This is a highly detailed and challenging game in which you have complete control of an entire galactic empire. This is much more than a simple war game – players may arrange interstellar trade routes, make treaties with other empires, control the production of planets, and race against the enemy to create new technologies and more destructive weapons. This is a game of power and control, conquest and rebellion, all set in a Machiavellian milieu in which it is better to be feared than loved.
Anacreon Reconstruction 4021 was a game I first came across in 1988 and it completely blew me away. Playing on my friends DOS powered PC this game ate hours of our lives, particularly late in the game against a computer player where the computers ‘turn’ would take upwards of a half hour as it churned away plotting against us.
The game has changed little in the way of game play since 1988 which is actually, a good thing. It was a complex game at that time where as an emperor you were responsible for an interstellar empire you had to conquer one planet at a time. Independent planets range in technology levels from primitives to Gate level technologies. We’ll get to Gate level a bit further on.
As you start the game, it’s you on your lone homeworld, or sometimes a cluster of two or three worlds that are the beginning of your empire. You don’t really know all that much about the rest of space around you. This can be remedied however as your empire comes equipped with a limitless supply of tiny, automated probe ships which can be sent to anywhere on the map. They’ll gather information about whatever is around them, send it back to you and then quietly expire. This is really your most practical way of gathering information but on a larger map can quickly lead to information overload If not managed properly. You’ll see lots of details about everything you probe for one turn and then just the basics (info which doesn’t change until new info is available) after that. The only way to get constantly updated information about an area of space is to occupy it.
Which bring us to travel. Anacreon was one of the first SF based anything that really introduced the concept of big space to me as a kid. We all know that space is big but it’s really, mind bogglingly big and that doesn’t always come across. Many space games have alternate ways of getting around this problem. Anacreon does to but at a later technology. Space travel takes time in this game, which means advanced planning is a must.
Anacreon takes place on a map of planets that are amenable to life. The map is basically an x,y grid where your planet is for you the starting point. Home is 0,0 on this map. If a planet is 3 grid spaces up and 2 grid spaces to the right, it’s at coordinates 3,2 and so on. Standard “warp” drives which are equipped on fighters and transports can move one grid space per turn. Fighters and transports are the easiest space faring vehicles to produce, and the cheapest but take the longest to go anywhere. The next level of technology are Jump drives. Jump ships and Jump transports can move 10 grid spaces per turn but are less effective in weaponry and can carry far less than warp transports.
That really lays down the basics for this game. It’s all about planning ahead because nothing happens instantly. You have slow, plodding but powerful fleets full of goodies or quick, relatively agile fleets that are less effective by themselves. This makes for interesting combat situations as your more agile fleets often skip right by enemy fleets )and the other way around) as you travel about the stars while your slower fleets can be more easily tracked an d intercepted.
There’s an economic aspect to this game as well. All planets produce metals, chemicals and supplies. Depending on their populations they need a basic level of each to survive and thrive. Planets can be given specific designations such as an Agricultural world, Base planet (ship and defense manufacturing), University world and so on. There’s a balance to be struck between creating and using resources and it has to be maintained with a mix of local production and shipping. Shipping in this version of Anacreon can be handled on a case by case basis or fleets can be automated to handle shipping x,y or z commodities between worlds.
Each planet is rated at a technology level that effects what it can produce. Technologies at pre-warp and below cannot produce much in the way of defense or offense. Starting at Warp level Fighters and Transports can be created. At Jump level Jump ships become available and so on. Most scenarios start with the human and AI players at Biotech level with none of the inherent advances that come with it. Starting at Warp level, each tech level has advances that must be reached before the next level can be obtained. These advances bring with them the ability to create things at that level, like Jump Ships, Elite troops (in the original game called Ninjas – who require an exotic substance called Ambrosia) and better offensive/defensive capabilities. Even if your home world is at Gate level, a Jump level planet will at best only produce Jump Ships and Jump Transports until it elevates itself to the next tech level.
There is no research tree which the players actively pursue. Advances happen based on a few factors, including obviously your current technological level, the number of other advanced worlds you own and any University worlds you may have.
Combat takes place on a fairly simple combat screen on which your combat ships and non-combat units (transports) are represented, along with enemy units including planets, orbiting defenses and enemy ships. The reverse is true when you are being attacked. You can determine the makeup of your attack fleets by dividing them into groups, and also determine where your defending forces will be in a series of orbits around a planet or in space.
This game offers some real complex and thought provoking play – particularly when playing against other human beings. I mentioned that it originally hit computers around 1988. The version I’m looking at was last updated around February of 2005. It’s a much more user friendly version than the character (as in, characters on your keyboard) based game of the previous century. Hell does that feel strange to type. The 2005 version offered some sort of network play but looks like it was supposed to connect to some central Anacreon server which is currently defunct. You can still do multi-player games with up to 8 players but hot seat is your only method for doing this.
Of course this game is dated. The graphics for the 2005 version (2.1d) are far from stellar and won’t impress you like any modern graphics do. But also with any great game, the graphics are secondary or tertiary in this case. It’s nice not to have to play this in character mode and a great thing that it seems one person in 2005 took it on themselves to update this game with a GUI.
What I’m saying is don’t expect cut scenes, images of mighty space battles where you control the ships or anything like that. Do expect a complex and demanding game on a strategic level however. If that’s your cup of tea you’ll very much like this game despite its age. Plus the price, which is free, is really right. System requirements? Forget about it! If you’re running anything more advanced than DOS you’re all set. What? Still running DOS? Well there’s a DOS version still available for you.
I believe that this game is currently open source – certainly it appears to have been abandoned. Whether the 2005 version is open source or if the 1988 code is the only available code I’m not sure. However this game begs to be updated again. I’ve contacted the author of the 2005 edition in the hopes that I can get more information. Here already is the basis for an amazing tactical/strategic space empire simulation. With some added network capability, better AI and a few tweaks you’d have one hell of a game on your hands.
I still love playing this game although finding people to hot seat with is going to be hard. I’d recommend you check it out – the download weighs in at almost 2 MB in size (amazing, eh?) and is certainly worth the several seconds it will take to download. The game comes with a number of scenarios to play, others are available and there are instructions for creating your own (each .scn file is a simple text file) which today’s modding community should find a piece of cake. I’m considering creating an Anacreon page myself on this site to host scenarios and the downloads. If anyone is interested in creating more please contact me and we’ll get this thing rolling.