Thanks for visiting my MOO2 v. Stars! detailed comparison page. This page presents facts about two excellent games, along with my personal assessments and opinions about them. As a dedicated fan of science fiction, as well as an enthusiastic player of sci-fi strategy computer games, I hope that the summary presented here can help you make the right choices for buying and playing these games.
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This comparison is divided into several sections:
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Galactic Empires are a common theme in science fiction. The same potential for creative scope and imagination that make them good subjects for science fiction novels also make them a fertile ground for strategic gaming. Two of the most complex, challenging, and well-balanced games in this "conquer the galaxy" genre are Stars! by Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride, and Master of Orion II (MOO2) by Microprose. These two games have a great deal in common, but they also have significant differences.
The storyline behind these two games is very similar: you are the ruler of a nascent interstellar empire, and you must colonize planets, build up popular and resources, discover technologies, engage in wars, and so on. The goal in each game is the same: rule the galaxy, but the conditions of victory differ. In both games, your main playing field is a galaxy of a few dozen stars arranged on a two-dimensional map. Both games are turn-based: at the beginning of each turn, you set up tasks to be done, and then run that turn. This scheme should be familiar to any player of military simulation or fantasy role-playing games.
Both Stars! and Master of Orion II support single-player and multi-player games. In a single-player game, you command your empire in competition with 1 or more other races controlled by a software AI. In the multi-player games, two or more human players compete with each other and possibly AI-controlled empires. Neither the Stars! nor MOO2 AI players are as competent or wily as a human player, but they are smart enough to give the games reasonable challenge.
The multi-player support in the two games are very different, and this emphasis underlies many of the other differences between Stars! and MOO2. The designers of Stars! wanted to support long-lasting, intensively competitve strategic games among groups of separate players. Hence, Stars! is designed for off-line play: in a typical situation, a player sets up their commands for a given turn and mails the turn off to a game host who manages the flow of the game over a period of weeks or months. MOO2 is designed for more tightly paced play: the members of a multi-player game must be in full network contact with each other during the game, either over a modem or on a LAN. Real-time, tactical interaction between players is not possible in Stars! but it is an important aspect of MOO2. This comparison is devoted almost exclusively to the aspects of the game that are common to both single- and multi-player games.
In both games, the different races that inhabit that galaxy can vary widely in capabilities and talents. Both Stars! and MOO2 offer a human player to option of selecting a pre-configured race or designing a new, custom race. Both employ a simple point system to help ensure balance among players.
Learning to play a particular strategy game well can be a time-consuming but enjoyable process. Stars! and MOO2 each offer a variety of difficulty and size settings that allow a novice to ease into the game gradually. In both cases, a first-time gamer should probably try out a few games on the easier settings before competing against the AI's best play. (Also, it is advisable to get good enough to beat the AI before taking on a human opponent.)
In writing the detailed comparison below, I've tried hard to be objective where possible, and fair and impartial everywhere else. Some aspects of each game are better than some of its counterpart's, and each has features that the other lacks. It is impossible to point to either one and say: this is the superior game. They are both excellent, and well worth playing.
Stars! was developed by Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride. Stars! Version 2.6 is sold directly by its creators. Order by calling (512) 218-1905, or from the official Stars! web site, Waypoint Zero. The authors recently entered into an agreement with Empire Interactive to sell the game as a shrink-wrapped retail product, it should be appearing in US stores early in 1997. Stars! is a WindowsTM program (3.1, 95, NT) with a complex but conventional interface. The versions from Jeff and Jeff were distributed on a single floppy disk, but the new version from Empire will be on a CD-ROM.
Master of Orion II was developed by Steve Barcia, Ken Burd, and SimTex software. It is sold by Microprose, a subsidiary of Spectrum Holobyte. as a boxed commercial product, available in most software shops. MOO2 is distributed on CD-ROM, and the disc must normally be kept in the drive to play. The disc includes a version for DOS and another for Windows95, both use the same custom graphical interface.
Retail prices vary, of course, but you should be able to find each game for about $40.
Each section below has one or more side-by-side comparison blocks. Some descriptions are accompanied by tiny screenshots; to see the shot at full size, click on the tiny version. The versions compared here are Master of Orion II Version 1.2, and Stars! Version 2.6b.
This section explores how MOO2 and Stars! permit you to set up a game, and configure your race prior to play.
|MOO2 has a rich set of mechanisms for configuring a game prior to playing. You can select galaxy size, number of AI opponents, starting technology level, galaxy age, and difficulty level. You can also enable or disable tactical combat, random events, and Antarean attacks (more about the Antareans later).||Stars! game set-up is straightfoward for a single-player game. You merely choose the size of the universe, and the difficulty level (which affects the strength of the AI players). If you want greater control, you can use the multi-player game options to set up a specialized single-player game, with varying star densities, initial player positions, your choice of AI opponents, and other options.|
|There are 13 pre-defined races in
with wildly different abilities and weaknesses.
The computer players always
belong to one of the pre-defined races.
