Available On: Steam PC
Played On: Steam PC
Slipways reduces the potentially complicated genre of space strategy into the simple economics of supply and demand between planets. The result is a brilliant puzzle-strategy game that keeps me dragging interplanetary shipping lanes late into the night.
The Wheat Must Flow
After selecting my starting alien council and generating a random map, I’m left staring at a black hole, surrounded by silhouetted planetary objects. To reveal these objects I’ll need to launch a probe, as easy as holding down the left mouse and button and seeing the probe’s radius, revealing asteroids, satellites, and planets.
Each discovered planet can come in a variety of flavors, including jungle, desert, arctic, earth-like, and remnant, and each kind of planet features a choice of specific colonization — but only one can ever be chosen. For example, a jungle world could establish a colony and import electronics and wheat, and export people; a wetland farm has robots making wheat; while a, er, breeding program uses people to export biomass.
Once built, each planet then begins at the struggling level, losing happiness unless their basic imports are fulfilled. To trade between planets, I simply drag the left mouse button from one planet to another to create the titular slipways, and watch as the right goods are automatically imported and exported. To make things easier, I can test what a planet’s trade network will look like by clicking the right mouse button on any planet colonization, and even cue up multiple planets. And if I really start to screw up, there’s a simple undo button for reversing decisions.
It takes multiple planets supporting each other to keep everyone happy, but it doesn’t end there. When planets are happy, they’ll automatically upgrade, producing more exports, which I can then use to support other planets. Within a handful of turns, I’ve already created a dense web of beautiful interplanetary shipping lanes.
Time Keeps on Slippin’
The goal is to score as many points as possible within a certain number of turns — though it’s possible to lose early if happiness levels drop and stay below around 60%. As my interplanetary empire grows, I’m given tasks to accomplish from my council, such as increasing exports of a certain product, which earn bonus cash and science.
Research and technology are a big part of any space-based strategy game, and Slipways is no different. In addition to connecting planets, I can also construct my own space station buildings, the first of which is always unlocked at the start, the laboratory. By exporting people and one other material to these free-floating labs, I begin to generate science, which can then be used to unlock new technologies that steadily unlock the longer I play, based on the alien council members I chose in the beginning.
These techs can be helpful boons, such as turning extra people exports into science or cash, or critical empire upgrades, like increasing the range of my slipways, turning water into energy (essentially a wild material that everyone wants), or being able to build on lava and ice planets. Choosing which techs, and how best to utilize them, is wonderfully agonizing.
My only complaint is with the main campaign. Slipways includes a standard run, ranked run, and endless modes, as well as a campaign with some additional story bits about discovering new worlds and energy sources. Unlike most strategy games, where the campaign is a great place to learn the game, Slipways is actually the opposite. In fact, the campaign doesn’t even unlock until achieving at least three stars in a standard run.
Each stand-alone campaign mission adds extra challenges and parameters as a victory condition on top of everything else, creating a much more challenging experience. I can successfully complete a campaign mission but still manage to earn zero stars, which is certainly a bummer. The other bummer is that it isn’t finished. At launch, only four missions are available, with more labeled as coming soon.
Slipways has not been rated, but doesn’t include anything objectionable in graphics or story. Shipping goods (and people) between planets is casual and harmless, though the gameplay can be unforgivingly challenging as you learn how to keep planets happy before things spiral out of control.
Slipways is more of a puzzle game than a strategy game, but no less brilliant. Its simple controls and intuitive gameplay is the perfect on-boarding to an intricate supply and demand simulator, set within the beautiful backdrop of space, with endless replayability.