Space Empires III is one of the best games ever. It's too good for the technology that it was written for (Windows 95 people!) and I don't think I have even managed to find another game yet that did what that game does so well. Asynchronous turn based multiplayer space 4x.
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The other thing that makes this game so good is the strategic combat and the combat simulator. Don't even bother to play this game using the tactical combat system in single player mode because that's not where it shines. Where SE3 works is building and testing your fleets and then sending them off with operating instructions to fend for themselves. It's an wonderful feeling to get a notice that your fleet has trounced another fleet in some far sector of space. It's a dreadful feeling to get news that your fleet has been expunged from existence. There is more than just the combat. There is a decent research tree to juggle. You get mad benefits from managing your population properly. You can pump resources into espionage, and you can do well by being a good diplomat and skimming points from trade agreements. You can win on points or by taking out all the other players. And the best part is that you feel like a real emperor doing it all at arms length and waiting for your next turn to see what has transpired.
I've thought about how I'd make a 4x game quite a lot and I believe that it would fall pretty much in line with what SE3 accomplishes. I might add some spokes to the tech tree for that rock paper scissors effect. I'd probably want to increase trade and tribute so that you could move units. I might even add in some mining or resource collection. But I have to say all this was attempted in SE4 and it didn't make the game work for me. My one big wish I guess would be to add in simultaneous turn resolution and some method of having ships/fleets resolve combat at slight distances to compensate for this. I can see it now, programming your ships to engage if anyone flies within strike range, or having them programmed to flee and conserving some of your movement for these eventualities. However until the day that I see that, I'll be pretty happy with this electronic board game I think.
I meant to write a post about SE3 for a while now, in fact I started writing this one and ended up kicking off a new play by mail game of SE3 instead.