In MOO2, you create a custom race
by starting with one of the pre-defined races. All this does is determine
which graphics and logos will be used for your race, all the settings can
be changed. A limited number of "picks" can be earned by saddling your
race with handicaps, or spent to gain advantages. Most of qualities you
can select are rather coarse-grained. Custom races cannot be saved for
Unused picks boost your final score.
The AI players can appear as any of the pre-defined races, but there only seems to be about
|Stars offers six pre-defined races, as well as a whimsical "random" race and the ability to create custom races. Customization is rich and complex; every race belongs to one of ten rather different fundamental types, and then the habitability criteria, research prowess, and industrial abilities can be tuned precisely. A limited number of "advantage points" can be earned and spent, unused advantage points can be alloted to improving your initial conditions of play. Once you have designed a custom race, you can save it to use for later games.|
|Planets and Racial Environment Tolerance|
|Both MOO2 and Stars! include the notion of habitability of the planets that your colonists occupy. In MOO2, any solid planet can be colonized and used, with coarse industrial penalties for gravity and radiation, and agricultural penalties for inhospitable environments. Stars! also supports the notion of habitability, but in a more continuous manner, as described below.|
|In MOO2, every planet has a size, which helps determines its maximum population, a type which determines industrial and agricultural penalties, a gravity level which also may impose penalties, and a mineral concentration that helps determine industrial output. For example, a very nice planet might have size Large, type Terran, max population 15, gravity Normal, mineral level Rich. A rather marginal planet might have values Medium, Barren, 6, Heavy, Poor. A real loser of a planet might have values Tiny, Toxic, 2, Low, Ultra-Poor. About mid-way up the research tree, you start to discover technologies that can improve a planet greatly, with a lot of work. A given star might have 0, 1 or even more planets (up to about 6), as well as asteroid belts and uninhabitable gas giants. Various racial traits make some races more choosey about planet type than others, but all races can colonize all planets right from the start (a big switch from the original MOO, where colonizing inhospitable worlds required acquisition of the corresponding technology).||
Stars! supports a somewhat simpler, but more continuous, model for planets.
Every star in the galaxy sports exactly one planet, but that planet can vary
widely over three parameters: gravity, temperature, and radiation level.
Every race has a desired value and tolerance range for each of the parameters,
or a race may be completely immune to some parameters. How far a planet's
parameter values are from the perfect value for a race determine the maximum
population of that race that the planet can support as well as determining
the population growth rate for that planet. Stars! displays this information
in an astonishingly compact and ingenious set of graphics. As the game
progresses, technological advancements allow a race to (thru great labor) to
adjust the parameters of a planet to make it more hospitable for that race.
Industrial productivity is not directly affected by planet parameters. [Stars!
even sports one basic racial type that does not live on the surfaces
of planets but in the orbital base;
their population growth rate is still controlled by the
Another aspect of a planet, in Stars!, is its mineral concentrations. The game is based on the use of three minerals, and the concentration of each mineral on a planet determines the rate at which that mineral can be mined by the inhabitants or by mining robots.
In a MOO2 single-player game, your opponents are selected at random
from the available pre-defined races. Each opposing emperor plays
according to a fairly consistent behavioral model, which seems
to impose different priorities on their activities. The different
models have descriptive names, like "Pacifistic Diplomat" and
The AI in MOO2 seems better than the version in it's predecessor, MOO, but is still rather predictable.
|Stars! 2.6 features six completely different AI players, each of which is customized to play one of the primary racial traits, and each of which can play at one of five levels of skill. The AI plays pretty well, partly because it can pay meticulous attention to detail, but is still less devious than a human player.|
|In setting up a custom race, there are a small number of customization choices that appear to disproportionately helpful or harmful to a successful empire. Also, the customization interface does not allow fine tweaks of one's racial strengths and weaknesses. The more interesting customizations are those that relate to a race's ability to thrive on different kinds of planets (more about this later). Certain customization choices are more or less beneficial depending on the galaxy age, technology level, and size chosen in the game set-up.||Race set-up in Stars! is complicated and rich -- beginning with the choice of basic racial type. After choosing a type, their are a large number of factors that can be adjusted, no one of which appears to be crucial to success. The game interface allows the player to adjust various parameters to extreme values, interesting for a player who wants an unusual challenge. Over the many versions of Stars! since 2.0, the balance of various factors in racial type, productivity, and habit tolerance has been fine-tuned to help foster fair competition among human players.|
|Stars! allows somewhat more leeway in setting up a game than MOO2 does, although MOO2 has some interesting features. Race customization in Stars! is much more complex and rich than in MOO2, but MOO2 has a better assortment of pre-defined races.|
Essentially all galactic conquest strategy games share the notion of exploration and exploitation. This section describes some of the differences in how this occurs in MOO2 and in Stars!
