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A Complex Browser Game Without Micro-transactions? Zandagort – First Impressions

By on March 15th, 2012 8:00 am


I had Zandagort on my radar for quite some time now. My initial goal was to go for a review, but after a while I realized that I couldn’t apply my usual review pattern here, which is to play a game extensively for a straight period of time, so not to lose focus. I will eventually review Zandagort but for now here are my first impressions.

Zandagort is a free online sci-fi strategy game that you play in your browser.”One more browser MMO ?!” – you may say. Well, I think this one may be a bit different than usual. Normally browser-based games tend to be almost identical, offering a free to play with micro-transactions model (or premium subscriptions) that grant some in-game bonuses. So, while games are free the system isn’t fair because people more willing to spend money will have enormous advantage over the rest of the competition, which is a show stopper for many players. Occasionally I try new browser sci-fi strategy games to try to spot something out of the ordinary. I think Zandagort may be one of those cases.

The name and lore behind Zandagort is linked with a leader of an Andromeda Galaxy alien species (named Zandagort) that decides to visit our galaxy. The game describes this leader as mean, evil and with a strong desire to destroy the human race. How typical. The idea behind the game is that human players need to unite against this common foe. Apparently, and according to the game’s lore, in Zandagort’s server #1 the game ended with the complete destruction of the Milky Way. This same lore states that a standard server instance takes about 5 months to complete (which I find hard to believe due to the game’s complexity, but ok).

In Zandagort you don’t complete a series of fast missions, begin building quickly and start annoying everyone around, crushing and pillaging at will, as usual in this sort of game. No. In Zandagort things take a long, long time to happen. And this is the primary reason I couldn’t finish my review in due time. In fact I’m still learning how to play the game at half way through the tutorial after many play sessions.


The game is very deep and complex, to an extent that I sometimes feel that they may have gone too far. But, that’s one of the reasons that makes it different in the first place, so… When I started my game I wanted to build something fast like housing for my planet’s citizens, maybe a bunch of power stations or perhaps some factories to boost industry fast? No, it can’t be done. Things take hours to build. You issue a couple of build orders and you’re done for the day. At least that was my play pattern.

The game offers deep economical management. And man, do I mean deep! (5 different types of food industries alone?) You need to not only take care of natural resources and population but also take care of food, energy, animals, forests and a bunch of different industries of all shapes and sizes to foster production in your planets. Afterwards (not there yet) you should be able to research new technologies, forge alliances, establish trade, spy and wage war. Usually there’s no single player mode in this type of games, and Zandagort is no exception. All the diplomacy, trade, espionage you do in-game you do against other humans (as usual in MMOs).

The User Interface is very slick. The information, some times a big bunch of it, is well organized and playing feels fluid without any major doubts or annoyances. The chat system (both alliance and general one) is functional and well integrated. There’s also a cool starmap. The learning curve however, not unexpectedly, is a bit steep. But that’s not a problem per se. I’m finding the tutorial quite easy and fun to follow, and I’m having no big problem understanding the game’s mechanics, however the game does take some time to learn how to play.


Aesthetically the game is poor. Graphics are minimal,with a few good models, although tiny. There’s no music and no sounds whatsoever (as usual in browser games). But that’s probably not the reason people play these games anyway.

I think the game is out of the ordinary and probably deserves at least a quick checkout because it’s free and apparently there are no in-game advantages for people with bigger wallets. The game does provide a few advantages to people who donate but that seems to be limited to a better map and a list of buildings that construct automatically (it didn’t seem like a big deal). Other than that there’s no faster building, or the usual “cheating” (boost production, resources or other advantages) that shuns many people from this kind of games.

The dev team behind the game is Hungarian, as for most of the community playing the game is, but I could spot a bunch of people from other nationalities playing there and at least one English based alliance that I could join.

