Space, think about it for too long and it can do your head in. Space strategy games can have much the same effect. The more you play them, the more you lose touch with reality. You get so engrossed in the defence revenue of the planet Dork, and the race to be the first to develop the Fluoride-Paste Fusion laser, that events happening in the real world (i.e. not on your pc screen) seem light years away. Of course this can happen with any kind of game, but it's easier to explain away the thrills of ripping the head off a sprite in a beat 'em-up or flying the latest turbo jet in a new flight sim than it is to say, 'Actually, I've spent the last few nights allocating the planetary budget for Zwathos and developing a nucleus-schmucleus engine that can reach a top speed of ten parsecs a sencoid'. People tend to say: 'Err, sorry mate, I haven't got any change,' and walk off at a brisk pace. But space strategies can be a lorra fun and Master Of Orion is a true strategy game, more akin to Civilization than a war game. MicroProse has produced a game for the megalomaniac where you start off with a single planet and attempt to pull an entire galaxy into your grasp by fighting, spying, breeding, constructing, engineering and, of course, accounting.
Contrary to the popular saying, the future is not always rosy. Over the next 200 years the Earth's population could easily outstrip its resources and threaten to end life as we know it. And if the world becomes too small and barren, our only hope is to find another one. This is the premise behind Master of Orion. In MicroProse's work of science fiction, by the 23rd Century ten races own the technical wizardry enabling them to explore deep space - so they do. This is not to find out if anyone else is out there; the intention is to claim undiscovered planets for themselves and settle nice little families on them to breed, exploit its mineral wealth and act as a base to go even further into space.
Waster Of Orion kicks off with just vou (as Emperor of one of the ten races), your over-populated planet and a galaxy of stars - all as yet ey undiscovered. By sending out scout ships to find the best planets for habitation, and following up the good leads with colony ships, you merrily go about your business of empire-making. Unfortunately, there's a whole load of other races out there doing the same thing and, as history has taught us when emperors look to expand their boundaries it all ends in tears - usually war. When half of the galaxy has been colonised by you, or others, a High Council is formed on a proportional representation type system - each race gets one vote for every too units of population (a none too euphemistic phrase for, er, men and women, psilans and psilanesses, sakkra and sakkraesses - whatever life form you happen to be). If any race gets a two-thirds majority on the High Council, the emperor of that race is crowned High Master aka Master of Orion aka general Big Cheese and winner of the game.
There are many ways to achieve this objective, from exploiting the undiscovered planets and being nice to other races in the hope that they will cast their vote for you at the council meeting (Naive Strategy), to massacring any alien you come across and taking their planets (Foolhardy-But-Fun Strategy). A mixture of the two (Play-The-Game-Properly Strategy) is well advised. The best way to swamp the galaxy with members of your race is to find the randiest buggers possible, plonk them down on an uninhabited planet and get the atmosphere just right for breeding - this doesn't mean soft lights and Barry White records, but concentrating resources on keeping the atmosphere clean and free of industrial waste. Macho types can also just bomb the crap out of an already-inhabited planet and then take it for themselves.
Searching out new life, new civilisations and keeping a handle on the ones you already have is a full-time job and not for those with a short attention span. Master Of Orion is not just a combat-strategy game, but the full life, universe and everything game. A watchful eye must be kept on all of your planets as well as finding new ones and keeping tabs on the other races. With a number of colonies under your belt, resources need to be juggled carefully: technology needs to advance apace; new ships have to be designed to incorporate all the latest gizmos; planets need to be defended; pirates need to be shooed off, and life forms and hardware need to be transported to and fro around the galaxy. Each planet has a set of status bars which keep you updated on the time and energy being put into various activities, and these need to be changed constantly as you exploit that planet's resources.
The initial gameplay is a pretty straightforward 'find planet, colonise it, allocate resources to increase productivity and search for another planet' scenario. A tad boring once you have the hang of it, but luckily it's not long before you stumble across other races. (Galaxy size and the amount of alien colonies is user-definable; if you play in a small galaxy other life forms are encountered almost immediately, whereas this can take some time with huge game-maps.) When another race is first encountered you have a pedestrian turn-based dogfight but once contact has been made you can communicate and attempt to make trade agreements or alliances, swap technology secrets or declare war. Becoming pally with other races is beneficial for trade and is a good war-avoidance tactic, but it also allows you to plant spies who will get involved in industrial espionage and sabotage.
A hefty wad of manual makes the whole thing daunting at first sight and, although the interface is simple for a game of this complexity, its menus within menus within menus puts the user on a steep learning curve. But once you've worked out how to negotiate the galaxy it does become gripping and it's actually hard not to get excited about learning a new terraforming technique, or being the first in the galaxy with a Fusion engine. Good organisational skills and a penchant for status bars are a pre-requisite. Shoot 'em-up fiends should not apply.
Download Master Of Orion
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP