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10 Min Space Strategy Review

By on June 18th, 2011 6:25 pm

In Goblin Lunatics’ own words 10 Min Space Strategy is a free “compact, quick turn-based 4x (space) strategy” PC game. Their intention was to make a not so complex space strategy game that still requires the player to decide a great deal of strategy. Let me already advance that they were successful.

Some months ago I’ve made a quick first impressions of 10 Min Space Strategy. The game was still in Alpha stage by then but there was already a demo available. By then I thought the game was already fun to play. There were no crashes or bugs, a few quirks here and there but nothing too serious to report.

Some days ago Goblin Lunatics has released the final version of 10 Min Space Strategy. Now it’s time for some more serious business. Here we go.

I downloaded 10 Min Space Strategy, installed it, configured the graphics, audio and language settings. By the way, have I mentioned that this game is free? Yes, completely free. No trial, micro-transaction, premium or any other babble. I think this is probably the most finished, playable and complete game I have ever played that it’s 100% free.

Races configuration

You are allowed to customize your race in 10MSS. That’s right. Not just the name and color but you can also pick from 20 different (interesting) traits, your homeworld type, and an overall credo (which means your race’s belief system). The credo provides you with special bonuses and special buildings.

10 Min Space Strategy: Race Configuration Panel

Being able to customize your races and choose your traits through a points system is a rare asset to be found these days in space strategy games. 10MSS delivers more than a sufficient number of race styles and traits to satisfy your customization needs. Traits are meaningful also. Although a great deal are modifiers (bonus percentages) others provide special abilities like the possibility to capture enemy ships, to be a tolerant race to hostile environments, to be more efficient against space monsters, etc, etc.

Exploration and Exploitation aspects

Once you start your game you see your planet and some other planets around. Some of them have a funny icon on top that looks like a scorpion. That signals the presence of a space monster on that planet (it took me several minutes to figure that out for myself  I confess).

In 10MSS the maps don’t contain stars and start systems, as usual in these types of games, but only planets. One can imagine perhaps that the entire map represents one single star system. The starmap concept is pretty abstract in this sense however that does not hurt the overall game experience in my point of view.

10 Min Space Strategy: Game Start

One very interesting thing to notice in the map is that besides planets there are also anomalies around. These anomalies provide extra bonuses when they’re under your control. These anomalies can be asteroid fields (that I think should slow down ships) that provide a production boost. There are also gas clouds (that I also think should also slow down ships) that provide a population growth boost (although I did not grasp the reason for this last bonus). There are also alien wrecks that can be explored to increase your research speed.

But there’s more to anomalies. First of all they vary in size which also varies the bonus level they provide and the number of ships you need to control them. Another aspect about anomalies is that they are finite. I think this was a great design decision. By being scarce the anomalies are like gems to be exploited only when the time is right.

One interesting improvement would be the ability to know when a resource is being exploited, without the need to go the “Empire screen” to check that. If the resource is being exploited it would be nice to see it glow for example. This is a minor quality aspect, but important nevertheless in my opinion.

Concerning Planets

In your planets you can build Factories, Research Centers, Cities, Bomber Factories, Supply Depots or other special buildings depending on your race credo. These buildings provide you with almost everything you need to thrive in the game.

I find the planets buildings construction, and the overall production system, quite elegant. It’s all very simple to manage but there is considerable depth to it. For starters you have a limited number of slots available in your planets (that swing around and glow so that you know that that planet still has slots available) so you have to plan carefully what to build on those slots. The game also allows you to build multiple structures of the same type if you decide so (I’m glad they did it that way). Too many factories and you create larger fleets faster but if you lack research centers you will stall your technology advance. Nothing is left out, population plays also a major role in production. So you need also to balance your population capacity and growth to decide what to build.

In the beginning you control one single planet, your homeworld. Your homeworld will be of your natural environment type but you can colonise other types of planets, although with a penalty.

