I was very excited when I first heard about "Master of Orion 3", as I'd been waiting for a good space 4x game for years. It is one of my favorite genres, but since "Master of Orion 2", there really hasn't been one I liked. Unfortunately, its sequel was extremely poor. It has to be one of the most boring games I've ever played. I never actually ended up finishing a game despite attempting to between ten and twenty times. All the hitting "next turn", waiting for something to happen was just too tedious for words.
The trouble was that combat was rare and that planet management was so damn confusing that it was easier just to let the AI control it for you. And when combat finally did happen, it was hard to control and near impossible to tell what the various weapons were actually doing. How do you make an intelligent decision about what weapons are better when there's no easy way to tell what they are actually doing?
So that game got put away.
In the meantime, I'd been hearing about "Galactic Civilizations". Now, I played this many many years ago when it was the only real OS/2 game. At the time I thought it decent, but had some complaints about how things were done. In particular, it was annoying that you could only play the humans, and also annoying that the human player was handicapped with not knowing where the good stars were, unlike the AI. But still, a decent game.
So I recently bought this (which amused me because when the original OS/2 version came out, the author liked to say that there'd never be a Windows version.) I'm in the middle of my third game.
It's a pretty darn good game.
The graphics on the original were atrocious. Now, they are decent, though the game still has a five years ago feel to it. In many ways, it's about the level of "Master of Orion 2" in terms of graphics and the complexity of the game. But that's not entirely a bad thing, because "Master of Orion 2" was fun.
The basics of the game are fairly simple. Each planet can spend money on research, social structures and military units. You set tax rates, to control income, and spending rates to determine how much income goes to spending. You can send freighters to other worlds to get trade income. Superficially, the game seems like no great shakes.
But it also has some interesting features of its own. The most interesting is "influence". This is similar to "culture" in Civilization 3. The map is divided up into square sectors. Each civilization has an influence level in each sector based on nearby planets. The civilization with the highest influence owns that sector. There are many ways to change a planet's influence, through building buildings or researching technologies. Unlike "Civilization 3", this is all above-board. You can see exactly what effect your actions have.
If a world is in another player's sector, it may well rebel and join that player. Unlike in Civ 3, this is quite common. In my current game, I have literally dismantled another empire in this manner. So you can still play a "peaceful" game and conquer other civilizations.
Also fairly unique is "alignment". Civilizations range from good to evil. Throughout the game, you are given ethical choices. Answer in an "evil" manner enough, and your race is evil. Answer in a "good" manner enough, and your race is good. Sounds silly, but it is an interesting matter of short-term gains vs. long-term gains. "Evil" acts tend to have benefits, while "good" acts tend to have costs. Send the miners in to mine the deadly ore, and you get money. Avoid colonizing the continent with a presentient race, and you get lower population growth.
So why be "good"? Well, good races rarely attack each other, but are quite happy to attack evil races. On the other hand, evil races will attack pretty much anyone. Play evil, and you may find yourself under trade embargoes, or see the galactic senate passing resolutions limiting your actions.
There are other nifty features not found in the original. You can create "survey ships", that can go out, Enterprise like, studying spatial anomolies. You can create starbases that improve the production, enconomy or influence of planets in their sector, or aid warships during attacks.
One of the things that really stood out about the original game was the AI. Few games have decent AIs. Far too many games have failed because they had a poor AI. (The game Ascendency was the best (or worst) example of this. A wonderfully unique and playable game system saddled with an AI that a five-year-old chimp could beat on "hard".) The original "Galactic Civilizations" was one of only two games that has an AI that I would call "good". The game does not generally cheat (other than knowing where the good stars are at the beginning.) Yet it was very hard to beat at high levels.
I have not yet played the current version at the highest levels, but I can't imagine it is much different, given that the basic game system remains the same.
My original complaints about the game are still there, yet...the fact that I've been playing this constantly shows them to be minor. It's a very playable game, and that is what is important, and unfortunately, what is missing from so many modern games.