I am often asked, "What is a game of Galactic Civilizations like?" After all, more so than most games, the game mechanics of a strategy game can vary greatly from title to title.

In a nutshell, Galactic Civilizations has been designed to be fairly straight forward to play but have an immense level of depth underneath its seemingly benign exterior. Our goal has been to make the game mechanics fairly straight forward but have a lot of potential strategies available to players. The depth of Galactic Civilizations isn't in numbers and statistics, instead it is in subtle effects in diplomacy, trade, technology and warfare.

This is going to be the first of a set of games that I've documented so that you can see how different each game experience can be. Unfortunately, in this first one I lost which is a bit embarrassing since I designed the computer AI for the game and fell afoul of something I should have known better -- to assume I was on my way to victory when the computer players had pre-planned a longer term strategy. Most computer AIs in PC games are what we call "reactive". They look at the current game state and then make decisions based on that right then and there.  In Galactic Civilizations, computer players come up with a strategy that may take many turns to bear out which can cause players who think they're winning (ahem) to suddenly discover that a trap has been sprung.

Below is a recount of today's game. I am playing a windowed version of it (the windowed version isn't in the retail package but is available as a free download to players).

In Galactic Civilizations, you play as the human player. There are plot reasons for this. But fear not, you can customize the heck out of your civilization. In my game, I decided to try to play as a corrupt trading empire (ala the Ferengi). So I put my ability points into those areas.

Since I've been playing the game for a long time now, I went ahead and made the computer players all on normal or bright. Each computer player has its own AI engine underneath it. GalCiv supports up to 36 different players in a given game. But there are only 6 major civilizations (including the humans) and the rest are "minor races". When I say that each AI player has its own AI engine, I mean each major race literally has its own C++ code behind it. We're not talking some variables that are different, I mean we wrote the AI 6 times (5 for each major player and the minor races share a 6th). We did this because often times in a single player game we've found that you eventually can find some AI weakness that you can then use to always win which makes the game stale at that point. So by having 6 different ones, it is much more difficult for that to happen. Each of the 5 major civilization's tactics and strategy are based on the strategies of real human players based on analyzing the Metaverse.

Once I got into the game I made it a point of trying to crank out colony ships as fast as I can. The first part of the game is heavily tilted towards aggressively expanding out to get all the good planets.

Technology wise, to go with my evil trader strategy, I went for Universal Translator immediately and then onto trade so that I could start my trade empire.

Being evil can be profitable. Though as I was later to discover, it would be my ruin. As I colonized planets different situations would come up which I chose the evil path every time.

Ah, gotta love planets that come with free slavelings... heheh

The first civilization I cam across were the Yor. They were clearly not a "good guy" civilization. I looked forward to having good relations with these guys. I'm evil. They're evil. I decided at this point I would focus on being on good terms with them and crush all the goody goodies.

Minor note, being evil has other nice things to it. I get additional technologies and the game appearance changes (evil robot for instance).

You can manage your entire civilization from a single screen if you want or visit the planets. With trade technology I began to have my planets start building freighters.

I was able to establish my first star base on one of the precious and rare galactic resources. This one will let me increase the weaponry on my starships. The more constructors I send to it, the more I can build it up. Right now it's just a really wimpy mining base.

This was good news to me because I didn't have Star Democracy technology which gives big bonuses in production. The United Planets voted in to let us do this. The only downside were the elections that come with it before I was ready.

My party, the Federalists, win the first contested election easily. But things wouldn't stay so easy..

Sending more constructors over to that star base allowed me to keep pumping up its usefulness. Constructors are fairly expensive but at this point, my biggest concern (as a developer) is that the game is too easy. Look at the mini-map, I have the best star systems, the game is over, I've got it wrapped up. Just a matter of time before I culturally dominate my neighbors while using my trading power to get the Yor to do my bidding..

Only 6 years in and I have 3 completed trade routes and I'm quite evil. And look at the graph, not only am I the economic powerhouse but I have the most powerful military. The game is pretty much won for me. All too easy...

The Drengin Empire ends up splitting into two. Now there's 10 civilizations in the game (6 major, 4 minor).  At this point, I'm thinking this is very good for me as the Drengin Empire is very good at warfare and I really don't want them to be causing me trouble. My trade slaves, The Yor, are the ones who I want to carry out my will. Good riddance.  Unfortunately, something else happens awhile later...