Another great feature of 10MSS is that planets have special abilities (as far as I could tell all of them have one, maybe not the best decision). And there are plenty of these special abilities. Some examples are Natural mineral resources, Remains of a lost civilization or an Alien defensive structure just to name a few. These features provide bonuses and another layer of strategy since players must decide what’s best to build on each planet in order to take more benefit from its special feature. As a minor remark currently it’s not possible to rename planets, I think it would be nice to be able to do that.

Another nice thing is that some planets are guarded by space monsters. You need to wipe those out before you can colonise them. Although I like the space monsters idea I think it would be preferable not to disclose which planets have monsters until a spaceship arrives there. This would increase curiosity and the surprise factor, two crucial things that increase fun in a game.

Research

There are 5 tech research areas in 10MSS: Environment, Industry, Propulsion, Warfare and Empire. The first deals with populations improvements (capacity and growth), the second enhances the spaceships construction speed, Propulsion increases your spaceships reach and scanning ability, Warfare increases your combat ability and Empire deals with limits (the number of things you can build).

The research system, as with almost anything else in 10MSS, is simple yet effective. Each research center produces +1 research point for each population unit present in that planet. Therefore it’s not only production but also research that is dependent on population which makes population a key constraint in the game. And rightly so in my opinion (not like in some other games where it does not matter how much population you have you can always produce the same, but is a talk for another day).

You can pick which tech area, from the 5 above, you would like to focus your research on (only one at a time).

But there’s more to research. In addition to the 5 research areas, that if researched increase the “power” of each area, the game provides you also with “Research Traits”.

10 Min Space Strategy: Empire Details (Research Traits)

These research traits are kind of special projects that can be unlocked as soon as you reach a certain level of research for each of the 5 main research areas. These special projects may require just one research area to reach a certain level but normally it takes two research areas. This research traits feature is a cool aspect about the research system that makes it less 1 dimensional. This surely enhances strategy decisions to be made.

Space Combat & Planet Bombardment

There are only three types of spaceships in 10MSS: Fighters, Bombers and Colony Ships. Fighters are the backbone of your armada. Bombers are used to bombard planets. Colony ships are used to colonise planets and build space stations, a very important asset to deploy in more demanding times.

Space combat is completely cinematic. When two enemy forces engage in battle a screen is shown where you can watch the battle unfold. In the meantime, or after the battle ends, you can look at both yours and your opponent modifiers/bonus (and usually there are plenty of them). Most of the modifiers depend on the races traits, others depend on research you do in-game.

10 Min Space Strategy: Battles

Fighters are the ones (and only ones) that engage in direct combat. The Bombers mission is to bombard planets, but they can also be very handy when indirectly used in combat, if you happen to have the “Heavy Torpedoes” trait. When you have this trait your bombers don’t count for your overall ship numbers but they add up as bonus when your armada engages an enemy fleet. If you attack an enemy fleet composed exclusively of bombers the combat ends prematurely, you win and the opponent looses all bombers.

Although combat sounds very simple (and it really is), since there are no tactical aspects to control, it is still very engaging and fun because although you don’t control what happens during the battle your decisions before the battle do matter. You often  ask crucial questions like “Which mix of fighters and bombers should I use?“, “Should I mix Fighters and Bombers at all?“, “Maybe I should split my armada into 2 or maybe 3 additional fleets“.

A potential criticism that can be made to 10MSS  is that it provides only a small bunch of ship types, and you cannot customize any aspect of them either. Normally you would expect to have corvettes, cruisers, heavy cruisers, battleships or dreadnoughts in these kind of games right? Or at least some ship customization abilities. In 10MSS the spaceships concept is more abstract than usual, so there are only fighters and bombers to do all the war, and all your industry and research, the ALL game, revolves almost exclusively between these two types of ships alone.

In my personal opinion that criticism is more than acceptable before you try 10MSS, but after you play a couple of games you don’t notice that lack of ship types at all. The ships concept is so well abstracted that you don’t feel so much the need for more ships (although it wouldn’t hurt to have a couple more).

Planets can’t be conquered in 10MSS, so there’s no invasion concept. To remove your enemy from a planet you must bring bombers to bombard that planet. Each turn, depending on the number of bombers you bring, the enemy population will drop. Every turn you lose some ships in the bombardment process. When no population is present in the planet it becomes empty and it’s time to bring in your colony ship.

