Introductions: The oldest actively developed space strategy game series
Galactic Civilizations is the oldest actively developed space strategy game in the world. The last version, Galactic Civilizations II: Twilight of the Arnor, was released over 7 years ago and remains to this day the highest rated (by Metacritic average) space strategy game of all time. The series has sold over 5 million copies since its inception back in 1992.
Suffice to say, Galactic Civilizations III has a lot to live up to.
The Premise: What kind of civilization would you make?
In the year 2178 humans have built a colony ship that has left Earth. Galactic Civilizations asks the question: “Now what?”
Earth has developed faster-than-light travel and a constructed a colony ship.
As the leader of a now space-faring civilization, you have a lot of interesting decisions to make. For example, the galaxy isn’t empty. You will have to contend with other civilizations who have their own agendas.
Will you build up a strong military? How much should be invested into R&D? What about your culture? Do you want to trade with these aliens? Do you want to help them fight their wars directly or give them stuff and keep your hands clean? When you find new planets, what do you do if there’s already a pre-industrial society living there? What about dealing with disease carried from new worlds? Galactic Civilizations puts these questions in front of the player.
Every game is different. It is the ultimate sandbox game.
Title: Galactic Civilizations III
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Release Date: May 14, 2015
Genre: 4X strategy
Platform: 64-bit PC Windows 7, 8, 10. DirectX 10 or better.
What’s new in Galactic Civilizations III?
While a lot of work has been done to make Galactic Civilizations III approachable and familiar to those who have played the previous game, the new version is completely new from the ground up. The effort has focused on making the game a richer, more immersive game experience without making the game feel overly complex.
The major new features over previous versions include:
Ideology. Rather than rhetorically ask “What kind of civilization do you want to be?” GalCiv III also makes it a game mechanic. Your choices will give you access to ideology based abilities. Your benevolence or at the other end, malevolence greatly affect what your civilization is capable of doing.
Much Much Much better colony management. In previous games, every planet had a planet rating (a number). This number determined how many improvements you could build on that planet. In GalCiv III, where you build your improvements matters due to adjacency bonuses. This often involves making some tough choices on what you want to build on a particular tile.
A whole new scope. Previous games supported up to 16 opponents. Thanks to the move to 64-bit and multi-core AI design, players can now play on map sizes that are up to 8 times larger than the previous size and play against up to 128 opponents. Multicore processing has allowed these AI players to take their turn in less than a tenth of a second each.
Multiplayer. For the first time ever, Galactic Civilizations can be played multiplayer. The game will include several balanced multiplayer maps, saved multiplayer games and many other features that make the game quite enjoyable for online/LAN play.
Prototypes. The galaxy now has strategic resources that can be claimed and enable the construction of “one of a kind” ships, improvements and other unique abilities that can give that player a significant advantage.
More sophisticated fleet combat. Galactic Civilizations III introduces the concept of “ship roles”. Players can (optionally) design their ships, choose what role they have (support, assault, escort, etc.). These roles have very specific rules in how they act in combat. Players can view the battles and watch the subtle (or not so subtle) ways ships behave based on their role to better design new ships and assemble better thought out fleets.
Play as any civilization with their own tech tree. While the last GalCiv II expansion introduced this concept, GalCiv III takes it to a whole new level with each civilization being a vastly different gameplay experience. Unique technology trees, colony improvements, ships, AI behaviors and even the ability to create your own civilizations and ships that you can share with others.
The minor list of features is really too long to list. A lot of the improvements in Galactic Civilizations III stems from the general improvements that games have seen from better hardware. So for example, the game is much more sophisticated in terms of the number of factors that go into a stat (like say planetary approval or population growth) but is actually more approachable because of the use of “chicks” (smart, clear, tool tips) that make it clear how a given stat is derived.
“chicks” are advanced tool tips that allow the player to conveniently see what a given item does. This allows us to make the game a lot more sophisticated while keeping it approachable. In GalCiv II, we had to keep everything very straight forward in order to keep the game from becoming too complicated.
Overall, many of the minor improvements can be lumped into a much better user experience. It is the best Galactic Civilizations game yet.
A Game Play Example
Heading towards Alpha Centuari
When I originally designed Galactic Civilizations I was (and still am) a huge fan of another 4X game that often ended with the player sending a colony ship out into space. Back in 1991, when I started working on this, I wanted to know what happened next. So in our example, our colony ship is heading off to Alpha Centauri.
Now, I could have chosen to play as any of the other alien races or made my own, for this example, I’m playing as the humans of Earth.
A year later, my colony ship has reached Proxima Centauri.
However, another civilization was once on this planet.
So what should we do? Let’s be pragmatic about this. The researchers who volunteer know the risks.
Proxima. Where I choose to build matters. For example, the tile selected has caverns on it which would make the planet a lot better to defend against invasions if I place a military improvement there. This early on, I don’t have one. But on the other hand, it’s adjacent to the colony capital which means anything I build there will get a boost. Do I save that tile for later or use it now to get a short-term benefit?
By choosing the pragmatic path for our researchers, I gained enough ideology points to choose an item on the ideology grid. I choose the one that gives me some constructors.
Turn 5: Exploration
It is time to research technologies. Each race gets their own scientist and tech tree. One big change to GalCiv III is that we have technology ages. This gates different techs without us having to have a super complex tech dependent tree. For example, you can’t just b-line to planetary invasion anymore because invading another planet is a pretty big logistical and engineering feet. So planetary invasion is in the Age of War which requires 12 total technologies to have been research prior.
