The first MOO truly is the Baldur's Gate II of strategy games. You think it isn't? Come on in and see how wrong you are.

[This is the second in a series of posts informing everyone which exactly are the best games ever. Read the inaugural Baldur's Gate II entry here.]

MOO vs. Civilization IV

What's more fun: counting out worker forest-chopping turns, or deciding between research on gatling lasers or planetary shields? How about the difference between designing a space cruiser with the right balance of pulsar missiles and disruptor cannons, or picking between +10 percent healing and a 25 percent bonus to defense in forest tiles? Hint: The answer is the one that makes you feel like an awesome space dictator.

Civ IV lets you customize your empire in dozens of unique little ways. That's great and all, but MOO gives you 90 percent of the effect (i.e. where your people and robots are spending their time and resources) with 10 percent of the effort. Do you really care about the type of pollution your factories are dumping into the environments of your colonies? I suppose you might, but I'm busy ordering my enormous space fleets to hustle to the other end of my empire to fend off an incoming invasion of silicon-based rock people and their Death Spores. Can't I just throw a big pile of money at my environmental protection agencies and have them deal with it? Yes, yes I can. Master of Orion's simple sliders for resource allocation give plenty of control and nuance without bogging down the player with lame, insignificant decisions.

Civilization's embrace of alternative victory conditions is admirable, but it comes at a price. Make sure your people are farming enough food to let the idle rich doodle away on art so your culture grows! Don't forget to build courthouses so your minions can't siphon off huge chunks of your money with corruption in outlying provinces! Fund expensive universities so your society keeps up with worldwide research, or die ignobly!

Ugh. Sometimes you just want to conquer the galaxy without holding your entire empire's hand. Nobody ever became Master of Orion by having the fanciest pants.

Master of Orion vs. Total War: Shogun 2

Man, talk about diplomacy. Shogun 2 is less about honorable combat as it is making sure your daughters are married off to the right lords and your foreign bribes are kept up to date. I could conquer Japan in a single evening of play if it weren't for the fact that I have to check what my diplomatic modifiers with the entire freaking country are every turn.

Screw all that. One people: yours. One goal: Kill everyone else. Everything comes down to that. Sick of endgame tedium? Skip the "conquest" part of the invasion and sterilize the enemy's worlds from orbit. Tired of diplomatic wrangling? Skip it – you'll be murdering them later anyway. Yes, you can beat the game by winning a Galactic Council election, but that pretty much only happens because you've thinned out the voting population sufficiently to ensure yourself a majority.

And then there's battle. Shogun 2 basically has two kinds of units: Cannon fodder and awesomesauce death machines. The twist is that ADMs get tired if they murder too much cannon fodder, and then they get swarmed over by the endless legions of peasants the AI insists on building.

You know what doesn't get tired? Laser cannons. My proud fleets of fully customized starships never complain about being so amazing that they've murdered every last one of the alien scum trying to wipe out their wives and children. I like to think that they thank me, their benevolent emperor, for giving them the opportunity to defend their loved ones (and claim their descendants' rightful places as uncontested masters of the galaxy) with the fancy toys I provide my admirals with.

Master of Orion vs. Master of Orion II

I've got a lot of love for MOO II, but man alive is that game broken. You can win at game creation by choosing the Psilons (or a Creative custom race), or the Sakkra (or a Subterranean custom race), or the Humans (or a Charismatic custom race), or by not being terrible at games (or any custom race).

Seriously. I've had fantastic, challenging games of Master of Orion (despite the craptastic AI, which of course isn't any better in MOO II) with every single race. The unique racial abilities are a perfect balance of being nice, noticeable bonuses (unlike Civ IV's often-invisible traits, for example) without breaking the game through the kind of obscene, obvious imbalances in MOO II.

If you're not into picking overpowered abilities, just equip your ships with multi-warhead missiles. Or auto-firing phasors. Or inertial stabilizers and decent engines. I can think of a half-dozen near-invincible ship designs off the top of my head, and MOO II is a game from 1996.

Unlike the sequel, you almost never get stuck hammering the end turn button. It's often the most effective play to turtle up and build colony improvement after colony improvement in MOO II, since they have such a massive feedback loop in goosing your planets' output. Stopping expansion (and later, invasions) in Master of Orion is a quick way to lose, which means that every session is a mad scramble to colonize more planets, protect what you have, and blow up the other empires before they can do unto you.

I'm sure I've missed a few reasons why Master of Orion is better than other games, and why newer games fail to match the brilliance of Steve Barcia's peerless classic. Let me know in the comments!

Or bring some weak arguments as to why some other game might approach Master of Orion in overall genius, so we can all have a good laugh.