Best. Games. Ever. – #3: Galactic Civilizations II

In an age where heavily marketed, graphics-intensive games have pressed their way to the forefront, Brad Wardell – president of Stardock – has adopted a dramatic, but effective, counter-strategy.

Rather than spending millions of dollars on the next big shooter, Stardock focuses on making solid strategy games that will run on just about any system that was created during the last 4-5 years. As a bonus, by eschewing the cash-poor demographic of teenage males and instead focusing on a more mature, sophisticated fan base, Stardock also manages to minimize problems with piracy of its games. In fact, Stardock is so confident in its strategy that Stardock games come with no copy protection!

Stardock’s grand achievement – without doubt – is the 2006 release of Galactic Civilizations II, a “spacesploitation” game in the grand tradition of Master of Orion. In this genre, players start out as fledgling planetary civilizations in a huge galaxy. Those who can then successfully implement the four x’s (x-plore the galaxy, x-pand to new planets, x-ploit the resources they encounter, and x-terminate their enemies) will win.

The genius of GCII is that, while it leaves open the possibility of winning through the fourth “x,” it also allows for a number of other paths to victory. My favorite is the path of cultural domination. Rather than going through war after messy war, this path allows me to simply win over the populations on enemy planets by impressing them with my superior culture.

Other paths to victory include economic and diplomatic strategies (Yes! You can actually win this game by making friends with other cultures, rather than eradicating them.)

Two more to go.

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