Galactic Civilizations, OS/2's own competition to such strategic challenges as Civilizations and Master Of Orion, is an undeniably clunky game. The interface is rough and unpolished, the graphics are simplistic (with exceptions), the sound effects seem tacked on as an afterthought. And yet this game has won multiple accolades, including high praise from PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World (two publications which rarely even acknowledge OS/2's existence), and two of our own Readers' Choice Awards. Why?
While the implementation leaves a lot to be desired, the basic concepts of the game are sound and well-thought-out. If you can learn its quirks and work around them, the game is fun to play. But that alone only makes it passably okay: the thing that writes this game into the history books as an enduring classic is its AI.
Where most games fudge the rules in their favor if you raise the difficulty, GalCiv simply thinks harder. Like a chess simulator, it adamantly follows the same rules you do. Unlike a chess simulator, it has to do this for an extremely large and highly complex playing board, and this is where OS/2 shines through: using multithreading, Galactic Civilizations is still thinking while you're taking your turn.
Perhaps the greatest feature of Galactic Civilizations Gold is the range of challenges it can give you. You can select the size of the galaxy, from "Tiny" to "ENORMOUS!!" (each of which lives up to its name quite well). You can select the number of opponents you will be facing, and the intelligence level and general disposition of each. You can decide whether you want to deal with the Ominorians -- a highly advanced race devoted to the casual annihilation of everything that isn't them. You can activate the Shipyards (GIF, 14K), which allow you to create your own uses for the technologies you've acquired, rather than just using the prepackaged ship types -- and allow your enemies to do the same.
And last but not least, perhaps the most interesting new addition GalCiv Gold has over GalCiv II, is the option to play World Civilizations. The rules of the game all stay the same, with a couple of minor exceptions, but the setting changes completely: instead of a futuristic colony of mankind struggling for survival in a foreign universe, you get to found an empire at the dawn of humanity. Instead of Cold Fusion and Controlled Gravity, you strive for the secrets of Irrigation and Bronze Working. Of course, it still uses the GalCiv game engine, so your warriors and cities are referred to as star systems and spaceships; regardless, I've had as much fun playing in this mode as in the normal game.
I mentioned that the interface is clunky. Well, it's the plain truth. Often you're not notified of things it would be nice to know of -- population increases, for instance. Also, while GalCiv makes excellent use of the PM's graphical tools to make its interface look good at any screen resolution and color depth, I do wish it wouldn't insist on using you entire screen, no matter what. You can re-size the actual GalCiv window, but you can't re-size some of the parts inside it, which means it's full-screen or scrollbars. This is probably okay at 800x600, but some of us use four times that. Admirably, though, the interface is designed so that it doesn't need to have the focus for most operations: this means that if you stick to using the mouse, you can have other programs running in front of GalCiv and still be able to play the game.
Perhaps the worst difficulty, though, comes for those who prefer to use the keyboard. GalCiv supports this completely -- and very badly. Very often it not only doesn't do what you'd expect, it does something you most definitely do not want. A couple of good examples: in the select-a-technology screen, where you decide what to research, the up and down arrow keys scroll through the list but at the same time will also move whatever spaceship happens to be first in line. Plus, when certain alert windows pop up with a button that will take you to the planet where something happened that you should react to, pressing enter won't select that button. It will select the Turn button (the last one you clicked!), and you lose one turn's activity completely. And the alert window stays there. Worse, this doesn't happen with every alert. Usually they just go away, so it's easy to build a habit of just hitting enter.
Galactic Civilizations is not a game that will appeal to everyone, but I think it will appeal to most. And while I doubt anyone will play it obsessively for weeks on end, I also doubt anyone will leave it on the shelf forever. It's the kind of game that's only good in small doses, but in those doses it's very good. I recommend it to every OS/2 enthusiast on principle, as it is the classic OS/2 game; but I also recommend it to any serious gamers looking for a real and fair challenge that doesn't wear out over time.
Galactic Civilizations Gold
Lief Clennon is a computer hobbyist and Team OS/2 member currently residing in Albuquerque, NM. He can usually be found badgering his friends on IRC.
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