Slipways is not a 4X game, despite what it might seem when you look at screenshots. I’m not really sure how to classify this game, because on one hand if I were to describe it as a “mobile-esque” game I’d consider that to be pretty damning. On the other hand, it has become my go-to game as of late because it’s easy to start playing, but difficult to stop.

Each game starts with the selection of a mode. At first, there’s only one mode: Standard Run. This mode gives you 25 in-game years to simply get as far as you can. There’s no other objective than to not ruin all of galactic civilization through gross incompetence. There’s also Endless mode which doesn’t have the 25 year hard-stop, a Campaign mode, and a Ranked Run. The Campaign and Ranked Run require that you make it through a Standard Run with a 3 and 4 star rating respectively. I have yet to unlock either.

Next you choose your Council. There are five races to choose from, and you can choose three. Each come with a tech tree and two perks. You can choose two perks from the six available while selecting the Council members, but the tech items have to be unlocked by earning and spending research points in the game.

Slip Relay is one of the best perks in the game.

Then it’s off to the galactic map. Although this allows you to select a “location” within the galaxy, I haven’t been able to figure out if there’s any benefit to picking one shade of nebula over another. Each resulting system is built off a seed, and although the seed format makes randomly bashing the keyboard more difficult than in other seeded games (I am sad because I can’t use 8675309 seed for this game), you should be able to share a seed with another player and get the same game, allowing you to challenge your friends to an informal PBM competition. Eventually, and I don’t know what triggers the unlock, you can active the “quirks” mode which can provide bonuses or debuffs to your progress. These are also apparently tied to the seed value, and using the “???” button will generate new seeds.

A game starts with a relatively empty galaxy view. You apparently live in the black hole at the center of this part of Existence, and are surrounded by shadowy and unexplored signals. A fog of war encircles the galaxy beyond that.

To start, you can drag the mouse out from the center of the exposed area to launch a probe. Each launch requires a certain amount of cash (because even black hole dwellers have to pay to play) at when the game starts cash is relatively scarce. Each probe will reveal either a planet, an asteroid, or a remnant of a long dead civilization.

Your goal, then, is to colonize these planets by selecting a production schedule from either one or three options (the number of options depends on the planet type and size, it seems). These options takes the form of an input and an output. In order to keep the planet happy, it needs to have it’s input material provided, and needs a place to ship it’s output material.

This is the core of the game: colonizing planets and linking up products with consumers. Of course, there are catches galore. Distance between planets is one; these slipways can only extend so far without advanced research unlocked. The biggest issue is that slipways cannot cross one another (again, unless you unlock certain tech), meaning that it’s of the utmost importance to understand a planetary neighborhood before you go connecting planets to grab the first attractive trade deal. Once the production schedule has been selected, it cannot be changed, and once a trade route has been established, it cannot be removed.

Clicking on a colonized planet will reveal a zoomed in view that lists the three stages of development. Each level might require one or two imports of the same or different types, and the output grows in magnitude or variety, depending on the type of planet and the production duo selected when the planet was colonized. It also explains what’s needed to advance the general well being of the planet. Planets which aren’t getting the right imports will be “struggling”. When a planet is doing OK, it’s “Established”, and then moves to “Successful”. The final tier is “Prosperous” which really starts bringing in the cash. Each planet has an upkeep value as well. If you’ve unlocked a tech which requires a planet to be selected, you do that by entering into this screen, and then activating the tech from the presented button.

Every now and then, your Council will make demands of you.

Like selecting perks at the start of the game, you can choose two and when you fulfill the requests, your standing with that race will increase. This has a bearing when you attempt tasks like taking over a derelict ruin, as each race will offer a different benefit in doing so, assuming you have unlocked the appropriate level. At the end of the game, you are scored based on how many tasks you’ve completed, but are dinged if you have an unfulfilled tasks at game’s end.

Tech can be unlocked by spending research points, which are earned by dropping research stations. Each station requires a “colonist” input as well as something to study. Only certain exports can be studied (ore, nanobots, microchips, biomass, and a few others). Exporting more research subjects will increase the tech point gain, but if there’s more than one station studying the same tech, then research point gain decreases. This becomes a trade off: do you send colonists and resources to generate tech points, or do you send those items to other planets to expand the Empire? Quick tip: busting out serious tech points ASAP is a massive benefit, especially when you choose your Council members carefully.

Slipways does not overload you with information. The UI is basically limited to a single planet menu at a time, and each colonized planet represents its imports and exports with icons. Around the screen you’ll find your resource listing in the upper right corner, your Council standing in the upper left, and a few buttons at the bottom of the screen. Using the bottom tray (from left to right), you can access the settings, deploy research stations or tech devices, open your research panel, get a view of your current stats, and view the tutorial menu.

At the end of the Standard Run you’re presented with your score. You’re graded on several factors, including the number of planets and their progress level, your standing with the Council, the Empire size, and whether or not you had unfinished tasks. Your overall Happiness value is a multiplier which gives you your final score in both number and “Star” form. It’s this star form that is used to unlock the Campaign and Ranked Run game modes.

I had Slipways on my wishlist thinking it would be another 4X space-based game and when I tried it out I have to say I was a little disappointed. The operation of the game is so simple that I had to wonder if this was another mobile port writ larger for PC screens. Planets when tapped open a large menu which can be used with another tap. Trade routes are made by swiping from one planet to another. The limited UI seems suitable for smaller screens. Only the lack of a painfully droll and drawn-out tutorial and stupid bobble-headed avatars prevent this from being a full-on mobile port…aside from the fact that it is not, in fact, a mobile game.

Although considering how much time I spend with it, I kind of wish it were. The premise is painfully simple, and the execution is as well, but the amount of forethought that goes into each move is almost chess-like, requiring me to think ahead, checking each planetary neighborhood, and mentally connecting dots before I spend the money, lock production, and start drawing trade routes. I have blocked my own progress several times by placing an ill-considered slipway, and the frustration is real, I can tell you that. Being able to take this game on the road would be a real time-killer (Switch, maybe?). I don’t think I’d want to play this right before bed, though, as I doubt I’d get any sleep.

Slipways can be had on Steam, Epic, GOG, and Itch, and in the writing of this post I learned that this iteration of Slipways is a version 2.0: the original, created by Jakub Wasilewski, can be played as an embed over on Itch.

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