Galactic Civilizations

Review

posted 6/16/2003 by Tyler Sager
other articles by Tyler Sager
One Page Platforms: PC
There’s a new “fallback game” on my hard drive. I have a few favorite game genres, and I always keep one or two of the best examples of each genre installed long after I’ve “finished” the title. I’ll revisit these games frequently, sometimes for simple enjoyment, sometimes to cleanse my palate after a particularly distasteful review copy crosses my desk. It takes a lot to earn a permanent place on my computer’s real estate. That being said, Galactic Civilizations is now a long-term resident, and will probably be there for quite some time.

Galactic Civilizations is just a wonderful game. A turn-based space-strategy simulation (or “4X” game), it ranks right along such greats as the venerable Master of Orion 2 and the slightly-less-flashy Space Empires series. Players begin with a single planet and a few ships, and from that must strive to become the dominant civilization in the galaxy. Galactic dominance can be achieved through brute force, cultural superiority, or technological achievement, catering to players of many different play styles.

Although it really doesn’t need it, GalCiv boasts a fairly interesting backstory. Before the human race got involved, there were five dominant races in the galaxy. These races utilized a system of “stargates” for interstellar travel. These stargates were a technology left behind by a far advanced and long-gone race, the Precursors. Use of the stargate system meant that travel in the galaxy was limited to those places with gate access—much of the galaxy was left unexplored. Then humans entered the picture. They discovered the existence of the alien races and their stargate technology, and then did them all one better. From study of the stargates, humans developed a hyper-drive technology, allowing them to travel freely around the galaxy without the limitations of stargate access. The humans shared this technology with their alien neighbors. Suddenly, everyone realized that there was a whole lot of galaxy open for exploration and exploitation, and the race was on to claim the biggest chunk of the now much-larger galaxy. This is the point where the game begins, with the various civilizations racing to become the biggest and best in the galaxy.

There is a great deal of variability in the setup of the game, leading to a lot of replayability. First up, players choose the size of the galaxy, the relative abundance of habitable worlds, and the general layout of space. Next, players can choose just what sort of humans are entering into the race for galactic supremacy. Although humans are the only playable race in the game, they are highly customizable. There are ten ability points to spend on a list of dozens of racial bonuses, such as increased technological aptitude, increased population growth, or even luckiness. After customizing the race, players must choose a predominant governmental party, giving yet another bonus as long as that party remains in power in the human government. This becomes important later in the game—not only must players keep tabs on the alien races, they also need to keep the voters back home happy. Lastly, the rest of the races of the galaxy must be chosen. Each race has an alignment (good, evil, or neutral) and a racial intelligence. Alignment, which is determined for humans by choices made during the game, determines how particular alien races react with each other. Good-aligned races tend to get along well with each other, while evil ones have more problems making friends. Racial intelligence determines the difficulty of the game—the smarter the alien’s artificial intelligence, the more difficult the game. After all this, the game finally begins.
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