|Galaxy Size and Composition|
|Each MOO2 game is played on a fixed galaxy map, the size of which can be selected at game startup. Sizes range from small with about 20 star systems, to huge with about 72. Each stay system has 0-6 planets and asteroid belts. Galaxies also include black holes, nebulae, and fixed star-to-star wormholes.||Stars! is played on a fixed galaxy map, the size (and density) of which can be selected at game startup. A tiny/sparse galaxy might have a dozen stars, while a huge/dense galaxy might have 1000. Each star has only a single planet; galaxies also have mobile point-to-point wormholes of varying stability.|
|In MOO2, most races explore the galaxy by sending ships to other stars. Any visit to a star system yields complete information about it; remote observation is not possible. A race with the 'omnicient' trait automatically knows about all the planets in the galaxy. Exploration can be slow, because your ships have rather limited range in the early part of the game, and you can only explore stars your ships can reach.||Exploration in Stars! is performed by ships and planets equipped with scanner technology. (The Stars! main map display features excellent graphics of scanner coverage and ability.) Every star has a planet, but the quality of the planet, in terms of environment parameters and mineral concentrations, is very important. Exploration is limited by your perseverance and the fuel capacities on your ships. Some primary race types confer exploration-related benefits.|
|There are three basic ways to colonize a planet in MOO2: use a colony ship, use a colony base, or invade a planet (you can also receive a colonized planet as a gift, or discover a "splinter colony", but these events are fairly rare). Colony bases are limited to planets in the same star system, and cost less than colony ships which can travel to another system and planet a colony. In terms of game economics, colonization is quite expensive: even a colony base requires several years of output by a good planet in the early stages of a game, and colony ships cost 2.5 times as much. In a normal game, each player starts with Transfering colonists from one planet to another is fairly easy, but requires freight capacity that must also be built.||Stars! offers two means of colonizing a planet: using a ship equipped with a colonization module, and invasion. Most kinds of ships cargo-carrying ships can be fitted with a colonization module, and they are fairly inexpensive. This flexibility is very useful, because it lets you set up fairly large colonies once you have the base population available to do so. (In MOO2, you cannot start moving population to a planet until after it is colonized.)|
|Implications for Gameplay|
|The quality of planets in MOO2 vary quite widely, in terms of their industrial and agricultural productivity, and in terms of their maximum population. Because any race can colonize any planet, if they are willing to accept the productivity that the planet may offer, it was imperative for the designers of MOO2 to make colonization slow at the beginning of the game. At the same time, a player lucky enough to find and colonize a really good planet early in the game will have a significant advantage in building up their empire.||For the Stars! player, the quality of a planet is determined by its environmental parameters relative to the racial norms, which set its population growth rate and maximum population, and its mineral concentrations which affect potential productivity. Because, for most races, some subset of the planets are not available to them, exploration to find suitable planets and colonize them is critical. Good colonization strategies vary for the different primary racial types.|
|Colonization is somewhat different between MOO2 and Stars! In MOO2, it is a little frustrating, at first, that colonization is so expensive. The bigger galaxy sizes in Stars! allow for longer, more complex and strategically deep games. The presence of multiple planets per star system gives MOO2 some wrinkles that Stars! lacks, while the dependence on three different minerals (along with their different uses) forces Stars! players to think more analytically about their colonization needs. Both games offer sufficiently wide variation in the desirability of the planets to make you agonize over which ones to colonize next.|
In both games, building up your galactic empire depends on good economic policies, as well as a bit of luck. Also, there is no one "best" policy: in both MOO2 and Stars! the economic build-up of your resources will depend on your race's charactertics and your leadership style.
In a sense, MOO2 and Stars! fundamentally differ in the basics of game economics. In Stars! your ability to build things like factories, bases, and starships is limited by your productivity and by your available stores of minerals. In MOO2, your ability to build thing is dependent on your productivity (which is partially dependent on the base mineral wealth of the planet) and on your cash reserves, but your productive populations have to eat. Food production and distribution are therefore a central concern to the MOO2 gamer, while Stars! requires you to keep track of mineral quantities, mining rates, and distribution.
|Production and Population|
Population of a MOO2 planet is measured in units of
discrete millions, for the purposes of computing all sorts
A planet has a base productivity per unit population based on
its mineral wealth, and a race may have a production bonus.
As the game progresses, you can research technologies that
improve your productivity and reduce productivity-robbing
The productivity of your population is also affected by their morale. The base morale level for your colonies, and how morale affects your people, depends on the style of government you select for your race (feudal, dictatorship, etc.). In general, better morale means better productivity in industry, agriculture, and research.
|In Stars! the population of a planet is measured in hundreds. The maximum population of a planet depends on your primary racial type and the environmental parameters of that planet. The nominal maximum for a perfect planet is 1,000,000 colonists. Your population has a base productivity, and colonists can build factories that add additional productivity. Unlike in MOO2, the productivity of your people and your factories is fixed during race design and cannot be changed.|
|Cargo and Money|
Freighter ships play an important role in MOO2. They carry food and colonists from planet to planet. Food distribution is automatic -- if you have enough food being produced, and enough freighters to carry it, then all your people will be fed. Food shortage result in reduced or even negative population growth. Transfer of population is semi-automatic: you direct one or more units of population to move from one planet to another, and your freighters take them there (possibly neglecting their food distribution duties in the meantime!). Loading, unloading, and directing freighters is not part of the game in MOO2.
