The legendary Sid Meier already has his name attached to a recent outer space strategy game: Civilization: Beyond Earth. Starships is a combat-heavy strategy game set in that universe, but the similarities end there; this is not the deep, tactical affair Sid Meier’s name implies. Players enhance ships, build up planets, and explore the universe in search of boosts as they seek dominance via a smattering of win conditions. Whatever path you choose, expect to spend plenty of time with the turn-based combat system.
Starships does not aspire to the strategy heights of Civilization: Beyond Earth or Civilization V. If your standard Sid Meier experience is a banquet, Starships is an appetizer – it’s tasty, but it leaves you looking for the main course immediately after you’re finished. Tech upgrades, wonders, city building, and ship customization all exist, but these systems have been distilled down to base elements, and can be mastered in moments instead of hours. The lack of depth doesn’t necessarily make Starships a bad game, but these core systems – which often have a wealth of complexity in other titles – are basic “invest to get more” propositions.
Most activities boil down to combat situations taking place on a hex grid – moving ships around, shooting lasers at targets, and setting up area-of-effect torpedo blasts. Asteroid fields and wormholes litter these areas, blocking fire and offering quick travel, respectively. Combat is mostly fun, and that’s good since you spend much of your time engaging with it in multiple forms. Much of the time you are attacking with the simple goal of destroying enemy ships, but occasionally you need to survive superior forces for a set time or navigate an asteroid maze. Combat skirts the danger of wearing out its welcome during especially long battles where enemies constantly run and hide behind rocks as you dutifully chase them down.
Non-combat elements of the game are important too, but it’s mostly just plugging resources into the appropriate boosts. Players build up cities for more resources, improve those cities, improve starships, and use the tech system for permanent ship upgrades. It sounds elaborate, but there’s not much to engage with. While you can take your fleet in a few different directions in terms of upgrades, choices are slim and don’t require much thinking. You also manage your crew’s rest, which forms a sort of risk/reward turn structure outside of the various combat experiences and occasional diplomatic contact.
Starships is simple, slick, semi-strategic fun. It’s incredibly accessible and lacks the sometimes overbearing menus and micromanagement that can make strategy games dizzying and intimidating, making it a nice point of entry for those looking for a casual experience within the genre. This also makes it well-suited for its foray onto iOS devices. However, if you’re looking for a title with a ton of depth like the main Civilization franchise titles, you won’t find it here.