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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Microprose 

Ups: A lot like Master of Orion 2, only set in Star Trek Universe.
Downs: Complicated; can bog down during big games.
System Reqs: 133 MHz Pentium, 16MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM
botf.jpg (6762 bytes)As a Star Trek fan, I have to say that most of the computer games based in the Star Trek universe have been sorely lacking in one respect or another. When I first heard that there was yet another game coming out, I was not very excited at first. After learning more about it, however, my interest was piqued. Here was a new concept for a Star Trek game: a turn-based strategy game similar to Master of Orion; moreover, it was being developed by Microprose, the company that produced MOO and MOO2. Since MOO was and still is one of my favorite games of all time, I began to get quite interested in Birth of the Federation.

botf3.jpg (2974 bytes)In BoTF, players choose from one of 5 races – Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Ferengi or Cardassian, and must build their empires by controlling star systems. If the system is unoccupied it can be colonized, but many times the best systems are occupied by minor races and must be either subjugated or convinced to join your empire. Empires build ships to explore, colonize and defend star systems and establish outposts allowing exploration deeper into space. Star systems are your main production facilities but must be populated with farms, power plants, factories and laboratories before they will produce. Other structures are available, such as shield generators, orbital batteries, shipyards, trade centers, and even special projects that convey unique benefits on the system that builds them. However, just like MOO, as the number of systems you control grows, it becomes a chore to manage every element of production in each system. Two things help relieve the tedium: a production queue of up to four items and an automatic build feature that allows the computer to select structures to be built. Unfortunately, the computer is not the best manager, so you’ll find yourself checking up on it frequently to make sure your systems develop properly.

botf1.jpg (7159 bytes)Graphically, the game is very nice. The main galactic map can show either the whole galaxy or a smaller section in greater detail. Icons representing systems, ships, trade routes and galactic anomalies are clear and easy to recognize. The game interface changes depending on which race you play, from the familiar Federation design to the alien Romulan and Cardassian layouts. To prevent clutter on the map, various groups of information can be toggled on and off, so, for example, you can display only military or trade information if you desire. The ships are depicted quite nicely, from the Federation cruisers to the Cardassian warships. The sounds and voices are also well done, adding to the Star Trek atmosphere the game attempts to create. The interface is clean, placing all the controls in logical groups and making options easy to find and use. I particularly like the screensaver, which kicks in after a few minutes of inactivity and shows large rotating views of the different ships in the game.

botf4.jpg (3557 bytes)One area where BoTF surpasses MOO is diplomacy. With the addition of minor races, there is more to do than sign treaties you know will eventually be broken. Diplomacy options range from friendship treaties to alliances and full membership in your empire. You must have a friendship treaty before trade routes can be established. The various races have different inclinations towards the major powers, so a race that is icy towards the Federation may be amiable towards the Klingons. You can overcome a negative attitude with monetary gifts, but it gets expensive quick. The Federation has a natural advantage at diplomacy and can more easily establish treaties with minor races, while the Cardassians and Romulans are more likely to subjugate them into their empires. Races also respond to events that happen during the game, so if you have a treaty with a race and one of your other systems is captured, that race will be more dubious of your ability to defend your empire and may even rebel. This interaction adds a lot of flavor and intrigue to the game that was lacking from MOO and MOO2.

botf2.jpg (10167 bytes)As in MOO, research is divided into six areas – Biotech, Computer, Construction, Energy, Propulsion and Weapons. Each area has different discoveries for every level achieved. Your total research pool, determined by the number of research labs in your empire, can be allocated as desired to each area, and new technologies allow different advancements, such as new ship types and increased production. The intelligence system is also similar to MOO; total capacity is determined by your databanks, and can be allocated to internal security, espionage or sabotage. Agents for each empire can choose from general, military, science or economic specialties, and they gather intelligence and status reports on enemy empires for you to use.

When ships of different empires encounter each other, tactical combat often results. During combat, the game switches to the tactical combat screen. Each player’s ships are grouped by type, and any support structures such as planets and outposts are shown. The graphics here are excellent – ships are shown correctly sized and are recognizable by type. Each group can be given different orders, such as charge, retreat and circle, and will carry out those orders until they are changed. There are several different views you can select, including top-down, chase and from target, making battles more interesting. A replay function allows you to play back encounters for another look. Combat flows quite well on this screen and is easy to follow, and is actually an improvement over MOO.

The enemy AI is pretty good overall, especially on the harder levels, where the races begin to really exploit their various advantages. An elaborate handicapping system exists, allowing players to start each race at a different difficulty and tech level if desired. This feature is especially useful in multiplayer games, allowing players of different skill levels to compete more evenly in the same game.

botf5.jpg (3269 bytes)The only real complaint I have with BotF is one that plagued both MOO and MOO2 – the game tends to bog down when playing in a large galaxy. I assume that this is due to the massive amount of information that the computer must generate and track each turn, but my feeling is that in a turn-based game the computer should be able to take care of all housekeeping transparently when running on a reasonably powerful machine. Still, the lag is not bad and doesn’t noticeably affect gameplay.

Star Trek – Birth of the Federation provides a fresh update to a classic strategy game. Not only will the game appeal to Star Trek fans, but also to hardcore strategy gamers who enjoy space based games and empire building. Finally, there is a Star Trek game that is worthy of the name.

--Derek Meyer