Starting in Space Games: Where to Begin?

Space game newbie? Let me help!
Climb aboard, newbie! :)

Someone who goes by the name of “kerzain” on my favorite forum, Quarter to Three, hit me up with this idea, so I’ve gotta give credit and all that. :)

What if you were new to space games, and had no idea where to begin? What if you saw all of the available space games that have come before and had no idea which ones were good, bad, accessible, fun or anything else? Well, I’m here to help. I’ve tried to think and do research on which games I would give to someone just starting out in space gaming, depending on what kind of game they were looking for, and I’ve come up with six different categories and games to go with them.

So if you’re new to space gaming, and would like to know which games are great starting points for their respective types of gameplay, read on my friend. Hopefully you’ll be enlightened by what you find.

Overall Spacey Experience – Space Pirates and Zombies

I know I’ve pumped up this game in the past, but hear me out. Space Pirates and Zombies (SPAZ from now on) is an insanely accessible game that has bits of what make all space games great. First off, it has a great tutorial to get you started, and — at least to me — fairly gentle learning curve.

Furthermore, It’s got excellent space combat with lots of pew pew and boom boom. It has lots of spaceships of various designs to play around with, as well as lots of equipment to outfit those ships, so it has light spaceship building elements. It has light resource gathering elements through mining asteroids for rez, tractoring in escape pods for goons, and destroying ships to tractor in data.

It’s this data that adds to the light role playing elements, as data equates to experience points. You collect these to level up, in which you have access to research better hardware, so there’s a research element as well. All of these come together to make a detailed, deep and still accessible space gaming experience, one that I could easily recommend to anyone looking to see what the big deal is with space gaming. You can purchase SPAZ through the official site or through carious digital distribution retailers.

Space Fighter Combat – Freespace 2 (with Freespace Open Additions)

If, however, one is looking for a more…simmy experience and wants to fly a fighter from a first-person perspective, the easy choice is Freespace 2. Now, if you’ve played Freespace 2, you might be wondering “What the heck, Brian? Freespace 2 has a lot to keep track of and deal with at once, and might be overwhelming to new players.” In the case of many other space fighter sims, that might be correct.

However, Freespace 2 has a multitude of step-by-step, interactive tutorials that can help even the most green of space fighter pilots get a handle on the intricacies of space fighter combat. Everything from fighter control to weapons usage to situational awareness is covered in the tutorials, which can really help make a new pilot more comfortable with the game. Couple that with various difficulty settings, and the player can craft their game as they see fit, starting on Easy and moving up as they get more comfortable with the game.

Overall, if someone came up to me and asked which space fighter sim to start with, Freespace 2 would be the first, best choice I would give them. You can get the game on Good Old Games for a mere $6, and then download the FSOInstaller to download install the Freespace Open enhancements, which will give you up-to-date graphics that look INCREDIBLE. You can take a look at this video to see what I mean. Also, knowledge of the first game isn’t required, but you can get that on Good Old Games too, if you want.

Space Tactical Combat – Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon

If you’re looking for something a bit more tactical and slower paced, such as naval combat in space, there are a good deal of games to choose from. While I feel the Starfleet Command games do the best in this regard, if I were to suggest which game to start with in this arena, I’d have to go with a relatively little known, yet great game, Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon.

I’ll admit I’ve not played a heck of a lot of this game yet, but what little I have played makes it a simple choice. Combat is fairly slow paced, making it easy to get a handle on what’s going on around you, and the game also has a great tutorial to ease you into things. I know, it’s based on a Disney movie, but seriously, this game rises above that forgettable title to be something great entirely on its own. Sadly no digital distributors sell this game, but you can get it on Amazon or Ebay for relatively little money.

Space Trading – Space Rangers II

This was honestly the toughest category to choose. There are LOTS of space trading games out there, from simplistic games top-down games like the Flatspace and Escape Velocity games to full out sims such as the X and Evochron series. These games also require one to do math, which adds a level of complexity that many other space games don’t have. ;)

After thinking which of these might be the easiest to jump into, I figured that Space Rangers II would be the best choice. First off, it’s turn-based, meaning you can take your time in making your decisions. The game also has an excellent tutorial to introduce you to the game. The game’s dynamic economy works well and is easy to understand, and the game has a TON of variety that will keep you playing over and over again.

You can get Space Rangers II Complete at Impulse, which is the best place to get it with its expansion.

Space Real Time Strategy – Conquest: Frontier Wars

There are a lot of space-based RTS games to choose from, such as the amazing Homeworld series and other games like Sins of a Solar Empire. From an accessibility standpoint, I thought that the excellent Conquest: Frontier Wars would make a fantastic first stop on one’s journey into real time strategic space gaming.

First off, Conquest: Frontier Wars  has a great tutorial that really helps get players eased into the game. The interface is simple to use and makes managing even multiple systems and supply lines easy, and the game has a wide variety of excellent missions as well as fantastic space combat. While again, there are lots to choose from, if I had to give a game to a space RTS n00b, Conquest: Frontier Wars  would be my first choice. Sadly, you can’t get this through digital distributors, but is fairly inexpensive on Ebay or Amazon.

