Supernova 2: Spacewar
This week we bring you a detailed 4x strategy wargame set in space. Supernova 2 chronicles the ongoing (and undocumented) struggle between two rival powers in the galaxy; The Blue Army and The Blood Legion. The game features absolutely no story, either in terms of a plot or a narrative embedded campaign mode. The only mode of play available is the single player skirmish vs. the AI. This might be an immediate turn-off to players who enjoy rich storylines and characters, but for the wargame purist - to whom details like that are mere trivialities, it will matter little. I’m more of the latter style of gamer and have found Supernova 2 to be a bit of a mixed bag, but fairly enjoyable overall.
Starting up a game will prompt you to select a faction and after that a random galaxy will be generated based on some user configurable variables. I have found that the map generator is fairly robust and is capable of creating some rather fun challenges. The best maps are ones that contain a few good chokepoints and a decent variety of different star systems. Depending on the map, the game’s difficulty level can change dramatically, so a bit of experimentation might be necessary. Certainly feel free to regenerate the map a few times until you find something that looks like it’s going to give a good challenge. As a suggestion, for your first game, choose a map that has plenty of initial connections to adjacent stars from your home base.
The game is broadly divided into two stages. The first is the overview screen, which is where you can manage your empire by allocating citizens to various jobs. This is done by moving sliders on a scale of 0% to 100% for each of a few different categories. To give an example; the percentage of soldiers in the population of your empire will determine the maximum fleet size that can be launched against the enemy and also the individual ship’s maximum hit points. Similarly, all other professions confer a primary and secondary benefit on the overall economic or military strength of your faction. Whilst the player is viewing this screen, time passes at a user configurable rate, without the tedium of having to push the “next turn” button repeatedly. The game can be switched to turn based if the player so desires, but I would strongly recommend the real time mode. As time passes, and depending on the empire’s settings, research will be conducted, materials will be gathered and taxes will be levied on the populace for the player to use on building a fleet of starships.
Depending on what technology has been researched various kinds of starships can be built. There is a feature that enables custom ships to be designed from scratch for the megalomaniac who desires total control over the fleet makeup, but otherwise the generic designs are usually enough in numbers to ensure victory. Ships can be armed with lots of different energy and projectile weaponry including devastating special weapons that are not available at the start of the game. Keeping your fleet modern, economical and balanced will be one of the keys to winning. To win the game, simply destroy the enemy’s mothership or control over 75% of the galaxy!
There is no diplomacy in Supernova 2. There is only a state of perpetual war between the two sides. Therefore, aside from amassing a custom built fleet to invade system after system, there is not a great deal else to do with your resources. This definitely has the effect of giving an immediacy and linearity to the strategy. Most choices boil down to deciding on the order that systems need to be conquered in for maximum effect. I don’t think that is necessarily a bad design decision. In a way it’s actually quite refreshing not to have to worry about allies, trade agreements and such but it does have the effect of focussing the attention onto the battles themselves.
Once the player has decided on a system to attack (or defend from an imminent enemy attack) the game progresses to the battle screen. Here, both sides set up their ships on a 2D matrix and battle in a turn based game. Each ship has a number of movement points, scouting range and attack power based on the weaponry carried. It also has a defensive rating that is highly influenced by the type of shielding carried. Shields are very thick at the front of the ship, less so at the sides, and quite thin and weak at the back. Naturally, this leads to flanking and mixed arms tactics that can see a significantly outnumbered human player decimate an inept tactical AI. The poor AI has no idea of concentration of fire, flanking, or even the rock-scissors-paper mechanics that govern which ships are best suited to destroying which targets. It will only very basically defend important planets (which provide repair and re-crewing facilities when controlled) and will often just fly around in what seems to be an aimless pattern. A skilled human player with just a handful of battleships and a few support craft can run amok. I experimented with the higher difficulty levels, but from what I could gather, this simply accelerated the AI’s construction and expansion, so while this does have the effect of making the game more of a challenge, it doesn’t seem to beef up what is essentially a pretty dumb tac-AI.
In terms of overall presentation Supernova 2 is fairly average. The 2D, top-down graphical representation of the battles is fine, and the empire management screens are for the most part fairly self explanatory and reasonably well set out. There is a series of tutorials that adequately explain the combat side of the game, but there needs to be a lot more explanation of how the population sliders control the influx of money, knowledge and resources. At one stage with my scientist percentage set to 20%, my research was stuck on +1, then moving the slider to +25% made it skyrocket to over +30 in just a minute or so. From experience, it doesn’t seem to be a simple percentage based quota of manpower being allocated, and whether this is a bug, or I’m simply misunderstanding the game concept I’m not sure. The lack of a basic manual that explains this detail is unforgivable.
I don’t want to sound too harsh on the game. Actually the way that the player mows down hordes of AI ships on the way to victory gives the experience a whole “underdog” feeling to things, and the customisation tools ensure that there is a good level of difficulty for players of all skill levels. The novel approach taken to automation of the economy while still allowing the player control over important decisions puts the game at the casual end of the 4x spectrum, and it is probably one of not too many in this sub-genre. It also keeps things accessible for newcomers to this style of game and would be an excellent introduction to 4x strategy gaming for a player with little to no experience in wargames.
Priced at $25, the game is competing with the likes of Apezone’s “Starships Unlimited” which is a similar but vastly superior title in nearly all respects, although that game does have a significantly steeper learning curve. Nevertheless, Supernova 2 is quite replayable due to its randomisation, and although it won’t engross you for hours on end like a game of “Civilization” would, is still a good way to scratch that 4x itch without devoting half a day to the pursuit.
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