MOO2 offers the interesting economic notion of cash flow. Ships and structures require maintenance, which costs money. Taxes, production of trade goods and excess food, generate money. You can research and implement means to increase your cash flow. You can also spend cash, most of the time, to build things faster than your population might be able to do otherwise. Building up a good cash reserve can be critical to a successful game.
Building almost anything in Stars! requires minerals. The game's
economics are based in large part on the mining, distribution, and
use of the three minerals: Ironium, Boranium, and
Germanium. Especially in the middle parts of game, access
to steady supplies of these minerals is vital to building up your
planets and expanding your empire. Many of the ship hulls offer
cargo capacity, and minerals can be shipped around, as well
as shot from planet to planet using mass drivers (once you discover them!).
Of course, the starships to carry these minerals and the mines or robots
to mine them all cost you. When playing Stars! you have to set up
your mineral distribution routes yourself, although you can use the
routing features of the interface to make shipping mostly automatic.
Fueling issues can make shipping tricky if you do not yet have
technologies for ramscoop (self-fueling) engines.
Stars! population is shipped from planet to planet much like cargo: 100 colonists takes as much cargo room as 1 kiloton of minerals. Unlike minerals, however, colonists cannot be shot from planet to planet with mass drivers.
Stars! does not include the notion of a cash reserve, the only way to build something at a colony is to use your available productivity.
Chance happenings are an important part of most MOO2 games.
Many chance occurences are bad - a star system may be occupied by
a space monster, a hyperspace flux may cut off interstellar travel,
earthquake and plagues may cut down your population. Some
occurences are good - wealth merchants may contribute to your cash
reserve, or you may discover a useful technology in some ruins when
first colonizing a planet. It is possible to set up a game to
prohibit most of these kinds of events.
One interesting aspect of MOO2 is the presence of the Antareans. Part of the game storyline is the threat of the Antarean race, an inimical bunch who like to show up with very little warning and attack a planet with powerful little ships. While it is possible to set up a game to forego Antarean attacks, it is more exciting to play with them turned on.
Chance occurences are less important in Stars! than in MOO2.
On rare occasions, a comet can strike a planet and change its
environmental parameters and mineral balance.
The most important random event in Stars! is the apperance of the Mystery Trader. The Trader offers technological advances and items of super high-technology in exchange for very large quantities of minerals. The only catch is: you have to bring the minerals to him in freighters.
|In MOO2, basic population growth is a function of your custom race, but you can improve your population growth rate in three ways: research and discover population-related technologies, hire mercenary leaders who improve population growth (more about leaders below), or devote your production capacity to building housing.||Maximum per-turn population growth rate is an important racial attribute in Stars! The race customization wizard allows very high and very low growth rates, but medium values tend to work out best. The further a planet's environmental parameters differ from the your racial ideals, the slower the growth of the population will be on that planet.|
|Building up Planets and Fleets|
The building model in MOO2 is similar to the one used
in Ascendancy, although it is implemented rather better.
Each colony can have exactly one of a selection of
structures. You discover new structures to build by
performing research. Each structure provides some particular
function: improving industrial production, defense, agriculture,
research, morale, etc.
You can set up a short queue of up to seven production tasks for each colony: buildings, ships, terraforming, etc. Your colonists can only complete a single task in a given game turn. Unused productivity is applied to the next item in the queue. Building the right structures at your colonies, in the right order, is essential to running a strong empire. There is no single best order, you have to select production based on your racial strengths and on your current needs. When your colony is not building anything, excess production is added to your cash reserve.
|The building model in Stars! is fairly complex. You can set up a sophisticated production queue at your colony, and including ships, factories, mines, terraforming, defenses, mineral packets, starbases, etc. You can also define production queue templates, and simply apply these templates to the colony. Your colonists can complete any number of tasks in a single game turn, limited only by a colony's available production and mineral stores. Once mines have been built, all mining happens automatically. For some kinds of items, you can use smart auto-building features of the queue that skip over an item if it is unusable or if the minerals to build it are not available.|
|In MOO2, you terraform your planets in several discrete steps, using a couple of different discrete technological discoveries. Usually, but not always, terraforming yields a larger maximum population as well as lower industrial penalties. By the end of the game, your race is able to take an irradiated barren rock and eventually turning it into a gaian paradise, for with a lot of investment.||Terraforming in Stars! proceeds in tiny steps. Every planet has a starting value on each of the three parameters: gravity, temperature, and radiation. By investing a moderate amount of productivity, you can change one of the three variables by 1%, repeatedly, up to the limits of your technological ability. As your research progresses, you discover means to modify the parameters further and further, but the required investment for each percentage point does not change. One of the primary racial traits confers the ability to terraform a planet from space, otherwise you must colonize a planet in order to adjusts its parameters.|
|Implications for Gameplay|
|Managing your economy and food distribution are central to running your empire in MOO2. However, the game's facilities for automating these grunt work procedures is limited. The subtleties of managing cash flow make the game more complex, and can help provide necessary support when some of the less welcome random events occur.||In Stars! the management of your empire is crucial, and the sophisticated production queue is your best tool. The limitations on minerals adds a challenging dimension to the strategy required for the game, but the great automation features let you keep your mind on strategy rather than spending every turn setting stuff up manually.|
|Colony management and production are areas in which Stars! and MOO2 differ greatly. The model that Stars! presents is more complex, and supports automation features that are necessary for the large empires that occur in the game. The production model in MOO2 is less rich in some respects, but the availability (and necessity of managing) a cash reserve makes up it. In general, I think the models in each game are good, and wells suited to the style of play each game imposes.|
In both Stars! and MOO2, research is a crucial on-going activity that can make or break your imperial ambitions. When you begin a game, your race has discovered very little advanced technology. For example, at the commencement of a normal MOO2 game, you have slow interstellar travel and very little more. In both games, the available weaponry and defenses are weak at the beginning of the game. You devote game resources to research to discover speedier engines, better starship hulls, improved terraforming, better scanning, better shields, armor, weapons, and more.
