best 4X game, plus it’s almost good sequel, for 6$.  Keep that in mind with this and any subsequent posts on this subject.