The anticipation had been running high for Master of Orion 3, along with an interminably long, three-year waiting period, where I would feverishly search the Internet for any gameplay previews, screenshots, developer interview that were made available. This was the sequel to one of my absolute favorite strategy games ever, Master of Orion 2, and it was certain to kick all forms of ass. The call came in from EB World late one day in February, and after rushing to the store, snatching up the last copy from the clerk, cruising back home, and calling in to my supervisor to tell him that I had contracted a horrible case of food poisoning on my lunch break, it was set. As MOO3 was installing, the shiny orange game box called out with the promise of: "This game will give you YEARS of enjoyment."
Upon starting the game, it quickly became apparent that all we know and loved about MOO2 had been changed, and quite drastically. The game had been overhauled from the ground up, and there was not a single discernable tie that linked MOO3 to MOO2. My research indicated that MOO3 was going to be different, so the strategy guide was the next purchase, along with scouring the online forums for any information on how to tackle the game. After a few days, it became apparent that if there was any fun to be had from this game, it lay deep under the surface, and quite possibly did not exist at all.
The search for an alternative 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) space game fix soon started, and there came rumblings in the various forums about a game called Galactic Civilizations, that had been in beta for a few months and was receiving some good praise. Produced by a company called Stardock, whose principal software accomplishment was a GUI utility suite called Object Desktop, Galactic Civilizations was a remake of a popular OS/2-based game from back in the day.
In Galactic Civilizations you play as the Terran Alliance (us humans) which has recently unlocked the secrets of the "Hyper Drive", a new technology that allows travel between the stars and to freely colonize the galaxy. It is the 23rd century after all, and unfortunately, there are at least five other races intent on doing the same thing, and have no qualms about wiping you out if you get in their way. In the classic strategy vein, players must research new technologies, colonize planets, wage war on enemies, defend your holdings, and always keep the economic, political and military engines running at their highest efficiency. The basic structure of a space conquest game is pretty standard, and at least on the surface, Stardock isn't looking to remake the wheel.
Victory in Galactic Civilizations can come about in four ways. Traditional Military Victory is one option, which translates to building the biggest ships with the biggest guns and pointing them all at your enemies. There is also Political Victory, where you build up the strongest relations with other races and you conquer all enemies. You also have Technological Victory, where researching technology pays off dramatically, and your race eventually reaches the next plane of existence. And finally, we have Cultural Victory, which kicks in when on race controls 7/8th of the galaxy through the influence of your culture. This open-ended design allows the player to tackle each game with a new strategy, and increases the game's replay value quite significantly.