In both games, devoting your resources to research is a tradeoff -- what you devote to research you cannot devote to production. The set of technologies available for discovery, and the order in which you choose to pursue them, is an interesting and strategically important part of the game. In particular, gaining advanced technology gives you the ability to triumph over your rivals in the wars that inevitably happen in these kinds of games.
|The Research Model|
In MOO2, your population at any colony is divided into three groups: farmers,
workers, and researchers. Depending on your racial attributes, and on the
structures you might have built to support them, your researchers generate a
certain number of research points per game turn. Each advancement has a
minimum number of research points associated with it, with more advanced
discoveries requiring many more points than the more basic ones. Once you have racked
up the minimum, every additional point makes it more likely that you'll get
a breakthrough in that area each turn. The game interface displays all this
to you in a concise and useful manner.
Research is broken down into eight basic areas: biology, computers, physics, fields, power, sociology, construction, and chemistry. Each item of technology belongs to exactly one of these areas. At each level in each area there are one, two, or three different technologies to discover. For most races, you'll have to choose one of the three to research; if you want to use one of the others also, you'll have to trade for it with one of the other races (or perhaps steal it by espionage).
In MOO2, you can research exactly one area at a time, but research points can be switched from one area to another instantly.
Stars! has a fairly simple research model. Production resources not used
for actual production are devoted to research each game turn. You can also
set up a research budget, setting aside a percentage of all production for
research (this can be enabled or disable for each colony, but each colony
cannot have its own percentage).
Research is broken down into six basic areas: energy, weapons, propulsion, construction, electronics, and biotechnology. There are many levels to each area. Every item of technology that you can discover has a minimum level each one or more areas, once you have reached the requisite levels in all of the required areas then you will "discover" that item. The research costs for the given levels are precise, the luck element associated with discovery in MOO2 is not present.
Stars! allows you to research exactly one area at a time (except for races with the generalized research secondary racial trait), and research points devoted to one area cannot be moved to another area.
|Racial Impacts on Research|
|Each race in MOO2 has a base research-per-scientist number: 1-4. You can discover and build structures that will make you scientists better at their jobs (e.g. build a supercomputer and suddenly every scientist generate 2 more points than they did before). Also, every race is either creative, normal, or uncreative. A normal race must pick one of the 2 or 3 available discoveries in a research area, an uncreative race only gets one choice of discoveries in each area, but a creative race automatically recieves ALL the discoveries in a given area as soon as they finish researching any one of them! This make the creative attribute extremely powerful in the game.||During race design in Stars! you can select, for each area of research, how well your race tends to perform in that area. Strangely enough for Stars! this is a very coarse selection; for each area you can select normal research cost, 50% lower cost, or 75% higher cost. Some primary racial traits and secondary racial traits also affect what your starting technology level in some areas will be.|
|Research and Miniaturization|
|As your technology levels increase, starships and ship-board items get cheaper to build in both Stars! and MOO2. In MOO2, where ship capacity is measured by volume, items also get smaller. This decrease does not apply to planet-based technologies in either game.|
There is a broad range of available technologies to discover in MOO2.
The effects of the technologies vary greatly, but most of them affect
either your planetary conditions or space combat. There are about 200
In addition to the technologies that you can discover through research, there are a few really super items you can gain only by colonizing Orion, or by capturing an Antarean ship.
Deciding which technologies to research is pretty cool. Your choices have profound implications for the course of your game because your neighbors are almost never willing to trade you any of the really good discoveries (although the AI messes up occasionally, don't fail to take advantage!). This is why the creative racial trait is so powerful: you get ALL the technologies!
Stars! also presents a broad range of available technologies to discover.
There are fewer different kinds of planet-based items to research in
Stars! than in MOO2, but there is a broader array of ship-related technologies
to discover. There are about 240 individual discoveries.
The primary racial type and secondary racial traits you pick for your Stars! race determines which technologies will be available for your to research. There are some core items that are available to all races. For example, all races can research and discover the "battleship" hull, but only war-monger races can discover the larger "dreadnought" hull.
