Birth of the Federation (BOTF), is a title that reached for the stars and then fell short in many areas. The original version was incredibly buggy - the version here already includes the patches that fix most of the game's errors, but some unfortunately bad design ideas.
BOTF is a turn-based strategy game set in the Star trek continuum that was released in 1999 by Microprose. The game's graphics & sound effects are about what one would expect from such an old game. Being a strategy title, however, the graphics get the job done, and the sound effects include many canned Star Trek clips, so the voice-acting is very good all things considered.
The premise of the game is that the player will lead one of five races (Cardassians, Federation, Ferengi, Klingons, or Romulans) from the very beginnings of warp-based space travel all the way to just past the setting of the last ST:NG movies.
However, while that may be the default game setup, the player is free to alter several starting conditions; such as making the universe bigger or smaller, starting off with advanced technology and pre-made colonies, and/or the game's victory conditions.
Speaking of which, the object of the game is to control 2/3rds of the universe - which while standard fare for a 4X game is a little disappointing for a ST:NG game, as the Ferengi & Federation (for example) never really went off on a "conquer the universe" style campaign. However, the player can change the victory conditions to "vendetta" in which the goal is to eradicate a rival (such as the Federation seeking to wipe out all the Romulans).
Again, this just didn't feel right, but maybe the reviewer was expecting something a little more (like the varied victory conditions found in SEIII).
Once you start the game as your chosen race you get to manage your colony (colonies if you used the advanced start option), and send your tiny starting fleet out to explore the galaxy. Your colonies produce industry, food, research, energy, and intelligence; and it is absolutely vital that the player properly manage each of these fields.
Food cannot, unlike the Master of Orion or Space Empires series, cannot be transported from system to system. This is a very annoying oversight in the game, but there it is. So every inhabited system has to make it's own food - even if the sole purpose of that colony was to mine dilithium or maintain a long range scanner.
Industry, likewise, to be spent were its at. So, there is no point in building "feeder" colonies in this game since that is impossible. Well, sorta impossible. If your system has a shipyard it can build ships, sell them for 100% value, and then you can use that money to complete a ship design on the far side of the galaxy. The designers clearly didn't intend for it to work that way, but this is one of the least annoying problems with the game.
Energy is a vital resource if you need it, and worthless if you have it in abundance. Some of your planets, if all they do is have a shipyard and industry, for example, will require almost no energy. Your homeworld, where you will build the majority of your unique structures, will require zounds of energy.
Research is required to learn new technologies, but I found the number of technologies so limited (only 8 areas of research, and they just linearly progress) that the R&D area was often my "dump resource" if I began the game using the advanced starting conditions (which after several play-throughs became the only way I found enjoyment in the game). The lack of variety or any degree of customization options really made the R&D part of the game boring after you have played a race once.
There was more options to customize your race's technology progress in Master of Orion than there is here. So, no trying to research a "cloaking technology" tree - it doesn't exist. So if you happen to be anyone except the Romulans are Klingons (and the Klingons only have two designs that have one) you can just forget about it. Sad, really.
Intelligence production appears of little value early on, but once you go to war with one (or worse, several) major races, it becomes almost as vital as dilithium production. If you neglect this area of production you will have ships blown up, facilities lost, colonies completely depopulated, colonies rebel, research stolen, etc, etc. Every turn. Everywhere. Seriously, you play this game you don't ignore this area of your empire's life - no matter how worthless it appears early on.
When you select a ship you can get it's maximum range, and every "visible" sector has a "scan strength" rating that determines how well your sensors are recording data there.
If you have sufficient scanning strength, and/or have explorer the sector with a ship, there are a myriad of little symbols (that you can turn on or off) next to every system you have explored. Black holes, nebulas, quasars, worm-holes, and more are also found on the map, in addition to the typical planetary systems. You will find early on that the most important resource in the game is dilithium, which is found in only about 15% (random game seed causes some variation) of the planetary systems you will encounter.
Possessing this resource is absolutely key - without it you cannot build starships, and it takes one dilithium resource (properly mined by building the required structure on the planet, and powering that structure) to allow a single spacedock to function. Your homeworld always has a dilithium resource, and sometimes one of your secondary planets (if you began using the advanced option) will as well.
Some races, like the Romulans, can build a dilithium refinery in any system, but at an outrageous (though often worth it) power cost.
After you figure out your initial orders, you can set research goals, assign how your internal security budget (100% defense at the out set as you have no targets), and, when you run into another major or minor race, you can engage in diplomacy and warfare. The diplomatic engine is pointless, as this game was made by Microprose. Civilization had better diplomatic options, and Master of Orion just dominates BOTF in this area. Essentially, if you are dealing with the minors you can either throw gold at them every turn and try to get them to ally with you, or you can just eradicate them.
That is correct - I said eradicate. Conquered populations will always hate you. They may be suppressed by your internal security, but they will always hate you. And sometimes all it takes is losing a single battle in space and all of your conquered populations will revolt and defect to your enemies. Trust me, it is easier and simpler just to kill them all with bombardment and build a colony site from scratch. If you are dealing with a Major race, well, things are different. You can throw gold at them and try to get them to ally with you, or you can declare war and eradicate... wait, no, I guess there isn't much difference.
The combat engine is pretty neat, and reminded me of the Star Wars Rebellion strategy game. The tactical screen zooms in to a close up of your fleet and the enemy fleet, and from there you can change the camera view and give orders to your ships.
This, I have to admit, was fun to watch. It really was. While I was sometimes lost when my ships disappeared just off camera (and I couldn't find them to re-issue orders), or when the distance between the fleets was so huge that selecting ships at all was impossible, most of the time this was fun.
As a matter of fact, if the combat engine was a stand-alone product I think it could have done reasonably well as Star Trek space combat simulator (assuming one added scenarios and tweaked the camera/control options). It was fast, clean, and mostly friendly.
The game's basic production engine, in contrast, is simply unnecessarily tedious. Facilities aside, as they never need to be upgraded, all your basic resource-producing (Food, Industry, Energy, Research, Intel) require upgrading if you are to benefit from all that R&D you were so excited about doing.
One category at a time, and the cost grows to outrageous proportions the higher the level of the upgrade. So high, in fact, that after level 7-ish, it becomes a waste of time. Why? Because it takes so long to upgrade and because while upgrading you can't be building starships.
Which is the ultimate issue. You can only build one project at a time per system. Period. Which is just annoying and makes the game take forever just to accomplish things like bringing a new colony up to specs. No, you may have Level 10 Industrial technology, but every brand new colony you establish has to start with just a hammer, anvil, and furnace to build stuff. Because all new colonies start at Level 1 in every category, all the time. Which is just annoying.
So, to summarize; this game could have been a lot better. It was made by Microprose at a time when Master of Orion 2 and Space Empires 3 was already out, and had been out for some time; there is no excuse for the flaws in this game. So, even though I love Star Trek, 4X games, and the Sci-Fi genre as a whole, I have to say this game just doesn't make the mark. If you are a die-hard trekkie, or you are willing to go with the plethora of mods out there that fix/modify many of the game's issues, then you might be able to find some enjoyment. Otherwise, play MOO2 or SE3 - you'll have more fun.
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