So, what makes this game so 'dry'? Well, just look at the screenshots. Apart from the 3D starmap everything is white and gray. Furthermore there's no sound. 'Why play this game then?', some of you might say. WAIT! You're about to miss a great game...As I said, it's a very complex and deep game, but luckily I've managed to find the manual for detailed information.
The user interface is windows-like with click-and-drag windows and quite user friendly. The game starts in 2020. You're elected the new leader of your empire and must survive for 1000 years. Yes, you heard right! But don't worry, on some planets of the galaxy you can find a life-preserving drug called Nostrum. 50 units of it will let you or your subordinates life forever. And that's the only way to survive these 1000 years.
Looking to find and get those special planets are of course the leaders of the other empires. At the beginning there are 5 of them, including yours, but this number can vary due to revolutions which can bring up new empires or due to utter destruction of an empire.
Following is a short rundown of various aspects of the game which cannot cover everything:
-Diplomacy: You can make peace and trade treaties and form alliances here. You can also offer money to other empires to bribe them into a treaty, but also demand it. By trade benefits or trade barriers you have certain control over trade. Embargoes can be imposed on enemy empires.
-Economy: You can subsidize your planets in order to increase their tech level, planetary defenses and infrastructure, alter production priorities for the 20 different commodities (some are needed for ship building so don't sell them off right away). You can also set tax levels on exports and imports to increase treasury.
-Subordinates: As an empire cannot be completely controlled by one individual you have to rely on subordinates. They have 3 different characteristics: Loyalty, competence and charisma. According to their values you select subordinates to be your ambassadors, planetary leaders and fleet commanders. You can buy their loyalty with money, titles and Nostrum. But be careful: too much power might let an subordinate become disloyal and longing for your throne...
-Military: There you can deploy 3 different types of troops on planets: infantry, armoured and drop troops. You can also create new spaceships by balancing 3 components: weapons, armour and engine. With higher tech levels you can build ever bigger ships.
-Colonizing/Conquering planets: After you've discovered suitable planets, simply fill an ark ship with colonists and send it there ordering to colonize this planet. When you want to attack a planet you first need to knock out its defenses by bombardment, then you drop troops onto it and the battle rages. Planets with heavy fighting sometimes decide to spontaneously join another empire or even set up a new empire. Always have a decent fleet in your home system as you'll be attacked quite regularly.
-Elections: A very interesting and innovative aspect of. You're an elected leader and therefore have to face elections every 50 years. So your succcess (or lack of it) is reflected in your popularity percentage. When it's below 60% at election time you better put a lot of money into your election campaign fund...
That's just a very short rundown on the game, please read the manual for detailed information. Two final words of advice:
1. Expand early and extensively; the computer empires act quite aggressively and you might end up too weak to withstand them.
2. Rename the empires, solar systems and planets, otherwise you'll get completely confused. The pre-set names are very similar in spelling (Droygon, Shoygon, Phroygon...). I always rename solar systems from 1 to xx and planets like “T-7/14N” (Terran Empire, Planet No. 7 in Solar System 14, with Nostrum). That means some additional work but it helps me a lot not to get lost.
There's only one slightly negative aspect I want to mention: the start of each game is similar. The same galaxy with the same planets, Nostrum is always in the same places as well. But on the other hand every game is still very different as existing Nostrum resources can die and Nostrum can suddenly occur on other planets.
All in all a really great strategy game. If you prefer complexity and tons of stats over grafics and sound give it a try. It's definitely worth it!