Spacecom is a game about the fate of the world. Of many worlds, in fact. It’s a game about quelling violent rebellion to restore justice in a far-flung future. It’s a game about taking a stand, and about making a last stand if that’s what it comes to — all in the name of saving entire populations from certain death. Most crucially of all, though, Spacecom is a game about moving numbered triangles along lines into circles.
Think of it this way: Spacecom is a futuristic “army general simulator.” It obfuscates the carnage of war by putting you in control of a minimalist mini-map from which you grow and command a fleet of ships.
Subdivided into three types, vessels are classed as Battle (ideal for enemy combat), Invasion (fit to to take over other planets) or Siege (capable of destroying infrastructure). Planets themselves, meanwhile, can serve as repair points for your fleet or provide resources to fuel your growth. Your job is to maintain a harmonious balance between combat, incursion, and destruction in a quest to conquer your enemy’s base of operations.
As far as core mechanics go, that’s really it. Build three different types of ships, harness their strengths, and make sure you’re the last one standing. Fortunately, the consummate strategists at developer Flow Combine are one step ahead; as with the best and most replayable games both digital and analog, the basics here are only the beginning of a long, satisfying road to expertise. And while the prospect of typing the words “easy to learn, hard to master” makes me want to light my computer on fire, Spacecom truly is cerebral, skill-driven fare that will have you playing in minutes, but playing for hours.
The key here is the cavalcade of wonderful “ifs” baked into the game’s core structure. Sure you can start off aggressively and brute-force your way to victory by building out a massive Battle fleet…if you’re keeping an eye on which planets under your control produce resources, and how far those resources have to travel to reach your production planet. Likewise, your surest path to victory might very well be laying siege to planets containing your opponents repair stations so that they’re not of use to anyone. That is, if you haven’t thought of instead holding them off long enough to mount an Invasion fleet in order to take over the planet yourself and create a larger number of safe zones on the map. Of course, once you take over a planet, you’ll want to leave a few troops behind as a ground-based “garrison” to guarantee the safety of your ever-growing empire. Though, that’s only if you didn’t want to spend more resources to put up a durable kinetic shield so as to free up the use of your troops elsewhere.
This is what makes Spacecom so special: the fact that all of these considerations exist beneath the surface of a game with just three units, and a handful of discretely learnable mechanics. There are no overstuffed “tech trees” you have to navigate in order to unlock new features, or grid-based skirmishes that risk miring you in minutia. Rather, like chess, the joy lies in the emergent possibilities that spring forth from the myriad of different ways you can use the game’s relatively sparse toolkit.
This rings less true of the single player campaign and AI-fuelled matches of “Skirmish” mode, though as tools to start honing different approaches, each is serviceable enough. In an online match with a friend however (or up to 6, as the game allows)? That’s when strategy magic starts to…well, starts to emerge. That’s when all those “ifs” start to get asked in real time, tension mounting spectacularly as the balance of power shifts from moment to moment.
That’s when moving numbered triangles along lines into circles starts to feel like deciding the fate of the world.