The Mystery Trader will give you boosts up the technology ladder in exchange for large quantities of minerals. For really huge amounts of minerals, though, he will give you items of his own technology which are very cool, or he'll give you some of his own subsidiary craft (which are more powerful than almost anything you can build).
The broader array of planet-based technologies in MOO2 makes
your research critical to building up your planets and your
empire as well as designing your warships. The must larger set
of starship hulls and starship components in Stars! makes research
less important for your planets, but much more important for your
fleets and for other activities like exploration and mineral
Each game exploits technology in areas that the other does not. MOO2 has many technological discoveries that increase your agriculture, production, and research totals directly, Stars! does not. However, in Stars! there are many discoveries that greatly affect how you run your empire and your wars: stargates, mass drivers, scanners, etc.
Overall, I like both research models, but find the model and set of discoveries in Stars! to be richer and more fun for the game.
Both Stars! and MOO2 encourage you to design effective and economical starships. In MOO2, you design ships solely for exploration and warfare. Stars! requires you to design ships for all purposes: exploration, warfare, haulage, colonization, mining, etc. Also, Stars! allows (forces) you to design your own starbases.
Both games support the notion of a starbase orbiting a planet, participating in that planet's defense, and allowing ships to be built there. MOO2 allows small ships to be built with no starbase present, Stars! requires a spacedock-equipped starbase for any construction.
|Starship and Starbase Hulls|
Starships in the MOO2 galaxy each belong to one of six size
classes: frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battleship, titan, and
doom star. The two largest size classes can only
be used after researching them.
Each successive size class gives a base
amount of available space. In MOO2, you can re-fit (update)
ships at considerably less expense than building new ones.
Starbases come in three sizes: star base, battlestation, and star fortress. The player decides which to build, but the defensive and offensive hardware on board are decided upon, and upgraded, automatically.
The authors of Stars! exhibited great creativity in crafting
the game's ship and base design system. There are over 30
ship and starbase hulls, ranging in size from tiny mini-bomber
to the enormous Ultra-station. Which ship hulls are available
to you in the game depends on your choice of primary and
secondary racial traits.
Every ship and base hull provides several equipment slots, each of which may be limited to only certain kinds of equipment. Deciding what equipment to place in each slot to suit a ship for its intended purpose is challenging and fun. Note that, while many hulls are available, your empire can support, at one time, no more than 16 ship designs and 10 starbase designs. The 16 ship designs limit often becomes an issue in a medium-size universe or larger, forcing you toward making multi-purpose designs, or using older ships as cannon fodder at the front lines of battle.
In MOO2, you can set up a game with tactical combat or without. If you choose to forego tactical combat, the computer also designs your ships for you, and that is a big loss.
When combat is joined between two players in a MOO2 game, it takes place on the real-time combat screen. You get to direct your ships, choose which weapons they fire at which targets, utilize planetary and base-borne weapons, and in general micro-manage every aspect of the combat. This is fun and challenging, except when you or the enemy or grossly outmatched. If you like, you can click on the "Auto" button to watch the battle proceed with both sides under AI control. The animations during combat are very nice. There is an added wrinkle in MOO2 combat that makes it especially cool: boarding parties. Under some circumstance, you can direct your shipboard marines to board and storm an enemy ship, with intent to damage or capture it. Note also that in MOO2 the crews of your ships gain experience in their battles (5 levels), and that experienced crews are substantially more effective than novices.
Because Stars! is intended for off-line multi-player games, it does not
support real-time tactical combat. Instead, you provide your fleet commanders
with general tactical orders, and your ships will
carry out the tactical aspects as best
they can. Battles between 3 or more fleets are also possible.
After each game turn, recordings of any battles that took place are made available to the player. You view the progress of the battle using the Battle VCR, which allows to carefully critique the perform of your ship designs and battle plans.
The smaller galaxies available in MOO2 are not especially well suited for
sweeping campaigns or complex fleet movements. The mechanics of interstellar
travel in the game do not permit tactical combat except at star systems.
MOO2 has a peculiarity in its combat balance that makes the later stages of the game especially tricky: orbital starbases are weaker than the strongest ships. In the late game, merely having a good battlestation defending a planet is no longer enough to ensure that planet's safety; you may be forced to build up several regional defense fleets.
