DonAithnen (donaithnen) wrote,

Sid Meier's Starships (Hey look, it's a post!)

I decided to go pick up the Firaxis Humble Bundle, despite already owning most of the games.

The two i didn't have were "Starships" and "Beyond Earth", and despite being aware of their flaws i decided it was worth $15 to get both of them.

I think it also got me a couple XCOM packs i didn't have before, and possibly some map packs for Civ5.

(I also think the "Ace Patrol" bundle is new to me, as in i don't know if i've ever heard of it before, i don't think i already owned it, and i'm really not sure if i should care one way or the other.)

I've probably put a dozen or so hours into Starships, and the game seems pretty much like i expected.

Starships is a _very_ simple 4x space game, with tactical turn-based combat.

It's a bit like Master of Orion with a dash of Sins of a Solar Empire, and then all super simplified.

You start the game with one planet and two basic starships (roll credits!) These ships are a bit like the Sins of a Solar empire ships in that they're large capital ships that you can slowly upgrade over time, and that you're very limited in the number you can have. You can (and will) expand your fleet to eight ships, but that's it.

You fleet has "morale", which is effectively just fatigue points. Traveling between systems costs fatigue (unless traveling between two of your own planets that both have a "warp nexus") and doing missions costs more fatigue.

Missions are what you do when visiting a non-aligned world. When you arrive there you are offered the opportunity to perform some kind of combat missions questy thing, and if you succeed you get an influence point with that planet. When you get four influence points the planet "permanently" joins your civilization. However worlds only "remember" four points worth of influence, so a planet might have two points from Civ A and two points from Civ B, and if either of those civs does another mission for that planet they will take an influence point away from the other civ.

There are five resources, Energy, for repairing, buying, and upgrading ships; Metal, for buying world improvements and Wonders; Science, for buying tech levels; Food, for buying population; and Money, for buying/selling resources.

With the exception of saving up metal for Wonders there is very little reason no to spend everything you've got every turn.

You're going to spend all your food increasing population, probably on either the smallest planets (because that's cheapest of course) or the ones with the most improvements. Because more population = more resources the next turn.

You're going to spend all your metal on improvements (unless saving for a Wonder) but aside from defenses all the improvements do is give you more resources the next turn. So you're going to spend your metal either on the planets with the fewest improvements, or the planets with the most population.

There's a _bit_ more choice with Science and Energy.

Starships have 9 components. Drives (speed), Shields (absorb damage), Armor (HP), Lasers (long range damage), Plasma (short range damage), Stealth (cloak to hide from enemies), Scanning (find cloaked enemies), Torpedoes, and Fighters. Each of those components can eventually be increased up to level 8 with Energy. You can easily max out all the components on one ship (at least on easy and normal) and if you let things drag on at all you can do for all ships before too long.

There is a corresponding technology for each of those components. Each technology can eventually be increased up to level 6 with Science. Maxing out tech is a lot harder than maxing out components on the ships, in fact just getting three of them to level 6 is one of the victory conditions.

Combat is turn based on a hex map. When you're doing missions early on there are several different possibilities. Maybe you'll need to kill a specific ship, maybe you'll need to control some space stations, maybe you'll need to flee to a warp gate.

Once all the worlds have been claimed by one side or the other there is only one possible "mission". Kill all the things.

Each turn each ship can move and perform one action. Possible actions are fire main weapons, fire torpedoes, launch fighters, go into stealth mode, send out a radar ping to detect stealthed units, or use "impulse power" to move one last space.

The planets have an amusingly pragmatic attitude towards conquest. Upgrading defense on a planet results in the defender gaining between one or eight (depending on the level) defense ships of moderate effectiveness. (Early on in the game a moderate defense can be a deterrent all by itself. Towards the end of the game even a fully upgraded level 8 defense is mostly incidental compared to the enemy's main fleet.) Aside from supplying those bonus defensive ships the planets play no role in the battle at all, except perhaps as a bit of cover to hide behind. If the invaders win the planet just shrugs and says "good job, guess we're working for you now."

