As the United Planet Chair, you smile as your recent resolution passes – you’ve been currying favor from other council races for a while now, and you know that the recent vote will be the final maneuver for your total control of the galaxy. The best part? You took over everything without creating a single military ship. This is Galactic Civilizations III, a strategy space world where clever planning and diplomacy are as powerful as beam weapons and starship shields. The long-awaited follow-up to 2006’s Galactic Civilizations II is a worthy successor and an enjoyable addition to the 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) genre.

Galactic Civilizations III features eight different races (and the ability to create your own custom races), each with a smattering of special identifying traits. While you are free to pursue your own methods of victory within the context of each map, these traits provide some direction. If you’re into battle, the Drengin Empire and their militant characteristics help you reach your conquering goals, but you suffer penalties to trading and morale. If you’re looking for explosive growth, the Iconian Refuge is fantastic, but you are more susceptible to invasion. The Kyrnn Syndicate is perfect if you (like me) prefer to win through influence and expansion. Faction choice is fun and meaningful, and each comes with its own ship styles on top of traits and abilities.

Choice is at the heart of Galactic Civilizations III, and those choices begin at race selection and continue until the final turn. How you build your planets is incredibly important, and your adjacent buildings and resources provide bonuses and powers to others. This makes setting up perfectly mix/max worlds more complex, even if your design is to create “stacked” planets that only focus on generating one type of resource. From your first few turns, the choices are plentiful and begin your roadmap to your path to power, through the sword or the silken tongue. Perhaps you will start cranking out fragile, expensive ships to colonize other planets, knowing that pirates or an unfriendly faction could reduce your effort to nothing. Maybe you start creating starbases on the outskirts of your known territory to mine essential space ores, defend your borders, or start expanding your sphere of influence. Or you may lock in the military mind and begin readying ships for an aggressive takeover.

Those important decisions are immediately followed by questions of research and ideology – ones that sync up with your plan to take over the galaxy. If you’re looking to expand your cultural and influential reach, you have to forgo military might and engineering (at least for a while). If you’re looking to grow quickly, you may have to sacrifice other research.

You make the choices, and back them up with significant ideological decisions – sweeping choices that provide significant abilities and resource generation for your entire faction. Perks acquired through delving down the ideology trees include one-shot bonuses like a fully loaded colony ship, new construction options, and powerful effects like taking over all planets and starbases within your realm of influence. But don’t be overwhelmed – these choices often fall right in line with the various victory methods. For all of its choice and nuance, Galactic Civilizations III is one of the more accessible 4X titles out there, with information always readily available on a mouseover and handy turn prompts that ensure you won’t pass a turn without taking care of all the important stuff.

Galactic Civilizations III has something to offer everyone, from the most bloodthirsty space pirates to puppetmasters operating from the shadows. Despite the availability of campaign and multiplayer modes, playing skirmish after skirmish is where the experience shines. It’s a fun, deep, and somehow accessible entry in a genre that’s often viewed as complicated and excessively complex. If you’re looking for a foray into deep space strategy that supports a host of different playstyles and features plenty of customization, there’s no need to hop to the next wormhole – it’s right here.