Galactic Civilizations Review

Galactic Civilizations (GC) is a space-based strategy game that has obviously drawn a lot of its inspiration from the strategy classic, Civilization.  Heck, it even has "Civilization" in its name.   There are plenty of parallels between the two games, so if you're a Civilization veteran you'll find many aspects of the game fairly familiar.  While GC borrows a lot from Civilization, some of the standard features found in grand strategy space empire building games are missing.  The result is a pretty good strategy game that falls short of greatness.

There aren't a lot of habitable planets out there.

In GC you begin a game by customizing your empire.  This does not mean that you can select from a variety of alien races and their correspondingly different technologies, though.  You always lead humanity and instead of selecting a race you must select your political party.  Political affiliation determines which bonuses you receive in areas such as production, population growth, and research.  It can also work against you if your popularity slips to the point where your party no longer controls your senate.  You are also given a pool of points that can be spent to gain slight bonuses in the area of your choosing.  Once you are satisfied with your settings, you then select the size of the galaxy and the relative frequency of inhabitable worlds.  All races in GC require the same type of planet for colonies, so the number of inhabitable worlds has a direct impact on how quickly the races will run out of room to expand and come into conflict.

Your last bit of pre-game preparation involves setting up the other alien races.  There are five other races in the game and you can set their alignment, which affects their likelihood to honor agreements and their propensity to select violence over diplomacy, and the level of the AI running the race.  There are no restrictions on which settings you choose, so you can have the monkey race be evil in one game and the robotic race play the heavies in the next.  Or you can make your neck of the universe a friendly place populated by good folk if you want.  The downside to this is that it takes away from the personalities of the alien races.  They are essentially interchangeable and the game loses a bit of character as a result.

The basics of GC will be familiar to anyone who has played a space strategy game before.  You can research new technologies, send ships into space to explore or attack your neighbors, colonize new worlds, negotiate trade deals or peace treaties, etc.  However, GC differs from other similar games in several ways.  The first, and a disappointing, difference is that you do not have the ability to design or customize the ships that appear in the game.  Researching new engine types or weapons will make new classes of ships available instead of new components or systems.  These new ship classes come with set designs and have to be built as is.  Personally I really enjoy experimenting with ship designs and making the trade-offs in speed, weapons, etc., and I'm sorry to see that GC does not give players the opportunity to do so.

Also missing is a tactical combat screen or the ability to control your ships in combat.  When two ships meet attack and defense ratings are compared and the computer rolls a die to see which one wins.  Planetary invasions are handled in basically the same manner, although you have the opportunity to press the space bar to stop a spinning "luck factor" generator that can have an affect on the outcome of evenly matched battles.

On the other hand, GC has an aspect to it that you don't see all that often.  The game tracks your alignment between good and evil, not only by tracking your tendency to choose between war and diplomacy when dealing with the other races, but also by presenting you with periodic moral dilemmas.  These will present you with a challenge and three possible response, one good, one evil, and the last one neutral.  To make the choices harder, the good choice has negative consequences while the evil one usually comes with a bonus.  For example, when colonizing a new world you may find that a primitive race already inhabits the planet.  If you take the good path, you constrain your colony to the polar ice caps and the planet suffers population and production penalties.  If you choose evil, then you can enslave the race and use the free labor to provide the planet with a significant production bonus.  The consequences from making the evil selections are more long term, as your galactic neighbors may mark you as a menace to society and pull together to eliminate your empire.