Sid Meier’s Starships is quite likely a title you haven’t heard much about. It was quietly released with no fanfare or flashy announcements – one day it just happened. While the name obviously ties it to the recently released Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth, Starships is still not quite as easy to fit into a niche. It’s a fleet management game with minor tactical depth, superimposed on a likewise-simple planetary empire simulator all wrapped up in a small package to play on your PC or tablet device.
Starships’ gameplay will require you to understand two different mechanics to really succeed. First, you need to learn to manage an empire, which is a task far easier than you might think, largely due to Starships not having any real “management”; it’s all down to upgrading whatever you find yourself short of. There are just five resources, each one needed for a different purpose – Energy for starship purchase and upgrades, Metals for construction of planetary improvements, Science for… well… science, Food for the construction of cities, and Credits are the catch-all resource that serves no purpose by itself and instead is used in the market to purchase other resources you might be short of. With those resources you improve the planets under your control to generate even more resources, which means more expensive upgrades, which means even more improvements and so on and so forth.
As you might have guessed, in a game called “Starships”, some starships might be involved. Managing your fleet is a bit like playing Heroes of Might and Magic, if each faction were only allowed a single hero. Instead of movement points your fleet has a fatigue scale which decreases with every action your fleet takes, until eventually your exhausted crew needs shore leave to rest and recuperate, ending your turn. Of course, as Starships takes a laid-back approach to strategy, you can eliminate the main cause of fatigue by constructing Warp Nexus networks between your controlled planets, making travel instantaneous and fatigue-free. Traveling between planets is also a great way to gather additional resources since planets will constantly generate random tasks for you to complete – leading us to the final piece of Starships’ gameplay, the combat.
Managing your empire and your fleet’s travel is certainly easy, but nothing in Starships has been as simplified as the combat. Each ship in your fleet has a choice of subsystems ranked between 1 and 8, which covers everything you might need to turn someone to space dust. There’s long-range lasers, short-range plasma cannons, shields, armor and a few other subsystems. In theory, each of your ships would specialize in a subsystem – you’ll have your fast plasma boats, your armored and bulky laser ships and maybe some heavily-armored fighter carriers. In practice, as upgrades are cheap and resources are plentiful, your entire fleet will end up composed of the same identical ships with maxed-out stats. Adding a small layer of tactics to the combat, the playfield is littered with asteroids which act as both obstacles and cover – some asteroid fields shift dynamically, opening and closing passages at random.
The biggest insult to tactics that Starships is guilty of is the introduction of mechanics and then immediately introducing some way to make them irrelevant. For example, the idea of fatigue is great on paper – until you realize that a Warp Nexus costs almost nothing to build. Torpedoes with their delayed explosion and massive damage could add an additional degree of planning, if not for a wonder that nullifies all torpedo damage your ships would sustain. There’s even entire missions which can be reduced to a non-challenge by the simple addition of a single upgrade.
Sid Meier’s Starships is a game that was released quietly for a reason. It’s a shallow “Strategy Lite” game that won’t capture your interest for more than a couple hours (if that) and its only redeeming quality, save importing with Beyond Earth, doesn’t offer any real benefit. Steer clear.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.