Stars! is extremely well suited for strategic interstellar warfare;
supporting it was one of the primary design goals of the game. The large
universe sizes help, but there are four other features that add to the
Overall, strategic warfare for conquest and for defense is a very strong feature of Stars!
|Conquering another planet requires combat on the surface of the objective. In MOO2, planets are defended by units of well-equipped marines and armor, but invaders get to bring their own marines and possibly armor along. Conveying surface combat troops to an enemy planet requires special transport ships that you must build. Once a ground battle begins, the outcome is determined by a fairly simple Monte Carlo simulation where the better-equipped troops have greater likelihood of crushing their foes. Also, you can configure your race to be good or poor at ground combat. You can research technologies to assist your ground forces (e.g. rifles, anti-grav harness, battleloids), and they also benefit from some of your other discoveries.||Stars! has an extremely simple notion of ground combat: you transport colonists to a planet, and the party with more colonists in the fray gets to keep the real estate. Ground-based planetary defenses can reduce or even decimate the attacking population, and this means that you often have to proceed your wave of colonists with a squad of bombers to pacify the objective prior to invasion. Some primary racial types are better at ground combat than others.|
|Implications for Gameplay|
|The tactical combat system in MOO2 is worth the price of the game for players who enjoy tactical melee. Ship design is fun without being a hassle, and the additional tactical options like boarding parties and self-destruct orders give this aspect of the game good depth. For single-player games, the AI is passably good at tactical combat, and fair at ship design, too.||
Ship design in Stars! is challenging, fun, and an important aspect of the game.
The slot-based design scheme makes it more difficult to design an effective
ship in Stars! than in MOO2.
Tactical combat in Stars! is performed by the computer outside your control, but you do get to see the results and incorporate your findings into future designs. The lack of real-time combat control is unfortunate, but necessary given the game's multi-player design.
|Ship design in MOO2 is fun, but pales next to the excellent system found in Stars! Tactical combat is one of MOO2's strengths, and the system for running it is reasonably well-designed and excellently illustrated. Stars! doesn't support player control of tactics, but its galaxy set-up and game mechanics permit a depth of strategic play that MOO2 cannot match.|
In both MOO2 and Stars! the ultimate goal of the game, in some sense, is to become ruler of the galaxy. In both games it is quite possible to take this literally, and simply exterminate (or, in MOO2, subjugate) all other races. This is not usually how games end, though.
There are three ways to win a game of MOO2:
After most of the galaxy is filled, the races in MOO2 hold elections for ruler of the galaxy. If you can buddy up with enough other races (or have a big enough population under your sway) to get a 2/3 majority, then you win. If you lose an election, though, and refuse to quit, then all the other races will join forces against you. The only way to lose a game of MOO2 is to be exterminated or surrender.
You can also win by discovering the dimensional portal technology and carrying the fight to those big-talking enemies of galactic civilization, the Antarean. This sounds easy, but the ships you face at Antares are tougher than the ones the Antareans send out to terrorize your colonies, so you need a pretty sizable and technically advanced fleet to win this way. [Note: winning this way gives the coolest end-game animation].
Whenever you win a game of MOO2, you get a congratulatory animation and, maybe, get your name onto the hall-of-fame of high scores.
The winning conditions for a game of Stars! can be configured by the
player at start-up, or by the game host for multi-player games.
The possible conditions include:
owning some major fraction of the galaxy,
attaining ultimate technologies in 4 of 6 areas,
exceeding the nearest rivals score by some percentage (usually 100%),
owning 100 capital ships,
controlling titanic production capacity, having the highest score
after some pre-set time interval, and exceeding some pre-set high score.
A typical game might define victory as meeting any two of the above
Winning a game of Stars! is not accompanied by any fanfare; you get a message that you have won and all the other players get a message that they have lost. The game can go on if the players wish to continue.
There are quite a few other aspects of the gameplay and strategy in MOO2 and Stars! that do not fit into the categories above. Here is a simple list of them, each with a brief discussion.
Good strategy games take time, usually a long time, to play and win. A comfortable, functional interface is essential to a game like MOO2.
Strategy games are also complicated. Therefore, good documentation and on-line help is essential to learning and playing them. Ideally, you want the interface and help to work together to put the knowledge you need to play at your fingertips, with as little distraction as possible.
|Graphical User Interface Design|
The main interface for MOO2 is the map screen (see below).
It is from this screen that you view the progress of your
empire, select fleets and planets to act upon, and watch for attacks.
The map screen gives you access to various other screens that allow
you to manage colonies, examine planets, check up on fleets, direct
your mercenary leaders, conduct diplomacy, and get help.
The MOO2 interface is very attractive, and provides good functionality for most tasks. The map display is fairly informative, but the fact that you must leave the map screen to conduct much of your strategic business is a little distracting. Some of the most important screens are a bit of hassle to access. The player cannot adjust or customize the information displayed on the map screen in any way.
At the end of each turn, the MOO2 presents you with a summary list of important events that occured during the turn. You can click on most of these items to jump directly to the star system where the event happened.
The main interface for Stars! consists of four panes: scanner pane where
you see the map of the universe, the command pane where
to issue orders to fleets and planets, the message pane where to see the summary
messages for the most recent turn, and the selection summary pane where you see
all the information you know about an item in the scanner pane.
Stars! provides dozens of popup windows for ship design, various (very detailed)
reports, research control, cargo control, and many other things.
The Stars! interface is built mostly out of familiar Windows components, and is easy to learn for anybody who is accustomed to Microsoft Windows 3.1, 95, or NT.
The various windows and panes that comprise the Stars! interface give you very detailed information about your empire. The scanner pane gives you very broad control over what you see and how.
