At first appearance Galactic Civilisations III isn’t the prettiest child. Its large, almost goofy interface shouts at you like a Fisher-Price toy sale, and the sometimes the layered info screens aren’t the most intuitive. But like books, looks can be deceiving.
As I learnt the core mechanics of planet development, understood the difference between exploring and surveying, and dove in for my first scuffle in combat, it just felt something was missing. But I kept on playing and then, the next time I checked the clock, the sun was rising. Ooohk… so it must be doing something right. Where’d my time go?
It went where it always goes when you’re preoccupied – in that pursuance of just one more tech… one more starbase on the borders of my frienemy… one more diplomatic negotiation and one more big fleet battle. Just. One. More. Turn. And then I’ll stop! Alas, GalCiv III had other ideas.
So lets look at what it does right: there’s enough micro management to put you in control, but not too much to become a bore. Planets have limited zones you can build on providing productive, economic, or research collateral along with a wide range of unique buildings. Adjacency bonuses mean you still have to strategise your planet layout if you want to maximise its output, and this is a great feature.
Planets also feed production to shipyards, and multiple planets can ‘sponsor’ a shipyard so you can channel productive capacity to build your fleets. Starbases are the other side of the equation, providing access to unique resources (such as Durantium, Thulium and Anti-matter) mined in space that allow you to build special weapons and buildings. They also extend your range of influence, but are vulnerable unless protected.
But the fun really starts when you meet other races. A decent diplomacy engine provides all the wanted features from trade and open borders to convincing someone to attack another player. Cocky AI may demand you appease it, while empires you could clearly trounce will do their best to placate you with you gifts. And you don’t necessarily have to commit galactic genocide to win the game, you can go for a diplomatic victory or converting most of the galaxy to your culture.
This ties into influence, where you let your borders do the talking. Given enough propaganda, weakwilled enemy colonies near a border can ‘flip’ allegiance to your side. Or, alternatively, there’s always the good old route of winning by just beating the crap out of everyone else.
New in GalCiv III is the addition of Ideologies — Benevolent, Pragmatic and Malevolent. Each has five trees of progression that can impart some potent abilities. You earn ideology points for certain actions, usually when colonising a world and being presented with a dilemma to test your scruples.