Spaceward Ho!

spaceward ho energy signature
Players:
2-9
Multiplayer:No, except via Game Center leaderboards
AI:Yes (customizable, but all opponents share the settings)
Universal App:Yes (there is a single app which works on both iPhone and iPad in HD)
Purchase for iPhone:Use link below to purchase universal app
Purchase for iPad:
Spaceward Ho!
Price: $4.99
User rating:
GD Star Rating
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Spaceward Ho!, 7.8 out of 10 based on 12 ratings

Once upon a time there was a computer called the Macintosh, and it had essentially no games. And while Apple went out courting business application developers, a bunch of smaller companies started making the software that really brings people to a platform. Spaceward Ho! was one possibly the first 4x games (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) on the operating system, and as the Mac grew, so did Spaceward Ho! Will this faithful adaptation colonize your device?

spaceward ho title

Gameplay

When you start a game of Spaceward Ho!, you set a few parameters – the size, shape, and density of the galaxy, how many opponents and how smart they are, and so on. Based on this you are given an a difficulty rating, which will adjust your final score. Once you have the game set up to your taste, hit Start, and you’re off.

spaceward ho setup

You’ll begin a game with one occupied star system, 2 scouts, and a colony ship. With these meager resources, you’ll have to find and colonize suitable planets, either to establish permanent colonies or to strip mine for precious metals and then abandon decades later.

spaceward ho gameplay 1

There are two resources in the game, Money and Metal. Building ships requires both, and the game starts with a finite amount of Metal available, so traveling from planet to planet to find it is key. Your Money is based on income (positive or negative) derived from each colony you have. A series of logarithmic sliders in the upper left shows your tech spending, and allows you to divide your income between research, savings, debt repayment, and funding the activities of different planets you control.

spaceward ho planet selected

Tapping a planet brings up its vital stats. Each planet (technically they’re star systems with one Goldilocks planet each) will be colored based on how habitable it is; the more Earth-like graphics can be terraformed into profitability, but planets too far outside of Earth’s gravity will never be profitable even if made temperate. Tapping a planet also brings up any ships in orbit, and allows you to build new ones. Once a planet is selected, simply drag a fleet to another planet to order it to move.

spaceward ho ship build design

Ships are based on some fairly simple stats, all of which are self explanatory (with the possible exception of Mini – increasing this stat decreases the Metal a design requires but increases its cost). The first time you design a ship it will have a high cost to represent R&D, but each subsequent production of that model will be at a lower, fixed cost. In addition to the stats, ships have a class which affects their performance as well as cost – Dreadnaught, Scout, and so on. You can also produce Satellites, ships with no range that defend the system where they are built.

spaceward ho battle

Combat occurs when 2 or more enemy fleets exist at the same planet. This is played out in a quick animation to give you an idea of how strong each fleet is; colonies of an adequate size can also mount a modest defense against fleets, but tend to get the losing end of the damage equation much of the time. The wreckage of combat will also drop Metal to the surface of a planet, which will be collected by any colony there.

spaceward ho supernova

Your colonies have white hats on them (you’re the good guys after all) while other hats indicate other players. A display in the lower left indicates who’s winning the game, and also allows you to manage rudimentary diplomacy by offering or accepting alliances with other players. Allied players will be able to park their ships in orbit around your planets and vice versa, and you’ll be able to give each other resources. There are additional events, such as massive battles or super novas, that you’ll be able to see happening even in parts of the galaxy you’ve not yet explored. The game ends when you are either eliminated or have conquered the galaxy.

Implementation

Spaceward Ho! was known for being a fairly simple game to navigate on the Mac. All the controls in the game could be manipulated via point and click – dragging ships to their destination would automatically create a route (ships are smart enough to hop from planet to planet if they don’t have adequate range to make it in one hop) and just about every other game setting could be controlled by moving a slider. This same basic approach happens in the iOS version, except that your finger substitutes for the mouse pointer.

spaceward ho circle galaxy

Standard pinch-to-zoom controls allow you to increase or decrease the view, something that is actually easier on the iPad than on the Mac (which requires zoom in/out buttons and awkward scrolling). You can move around the galaxy by simply dragging, and dragging from the selected planet to any other will show you the distance between them for route planning purposes – it’s sometimes useful to keep an unprofitable colony is a waystation for long flights. As in the Mac version, when a ship is dragged to a given planet as its destination, a straight line will form with breaks, the number of segments of the line representing the number of turns it will take the fleet to get there. In the early stages of the game before you’ve done much research, it’s not unheard of for these voyages to take a century or more…The controls are intuitive, but we did have a small complaint about budgetary management. The sliders are small and close together, which makes fine-tuning your budget something of an effort. Luckily it’s not something you’ll have to do often, and sliding one budget column interactively changes the rest, which helps, but your AI opponents are capable of finer control here than you are.

spaceward ho help

Another thing lacking is a tutorial mode. To be completely fair, the Mac version of the game lacks this as well, but that version also includes a fairly extensive manual documenting the ins and outs of the game’s simplified but still relatively deep systems. Tapping the Help button on the main menu invokes a limited manual that covers the basics in very broad strokes, and includes a link to the developer’s web site. Here you can find a copy of the FAQ created for the Mac version which actually goes into some good depth on the game’s various strategies. This is a good read if you’re new to the game, as it really underscores how much depth is lying underneath the relatively straightforward mechanics – it, however, be wonderful to access this information offline, something that’s currently impossible

spaceward ho random galaxy

The other really big loss is multiplay. The game supports up to 9 players, but all of them other than yourself must be AI. The only competition possible with other humans is via Game Center leaderboards. Achievements are present, but they are all tied to winning certain numbers of games, and as such don’t make terrific fodder for competition. This is a bit of a downer as network games tend to be both more interesting and more chaotic, and play-by-email was a mainstay of the original. Given the always-on network capacity of many iOS devices, this lack is a rather major hole in an otherwise very well-executed game.

Verdict

While we are disappointed at the lack of human opponents, Spaceward Ho! remains a terrific title for introducing people to the 4x genre. While there isn’t a lot to keep track of, the game has a wealth of strategic possibilities. The ability to customize your start conditions make it dead simple to create games that will last anywhere from hours to months, and the AI is fairly customizable to match your desired level of challenge. The lack of micromanagement makes this a prime entry in the case files for “just one more turn” syndrome. 4x fans or Mac gamers of a certain age would all do well to pick up this hidden gem.



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  1. richpizor

    @SpacewardHooomgamesIt was all part of my master plan – had to get this one up first so I could link to it from that one. 😉

  2. richardmtl

    I remember this game many many years ago, on my first Windows 3.1 machine, iirc! I can’t believe it’s still kicking; thanks for the review!


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