Space Turn Based Grand Strategy – Master of Orion I and II

This is, by far, the biggest and usually most complex subgenre of space gaming. Managing the power distribution of a space fighter is FAR different than managing an entire space opera. There are many, MANY games that cover this, usually known as 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) games, and the best of these, both from a gameplay and an accessibility standpoint, in my opinion, are the first two Master of Orion games (we don’t talk about the third one).

Both games are easy to get into, have simple, colorful interfaces and multiple difficulty levels to help ease in new players into the game. The game has a wide array of depth, from managing planets and research to ship building and fleet management. Thankfully none of this is difficult to grasp, thanks again to the simple interface, and before long, future galactic commanders will be managing their empires with ease and grace.

You can get Master of Orion I and II on Good Old Games for a pittance, and these include the manuals as well, which I highly suggest reading. If you can get over the early-to-mid-90’s graphics, you will find hours and hours, if not years of play time in these games.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the list of games I would give to a newbie looking to get into space gaming, based on the type of game they wanted to play. If you’re new to space gaming, I hope this article will enlighten and guide you toward finding the right game that works for you. If you have any questions about space gaming, also don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments or on through the contact page. Thanks for reading, and good luck!

 

30 comments on Starting in Space Games: Where to Begin?

  1. What?! No Battlecruiser 3000AD? :D

    Anyway, for space trading, I think the latest X game is better than Space Rangers, but that's just my opinion (and iirc the X games never really clicked with you, so I guess that's why you left it off). Actually, EVE Online is probably the best for space trading, but that's an MMO, and I don't play those anymore.

    1. Are you serious? You would give a total n00b to space gaming one of the X games, or EVE Online? Do you hate this person and want to turn them off from space gaming altogether? ;)

  2. Why not? They're both good games. Well, at least my Battlecruiser 3000AD remark was a joke. :)

    You know, I could have recommended Aurora, the perfect 4x spreadsheet game (which is actually quite good, but also quite complicated).

    1. I'm not saying they're BAD games, which they aren't, I'm saying I don't think they're very n00b friendly AT ALL.

      1. I got a friend who'd never played a space game before into X3TC and he took to it like a duck to water. I think if you're the kind of person who likes X that you're just as likely to like it immediately rather than after playing any number of vastly different games.

        1. Fair enough, I'm sure there are folks that X clicks with, I just don't seem to be one of 'em. :-)

  3. No no, I was quite serious. I don't know how noob friendly they are, but in a game like EVE everybody is a noob when they start playing, even if they've played a lot of space games.

    X3 gives you the option of starting out as slowly as you want, just hauling goods back and forth, which doesn't seem too bad for new players. I guess some people might find it off-putting and boring, but I find it rather relaxing (entering Kingdom's End for the first time was a zen moment for me). :)

    1. Well of course everyone is a noob in EVE, but the learning curve can be daunting, and I wouldn't put a noob in that sitch. Same with the X games, which even with simple hauling missions, can be slow and daunting for a new pilot. I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. ;)

      Somehow I KNEW my choice of trading game would cause me guff. ;)

  4. I just noticed that Aurora isn't on your list, btw. What's up with that? Is it because it's still being developed?

  5. I'd just like to point out that there is a alpha/beta build of conquest: frontier wars 2 floating around which if I remember correctly is actually quite enjoyable. Sadly this game was cancelled before it could be completed.

    1. Huh, might you know where one could find it? I would LOVE to try it out. I was SO damned upset when the sequel was cancelled.

  6. I'm going to vote Space Pirates and Zombies as a decent starting point, just because you can set the difficulty to casual and just buzzsaw through the enemies and build up your little fleet. Plus, it has space pirates and also zombies! What times we live in.

    1. Exactly, it's got a great tutorial, multiple difficulty levels, and a wide range of options. For anyone new to space games, it's an easy choice. I hope it works on folks as a gateway drug to more space games.

  7. Great article Brian. I just recently found how amazing Space Rangers 2 is, so it's nice to see other people enjoy it as well. I never heard of Treasure Planet or Conquest: Frontier Wars, but I plan on picking them both up. Thanks.

    I agree with MoO2 as a good one to start with, but if the age of the game is preventing others from getting into it, I'd recommend Armada 2526+Supernova. While similar, graphics are more up to date, while also streamlining tedious tasks (i.e. moving population).

    On a side note, I stumbled on your site quite recently, and I'm having a great time reading your posts. Keep it up!

    1. Awwww, thank you, welcome, and I'm glad you're enjoyed the article and found it useful. :) I've actually not played Armada 2526, but I'll be honest in that I heard it wasn't very good. Have you played Distant Worlds?