The Yor aren't pursuing the typical "duh, let's just conquer everyone at once.." instead they have been picking off the minor races but not after extorting them for money. The various minor races though do something I hadn't been expecting, some of them group together to form an 11th civilization called the "League of Non-Aligned Worlds". This creates a real problem for me because the Yor goes to war with these guys and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds is really good at picking up star systems that are unhappy. So the Yor puts money into destabilizing major civilizations (which doesn't require going to war), and then unhappy worlds leave those civilizations to join the league which in turn get conquered by The Yor. I'm still confident in victory but I start trading more with The Arceans to try to counter balance the Yor.

Unfortunately for me, because I am evil, the holier-than-thou Altarians have begun to destabilize me. I also later get a message that the Yor are probably doing this too. This in turn causes me to lose control of the Senate and puts my own worlds in jeopardy of joining the I-league.

In fact, as you can see, The Yor have gobbled up a lot and they no longer like me so much either. The diplomacy portion of my strategy is unraveling. Worse, because my party, The Federalists, who specialize in economics, lost control of the senate, I have had to decrease spending which has made me militarily vulnerable. This at the same time that I have stopped trading quite as much as I was with The Yor which makes them less influenced by my diplomacy.

So I decide it's time to invest more in tracking what The Yor are up to. Bad news for me, they have battle ship technology which in GalCiv is a big deal. Battle ships are the first weaponized capital ships. I don't have this technology. And if you look at the graph, you can see I've now fallen behind in technology spending big time and the Yor have taken over the remaining planets in the I-league.

So I start to build a starbase in my most vulnerable sector. The goal is to create something that will make my ships in that sector stronger and increase my culture here so that Cassius doesn't defect. Unfortunately, my moves are noticed by The Yor.  Sometimes the alien civilizations will tell you when they notice something, but more often, they'll say nothing to give away that they are aware of what you're doing...

Step 1: Declare war on me.

Step 2: Destroy my trade routes

Counter-stroke: My first battle ships arrive.

Step 3: Lasitus falls to Yorian invasion...

The low point of my story, having to crawl to the freakin' Altarian snobs to ask for ships and money to save my skin from my own creation, the Yor. At this point I was thinking "Crap, I can't believe this, I'm, playing this game to show players how to WIN at this game and show a triumph for them and now I'm groveling to the $#@# Altarians!" It would be like Homer having to ask Flanders for help.

As if reading my mind, the Altarians even find a Ranger class battle ship. One of these ships could take out a dozen Yorian battle ships. Unfortunately, this happens right after I've done that huge trade so I don't have enough left to trade for it!

So I'm stuck having to give away precious Cassius to the Yor in order to get peace. But I'll get my revenge, right? RIGHT? I'll just regroup, mass my forces and take it back... I know what to do, I crank up my destabilizing to make their people unhappy...

And so Cassius ends up reforming as part of the new and improved Independent League. Which makes them no longer part of the Yor which means I can invade them and take it back. Ha! Used the Yor tactic against them. Unfortunately, what's left of my economy can't be used for destabilizing anymore so I turn that off.

The Yor are not amused, however.

And things aren't looking so great for Earth. At this point I'm in my bunker calling in imaginary fleets to arms..

And the great Terran Trading Federation is no more. Now working in a Yor mine on Centus IV, I can say that I always wanted the Yor to become overlords of the galaxy. I for one welcome our new masters and as a trusted member of the political class, I can help them round up dissidents and turn them in...

The moral of the story is, don't assume you've won before you really have won. While the game mechanics may seem fairly straight forward, there is a lot of subtlety here. If I had focused more on trading with the Yor I could have kept on their good side and then tried to use cultural domination on them. Similarly, I should have aided the I-League with ships and money when I was still militarily strong. I was also too slow in building up my star bases and I failed to build any shipyards which greatly enhance the strength of my ships. As a result, when war did come, it took 3 of my battle ships to defeat just 2 of theirs, a trade I couldn't afford.

Next time I'll try a different strategy and see how that goes. I'll try to focus on ones that don't involve me conquering everyone since I think it's safe to assume everyone is familiar from other strategy games that conquest isn't exactly an uncommon feature in a game! As a gamer and as a developer, what we wanted to see in GalCiv was a game where not only were there multiple paths to victory but each path was enjoyable and challenging. Often times game X will say it can be won in all these remarkable ways and then you get down and play them and all those other paths just not fun at all or seem empty and hollow and in the end you play out a conquest strategy anyway.

Galactic Civilizations Home Page: http://www.galciv.com

Release Date: March 26, 2003 (North America in most retail stores that carry PC games).

Availability Elsewhere: Sometime later, French, German, and Spanish versions should hopefully be available not too long after. You will also be able to purchase it directly from Stardock (www.galciv.com) where we'll ship it overseas for $10 and you'll be able to download it while waiting for it to arrive (i.e. have it immediately using Stardock Central).