Space Tyrant is a game that allows you, in the space of five minutes, to bombard a planet from orbit, conquer it, then release a swarm of killer robots to run riot throughout its cities. It’s a game in which you can film a drunken senator, broadcast the embarrassing incident across Spacebook, then use the money you make to construct a starfleet in the shape of imposing, metal bunny rabbits. It’s a game where, confident in the security of your new empire, your entire fleet can get devoured by a giant, jetpack wearing hamster. Throughout its accessible, 4x-lite matches, Space Tyrant provides opportunities for all these things to happen. But strip away the B-Movie style and humour, and what’s left is a limiting tabletop-style strategy game with too much reliance on RNG to ever be truly satisfying.
Of the three unlockable factions, you’ll start with just one. The Hoplites, an alliance of space-faring Bucky O’Hare-style bunnies with big guns and bad attitudes. Campaigns span several missions of increasing difficulty while you race to stop your opponent conquering any one of four space sectors. The actual missions themselves have only a handful of objectives, with occasional secondary win conditions. Conquer 60% of all planets, for example, or amass enough crystal to play a certain amount of cards. Whatever the objectives are, missions unfold in a similar manner. Build and upgrade the strongest, most fear inspiring fleets you can, and smash the galaxy into submission.
You’ll begin each missions with a single, small fleet orbiting your homeworld. Your home world is a nice place that presumably contains all your stuff. Family photos, favourite snacks, giant deathrays etc. So don’t lose it, or you lose the match. From there, you move your fleet one node each turn. If you move to a planet without an enemy presence, you can instantly attempt to capture it. This occurs through the nail-biting medium of dice rolls as you try to match or beat the planet’s defense number. If a planet has four defense, and you roll a three, damage is subtracted, and you can have another bash at it next turn. Beat the defense, and you’ve just nabbed yourself a mysterious new planet. Hopefully one filled with lush landscapes and advanced civilizations to crush and subjugate and bend to your evil will.
Planets come in several types. There’s your standard, spherical, looks-enough-like-earth-to- imagine-you’ve-just-nuked-your-boss-into-oblivion type. These provide a gold income each turn, which can used to purchase more ships. Science labs provide a steady income of pure science for upgrading your fleets. Crystal deposits provide you with the resources to play cards (more on these in a bit). There are prisons, which – once liberated – give you a new fleet. There are also big guns the size of planets which can be used to attack enemy fleets.
Capturing a planet triggers a random event, and this is where most of Space Tyrant’s humor comes from. Disaster, political upheaval, or just plain goofiness are all possibilities. You’re often given three or so choices to respond. Make a choice, wait for another (this time invisible) dice roll, and get some delicious results. This can be anything from income bonuses to fleet damage, and over time, can sway the course of a match, even if they sometimes feel inconsequential in isolation.
Remember those cards I mentioned earlier? Of course you do, because you’re an attentive reader and I thank you for it. Aside from special events, you draw one of those per turn, and each has a crystal resource cost. Cards can add free ships to a fleet, reduce a planet’s defense, boost your income for a few turns, and quite a few other effects. You can only have three in your hand at the end of a round, so you’ll need to use or discard any spares before finishing.
Although you’ll occasionally encounter an unguarded planet, most will have a civilian presence. They tend not to take too kindly to invaders. Moving to the same space as a hostile fleet initiates combat. You’ll be transported to a grid-based representation of both your fleets, and pick a single tactic from three choices before combat begins. Tactics grant bonuses, such as removing an enemy ships shield, or granting both side’s fighters double damage for ten seconds. Fleets attack each other automatically, but you can use a regenerating energy resource to manually fire off special abilities. There’s a few small tactical considerations to keep in mind here, and timing can help swing a close dogfight. Generally though, its a bit of a clickfest, with the strongest fleet usually emerging victorious.
As you move through space, bending new planets to your will, the populations make an effort to thwart your galactic conquest. Your current control is always represented by a tyranny meter. Let it get too low and you’ll have a rebellion on your hands, costing you the game. In terms of play, this generally means that you need to keep moving, keep capturing planets, and keep control of the planets you already have.
So, there’s a lot of to think about, but Space Tyrant does a good job of easing you in with some well done tutorials, and soon, you fall into a fairly comfortable rhythm of play. Menacing, cheesy sci-fi synths blare through the speakers as you blast giant snail dreadnoughts from the sky, mind control officials, and sentence rebels to the pain booth. After a few hours, however, the limitations become apparent. You start to feel less like a Space Tyrant, and more like a Space Middle Manager. No-one goes to space for that shit.
Space Tyrant describes itself as a ‘beer and pretzels’ 4x, but by focusing on simplification, they’ve also limited tactical options. Because of the ever-depleting tyranny meter, the only real viable approach is to expand as quickly as possible. Because of this, the only variety in how matches play out is based on the random encounters, card drawns, and occasional roaming space monsters. The result is a game that feels like it’s playing you more than you’re playing it.
Strip away the superficial aspects – the flavor text, the cool looking ships and explosions – and what’s left feels extremely limited. You expand as quickly as possible, respond to threats, try and protect your borders. Ultimately though, however well you’re doing, you’re still at the mercy of chance. Move to a new planet, go through some dice rolls and card draws, and hope for the best. It’s often amusing, but never tactically interesting or empowering. Matches can often be decided within the first several turns. Get unlucky, and playing catch-up becomes impossible, forcing you to quit, or just go through the motions until the AI puts you out of your misery.
Should You Buy It?
Space Tyrant is a stylish game, and the developers have nailed the B-Movie look they were going for. Dozens of engaging and frequently hilarious random events, mixed with spot-on sound design, create a distinct atmosphere. Everything looks and sounds like the tyrannical space empire you always dreamed of running, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. What’s left is something that’s fun to dip into for short sessions, to experience all the moving parts and see what the random number generators throw at you, but one that gives you very little choice over how you engage. It’s casual without being empowering, and failure can often feel arbitrary. The theme alone might be enough to sell you on it, but if that’s the case, be aware that theme is all Space Tyrant really has going for it.
Available from Steam
Space Tyrant was played on PC via Steam using a key provided by the developer.