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Space, the endless void that seemingly reaches infinitely. It brings the infinite unknown, where all men and women can look up to the sky and wish to see the twinkling stars light years away. Alternatively, you could be an avid gamer and just want to watch ships blow each other up as that is what games seem to do best. Star Ruler 2 by Blind Mind Studios takes this concept to the extreme, focusing on colonizing planets for resources to create the biggest fleet out in the galaxy.

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Being in early access, Star Ruler 2 has had time to listen to user feedback and develop as an indie game. Featuring a choice of 7 different races that all play significantly different in some way, such as changing the way some races go faster than light or how they expand to new planets. Star Ruler 2 also adds the ability to simply create a custom race mixing any trait for the 7 races together. My personal favorite was playing with every single trait set to random and seeing what happens.

Star Ruler 2 is ultimately about rapid exploration of the known galaxy, expanding to as many nearby planets as possible, exploiting those planets to create a few home worlds for your chosen species, and exterminating everyone else trying to do the same thing. Similar to other 4X space games, such as Sins of the Solar Empire or Endless Space, Star Ruler 2 has a few distinct differences that make it a unique take on the genre.

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Star Ruler 2‘s biggest concept is that not every planet can be a beacon of prosperity. To make a planet larger you need an increasing amount of food, water, and a luxury. As a planet gets bigger it starts to need more and more to increase the population size. Most planets will be taken over just to feed all of their resources into one or two planets. This creates a simple dynamic of supply lines that can be easily broken and must be defended, while still keeping a large scale scope.

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Star Ruler 2’s planet systems asks the question of how far do you want to take the risk of expansion out of fear that you can not have a large enough fleet to guard everything. Once a planet is captured, anything it is connected to starts to degrade rapidly. While this punishes heavy expansion, expansion is also the only way to continue to grow a sizable fleet. It creates a situation where the only way to get stronger also gives you weaknesses that any opponent can exploit.

The type of resources you spend is based on a system that involves ‘pressuring’ citizens of a planet towards a form of income. Research, energy, influence, and money are all gained this way. This is where all the work to create your high level, high population planet comes into play, as they simply give an enormous amount more over having a variety of small planets. This also creates a system where you are more likely to have each larger planet still specialized, whether it be making a planet completely for research or a planet that is designed just to give you a lot of money. The more Star Ruler 2 builds on this mechanic, the more that science fiction based on an entire planet having a single source of economy make sense.

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The part of Star Ruler 2 that is most interesting is the way diplomacy works. Star Ruler 2 has a card-based diplomacy that uses influence to gain more cards or use them. Each card does something different; for example you can use a card simply to buff your own assets, such as ‘Name Planet,’ which will not only give a planet a name but also increase it’s population and labor generated. Where it becomes interesting is the diplomacy cards that everyone has to vote on.

When a card such as ‘Annex Planet’ is played, where you attempt to take another player’s planet through diplomacy, you and every opponent gets 4 minutes to play any card they have to either support or oppose the card. This creates a dynamic in Star Ruler 2 where even when you are losing the game in military, you can slowly begin to whittle away at someone entirely through diplomacy which is something most 4X games simply don’t have.

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The research tree though is relatively standard. You get research points, you select what you would like to research when you have enough research and you wait until it is done researching. They are overall mostly passive bonuses to your entire galaxy wide empire– bonus labor in factories, extra budget, weapons deal more damage, etc. The exceptions to this are all new pieces to put onto the ships.

To add to getting new pieces to the ship, the majority of creating a fleet involves designing the ships to fly in the galaxy. The base ships will serve alright for defending your borders at the beginning of the game, but as you unlock better guns, armor, and engines, you have to start to consider creating your own ship. Star Ruler 2 does not hold your hand in designing the ship and is somewhat intimidating with the amount of parts that you have to balance. You need to have enough control to manage every system, you need to have enough power to fire the guns, supplies to make sure you can capture planets and get into prolonged battles, command points to control how many ships you can support. This is made more tedious by a maximum of 128 interior spots for the ship.

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Once you figure out the general gist of the ship design, it slowly becomes second nature. Like the rest of Star Ruler 2, it encourages specialization. Make a ship that just has a lot of guns knowing that you will have it be supported by another ship designed to capture planets, and another designed to carry a large amount of support fighters to handle prolonged battles. It’s a delicate balance that involves a lot of trial and error, but reinforces the core mechanics the game is built on.

All of this happens in real time, with the average game taking approximately 3 to 4 hours. In single player you can pause or speed up time to x10 normal speed, often times changing that to closer to a single hour. There is a lot to do simultaneously between balancing out exploring the galaxy, upgrading planets, and producing a fleet to handle the enemy forces.

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The only real issue the game runs into is that there is only one way to win: by getting every other player to surrender. The entire goal of Star Ruler 2 is based upon military might, so much so that the research tree is largely on fleet upgrades over anything else. While it keeps itself focused on conflict through supply lines, as well as unique ways to take over planets outside of military victory, the end goal is always to have the biggest fleet and be able to take enough planets to cripple your opponents.

If you don’t mind that Star Ruler 2 will be a 4X devoted to constant fleet building and battles, it has a great concept and execution game genre that doesn’t get many games. Star Ruler 2 even keeps a good framework for a modding community to expand upon the races, ship choices, and any issues the game might have with longevity. For 20 dollars, it’s not a bad game to look forward to launching on March 27th.

Star Ruler 2 was obtained by Blind Mind Studios for preview on Steam.

Matthew Bidwill

I enjoy getting horribly frustrated at video games. Getting horribly frustrated at my fellow man. And finally getting frustrated at my own work. I like frustration?