Game analysis: Galactic Civilizations II

Galactic Civilizations II was developed by a small team at independent studio Stardock. It’s a sci-fi 4X game, essentially “Civilization in space,” or an evolution of the Master of Orion series.


  • The beginning is always peaceful. This is a great feature! One of the most annoying things about Civ games is the tremendously unbalancing effect of early battles, like having your settler taken out by barbarians or conquering an enemy city before their defensive unit moves into place. In GalCiv, you have to get pretty far into the technology tree before you can build units with any offensive capability whatsoever, and the techs that enable you to invade other planets are even deeper. This ensures that all players have some time to expand freely without worrying about military threats.
  • The AI doesn’t cheat (at all but the highest difficulty levels). Stardock put enough effort into the AI to make it competitive without giving it unfair advantages in economy/tech or the ability to peek at your map.
  • Turn-based action is addictive. There is something about quantized jumps of progress that make the action more addictive than a real-time game. This is the same principle behind the prevalence of numerical levels in RPGs (compared to continuous skill improvement). I think it has to do with the “rush” you get from large spikes in activity, which you wouldn’t get from continuous evolution.
  • The first couple of turns are the most exciting. It’s fun to uncover nearby plans and imagine the possibilities for developing them (and how to stop the AI from getting there first!). I think this is because I’m an “explorer”-type player.
  • The technology tree is very well-designed. Aside from the late-starting offensive techs, I also like the rock-paper-scissors aspect to military techs: there are three kinds of weaponry and three kinds of defenses, each specialized against one of the weapon types. The techs are sufficiently resource-intensive that you can usually pursue only one line of development. This mimics real-life arms races where new technologies are developed specifically to counter the opponent. Also, in an expansion pack, Stardock added unique tech trees for each race. This makes game-balancing a lot more difficult, but if you can pull it off (e.g. Starcraft), the variety contributes a lot to replayability,


  • The map view is cluttered. When zoomed in, it’s difficult to see smaller ships and distinguish their nationality. The schematic zoomed-out view shows ships much more clearly, but is cluttered by the large number of trade-route freighters all over the place.
  • They still haven’t solved the micromanagement problem. I always bog down and lose interest in the later stages of 4X games. The ratio of management effort to turn duration grows beyond what I’m willing to tolerate. I make strategic mistakes like not searching the map for sneak attacks while clicking through turns waiting for a tech to complete. The game needs more powerful automation of planet development, and some ways to direct your attention to important spots on the map (like a “proximity alert” when an enemy unit pops up well behind the front lines).

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