Sunday, April 3, 2016

Star Ruler - 13/20 hours

I think I may have broken this game. I decided to play on a 500 star universe against a half-dozen other opponents and I was doing really well. I'd colonized half the galaxy in the space of just a couple of minutes, thanks to my technological superiority and I was gradually getting things under control. Then, one of the AIs decides to declare war on me, for no real reason I can discern, and I have to turn my massive manufacturing prowess to military matters.

So I go into my systems control panel and press the button that selects all of my currently idle planets at once and I order them all to build a heavily-armed battleship. Then I wait a second and do it again, in order to take advantage of all the various planets in my empire that can build a battleship in less than a second. Then I keep doing it.

Before I know it, I have more than 20,000 high tech battleships. When a single one could probably solo the average enemy star system. It's a glorious feeling, but there is a problem.

Modeling that many objects at once makes even my new computer cry out in agony. The simulation speed dropped to a crawl, even when run at 10x. Plus, it turns out that I don't have what it takes, mentally, to single-handedly command a massive space armada in a coordinated galactic invasion. Basically, it involved giving thousands of ships dozens or hundreds of commands in the space of just a few minutes. I suppose I could have taken my time and systematically eliminated the enemy with my overwhelming force, but it offended my sensibilities to do so when I had the resources to win with a single wave.

So I just declared myself the victor of that game and restarted on a much smaller map, with only 100 stars.

I then lost patience a couple of times when faced with early-game rushes that I was inadequately prepared to deal with (I hate to go to war with anything less than an absolute economic, technological, and numerical supremacy). My most recent game is going well except that I'm constantly fighting off pirate attacks. Though I can at least credit this with keeping my military up to date.

Star Ruler has more combat and less empire management than I normally like in my 4X games, but the feeling of snowballing when you cross some nebulous threshold and your empire's power starts feeding into itself in a rapidly growing feedback loop is so amazing that I'm willing to overlook it. That said, I'm not sure about this game's intended mode of play. At high levels of empire power you can do a ton of stuff very rapidly, but you don't really have the tools to manage them effectively. When I was dominating the 500-star galaxy the soft limit to my strength was as much the cognitive load as it was the relative weakness of my computer.

I'm nonetheless pleased to be playing this game, though. Even if I'm not totally in control, I like fiddling with planets and setting my tech order and designing bigger and better ships. It may just be the optimization of numbers, when boiled down to its purest essence, but it turns out that optimizing numbers is something I really like to do.

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