The planets siege process is quite straightforward, however it wouldn’t hurt to allow planets to be conquered and to provide a report on damage and possibly even allow the player to decide if it wants to destroy facilities. After a certain amount of population is massacred the remaining could be conquered and not completely annihilated. This would avoid the need to bring colony ships, a very tedious process, specially in late games.

Another very interesting concept in 10MSS are space stations. You can build as many as your Empire tech level allows you to. You need a colony ship to build a space station (awkward?). Ok, maybe it should be another type of ship but  I figure that for simplistic and economic reasons Goblin Lunatics choose to give the colony ship a double purpose.

10 Min Space Strategy: Space Stations

Space stations have an effect radius (that can be seen in the picture above) and can hold 1 module that you choose from possible alternatives from military strength, increased ship movement among others.

There is a catch to space stations however, you cannot dismantle space stations after you build them. You can build many of them but it would be nice to be able to scrap them when they’re not needed anymore. I only built a couple of space stations in my games but I imagine that they can be quite important, specially in very large games or multiplayer games, so the ability to dismantle them would be important in my opinion.

Other aspects

Music is great! It can become a bit repetitive however, especially on larger maps, but nothing too serious since the games don’t last for that long.

The game text fonts are a bit distracting and take a while to get used to. Another esthetic minor aspect is that information can sometimes overlap, especially on smaller planets. Maybe there should be an option to toggle some information on and off, like the planets population or name.

Explosions effects in the strategy map and in the cinematic map are simple but at least they’re there.

Battles feel balanced. I don’t know all the numbers behind combat but I didn’t feel the need to know them also. There are so many bonus modifiers that it’s always a bit unpredictable what the battle outcome will be, I like that.

A minor detail about space combat when sieging planets is that it would be nice to have the name of the planet appear in the cinematic dialog. It’s a minor detail but everything helps to immersion. Not being able to rename planets also bugs me a bit.

Personal suggestion: Besides gas clouds, asteroid fields and alien wreaks the game could also offer wormholes or stargates (fixed from game start, with no need to create additional ones). This would increase strategy complexity dramatically since these gateways would need to be watched carefully. Done right I don’t think this would hurt the simple mechanics of the game.

Another thing that would be useful would be to have a relocation feature to send ships produced in a planet automatically to a designated planet, space station or any other place. I surely missed that during my late games.

End game is simple. You win, that’s it :) There could be stats, plenty of stats. But maybe some highlights like the maximum number of fighters and bombers built, the elapsed time and a score would be nice to have.

10 Min Space Strategy: End Game

10MSS provides hot-seat multiplayer. I’ve tried it, it’s simple and looks flawless.

Graphics are simple but more than appropriate for these kind of games.

The user interface is practically perfect. It provides you with plenty of tooltips. I would say that all the information in the UI is self-evident or if not the tooltips will do the trick for you. No tutorial? No manual? Who needs it? After 15 minutes you already know 90% you need to know and the other 10% will come later in natural pace.

One minor issue with the user interface though is that it provides no information about how many turns a building or a tech will take to construct or to research. Was that on purpose? I must confess that bugged me in the beginning a little bit but then I got used to it and it didn’t bother me at all in the long-term.

There are no diplomacy options, none whatsoever. You are always at war with your opponents. That being said however it’s funny that I think I was successful in doing a certain kind of abstract diplomacy. What I mean by this is that in the beginning of my large game I did not attack my opponent and the AI did the same. We carefully monitored each other and no one wanted to make the first move (like in chess). At some point the AI was present in a planet I found interesting to claim mine so I “declared war”, not explicitly of course. So, although there are no diplomacy features in 10MSS there is some degree of implicit or imaginative diplomacy you can apply. But that being said yes, it’s a minus for the game not to have at least the basic diplomacy options, especially one that candidates to be named 4x. In my opinion a game is only pure 4x when it provides a minimum set of diplomacy options.