I had fun playing at times, closely following the user-friendly tutorial, slowly developing my planet, but I’m not sure if I’m too attracted to the game’s depth and the time it takes to do things. Currently the game isn’t clicking for me, it’s not doing a good job in keeping me engaged. But, maybe you’ll have a different opinion if you have the time and desire to check your empire once or twice a day with this sort of complex mechanic and slow-paced experience. At least you’ll have a feeling that you’re not falling behind due to an unfair game boosting micro-transactions system.

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  1. Claude says:

    You own 1 planet only?

  2. Adam Solo says:

    At tech level 4 (half tutorial) I only hold 1 planet. Don’t know about future planets colonization but I guess that shall be possible judging from the starmap.

  3. TimmY says:

    How is player wise? I mean the server/galaxy population. I now play Cosmic Supremacy and there are very few players there. On my old game, galactica, we were at least 100 players on a galaxy.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I think someone in-game talked about a ~100 active player-base, if I remember correctly (but the best is to ask in the in-game). There are many players online that’s for sure, although many are Hungarian (which can be hard if you want to socialize) but maybe many will understand and write English if required. However as I said in the article there is at least one english-based alliance to get you started.

    • cucu says:

      Around 350 daily active players on s7 (the latest server) and 250 on s6 (the server Adam tested, ending in about 3-4 weeks). Of course there are some who play on both servers, so altogether there might be around 400-450 active players.


  4. Garmine says:

    I have been playing this game for quite a lot. :)

    I’d like to add just some notes to it, I hope it isn’t a problem :D

    In the begginnning there are 100-200 active players, ~500 altogether, later the nubmer decreases, now, on S6 (~20 days before the end) there are ~330 players and ~100 actives. At least the half of the hungarian players speaks english (me too :)), so that shouldn’t be a big problem.

    The game’s fantastic, you can have hours of fun in it if you get used to it :) However the learning takes a longer time than usually, that can be quite enjoyable as well (and sometimes annoying), but now (from S7) we have an alliance called “Academy” or (maybe it isn’t the actual translation) “United Federation of Planets”. This is a special academy in which experienced players teach (real plaayers, not bots ! :)) newbies, in english as well !

    As for the planets : you start with only one planet, and then you start to grow slowly. However, the increase is exponential, and after ~5 months you’ll have about 20-30 planets, if you play daily, and ~20 if you play 3 times a day. After you’ve build a planet, there isn’t much work to do with it, but about 30 planets can still tak a while ! The record was ~50 planets, however the record breaking alliance managed to “survive” the server without any mayor wars (expect for one in the end and the Zandagort), and they were experienced players. (No, they weren’t droids :D) Colonization works by attacking a planet with your fleet (even 1 fighter is enough, but you have to defeat the enemy fleets first).

    The graphics aren’t the best, I agree, but they’re under heavy construction at the moment. Just look at theese :
    They’re going to be the pictures of some power facilities (fusion + SPS), and they’re the “prototype” of the final drawings. Even the GUI is under complete overhaul, as I know, it will be changed for S8, but I1m not 100% sure in it. Also, there are rumors about a full-screen map for wars \o/

    By the way : wars are real-time, and 100% played on the map. No more “you’ll kill everyone and bomb the planet in 10 minutes 53 seconds” lines, you can see your fleets moving, and even shot them down, like in an RTS. (Every ship moves every minute, making one “hyperspace-jump”, and battles last from hours to even days !) There are several kinds of ships as well, each one is good at one thing (or two). For example, the “fulgur” is the fastest ship in the game, but it isn’t very strong : it’s ideal for guerilla fights.

