There are some genres that have truly embraced the AppStore, using the iDevice’s unique touch screen capabilities, and basically feeling right at home on the platform. Puzzlers, Racers and Point n’ Click titles really make it feel like the iDevice was made to perfectly suit them. Strategy games are also definitely falling into this grouping of genres, and slowly, but surely, 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) titles are finding their way as well, and these are being sucked up by fans of this niche genre like an addicts choice substance. It also helps when these titles are ports of old-school titles, as a lot of iOS gamers are 30-40 year olds who found out they can fit gaming into their lives again by playing on their phones.
Spaceward Ho!, originally an Amiga and Mac title released in 1990 released by Delta Tao Software, has made its way into the AppStore, accompanying Ascendancy as two of the more notable old-school 4X games that have graced the iDevice, and the two man California based development team, Ariton (who also developed the Spaceward Ho! port for the Palm Pilot), has done a fantastic job transferring the game over to the touch screen.
Spaceward Ho! is not your typical depthy 4X Strategy game. Actually, on the surface, it’s very basic when compared to titles like Master of Orion or Starbase Orion, but underneath the surface, it does have quite a bit of depth. It’s probably better placed next to titles like 9 Colonies and Vincere Totus Astrum, offering up gameplay that can last an hour, or even play through as quick as 10 minutes.
When starting a game, you’re able to decide exactly what kind of game you’ll be playing. You’ll be able to choose what kind of system you’ll be thrown into; Thriving, Abundant, Advanced, Normal, Backward, Barren, or Outpost. How many other empires you want in the star system, choosing between 1 and 8, as well as their IQ, being able to pick between 50 and 200, in increments of 10. The enemies home system, like yours, Thriving, Abundant, ect… but you can also decide to have this be based on their IQ. How many years to advance with every turn, 10, 20, 30 or 50, whether or not to allow Best Buddies, and the Shape, size, and Density of the universe. All but the size influences the difficulty, which you’ll be able to see go up and down based on your choices.
Once you decide the settings, you’re taken to the Galaxy screen. Here, you can see your home planet, as well as all the other planets in the galaxy. To get started, you can double tap on your home planet, and be taken to the ship/satellite creation screen. Here, you can build various ships and satellites, adjusting their Range, Speed, Weapons, Shields, and Mini (amount of material used to build them). As you progress through the game, your researchers will automatically research different technologies, increasing what you can use as stats for your ships.
In the Info section, along the left side of the screen, you can adjust how much money you’ll spend on the different technologies by dragging the gauge’s. In this area, you can also view your entire list of planets that you’ve colonized, adjusting how much money you spend on the planet. You can adjust it so that you spend more on technologies, or put the money back into your savings. At the top of this bar you’ll find your total money and metal (the only resource that you’ll need to worry about in the game). The metal that you collect from around the galaxy is used to build your satellites and ships, so sometimes colonizing a planet just to take the metal from it, and then evacuating is a very good idea. At the bottom of the info section, you’re able to either hide the information or change to view your history, which is a list of every major event that has happened in the game. There is also a little box which tells you who the other players are, and if they’re an enemy or ally.
The game is complete when you either friend or defeat all of the other players. You can keep playing, colonizing the rest of the planets, or seeing how strong you can make your ships until you run out of metal, but it’ll be pretty boring since there won’t be any opponents. If you’re familiar with the original Spaceward Ho! this is basically an exact port. You can not view your technology level vs. the other players, there’s no ‘browse all fleets’ or ‘browse all planets’ and network play has not been implemented yet, but the developers have said that they are working hard on giving us GameCenter Support, Multiplayer features, and an iPhone build of the game. Being priced at $5, it’s a great title to pick up if you’re a fan of the 4X genre. It’s also one of the best 4X games you could pick up if you’re new to the genre. It’s very easy to learn, has a great ‘help’ section, which is also pretty short (unlike some other tutorial or help sections in other 4X games that are 50 pages long, and would take 2 hours to read through) because all of the unnecessary complexity that’s in other 4X games has either been weeded out, or is taken care of automatically. There is also an Auto-Play option, which lets you watch the game take over your decisions, which is a great way to learn how to play the game quickly. The developers are very active on the Touch Arcade Forums, and have an ‘Ask Us’ section on their website dedicated to answering questions. Having such active and supportive developers makes wanting to support them very easy.