Friday, June 11, 2010

Great Games #4: Master of Orion

I posted about the original Master of Orion a few weeks ago, so I'll keep this short. I did want to include it in my Great Games series, but there's no sense in repeating myself. Check the earlier post if you're interested. (And note that MOO is still available - cheap - at

This is one of my all-time favorite strategy games - probably #3, just behind Civilization II and X-Com: UFO Defense - and I've already explained a little bit why that is. But let me describe the beginning of the game (unfortunately, I couldn't find a video clip I liked). You start in your home solar system, about to start exploring, and colonizing, the galaxy. You can see the stars all around you, different colors, but you really know nothing beyond that.

What wouldn't I give to explore other solar systems in real life! Unfortunately, a game is the best we can do. But that sense of exploration and discovery is a very strong draw for me. And you find all sorts of different kinds of planets. Some will be uninhabitable by your species until you research better technology, and most will require terraforming to be really worthwhile, but occasionally, you'll hit the jackpot, and you'll rush to get a colony ship there before another species settles that superb planet first.

The first part of this game is exploration, and it's really addicting. What will you find at the next star system? You can't wait to find out (and the occasional superb find doesn't hurt a bit!). After the first phase, when you've encountered other species and need to start worrying about protecting your young empire, you'll start consolidating what you've claimed. The draw here is in improving your planets, turning a tiny colony on a marginal world into a powerhouse of a planet, terraformed to perfection. I'm a builder, and this part of the game is also hugely attractive to me.

And then, inevitably, you move into galactic war, the third phase. This isn't realistic, because you really can't live in peace with your neighbors, not for long. And I'm not actually a wargamer. But on the other hand, SimCity style simulations, with no conflict at all, generally leave me cold. Although I love building (and terraforming), the strategy and tactics of war, in games like this, are really essential. It's the combination of exploration, building, terrain-modification, and warfare that make games like Master of Orion and Civilization so much fun.

MOO isn't overly complicated, either. More recent space-based games have added complexity, but none of them has been as much fun. Fun is the point, after all. As far as I'm concerned, this game did everything right (including, as I explained earlier, adding a very clever research feature that greatly increased its replay value). And it's still lots of fun. Really, fancy graphics wouldn't do much for a game like this. The gameplay is the key.

Hey, give it a try. For less than $6, why not? And that price includes the sequel, Master of Orion 2, that many people liked even better than the original. Not me, though. There's no question in my mind that the original MOO was the best. It's not even close. The first Master of Orion was a masterpiece of a game.

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