A few months ago, I picked up Sins of a Solar Empire, and promptly ran several galactic empires right into the grave. I learned a lot during those first few failures, and I finally managed to win a game. It turns out that all I needed to do was set the difficulty to “Easy.” Yet, even after that victory, I wasn’t able to keep the streak going. After mismanaging another two empires into extinction, I gave up on the game. It was taking an awful lot of time and effort for me to kill these empires, and continually losing doesn’t exactly do wonders for motivation.
The game definitely has a high learning curve. At least, for a casual gamer like me, it does. In one of my posts, I wondered what a more active gamer like Shamus would do with the game. And it appears that he’s finally picked up the game and given it a try:
I decided to just run through the tutorials. The most important thing that I learned was that under no circumstances should I ever be allowed to run a galactic empire. It’s harder than it sounds, and the consequences for failure are rather dire. During the tutorial I was taught a few short lessons about some buttons. Apparently there are buttons, and they need to be pressed sometimes. There were some other details in there about economies and spaceships, but they eluded me once the tutorial had run its course. I’m still pretty sure about the button thing, though.
… I built a small collection of spaceships, which were sent to an adjacent planet where they were murdered by space pirates. I built a trade center which sat idle, since I didn’t have anyone with which to trade. I built a series of scout ships and sent them to auto-explore, after which I never heard from them again. I built a capital ship and subsequently misplaced it. I pushed some other buttons related to the running of my main planet, none of which seemed to have any real effect except to deplete my coffers. Then I found some ships I didn’t remember building, flying around my world. They didn’t respond to my commands, and it wasn’t until just before they began bombing the place that I realized why.
A half hour into the game I was running an inept empire whose only accomplishments were staggering financial and military losses. I felt like I was playing Soviets in Space.
He’s much better at expressing the futility of a first time player than I was (the comic he created that accompanies his post is utterly hilarious), and I’m somewhat reassured by the fact that even a more experienced gamer had similar problems (reading the Sins forums was disheartening – most everyone there seemed to immediately grasp everything necessary for the game and they all sat about debating minutiae). While his post is very humerous and snarky, he does end up recognizing the game’s learning curve:
This is not too say the game is too hard or complex. It’s just different, and you can’t really build on what you’ve learned in other games to help you along here. The tutorial teaches you how to use the interface, but figuring out what you should be doing is your job. At the start of the game there are dozens of possible actions to take, without any real hint as to which ones are a good idea or why. I imagine I’m going to lead a couple more doomed empires into history before I get a handle on the thing.
This is very true, and Shamus is good enough that I’m sure he’ll have the game figured out in a few games. Is the game too hard? It was hard enough that I wasn’t having much fun towards the end. That doesn’t make it a bad game, it was just too much work for me… though I have to admit, reading Shamus’ post made me want to fire it up and slaughter my people.
The last game I played was one of the specific scenarios. It was a small map, with only a handful of planets, and three players. Furthermore, the map was shaped in such a way that you really can’t take advantage of choke points (which usually helps in other games, even the ones where I lost). Anyway, the last time I played it, I got lit up by the two enemies. But I was careful to save a bunch of times, so I loaded one of my older saved games where I was still in good shape and gave it a shot. I threw caution to the wind and sent two of my capital vessels and a fleet of support ships to attack one of my enemies. This actually turned out to be a mildly successful tactic… for a while. Eventually, the other enemy caught on and attacked my home planet. I was able to fend them off, but my population was decimated and my economy went into the tank. I had to retreat from my attack for a bit to rebuild my forces too. Eventually, I was able to resume my attack, but my enemy seemed suspiciously fortified. It turns out that my two weenie enemies had joined together and had a ceasfire and trade relationship going. I was basically screwed. I could spend another hour watching my empire die a slow, torturous death, or come here and finish this blog post. Guess what I did. I don’t know, maybe I could turn it around. It seems that I need to read up on how to do some of that diplomacy stuff.