I turns out aliens don’t speak English after all. The Altarians look suspiciously similar to humans.
Humans found a second colony around Tau Ceti. It is called Kryseth. A swamp planet.
We also decide it’s time to research a Universal Translator.
This opens up the opportunity to trade.
Turn 20: Economics
Earth has sent its first freighter to an Altarian planet. The ship, filled with the spice “ginger” is much appreciated.
The GalCiv III economy system is all new. Much deeper and yet more straight forward. By having trade, I can turn down my taxes.
The humans have also started mining a rare material from the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Turn 30: Diplomacy
The next alien race we meet are called the Thalan. Their leader, Hithesius, thinks humans look disgusting.
The Thalan have a lot of weaponry. The Earth has never even considered arming its ships yet. Is this a mistake? Worse, the Thalan don’t want to trade us weaponry.
Now that there are 3 civilizations in contact with each other, things start to get..complicated. Right now, everyone is getting along fine.
Our pragmatism is a major issue for the Altarians. But otherwise, the humans and Altarians get along well.
Turn 40: Tension & Challenge
The third race the humans meet are called the Drengin Empire. They will not be our friends.
Technology allows players to create new tiles. Where you place them is important. In this case, adding a tile in India will allow for a factory to be biuld that gains the benefit of having 2 other factories and the Terran capital adjacent to it.
As a side note: The game randomly decided that Hong Kong is the capital of future Earth for this game.
Thus, when a factory is placed here, the adjacent factories gain a level and this factory is instantly a level 3 factory.
By being level 3, it produces 15% more goods than it would have otherwise.
Only 12 years after the start of the colony race (2200) the 4 major space-faring civilizations meet about establishing a United Planets. With the Thalan’s support, the Terran Alliance becomes the home for this new organization.
The Drengin Empire is already interested in conquering. The Earth passes on this so-called “opportunity”.
The Earth and its colonies have focused on building a powerful economy rather than a military. As this graph shows, the humans are the leaders in total production.
The notification system keeps us up to speed on galactic events. Thus, the Terran Alliance is aware the Drengin are attacking our friends, the Thalan and their shipyard is busy building attack ships.
Speaking of shipyards, one of the cooler new features of Galactic Civilizations III is that ship construction has been separated from planets. This means that having a large empire of colonies doesn’t mean a bunch of tedious ship building prompts. You can build a few shipyard and have your colonies feed them.
A shipyard has sponsors who send manufacturing resources to it. The Terrans get to have a lot more than other races (normally you can only have 5 sponsors). This greatly reduces micromanagement late game.
Turn 75: Paths to victory
While conquest is, admittedly, the most common way people try to win. For this example, the Terran Alliance are going to try for a cultural victory. This is where your culture spread so completely through the galaxy that your soft power becomes irresistable.
Early on, the humans found a relic of the Precursors. This relic gives the possessor an intangible effect on ones culture. Since this is a game, it results in a 10% bonus to all cultural improvements which is pretty huge.
Terran mining operations continue to grow.
To pull of this strategy, the Terran government, in a meeting in Hong Kong (of course) agrees that surveillance of the various wars is needed. To that end, a new sensor beacon is designed and built to be sent out to watch over everyone.
Earth has built up nicely.
Turn 100: Cultural Conquest
GalCiv III is serious about having its other winning conditions be viable. Cultural conquest is not easy. Here’s why:
First, if you are focusing mostly cultural influence you are not going to have a big military. Therefore, gaining points at diplomacy matters. There is an entire part of the tech tree dedicated towards building diplomacy points. You must gain these faster than their annoyance with you.
Second, you must research technologies that give you more influence and place them in the right spots. Getting back to one of the improvements in GalCiv III are the chicks showing why my influence per turn is 2.0 and how that grows over time. You can see the various elements that contribute to it clearly.
Third, you literally have to advertise your culture by building cultural starbaes in your target’s territory. This will expand your influence but will make them that much unhappier. Thus, the pressure remains on that civilization to keep improving their diplomatic skill.
As you can see, the Drengin is now well within my sphere of influence and is slowly rebelling.
Thus, putting resources on improving ones diplomacy is crucial. But that’s also effort not being placed on weaponry.
Another change from GalCiv II is the careful balancing of what exactly is power. Even though the Terrans have no military power, they are still looked upon as the most powerful in the galaxy. How is this?
This is why. Would-be opponents will measure one’s potential military power and make a guess on how quickly that potential could be turned into actual power.
Once a civilization becomes close to another civilization, they are open to becoming an ally.
We still have a ways to go to win. But progress is rapid.
I’ll leave it here for now. What will happen? Will the Drengin Empire allow me to simply dominate the galaxy due to my diplomatic smoothness? Should the Terrans use their new-found alliance to try to defeat them? Can I convince the Altarians to join the Thalan and the Terrans in an alliance? Or will something unforeseen plunge the galaxy into war?
The Drengin don’t like us but our diplomatic skill has been enough to keep them at bay (along with our implied potential power).
With our alliances, the Terrans could have become a formidable military power as well through technology trading.
How will you rule the galaxy?
The Terran Alliance have chosen a path of pragmatism and diplomacy. Other paths could have been taken. Military power. Technological victory. Ascension into a higher state of being. Diplomatic Alliance (which the Terrans are pretty close on).
That is what has always made Galactic Civilizations unique. It is a strategy game but it is also a sandbox game designed to let you create your own epic story on what your civilization would do.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.