As its title suggests, Galactic Civilizations is a bit like Sid Meier's Civilization, but in space. Based on a classic 1994 game for PCs using IBM's OS/2 operating system, Galactic Civilizations gives a nod to the elegant simplicity of Sid Meier's popular strategy series. But regardless of whether or not you're sci-fi fan, the outer-space setting isn't the real reason you should sit up and take notice. Galactic Civilizations' strong AI, robust diplomacy, and variety of strategic options make it an outstanding turn-based strategy game.
War isn't the only way to win the galaxy.
You may find the starting conditions for each new game familiar if you've played other space strategy games. You begin with a human planet, a survey ship, and a colony ship. Hyperdrive was recently invented, and now that all the galaxy's species have it, they've all started to compete to become the dominant power in the universe, by conquest or other means. The game has a number of initial customization options for the galaxy and the AI opponents, and although you always play as the humans, you can choose from a number of ability bonuses and adopt a particular political party, all of which actually affect the game later on. Every empire is born from equally humble beginnings, and you even have to spend a dozen turns to research a universal translator before you can talk meaningfully with the races you'll encounter. The first order of the day is to send your survey ship out to scout and collect a variety of randomly placed objects that can grant bonuses. Once you locate a decent planet (anything rated over 15 is good for any race), you drop a few hundred million people on it to get a colony going.
Upon seeing another empire popping out colony ships one after another at the start of the game, or even the more expensive constructors used for starbases, you may begin to wonder if the AI is cheating. But, while the opponents come in varying degrees of intelligence, they don't cheat in any obvious way. That empire is just taking advantage of one of the more unusual elements of the economy: credit. Some corporations are actually willing to finance the operations of governments and produce units and buildings for you on credit. But obviously these companies are in business to make money, because even when you pay quite a sum up front, the monthly payments on a loan can continue for hundreds of turns. It's up to you to decide whether taking on debt is worth it, and there are suitable rewards and punishments for risky financial strategies. The net effect is that it doesn't take long at all to get a game going and chalk out some basic territorial boundaries to defend and expand later.
Random events pop up to determine your alignment.
As a space conquest game, Galactic Civilizations is all about conflict, but that doesn't mean you have to rely on your military. The diplomatic system is very flexible and lets you do much more than just declare war. Anything and everything is up for trade. Need to pacify an enemy winning a war? Offering a star system or two is a real option. Want to buy allies? Instead of depleting your treasury, you might try bartering technology or the special "monopoly trade goods" you can research. Playing a strategy of cultural assimilation and need ships quick? Buy some from a militarily advanced ally. Surprisingly, it's even a legitimate strategy to research as many improvements as you can from your empire's technology tree and then sell technology to minor races (which don't expand on the map) or allies. You can even have them pay you in monthly installments, so you you can receive regular income each turn.