    Sorry for the long post, and for “spoiling”, I just would like you (and everyone, who loves sci-fi, and strategy) to try the game. It worth the time ! :)

    (And of course sorry for my grammatical mistakes :))

    • Adam Solo says:

      It’s never a problem to express yourself :) As long as it’s civil. Thanks for your (clearly veteran) input on this. Reading your comment I see that I didn’t even grasped the tip of the iceberg. However that’s what concerns me. You say that the first planet takes you a long time to develop but then it’s somehow downhill from there. The thing is, it took me many days (I didn’t played continuously) just to develop my first planet to what I think is moderate development. It’s not much of a question of time spent learning but more of time waiting for things to finish. I found Zandagort’s planetary development too deep for a typical sci-fi strategy game (several types of food industries, several types of power planets, …). But, that’s ok as long as people find the game fun of course.

      Your English was fine, I understood everything you wrote (I think…). I’m not English native myself so I tend to make many typos also. Don’t know how important that is for native English readers (the main demographic of this blog).

      Again, thanks for sharing your experiences playing the game, and please come back often. I’ll probably re-check Zandagort when it gets the overhaul you mentioned.

      • Garmine says:

        Firstly, thanks for the critics, I always wonder what can others dislike about the game. (not like that you dislike it – but others may do for theese reasons.)

        The game has many sides, many players find what they like, there are some, who only manage fleets (mostly alliance fleets), and they’re great in it. Others do a lot of diplomacy (loads of letters with lots of work), some enjoy the stock exchange, and others love to build planets. There are also some palyers who are here just for the society. :)
        But sadly not everyone falls in love with it. But I haven’t seen any game that had a “100% ratio” :)

        In the beginning you really have to wait a lot, be patient, but as you develop, things can get really fast. In the end, you can build a medium-sized planet to 100% in a day, but smaller planets won’t worth it, that’s why bigger players prefer bigger planets. (Size matters ! :D)

        There aren’t really big differences between food industries and between some of the power plants, but it can be sometimes confusing, as you said. :) (At first I couldn’t even choose any of them, so I asked my alliance-members, they helped me a lot :))

        If you have a lot of free time, you can be a very good player in only 2 months, I’ve started the game on the first day of S6, and my top rank was 23. Then I had several thing to do IRL, and I falled back. Yes, being online daily (or every second day) for 1-2 hours, and arranging things helps a lot, but it isn’t a must to make a huge empire instantly. You can play in small, and still enjoy the game. :)

        The game has imperresed me so much, in only 4,5 months, that I’m now working on a “client” for it – just for fun. (And I hope somewhere that once my client will become official :D)

        (And as I see I love to speak about this game :-)))

        A little-bit off, but just a question : where did my avatar come from ? (I wanted to set exactly this one, but I didn’t find a way to do so. :D)

      • Garmine says:

        P.S. :
        It may sound like I’m a staff person of the game, but I don’t. I just would like to be. :)

      • Adam Solo says:

        Obviously you love the game to the point of speaking for the game as you sound like a dev and for developing a specific client for it. Thanks for your impressions about what to expect later on and by your confirmation that you need to have a considerable amount of online free-time to play the game reasonably well, which is of no surprise since it is an MMO after all :)

        You seem to have the knowledge, the passion, the time and the skill, maybe you should apply for a position within the game dev team :D Seriously, maybe you could be of help to them. Most probably you already contribute somehow.

        Your avatar is linked to the email you supplied to register the blog :)

      • Garmine says:

        That’s a good idea, however, the DEV team is quite small. :D
        It’s a small game after all. As far as I know, there is 1 coder (Cucu), 1 site-admin (Ajemmarci), and an artist (I don’t know her nick, and she’s cucu’s girlfriend as I know).
        A little bit like a family business. :)

        And also, I’m not a professional coder, I’m still learning it (but who will stop learning it ? There’s a new thing every day ;)), so I should come up with something useful, as a prove of my skills, and then I would ask Cucu about it.

        And thank you ! :)

  5. Tu2 says:

    Sorry for my fellow Hungarian here, he used way too many emoticons, and also was too enthusiastic – I mean, even if you really love something, you have to know the universal truth that liking something is very human and subjective

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Post category: Game First Impressions, Game Previews