An important remark is that I found 10MSS a little bit too easy. I played 3 games, one small, other medium and another large and I won all three of them without the need to restart or load once. I guess the AIs probably squabble between each other too early and never reach (this is just a guess) critical numbers. I do amass fleets so I found quite easy to put AIs fighting each other and then after they weaken themselves I attacked with my huge fleets and steam rolled them.

This is what happens when you don’t have diplomacy options. If we could forge simple nonaggression treaties or military alliances we would know, and the AI also, who is enemy and who is not. This is surely one aspect that these kind of simpler games lack.

However I did find the AIs decently competent. I never saw a unescorted colony ship or any too apparent suicide mission in 10MSS (so unfortunately common in some AAA games that claim to have “great” AI).

One thing that the game lacks though are events. Things that surprise the player and increase the fun of playing.

The extermination phase, like in so many other space strategy games is very boring, after some point you know you’ll win so probably there should be a “the AI surrenders after some point option” or something.

Conclusions

It was a long review but I think 10MSS totally deserves it. It’s not because a game is Indie, free and simple that it doesn’t deserve to be thoroughly reviewed. Moreover I did have fun playing and that surely helps the review become a bit more extensive.

10 Min Space Strategy holds to its promise, it is great to play quick games. I think this game would be perfect for you if you’re travelling in a plain, train or waiting at the doctor. But it can also be a great joy to play a quick game at home, at work or at any other place where you have your PC or laptop.

If you’re a space strategy fan you have to try 10MSS. I guarantee you will not be disappointed, just be warned that it is a simple game so don’t expect anything too flashy. Even if you’re not a fan of Sci-fi 10MSS is still a good strategy game that surely deserves your time, after all it’s free and will only take you about 10 min to try it, so you really have nothing to lose have you?

Maybe in the future Goblin Lunatics will also do a tablet version of 10MSS. If that would be possible, or easy, it would be just natural to do that. However my advice to Goblin Lunatics is never to lose sight of traditional PC players, they are the backbone of players that play these kind of games, at least these days.

Goblin Lunatics deserves our appreciation for having developed this precious gem, and to letting us play it for free. I’m sure they will come up with ideas to monetize it, they surely deserve the credit for it.

10 Min Space Strategy
Space Sector score: 8.2
(about the score system)

 

The Good:
– Free
– Provides races customization
– Different types of anomalies make eXploitation rich
– Intuitive gameplay and user interface
– Research has an interesting depth for a simple game
– Planets have special features
– Space stations add strategy depth
– Music is great
– Game feels balanced
– AIs are competent
The Bad:
– Small number of ships options provided
– Invasion system is a bit awkward. Cannot conquer. Only wipe out and colonize.
– No info on how many turns things take to build and research
– A bit too easy, and no difficulty options to choose from
– No diplomacy options

 

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22 Comments


  1. Tororin says:

    Wow, that’s a long review for a “10 Minute” game. But I enjoyed every word of it! Thank you for this article.

    It’s also nice to know that such a web site exists. You, sir, have a new regular visitor.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hi Tororin,

      indeed the review came out a bit big, but that’s what happens when I’m having fun writing it :) I found so much stuff to say that I thought “why not say it all?”. However I do tend to lose a bit the track of words sometimes, that’s something I’ll definitely need to improve.

      Cheers and welcome!

  2. Oso says:

    “I think this is probably the most finished, playable and complete game I have ever played that it’s 100% free.”

    No love for Valve’s Alien Swarm?

    This game looks great fun though! Will be trying for sure.

  3. Zacahry says:

    Hey Adam, the length is no problem man. Long reviews are a dying trend, which is disappointing given the amount of information that needs to be covered for this genre of games. I remember watching Gamespot’s video review of Master of Orion 3 which clocked in around 12 minutes, and people complaining about how long it was. Well, the end result was that I got the definitive review, period.

