Hayley Tsukayma: I want to start by talking about story. I love how this fits into the narrative set by "Beyond Earth," which sees humans establishing their first colonies in space after an apocalyptic catastrophe known as the "Great Mistake." But most of the victories in that game leave you with the tantalizing option of getting off-planet again -- and then it just ends. I loved the idea of extending Civ into space, and this scratches that "expand, explore, exploit, exterminate" itch in a very satisfying way.
And "Starships" shares as much with another mobile Firaxis game I love, "Ace Patrol," as it does with "Beyond Earth," by giving you the chance to pilot individual ships and play at a craft-by-craft scale. I played this game on mobile and PC, and its design translated pretty well on both. And annoyances I may have had with the layout on either platform are explained by the fact that this game is designed to work on both. It's not an easy thing to do, and I think they navigate it pretty well. This fills a niche in the current Firaxis game lineup, from both a story and genre standpoint.
Also: dogfights in space.
Brian Fung: I've always wanted to see what Firaxis could do with the space genre. There are a handful of 4X-type games on Steam, and I've tried them all. But Starships is the first one I've played that a) doesn't have a really steep learning curve, and b) is immersed enough in an existing universe ("Civilization") such that it has some real depth to it.
But there are some departures from Civ. Your scientific research isn't arranged in a tree; instead, there are set categories or buckets of knowledge you place your scientific points into. It never feels like you're grinding to reach the end of a tech tree, like it sometimes does in "Civilization." You're making informed choices about what to do with your resources. Do you spend your production points on infrastructure that gives you more food, increasing the pace at which you can establish more cities and thereby enhancing your income at every turn? Or do you spend those points on infrastructure that gives you more money, which lets you upgrade your fleet faster and conquer more systems?
Resource management is a hallmark of all exploration games, but in "Starships" it's done very, very well.
Andrea Peterson: First, a caveat: I played this exclusively on PC, so some of the features that I'm sure seemed natural to iPad users felt a little stifling. The save system, for example, was an automated set-up that makes total sense on mobile devices, where gaming may come in shorter bursts with sudden stops. But it didn't seem designed for easy reloading of scenarios if you wanted to retry a mission with a different strategy.
To be fair, there didn't seem to be a lot of need for redos. Brian loved the learning curve, but I found it a little too simple to game at times. Primarily playing on Moderate, I quickly found a set research and fleet investments that worked for my gameplay style (lasers, shields, engines), then used that in conjunction with appropriate wonders to brute force my way to victories. There are, of course, higher difficulty levels that might have required more nuance -- and I'll no doubt play more of them. But at times, I found myself longing for the depth of Civ -- or at least multiplayer support for some variation.
However, these complaints didn't stop me from spending a significant chunk of my weekend locked to my screen or squeaking in a round between errands. And in that, "Starship" succeeds in delivering a game that's easy to pick up and beat, but with the promise of enough strategy to keep a player coming back for more.
Bottom line: For better or worse, this is the perfect appetizer to an actual meal. If it were more expensive, the game's simplicity might provoke objections. But it's an enjoyable distraction.