A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that kids will see battle sequences showing laser shots and explosions from a third-person perspective. Larger space battles are shown in a cinematic-style sequence, but the player is an observer and not a participant. The game has plenty of opportunities to learn about economics, government, diplomacy, and trade. The smart artificial intelligence makes the computer a worthy opponent.
What's it about?
GALACTIC CIVILIZATIONS II GOLD EDITION contains the original Dread Lords game and the add-on Dark Avatar expansion. Starting with a small sector of the galaxy, players build their civilization into a galactic empire through trade, diplomacy, espionage, and strategic use of force. A campaign mode tells a somewhat convoluted story of Drengins, Terran Alliances, and other civilizations, but most players will skip past the short cut scenes to get into the meat of defeating what is probably the smartest artificial intelligence (AI) ever put into a video game.
Exploration, researching new technologies, and engaging in diplomatic negotiations are the most important parts of the game. A few simple slider bars control how much players tax their civilization and then distribute that money into production of military, social, and research projects. Plenty of graphs, charts, and timelines help players figure out the best way to fine-tune their expansion.
Is it any good?
At the easiest levels, the AI lets players learn the fairly complex controls and options without too much harassment; at the hardest levels the AI can be brutal. In fact, the AI is so human-like, it shouldn't be too hard for players to forgive the game's lack of multiplayer gameplay. Players looking to influence the result of a conflict with fancy flying or sharp-shooting accuracy will be disappointed -- once a battle starts, the computer takes over and the player merely watches it play out.
The game is nicely balanced, letting players manage their empire without getting weighed down by the details as the empire grows. It is incredibly replayable. The free-play mode lets players select from dozens of options: from a two-hour afternoon cakewalk to a weekslong tug-of-war among nine different opponents. Galactic Civilizations II is fun to play, and it's a worthy addition to any strategist's collection.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the pacing of strategy games versus first-person-shooters or even real-time-strategy games. Which do you like better, playing a game that requires paying attention to details or one requiring snap decisions? What parts of a strategy game make it exciting to play? This game has really good AI, but it doesn't let you play against friends. Does that make it less interesting? Why?
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