    Wouldn’t it be great if someone did a ten-minute video review of this game? Just to be ironic… :razz:

    • Adam Solo says:

      “Wouldn’t it be great if someone did a ten-minute video review of this game? Just to be ironic… :)”
      It would definitely be fun someone would do that :)

      Regarding the name I remember some people complaining about it at alpha stage. But they sticked with it, I guess the point was really to show how quick a game could be played, and as can be seen the devs were not very preoccupied with commercial issues by then. Maybe now they’ll change the name to something more “sellable”.

  4. Van says:

    Nice game and nice review. :grin:

  5. Bynaus says:

    Very nice review. You should send them the link to your article (after all, they are asking for feedback). I am sure they will consider your (very interesting, I think) suggestions, especially after this very kind and extensive review.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Thanks for your words Bynaus. They are already aware of my review. Moreover there is a thread in the forums where we are discussing the game. So far they have thanked the review but have not yet commented my suggestions.

  6. _v_ says:

    Hi guys,

    Thank you for all the feedback and ideas! :)

    As you might know, we are an indie gamedev team, we created this game in our free time. Our resources are limited, so there might be a new version with bugfixes and 1-2 new feature but nothing more.
    We are happy and proud to see that you like the game and appreciate all the feedback.

    IF we can find the time AND there is a publisher who is able to support us there COULD be an improved and more polished release of the game in the future.

    Anyway, i’ll keep you updated and will post news here and on our blog.

    Cheers,
    .v /The Goblin Lunatics team

  7. jake says:

    Hey very interesting game and great review.
    It’s the perfect game to waste a few minutes, a bit like the desktop dungeons of 4x games.
    Simple but fun defines the game very well. ;-)

  8. onigi says:

    it is great review. I’ll play again. :smile:

  9. Nick says:

    This game gets my seal of approval, it has what I think only the best 4X games have of “just one more turn then I’ll sleep” :smile:

    But really, this is one of the most enjoyable 4X’s I’ve played in the past year, thanks!

  10. _v_ says:

    ok guys, it is official now:
    we will continue developing 10minSS. thank you for all your support! :)
    i’ll keep you updated with latest news and you can always reach us here:
    http://goblinlunatics.blogspot.com
    http://facebook.com/TheGoblinLunatics

  11. _v_ says:

    v1.02 with a lot of bugfixes and french translation is out now!
    http://goblinlunatics.blogspot.com/2011/07/v102-is-out-now.html

  12. ono says:

    You made a very nice review which I thought was spot-on in almost all regards! I only beg to differ on one point:
    – The AI is miserable.
    Possibly, this may be partially intended, as it is not clear if this game is primarily intended for multiplayer. If it is not, but, rather, as you suggest, for a quick game at the airport or when waiting for a coffee, then, sadly, we will need to wait for more development for this game to have replay value.
    Because, potentially, it does. There are a lot of options despite its simplicity. That is what I call very clever design. There are some minor balance issues (on most maps, “warmonger” credo is simply much too strong, and “blitz” is too cheap), but that is really minor.
    The only problem is the AI. I played 4 games, testing out as much as I could, and although I had no idea about the rules or anything, I simply crushed the AI every time. After the third game, I think I understood most of everything, and I simply walked all over the AI without any challenge at any point. The AI will not consolidate, and blithely sends its meagre, separated forces into certain destruction. It’s a shame, because the game design itself is very close to being a work of genius.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Thanks for the kind words. Yes, the game is a bit too easy. The funny thing is that I found the AI to be quite clever w.r.t. maneuvering around. They didn’t do suicidal attacks and I found that they manuever quite cleverly around the map, retreating and moving forward realistically. However the game is too easy, so although the AI seems clever it does not develop well enough to pose a challenge. The AIs immediately start skirmishes between each other (since everybody is always at war with everybody), so, they never have a huge fleet. I can just sit, build ships and when the time is right just steamroll everybody.

      So, definitely not perfect but quite enjoyable :)

  13. ono says:

    I played 2 or 3 games with only 1 AI. It was making nothing but suicide missions. It had no threat detection algorithm at all (or, if it did, it was extremely poor).

  14. me here says:

    Wow…through the entire review I kept asking myself, does a game really only take 10 minutes, with all the features? I still can’t believe it, so I guess I’ll have to try it.


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