In short, the Stars! user interface is far and away the most complete and functional of Windows program (game or otherwise) that I've ever encountered. It is a marvel of information presentation and interactive control.
|The graphics used in MOO2 are attractive and only a little flashy. Animations are used in many of the pop-up windows. The best graphics in the game, and the most useful in some respects, are the weapon and defense graphics in the tactical combat screen. Some of the more annoying graphics can be turned off.||Most of the Stars! interface is very businesslike. It is designed for information presentation and very little glitz. The individual graphics for ship hulls, components, etc, are small but nice. Combat graphics shown in the Battle VCR are very simple and subdued.|
MOO2 is sold with a handsome bound booklet, 160 pages long, that gives you fairly good qualitative information about the mechanics of the game. The book has a good table of contents but no index. It is well organized, but does not include a tutorial for first-time players. More quantitative information would be helpful.
A strategy guide for MOO2 is available for additional $20.
The on-line documentation for MOO2 is fair, but should be more extensive. Getting help on various screen items is easy.
Stars! Version 2.6 is sold without printed documentation. Instead, the entire
manual is distributed as a very large Windows help file. The manual is well
organized, very informative, provides complete direction on how to
use the interface, and detailed quantitative
information about game mechanics. Because the manual is distributed as a
help file, the full indexing and searching capabilities that Windows provides
for on-line help are available.
For persuring the set of available the technological discoveries, Stars! provides a nifty little technology browser.
The commercial version of Stars! will supposedly be distributed with a full printed manual and technology reference cards.
One of the coolest features of Stars! is the interactive tutorial. The dynamically tutorial walks you through all the most common aspects of play, and even provides strategic explanation of some of its actions. Even though the Stars! interface is very complex, the tutorial makes it easy to learn.
|Sound and Music|
|MOO2 provides background music during play, and also provides sound-effects for tactical combat. Sound and music volume are easy to adjust. The music gets rather monotonous after a while.||Stars! version 2.6 does not include any music or sound effects. On the other hand, if you have a CD-ROM drive and speakers, you can listen to any music you like while playing, because Stars! installs completely to your local hard disk.|
|Performance and Reliability|
MOO2 performs pretty well on a Pentium computer, but sometimes
imposes long delays while it reads data from the CD-ROM.
I've personally found MOO2 to be on par with most other games in terms of reliability; it has crashed about a dozen times in several weeks of play (after installing the Version 1.2 patch - don't play the Windows'95 version without installing this patch!).
|Stars! is a speedy performer on a Pentium or good 486-based computer. Version 2.6 is extremely reliable; it has never crashed in all the dozens games I've played. Note that Stars! is easiest to use when you set your Windows screen resolution to 800x600 or larger.|
MOO2 has a good interface for a commercial game, and fair documentation.
The graphics, animations, and sound effects are all quite good. Stars!
has a brilliant interface, and excellent documentation, but its graphics
are more modest. Stars! is the superior game in the area of interface
It is clear from playing these two games extensively that they were designed for different audiences. Stars! was designed primarily for the hard-core adult strategy game player, its interface emphasizes complete control and copious information. MOO2 was designed to appeal to a broader age range and both dedicated and casual players; its interface is informative but also emphasizes visual entertainment.
Both MOO2 and Stars! are top-notch strategy games.
Which game is right for you depends partly on how you want to play. If your intent is to learn and master a deep strategic structure and then battle it out long-term against like-minded human opponents, then Stars! is definitely the way to go. If you play more for entertainment value, or prefer a shorter game that can be won in a couple of evenings, then MOO2 might be a better choice. Also, Stars! is a Windows game; if you do not have Windows installed on your PC, then you might want to try the DOS version of MOO2. Sadly, neither game is available for the Macintosh.
[Note: A fully playable shareware version of Stars! can be downloaded from the official website; if you are not sure whether Stars! is for you, then download it and try it out.]
Here are some links to other information on these two games as well as some other game reviews.
The official Stars! home page contains very extensive information about the game (including the entire manual), and also allows you to download a fully playable shareware version of Stars! 2.6.
of Orion II Info
This is the official information about MOO2, on the website of the company that developed it. Unfortunately, it is not very extensive; there are some good troubleshooting tips, though, as well as official patches.
Pages at Empire Interactive
The new distributor of Stars! has an informative set of pages that include upgrade information and screenshots.
Review of MOO2
The review of Master of Orion II at the HappyPuppy games site provides some comparisons between the original MOO and MOO2.
MOO2 Information Page
This page provides MOO2 information, links, cheat editors and screenshot images.
The official Stars! newsgroup is a great forum for strategy questions, ship-design discussions, and news about multiplayer games.
Review of Stars! 2.5
The HappyPuppy review of Stars! version 2.5a shareware contains some good information about the game, as well as comparisons with prior versions.
The Zone, in Australia, has excellent information about Stars! as well as links and annoucements.
Stars! is copyright 1995-96 by Jeff Johnson and Jeff McBride. All game images of Stars! were captured by me, using a fully registered retail edition of Stars! 2.60b.
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This page written by Neal Ziring, last modified 1/6/97.