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Celestial Kings: Alliance Of The Sacred Suns

Stellaris, the grand strategy/4x hybrid from Paradox, wasn’t trying to be Crusader Kings 2 in space. It’s a very different game, with a focus and goals that don’t quite fit in with the personality-driven world of Crusader Kings. And that’s fine. I enjoy Stellaris a great deal and can’t wait to see how it grows. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to play Crusader Kings in space though, and Alliance of the Sacred Suns [official site] looks like it might be almost exactly that.

Here are the basics:

Alliance of the Sacred Suns is a 4X game where you have just reached your majority as an 18-year old trying to rebuild humanity’s old empire after a cataclysmic war forced humanity to move to a new quadrant of the galaxy. It is over 1000 years later and you are thrust into a position where, after a string of weak emperors, everyone from planetary viceroys, to system and sector governors, to scheming Primes (basically cabinet heads) is forward to taking advantage of your inexperienced and timid rule.

The important thing here is that you play a character, not a nation, empire or race. You are a person in the game world. And that person has limited time and energy:

In AotSS, you do not have unlimited power. Unlike virtually every other 4X game out there, you can not do anything at anytime. You have a small pool of Action Points that you spend to do basically anything, from planning empire-spanning Projects, to communicating with characters in the game, to meeting with your cabinets, to even going hunting. As you age, your pool will gradually increase, reflecting your increased familiarity with how to ‘make things work’ as an Emperor. Most importantly, the Action Point limit puts the kibosh on micromanagement, allowing us to simulate your empire in unprecendented depth without thereby forcing you to spend hours optimising every last trade fleet. Your choice of where to intervene becomes a matter of careful deliberation – the Emperor’s time is precious!

Where’s the fun in playing as a character if you don’t have other characters to play with though? Alliance of the Sacred Suns has you covered. The galaxy is full of people, and you’ll need to interact with them to get things done, whether forging alliances or plotting in the shadows. In order to learn their traits skills and possible motives, you’ll need to spend time learning about them, as all of their qualities are vaguely defined when you first encounter them.

Those characters are contained within Houses (immediate and welcome echoes of Dune), which are “multi-generational organizations” that own planets or systems. The Empire is the sum of all the Houses within it, and you (nominally) rule over them all. Again, it all sounds very Crusader Kings.

The game is about less micro and more about making the large-scale decisions that shape an Empire. You will not be building 10 Science Labs to accelerate research; instead you will designate a planet as a Scholarly Conclave and try to install a viceroy that is aligned to the need for research, allowing that planet to grow organically – they will build Academies and attract academia themselves, with a few nudges along the way. You will not be building transports and endlessly clicking materials to go from planet to planet – instead, you will set up trade hubs that serve as collection centers and build starbases of appropriate sizes to move materials and food along from your Imperial capital to sector capitals to system capitals to normal colonies.

Formerly called Imperia, the game is deep into development. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before today, when a tweet brought it to my attention. I’m fascinated by indirect control in games, as my love of Distant Worlds makes clear, and if AotSS manages to pull off even half of what its sole developer is attempting, it could be my next favourite space game.

Here it is in action:

And if you prefer words to video, here’s a blog entry about the workings of AI, framed as a day in the life of a character.

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Adam Smith

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