  8. I've not had the chance to play Distant Worlds yet. After watching some Let's Plays, I'm a little turned off by all the auto-managing that goes on. Granted, I could intervene at the points I would want to handle myself, but it seems to be more hands-off that what I would like. Also, the interface looks overly complicated to me. This is of course going off not playing it, so correct me if I'm I prefer to micro-manage my empires,

  9. Pardon my premature publish, here's the rest:

    Correct me if my opinions are misplaced or anything has changed since the release of the expansions.

    My favorite remains GalCiv 2 as the best 4x game. Not quite sure what it is, maybe the races or how colonies are managed. It took me longer than I would have liked to learn the game, but it was worth it.

    1. Oh yeah, totally. I LOVE Distant Worlds, but I TOTALLY wouldn't recommend DW to a 4X noobie in any way. GalCiv 2 is a good choice, but I stick by my choice of the MOO games for their accessibility and approachability. :)

  10. Hi, I’m looking for a space game which I used to play ten years ago. I think it’s an indie game. Simple but very good gameplay. It’s chess-like (but not a chess game) using spaceship that can only move in certain pattern to destroy enemy’s spaceship, can upgrade the ships, build more ships. Do you recall any game like that? Thank you in advance :)

    1. Welcome Yuda! I’m not recalling any game like that off hand, do you remember around when it might’ve been released or which platform you played it on? That’ll help me narrow it down a lot. :)

      1. I play it on my old PC. I think it’s a freeware or shareware and downloaded it from the Internet. I’ve enjoyed the gameplay and have been looking for the game for years to no avail. Probably it released somewhere around 2005

      2. If I’m not mistaken it’s a 2-player game and each one needs to destroy the enemy’s base but first need to go through their spaceships. The board is chess-like

  11. Hi Brian, Actually you CAN get Conquest: Frontier Wars at GOG but there IS a catch. It will work beautifully on Win7 but it is not supported and will NOT work on Win8. GOG has stated that the issue cannot be corrected. Win7 compatibility mode does NOT work nor do any others. I actually keep a Win7 machine around just to play C:FW. I think it’s also important to mention that C:FW has a VERY robust skirmish mode and its supply line mechanic is superb.

    A little off topic but not much department: I’ve been playing an absolutely SUPERB mod for Civ 4 called Star Trek. Please allow me a few paragraphs to give this some Orion love?

    It’s a total conversion of Civ4 into a Star Trek game that could have sold as a Star Trek 4X. It is BETTER, MUCH better than the ill-fated Birth of the Federation. If you are a Star Trek geek as I am, this is nirvana good sir! Imagine the possibilities of:

    Choosing what era you want to play in including Enterprise, the Original Series, The movies, TNG, Voyager, and an era that extrapolates what the Star Trek universe might be centuries after! You can choose from a plethora of races and the “civiliopedia” is quite complete. In addition, this mod comes with a truckload of scenarios spanning the whole Star Trek canon, Want to replay Star Trek VI except that the Federation FAILS in assisting the Klingons and all Hell breaks loose? You can! How about an all out war with the Romulans? Go for it. [IMHO, the Romulans are the best enemy race of the Federation and never received the attention they deserved; I am tired of Klingons].

    You can ALSO set up a custom game and define the era, race, galaxy size, and all sorts of fun Trekness. Civ4 is a user friendly game and IMHO is superior to Civ5 in many regards. This Star Trek mod is as good as the Star Tek Picard era mod for Distant Worlds Universe but as you and and other hardcore spacers know, DW:U scares a lot of people so this mod may be a nice alternative for n00bs and veterans alike. It’s available at civfanatics.com

    As for your suggestions, I couldn’t agree more! SPAZ is digital crack, Freelancer is simply classic and it has THE best Babylon 5 mods ever! I do think that the Starfleet Command series does tactical combat like no other and Empire at War plays beautifully on modern machines and can be had for a fiver at Dynaverse.net.

    I would add one that you may or may not have considered and that is Starpoint Gemini 2. It’s VERY friendly with an active mod community and excellent devs. I only have 33 hours into the game but it’s a blast and I have one seriously murderous dreadnought that I am piloting. The devs are promising more content and they are truly attentive to the community.

    Space Rangers 2 is a GREAT game that definitely needs more exposure. It’s one of those quirky games that, while not doing any one thing perfectly, does a lot of things very well.

    I would also add Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space to the n00b list. I have played hundreds of 20 minute sessions in this bite sized game that I had to seek counseling from a Betazoid. :)

    If I were to construct a list of games that were a step up in difficulty, I would nominate the following:

    Starshatter The Gathering Storm, Pioneer, Galactic Civilizations (either I or II), Zigfrak (because it is unabashedly quirky), and the very first X game as it is an excellent primer that leads one gently into the larger X universe. [Stay away from X: Afterbirth]!! Also, Indepence War I and II deserve a nod. A bit complex but, unlike Star Trek Bridge Commander, Independece War actually gives the game a sense of piloting something closer to a cap ship.

    Great stuff as always man!!

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