PC Games

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!

Console Games PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. holds the distinction of being the game I’ve probably played the longest. I was first exposed to it on my old Commodore 64, and though there are many classics from that era (which may be covered here in the future), this is the one that has kept my interest continually since then.

M.U.L.E. is a game of economic strategy. You begin as colonists on the planet Irata (it’s Atari backwards, you see). The goal is to build up the colony for a set period of time based on the difficulty level chosen, and individually, to build your wealth. Up to four players could participate, either human or computer, and there were multiple ‘species’ to choose from with various bonuses or handicaps. Each pioneer picks plots of land (with an occasional auction of additional plots) and then takes turns working them. The M.U.L.E.s (Multiple Use Labor Elements) themselves are robotic assistants that are outfitted with equipment to harvest Food, Energy, Smithore (to make more M.U.L.E.s) and Crystite (in Tournament mode). After each player has their turn, their plots of land experience their growth cycle, assuming they have a M.U.L.E. on them that is outfitted properly. Oh, and there is a bit of game balance each turn. The player with the lowest score gets a boon (bonus money from an inheritance, etc.) and the player with the highest gets smacked down a bit (darn glak-elves).

Next up is the auction…and here’s where it gets nasty. Each player gets a chance to buy and sell the various commodities, either to other players or the store. The store runs out at times, though, forcing you to rely on the other players for what you need to survive. Not enough energy, some of your plots go fallow. No food, and you have very little time to work your plots. If the colony has no smithore, no more M.U.L.E.s, or the cost of them go up. There is a fine line, you want to be the winner, but if the colony collapses, you all lose. You can try and hoard all the energy and force your opponents to pay through the nose – they even provided a way to collude with another player as a feature – but an ill-timed global event (pirates stealing all the smithore!) could be disastrous.

The game was developed by Dan (later Dani) Bunten, who also made several other favorites of mine, Seven Cities of Gold and Command HQ. She pioneered several features that are commonplace in games now, including multiplayer and modem/network gaming. M.U.L.E. is widely available via emulation, with the original Atari 800 version being the most popular. I’ll link it up tonight if I get a chance. Now I’m off to hunt the mountain wampus…

edit: Here’s the link, just go to the download page and pick your version of Windows. Has everything you need. You can even play over the network or internet with a bit of work.