Type: Strategy, turn based Sub-type Space Exploration, and Conquest / Play By E-Mail (PBEM) Publisher; Tim Wisseman, shareware author. Trail version, free; reg version $20 URL; http://www.vgaplanets.com/index.html

VGA Planets was released as shareware in 1991, version 3.0 released in 1993 was the first version of the series to be a commercial successful, selling over 50,000 registrations from 1993 to 1998-not bad for a 1 man operation. Eight years latter it is still played by numerous gamers across the net. VGA Planets is the brain child of Computer Science drop out and former Californian lumberjack, Tim Wisseman. His goal was to create a feature rich, turn based, strategy game that would allow players to compete against one another by exchanging small file (ie under 100k) via network, modem, or floppy.

The result is a game that places you in command of a fledgling colony settled on a planet in the \'Echo Cluster\' far, far, from home. Very quickly you realize that you are not alone, there are other races that have come to this small corner of the galaxy. With no way to contact home, much less return, you are on your own. The catch, the 10 other civilization in this 2,000 x 2,000 clump of 500 useable planets are all controlled, not by a fuzzy A.I.s; but, human being, that more likely then not, you have never met; and, likely will never play against again. Another feature that has aided the success of the game is all 11 pre-defined civilizations (aka \'races\') have some resemblance to civilizations from popular Sci/Fi, \'Star Wars\', \'Star Trek\', and \'Battlestar Galatica\'.

Tired of debating the out come of a battle between the USS Enterprise and a Imerperial Class Star Destroyer on alt.starwars.vs.startrek ? Then just start up a game of VGA Planets, and pit the \'Solar Federation\' against the \'Evil Empire\' and find out. Each of the 11 playable races has it\'s own set of ship hulls that can be outfitted with a variety of different weapons, and engines. Some ships can carry fighters, other can mount torpedo launchers, some just carry cargo. Each race also has it\'s own set of special abilities, and weaknesses. Thus each race you play must be handled slight differently, and each foe you face will require slightly different tactics to defeat. Regardless of who you play, you must complete the \'4Es\'; Explore the surrounding planets, and find valuable resources. Expand you empire by colonizing new worlds. Exploit the resources of these worlds by mining 4 key minerals from the planets core, and taxing the local natives populations. Exterminate the unwashed, alien, heathen, scum, that threats your boarders. To do this you must balance; economics, military strategy, and diplomacy. Before you can send a battle fleet to conquer you neighbor you much first; gather the resources needed to build it; invest in tech levels to build more power ships, and weapons; construct your fleet and outfit it with fighters, and torpedo\'s; then, decided where and when to attack. Finally send your armada into the fray and hope for the best. By the time the \'Visual Combat Report\' reaches your command post the battle will already be over. On the plus side, you can replay your victories as many times as you wish. However, no matter how big and bad you are, odds are 2,3 or 4 races working together can bring you down; so, the smart player always has an ally or 2 watching his back. VGA Planets is not a game for eye candy fans, or rapid action types.

The interface has just enough graphics to do the job with out any fluff. Also, games can also be quite lengthy, commonly [when played by email] they run 3-4 turns week, and will last several months. I\'ve played 1 game that lasted over a year (100+ turns); but, most games will have a clear leader by turn 40, and a victor by turn 70-80. Some game host will \'jump start\' a game by playing the first 10-20 turns in a single weekend; but, I\'ve never done this. Typically a turn can take any where from 15 minutes to 1-1/2 hours depending on how far you are along in the game. Typically you start with 1 planet, and a few ships; but, by turn 30 you can have 30-40 planets under your control, and a fleet of 70+ ships to command. VGA Planets is kinda like chess, the basic rules are easy to learn; but, can take many years to master. The key difference is; in Planets there are 11 players, 500 pieces that move in parallel, and you can only see some of them.

The trail version is free for download at the author\'s site; http://www.vgaplanets.com/index.html It does not expire, and is fully functional except for one minor detail; your tech upgrades are limited to level 6. I HIGHLY recommend shelling out the $20 registration before you neighbor starts building tech 10 battleships. But for who to delay, express mail delivery only cost $2 more. You can switch from trial to reg in mid game. But, if you go from reg to trial you will lose your high tech upgrades. There are actually 2 interfaces, the original 3.0 for DOS, and 3.5 for Windows (aka Winplan). A single game can have users of both interfaces. 3.5 is more or less a port to windows it does not have the usual windows feel to it; but, it has some improved graphics and sound; plus, support for 3rd party add-ons. Screen shots are from version 3.5 In summery; VGAP may not have breath taking 3d graphics, or dolby surround sound; but, it doesn\'t need those things. It is like Pac Man, Asteroids, or Rally-X in it\'s timelessness-it just a plain good game. But unlike other game it is always different. Even if you always play the same race, you will start in different places, the same planet will never have the exact same resources, and you will have different neighbors. Usually if I get more then 1 hours of play time for every purchase dollar I consider a game paid for. VGAP has paid for it\'s self 100 fold! After nearly 6 years of playing VGAP3 (how many games can you say that about?) I have retired from the game; but, only so that I could move on to VGA Planets 4.0 which is currently in open Beta test. I will review that game separate. In terms of appropriateness. This is a war game, your objectives include strip mining planets, enslaving less developed cultures, and total destruction of your enemies (aka genocide). However, your followers, and the followers of your enemies are nameless, faceless, statics that neither bleed or cry out.

For more information see the Author\'s site; http://www.vgaplanets.com/index.html Or quick jump to \'How it works\' at http://www.vgaplanets.com/howworks.htm Also see; \'Introduction to the rules\' at http://www.vgaplanets.com/intro2.htm Author, Tim Wisseman, was recently quoted in a feature article on gamespot.com. The article titled \'History of Space Empire Games\' notes VGA Planets contribution to the 4E game genera, and quotes the author on page 3. The screen shot of version 4 is a very early beta and is out of date. There are many web sites maintained by loyal fans which provide tips and trick as well as hosting services. The VGA Planets Web Ring currently contains 63 sites. Most of them are version 3.* related; but, a few are strictly version 4.0 related. There are several game hosting sites that have been running steadily for many years, and are always looking for new victims...Er Hmm....I mean....players

Final Ratings

Appropriate: 4/5 Interface: 3/5 Game Play: 5/5 Graphics: 3/5 Stability: 5/5

Overall 70%

About the Author

Cheryl Gress

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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