I Spy with MOO Little Eye
It always pays to keep an eye on your neighbours too and that's where your spy network comes in.
As you play you can recruit spys (don't get carried away though, they all cost gold to maintain).
You can assign your recruits to counter-intelligence (to stop enemy agents doing bad things to your empire) or for active missions (to do bad things to everyone else.)
These "bad things" range from low risk activities like stealing charts to high risk missions like assassination attempts.
Should you capture an enemy spy you can kill them, keep them or send them home, each with its own diplomatic repercussions.
In addition to spy recruitment you can also recruit leaders which give you certain boosts depending on their level,
Planetary based governors and administrators will boost various aspects of your planetary output whilst Captains, Admirals and the like will give a tactical edge to their assigned fleets.
I don’ t think I’ve ever written a review of a space strategy game without mentioning Master of Orion, the granddaddy of the genre and a title which it’s illegal to look back on without wearing rose tinted glasses.
There’s a reason everyone has fond memories of MOO, it was a great game in its day and deserves all the rosy hued love it gets, of course if you played it now you’d struggle to get past its aging graphics and dated game play, but who’d want to risk tarnishing those memories by playing MOO again now anyway?
It’s not like there aren’t plenty of more recent space 4x titles out there to scratch your galactic empire building itch.
MOO're of the Same
Starting out is pretty standard for any turn based Space 4x title, we all know the drill by now. You send out your scout ships to explore your neighbourhood, you build colony ships to grab any nearby planets worth having and send out your construction ships to build "stuff" to give you an edge, stations, mines, surveillance outposts etc.
It's worth noting here that MOO takes the star lane approach to interstellar travel. Whilst it will occasionally let you head off into empty space with your survey ship to investigate the odd anomaly, for the most part you need to stick to the space roads provided.
Planetary construction also follows a familiar vein.
Click on a planet you control, Pick the building you want to construct and wait for it to finish building to get the relevant boost to food, research, production etc. then rinse and repeat.
This isn't a critisism, this is how all these games play, and "if it's not broke don't try to fix it"
It's all generic 4X fun.
MOO'niture Star Systems
Once you've set your galaxy size and starting options there are other issue which gamers looking for a sense of realism might find annoying.
Star systems generally don't have enough orbital bodies, systems can only handle a maximum of 5 planets plus the odd moon or two if you're lucky, It's not a huge issue but unfortunately it's also not the only one.
If you play a sandbox game as the humans, you'd at least expect Sol to be a yellow type star right?
Well don't get your hopes up, you could just as likely end up with a red or blue sun as a yellow one, it seems to be a random element during galactic generation.
There isn't even a nod towards any sense of realism in the generation of the planets either. You'll get a continental class planet, Earth, not that it'll be called that, orbiting in a random position around a randomly coloured Sun.
As I said earlier, MOO can only handle a maximum of five planets around a star, so you'd think we'd at least get Mercury through to Jupiter in the Sol system, but again no.
There'll be a few random planets labelled Sol 1 through Sol 5 (if you're lucky enough to get 5 planets that is.)
This isn't an issue if you're playing an alien race or the alternate Terrans available in the collector's edition of the game, but play as vanilla humans and this is very jarring.
So after taking a deep breath and reminding yourself it's just a game and doesn't need to acknowledge realism, it's time to actually play it.
MOO'ving in Circles
Elton John and the Lion King had it right, what goes around comes around, it's the circle of life.
When you lived long enough you'll notice songs that you remember from years ago being re-released by "modern artists" who'll inevitably have fiddled with the track and aren't singing it properly.
There'll be movie re-makes which just aren't the same and worse, movie re-inventions where they get it wrong on purpose!
Clothes, hairstyles, the economy, war and peace, it's all cyclical.
If you wait long enough, what's old will inevitably be new again and it seems we've waited long enough in the case of Master of Orion, because it's back!
MOO and Improved
If you're old enough to have played the original Master of Orion (but young enough to still be able to remember it!) you should recognise the ten races available to you when you set up your first game.
