Back in the olden days (the nineties) there were a plethora of game choices for Star Trek fans. Most notable for fans of strategy games were Birth of the Federation and Star Trek: Armada. These games were essentially clones of earlier, better games. But they were redesigned with a Star Trek theme and cast of characters. Star Trek: Conquest is the embarrassingly dim-witted child of these two classic strategy games.
At first glance, the game is a strategy/sim game like Birth of the Federation, or its parent game Master of Orion. You play on a map of the galaxy that is represented by a smattering of dots (star systems) and lines connecting those dots. Your task is to move your fleet from one star system to another along these lines, conquering each dot one at a time. You are in competition with up to 5 computer opponents with the same goal: conquer the galaxy.
At this point, any Star Trek fans reading this may begin to ask, “Are you sure this is really a Star Trek game? Does the Federation player really go off on a killing spree just like the Klingons?” The answers to your questions are yes, this is really and truly a licensed Star Trek game, and no, it has almost nothing in common with the actually story and setting of Star Trek.
For example, much of the source material for the game appears to have been drawn from the Deep Space Nine TV series. There is even a Deep Space Nine space station on the galaxy map for you to capture and use as a pre-built starbase. However, at the start of the game it is not controlled by any of the players. Federation, Cardassian, and Dominion all have equal claim as no one owns it in the beginning and whoever slaughters the native Bajorans gets to have it first until someone else comes along to take it away. It’s a dog-eat-dog galaxy and your only ‘prime directive’ is to kill everything in your path.
It may not have much in common with actual Star Trek, but we have to admit it’s still a fun, if somewhat simple strategy/sim. It’s almost as if the developers threw together a quick and dirty game of Conquest and then asked themselves, “Which sci-fi series can we license for maximum profit?” Maybe they were even thinking of reusing the system at a later date but just changing the setting for different licenses.
So on to the game. Basically, you collect money from your planets. You spend that money on ships. You send your ships to conquer more planets. You win by capturing all the planets. It’s like the board game Risk meets Star Trek. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but here everything is stripped down to its barest form, offering far fewer options than other strategy games have in the past. Birth of the Federation is some 10 years older than this, but offers more ship types, more in depth empire management, larger maps, and even better graphics. But like we said, this is a budget game.
As for the map, it remains the same every game you play. Even though it is the same kind of Map as used in Master of Orion 2 some fifteen years earlier (where you had the option to randomize the map and select from 4 different galaxy sizes), apparently the technology to create larger maps with more dots on it was lost in the intervening years. Here, you just get one small map and every faction has the same pre-set starting location. We’ll give credit where it’s due to how the Dominion is represented as being off in a corner and only connected to the rest of the map through Deep Space Nine. This is a reasonable approximation of the Star Trek universe and adds some ‘realism’ for fans of the shows. Left unexplained, however, is why every faction has only a single world, thus leaving the Federation player responsible for conquering one of its own founding members, Andor.
Unfortunately, not as much care was shown for game balance. For example, being tucked away in a corner like Australia on a Risk board gives the Dominion player a huge strategic advantage early in the game. And they almost always capture Deep Space Nine before any other faction reaches it, thus giving them a fortress to hide behind early on. Compare their fortified situation to the Federation faction which is stuck in the middle of the map and besieged on all sides throughout the game, and you can see that some factions are just easier to play than others.
So how about diplomacy? Diplomacy is often one of the most difficult aspects to develop for a strategy game as the nuances of trading goods and technology and hammering out the details of an alliance require a lot of time to plan out for the developers and can cause the game to be unbalanced if not handled properly. But luckily for Bethesda, in the time setting that this game takes place ‘Diplomacy is dead’. Ergo, there is no need for a diplomacy aspect to the game. How convenient!
In battle, you have the choice between letting the computer auto resolve combat, or playing in ‘arcade’ mode which takes you to a real time combat screen in which you control one of your ships while the two fleets engage in combat. Although arcade mode is reminiscent of the real time strategy combat of Star Trek Armada, here you don’t have full control of your fleet as you might expect. Instead, you only control one ship at a time and the rest are computer controlled. As a result, you have relatively little impact on the outcome of battle. Worse, the screen is so zoomed in on your ship that you cannot really get a sense of what is going on beyond your immediate vicinity and you will spend more time attempting to find enemies to shoot at than you will spend actually shooting at them. After the initial fun wears off, we suspect most players will simply choose to auto resolve all of their combat.
There is no multi-player support. Not even local. That is a serious flaw in a game designed to play like a board game. But again, what do you expect from a budget title? For added longevity there are some ‘skirmish’ modes that can be unlocked as you play the game, but these are just more arcade combat scenarios that you play divorced from the strategic game. We didn’t find this aspect of the game to be much fun even when playing the regular strategic game when there was the prospect of capturing a star system, and we find it even less fun when playing it just for practice.
Star Trek Conquest is a low-price game. Translated, that means it was produced with virtually no budget. We suspect this game was rolled out with a minimum staff and development time so as to maximize profits in the tradition of the worst sort of licensed games. But in spite of all of that, with simple mechanics and classic board game style play, it can become quite addictive. Mercifully, it’s an addiction that has a cure…deeper, more complex, and better-designed strategy/sim games.