I love the idea of grand sci-fi strategy games like Stellaris and Endless Space, but I have no patience for them. The micromanagement overwhelms me, and I always give up before finishing a game. So when I heard about Slipways, a new strategy game that lets you build a space empire without the busywork or time investment, I felt like someone had made a game specifically for me.
Start a game of Slipways and you emerge from a wormhole into an unexplored, randomised galaxy. All around you are circles representing discoverable objects, including planets, asteroids, and the salvageable remnants of an ancient space-faring civilisation. Launch probes from the wormhole and the details of these objects are revealed, like whether it's an arid desert planet or an Earth-like world. Then it's time to build your empire.
See Slipways in action in the video above.
Each planet, depending on its biome and available natural resources, supports a different kind of industry, such as farming, robot manufacture, mineral mining, water production, and many, many more. The key to building a successful space empire is connecting these planets with slipways—sci-fi shipping lanes, basically—in such a way that your planets work together in harmony.
An agricultural world will be able to produce a small amount of food on its own for the factories on a nearby planet, but production will speed up dramatically—and the factories will be happier—if you supply them with a steady flow of workers.
So if you've settled another planet in the region that produces workers, connect it to your farming world with a slipway and you'll create a supply chain that boosts your profits and keeps the factory workers happy and prosperous.
But here's the rub: the planet producing the workers needs resources too. A clean water supply, perhaps. So you'll need to connect their world to a planet that produces water with a slipway, otherwise they'll experience a resource shortage and the happiness of your empire will suffer. And if people grow too unhappy, or you go bankrupt, it's game over, baby. The citizens of this empire really don't have time for your bullshit.
But the planet producing the water needs a resource to keep it happy and, well... you get the idea. The key to succeeding in Slipways is thinking carefully about what industries you establish on each planet you discover. If an industry needs ore to operate properly, but there are no planets nearby that produce it, you won't be able to create a supply chain, and you'll have no way of keeping your citizens happy or money flowing in.
But the magic of Slipways is how much fun creating these little routes between planets is. The game's interface is readable, snappy, and simple to use, and establishing slipways is as simple as dragging a line between two planets. Watching these form, and tiny resources being beamed through them, is extremely satisfying. And not an inch of the UI is wasted, presenting all the key data in a way that allows for quick decision making.
It's one of the best-feeling games I've played in ages, with a beautifully clean, considered presentation and a relaxing ambient soundtrack that perfectly complements its laid back vibe. I also love that there's no combat whatsoever. In the words of the developer: "No need for war with so much empty universe to claim." This is really refreshing, and as someone who just likes building stuff, only makes me love it more.
There's a lot I haven't mentioned, like missions, building structures, and researching new technologies—including the ability to terraform a planet and change its biome. I've gone from having never heard of Slipways to it being one of my most anticipated games of the year. It's a wonderfully simple, streamlined strategy game, but still makes you feel like you're building something grand. Slipways will be out later this year, but until then its developer is accepting applications for a closed beta. I suggest you sign up.