The cat-like Mrrshan, the robotic Meklar and the insectoid Clackon. they're all back and all looking better than ever.
It's a nostalgia kick and will bring a smile your old gamers face.
The first thing you're going to notice when you fire up Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars (to give it it's full title) is just how glossy and polished everything looks.
From the beautifully rendered opening cinematic to the animated menu backdrops , your initial moments with the game are so shiny you can't help but have high expectations of what's to come.
MOO'ving through the Tech-Tree
The research interface is a glossy affair which also looks great. It's presented by a chatty advisor who (if you're playing as the human empire) peers at you over her glasses expectantly whilst you peruse the options available from the 70+ technological advancements you'll eventually unlock.
There are some important decisions along the way too, research a technology and you may be given an choice regarding which benefit it unlocks, whichever one you don't choose could well be locked to you for the rest of your game, it's a nice touch and adds to the replayabilty.
The MOO'chanism of War
Space battles can be very pretty, you can adopt a hands off approach and watch the AI duke it out as a cinematic experience (reminiscent of the cinematic space battles in Endless Space but without the card mechanics that game had) or you can take manual control and then only have yourself to blame if you lose.
Having said that, the manual battle mechanic can feel a little shallow and whilst the cinematic battles are fun to watch at first (and I'm glad the option is there) you're going to get bored of them pretty quickly.
On the whole, these battles aren't the most tactical of experiences and after a while you'll likely just skip them completely.
MOO'king Friends and Influencing People
The diplomacy interface is highly polished and looks great (noticing a trend yet? ).
From the diplomacy menu all the races you've met appear as holograms with some basic information about their colonies and fleets if known.
Click for an audience and you're welcomed into the aesthetic halls of your chosen races leader where you can negotiate trade deals, treaties or wars.
It's worth noting that all the races (just like your own advisors) are superbly voiced.
There are some big names behind the voices in Master of Orion. Worf son of Mogh, Luke son of Anakin and Lieutenant Barclay from Star Trek (or Murdock from the A-Team if you prefer) are but a few of the actors onboard, even John de Lancie has been let out of the Q Continuum to voice the human emperor.
It adds a huge amount to the quality of the experience having genuinely talented actors lend their voices to the game and fits with the cinematic polish perfectly.
Although when it's time to choose your galaxy size that smile may fade a little (depending on your expectations), even the largest option seems a little on the small side compared to other recent space strategy releases.
Stellaris gives you a galaxy comprising of one thousand star systems, Galactic Civilization III can give you a maximum of around 1500 Stars (although I haven't counted, so that might be a bit off).
So What's the largest playing area in new MOO?
A measly 100 systems!
Now don't get me wrong, if you're looking for a quick game (relatively speaking) then this is absolutely fine, but if you're the type who sets your research speed to slow before settling down for the long haul in a vast galaxy then you're likely to be disappointed with your options here.
Ship Design MOO'chanics
The ship design mechanics are well presented with a polished interface which looks great.
Each hull type has a maximum capacity which you can fill up with a variety of core systems (engines, shields etc), weapons systems(pew, pew) and specialised systems (magic gadgets which tinker with your weapon damage and shield strength, that sort of thing). It's all done through a simple, clean drag and drop mechanic, it's not revolutionary but it does the job well enough and as I said, it looks pretty good too.
Of course you're going to need to research all these fancy gadgets before you get to play with them.
In the MOO'd?
It's not terrible by any stretch, I've enjoyed my time with the game but there's a tide of space-strategy titles flooding the market at the moment and "New MOO" just doesn't do enough to distinguish itself from its competition.
Having said that, if you're feeling nostalgic or are looking for an entry level space 4X title this could well be what you're looking for.
MOO'tton dressed as Lamb
I'm not sure if I've mentioned this yet but Master of Orion "looks great!"
This is probably the most polished space strategy title I've ever played, the graphics are nice, the quality and amount of voice work is impressive and the constant Galactic News Network reports which keep you up-to-date on galactic goings-on are brilliantly done.
Unfortunately beneath this shiny veneer is a pretty shallow 4x experience