When a fleet loses, either on defense or attack, they retreat to a nearby system and you have to pay to repair them. But there is no perma-death. Assuming you have the funds (and you almost certainly will) your fleet will be back at 100% strength the next turn.

Which starts to get us to the downsides of the game. Any extended conflict is going to result in almost exactly the same battle taking place turn after turn, with minor variations in upgrade levels and (possibly) defensive ships.

This effect will be exaggerated if you drag things out, either going for a specific victory condition or achievement, and presumably on the larger maps, when you'll end up with two fleets each of eight mostly maxed out ships smashing into each other again and again and again and...

This process is (usually, thankfully?) cut short because if you capture an enemy's homeworld all their planets instantly switch over to you. So with the exception of some opportunities early in the game to pick off outlying systems that have somehow been cut off from the main empire you're probably just going to fight the minimum number of battle to cut through to the "center" of their empire and take out the head.

The one remaining big factor in the game are Wonders. A large number of planets, perhaps about half of them, have the potential to build a particular Wonder. If you control one of those planets you can see what Wonder it is capable of building it, and if you wish spend an increasingly large amount of Metal to build it. Once a Wonder is built everyone can see it.

Some of the Wonders are _very_ situational, some are practical but neither exciting nor especially effective, and some are incredibly OP.

The worst of the later is probably the Wonder that lets every ship take two actions every turn in combat, the only limitation being that only one of those two actions can be firing your main weapons. Only slightly less powerful is the Wonder that makes it so that you're always stealthed.

The next teir of situationally OP Wonders are the one that makes your torpedoes stealthed, the one that lets you take no damage from torpedoes, and the one that lets Fighters take their full movement on the turn they're launched.

I did my first game on Easy and picked the Leader that starts with a free Wonder, and ended up with the "Free Stealth" Wonder, and didn't really realize exactly how powerful it was until i started my second game on Normal. At least i'm pretty sure they way the enemy ships just meandered around, rarely taking a shot at me, was due to the effects of Stealth and not just _very_ poor AI on Easy level.

After figuring that out almost every fleet battle in Normal started with me activating Stealth on all my ships the first turn, then firing torpedoes with every ship on the second turn. Even without stealthed torpedoes the AI doesn't seem great at avoiding torpedo paths, and it's obviously much worse with stealthed torpedoes.

When you fire a torpedo it travels a certain distance in a straight line and then stops, doing nothing for one turn. The next turn you switch to torpedo view, during which you can explode the torpedo right away, or let it "run", and then explode it at any point up until it reaches its movement distance for that turn. You can do that two or three times total before it runs out of range and automatically explodes.

If you have four or more ships you can spread them out and fire torpedoes in parallel such that the enemy will have a very hard time approaching you without crossing one of the paths. And in general multiple AI ships decide to gamble (or are too dumb to know better) and end up right in your sights.

By the end of the Normal game i'd acquired the "double action" Wonder, so the first turn of combat was usually Stealth _and_ fire torpedoes. And in at least one such case i manged to wipe out the entire enemy fleet on the second or third turn with the torpedoes i'd launched on the first turn.

I didn't get the chance to use them much, but Fighters seem to have the potential to be almost as OP as torpedoes. Their main disadvantages are that the enemy can shoot them down, and you're limited to a total of 16 units on the map at a time, so if your eight ships all launch fighters the first round that's it, until one of your units (presumably a fighter) gets destroyed.

To be fair, any Civ type game played at normal difficulty can easily devolve into curb-stomp once you know the right tricks to min-max and the AI blindspots to exploit, but because Starships is such a simple and short game it seems like you get to the curb-stomping part really quickly. (Which i suppose could be viewed as either a plus or a minus.)

It's possible i may revise my opinions when when/if i move up to the harder difficulties, but at the moment it doesn't seem like there's a huge amount of replay value. All in all if i want a "simple" 4x game i think i'll just keep playing the original Master of Orion, where the UI and options are fairly simple but the permutations and strategy are a bit more complex.
Tags: reviews, video games

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