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Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space [Astraware Limited] – $4.99

I’m still fairly new to the 4X genre, having only been into it for the last couple years, but what I’ve played so far, I’ve absolutely fallen in love with. Starbase Orion is easily one of my favorite iOS games to date, and Ascendancy, Civilization Revolution and Imperium Galactica II have totally got me hooked. Luckily for me, there were a few 4X ‘lite’ games to be found on the AppStore, and without them, I don’t think I would have gotten into the 4X genre like I have. 9 Colonies, Blue Libra and Vincere Totus Astrum played huge roles in my decent into the 4X world, and since then, I still find it hard to pass up on lite 4X titles. Astraware Limited’s Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space falls into this category of ‘4X lite’, and just like the other titles mentioned, it’s a great game to get if you’re just starting to uncover the many, many layers of the 4X genre, or even if you’re already deep into the genre, and are looking for a game that you can complete in 10-30 minutes. 
There are 3 different types of campaign like scenarios in Weird Worlds which you’ll be able to play through, each depending on the type of ship you choose to command. There’s a Science Vessel, Pirate Corvette and Terran Frigate. 
With the Science Vessel, your goal is to catalog and capture unknown alien lifeforms. While you’re doing this, you’ll need to also catalogue new worlds and various deep space phenomena so that the information can be added to starmaps. Playing with the Pirate Corvette will have you exploring the galaxy and grabbing anything of value; technology, artifacts, lifeforms, weapons and hostages. The Terran Frigate’s goals are to make first contact with alien lifeforms determining if they are peaceful or ready for war, as well as obtaining all of the technology and artifacts you can that might be useful to the military. 
With each ship, you’re able to decide how large the map is, small, medium or large. As the galaxy gets bigger, you’ll have more time to explore the planets within it. The small map gives you 10 years, medium gives you 20 and the large map gives you 30. You must make it back to Glory, the planet you start your adventure from, before time runs out, or else the points you’ve collected while out in space will not be added to your score. You’re also able to choose the Nebula Mass, which slows down your ship dramatically, as well as the hostile alien’s combat strength. 
Exploring the galaxy is simple, tap on a planet, and two taps will pop up, ‘Engage’ and ‘View’. You’re also able to see how far away the planet is, and how long it will take you to travel to it. ‘View’ gives you a little bit of information about the planet, while ‘Engage’ will have you travel there. Once you’re on the planet, if there are any available materials, weapons, other equip items like shields, star drives, propulsion systems, and loads more, as well as alien beings, plant life, technology and artifacts, you can put all of these into your cargo hold, or equip your own ship with them. 
Unless you have an item which scans planets within your vicinity, you will not be able to tell if planets are occupied by alien beings or not until you land on the planet. If there are alien lifeforms, you can choose to engage them and find out if they’re hostile or friendly, or just leave them alone without finding out who or what they are. As you travel around the galaxy, you’ll also come across mercenaries which can be hired by trading them items from your cargo hold. Once you have hired them, they’ll fly alongside you in battle, helping you get out of tricky situations. You are also able to equip their ships with items found on the various planets, which does give the whole equip system some depth. 
Weird Worlds: Return To Infinite Space is only available for the iPad, and is $4.99. It does have GameCenter support, with 3 boards for the small, medium and large sized galaxies, but does not have any achievements. Right now, Weird Worlds would be much better if it had a lot more items and aliens to come across within the galaxy as right now, it seems like after you play through the game once with each of the ships, you’ve pretty much seen everything there is to see, and all that keeps you playing is the high-score chase. Hopefully the developers have something in mind to add to the replay value. The game is solid in all other aspects. It’s a great game for those of you who are looking to get more into the 4X genre, but are finding games like Ascendancy and Starbase Orion too complex at the moment, or for 4X fans looking for a game that they can play through in short spans. 

Spaceward Ho! (Ariton) – $4.99

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.
[iPad Only]

Blue Libra – 0.99/2.99 (Orator Games)

Science Fiction Real Time Strategy. A genre pretty much left untapped within the AppStore, there’s only a few titles that cover the 4X gameplay, but the ones that do are premium priced for a reason; extremely deep, intuitive user interface, hours upon hours of gameplay, endless replayabilty with almost endless results, and very strategic gameplay just to mention some biggies. Luckily for fans of the genre, Orator Games has just released Blue Libra. Not exactly a 4X game, but a mix between 4X and Galcon type gameplay gives hardcore fans of the genre something for quick plays, with more strategy and depth than any Galcon game, and new-comers to the genre something to help them get acquainted with the style. And at $0.99 ($2.99 for the HD/iPad Version), there’s pretty much no reason not to check it out.

You’ll command the last of the Libra class of carriers to avenge the fall of your home world. Your main goal? Make your way across the galaxy back to your home world, destroying anyone who stands in your way. You’ll need to produce different types of ships, and take over planets and space stations, getting rid of the opposing force in each sector, upgrading your ships and main Libra carrier with multiple upgrades available in the shop, so that you can be sure to have the power and ability to take on anything that might be thrown your way. One wrong move, and you could wind up with a loss.
As for the controls, they’re fairly intuitive. Fleets are all produced by your Libra carrier, and any planets or space stations you take over. These fleets are grouped together in a circle, and can be merged by drawing a line, which automatically snaps to a straight line, no matter how wobbly you draw it, between the two. To move a fleet, simply draw a line to the planet or station you wish to move to. You can cut a whole fleet in half by slicing it, ala Fruit Ninja, and the fleet will split in half with each half having, as close to, half of all ships as it can. This does take away a bit from the strategic element, as your groups of ships can not be split up to best serve the situation that they’re going in to, but instead give “my bigger fleet will take over your smaller fleet” gameplay. This isn’t a bad thing, exactly, as there are still times in the game where you will need to decide before hand what ships to produce to best serve the mission, and how many resources to set up building those ships, but being able to decide exactly what type of ships are sent where would have added quite a bit more strategic gameplay and depth to the game. There are obstacles in some of the sectors, like asteroid belts, which slow you down significantly, and these are best gone around if at all possible, to do this, you’ll just need to draw a line around the obstacle, and stop short of where you want to move to so that the line does not snap to a straight shot. The screen automatically pans while you’re making your line, dragging on the screen, which is very handy. You can set the pan speed in the options menu as well.
There are 15 missions leading you back to your home world, and beating a lot of them will take multiple play throughs. The difficulty curve is great, and increases at a pretty steady rate. There is no online support, but with gameplay like Blue Libra’s, there isn’t much need for GameCenter. Being able to share your final tallies, like how many total ships you lost/destroyed, how long it took you to make it back to your home world, and little stats like this would be nice, but is not really considered the end goal by fans of the genre.
Again, at $0.99, there’s very little reason not to grab it, whether you’re a hardcore 4X RTS fan, or even if you’ve never played a Sci-Fi RTS before, it stretches across a wide length of skill levels, and provides simple yet still depthy gameplay. It’s definitely a title worth checking out, and one that you can easily sink hours upon hours into.
Blue Libra gets a score of 4.5 out of 5.