Old Game Tuesday – Stars!

As I roll through these old games, you are going to notice that 4X games are well-represented. One of my personal favorites is Stars!, released wa-a-ay back in 1995. Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride created the game for their own enjoyment, and decided to release it as Shareware. People still did that back then, you know. I came in a bit later, after Empire Interactive picked it up to sell in stores.

By the way, a bit on 4X: it means eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. The details vary game to game, but in general in a 4X game you start with a base of operations (your home planet in Stars!, or your Settler unit in Civ), from which you expand your territory. You have to exploit the resources of the map, and exterminate your opponents. That’s one that varies now, as there are usually less than lethal win conditions.

Stars! has all the 4x standards. You begin with one planet and a couple of ships. Early turns are spent exploring the nearby systems and colonizing whatever ones are habitable by your (customizable) race. During this time your scientific research is progressing, and some basic improvements are being built. Soon enough, you will encounter your first opponent, ripe for destruction. As time goes by, your research ramps up and you start learning of new technologies, from weapons and shields to new terraforming abilities. If there is one downside to the game, it’s the sheer volume of stuff to manage. There are dozens of ship parts, for example, and a whole mess of hulls for custom-designing ships. It really hepls to try and keep a standard naming convention for ships, creative names are fun but not when you can’t remember the stats for each one. There’s a TON of micro-management in the game, which of course is not for everyone, but can get tedious. Thankfully, planetary management has some helpful shortcuts, including the ability to save preset build orders. You can set a default that any new colony starts to build as well.

There is a lot more I could say – this is one of those games that I always come back to, and it never gets old. It’s very hard to find, I’m not even sure if you can get CD keys for it any more, but if you like this style game and find a copy, try it!