Game

This planetary combat game is realtime strategy in its purest form

Typical strategy games can be a little unwieldy on the iPhone, requiring maps and units and menus and complex controls. Where they work best is when the genre is distilled down to its basic elements – and Galcon is very basic, but no less brilliant because of it.

Based on the 1987 PC title Galactic Conquest, the premise is simple: each level has a series of randomly generated planets, with each player starting from just one. The number on the planet corresponds to the amount of ships needed to conquer it, and the size represents how quickly it produces reinforcements. So, for example, a small planet with 47 on it is less strategically important than a large planet with, say, a one or a two. The latter is more easily captured and better at resupplying your forces.

All the action takes place on a single screen, and is touch-control friendly.

All the action takes place on a single screen, and is touch-control friendly.

To move your fleet you tap one of your worlds, then tap on a target – or you can tap-drag to the chosen location. You can also tap to select multiple planets and then drag, with lines showing where your forces are being directed. And for an all-out assault, just double-tap any one of your planets to select them all, then direct your giant fleet as usual. A percentage indicator at the bottom lets you select the size of your armada, using either 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of the selected forces. But if you do send all of your ships, any of planets you selected will then be undefended and open to invasion.

As long as the attacking force is large enough, the defenders will be wiped out (though you lose an equal number of ships in the battle), and the planet switches to your color. Any remaining ships are garrisoned there, and their number swells as the planet produces more.

The basic one-on-one game is a case of sending ships to conquer nearby planets as quickly as possible, building up superior numbers, and then taking over your opponent’s colonies until they’re wiped out. Which, on later difficult levels, is easier said than done.

In Stealth mode the computer poses a much trickier opponent.

In Stealth mode the computer poses a much trickier opponent.

Rank and file

There are ten computer ranks, ranging from Cabin Boy to Grand Admiral, and on the first three or four settings you’ll cruise to victory. But by the time you reach Captain, things start getting tricky. This is mainly due to the computer’s ability to multi-task, sending the requisite number of ships to attack different locations. To compete, you need to think fast and act quickly, defending important planets while also trying to grow your ship-building empire.

Should you master the basic game, there are a bunch of play modes to attempt. Beast pits you against an already colonized system; Vacuum is a single-player time-trial; Stealth features an invisible foe; and 3-Way (our favorite), pits you against two warring computer opponents. An online multiplayer option completes the package.

The game spawned a sequel, Galcon Labs, which features a few different game modes and improved multiplayer, and Galcon Legends has just hit the App Store, with the same underlying gameplay but a new single player campaign to battle through.

Galcon is a fascinating, challenging, often exasperating, occasionally triumphal game, but one which is easy to become addicted to. In truth, the rapid gameplay is more a thinking man’s arcade shooter than pure strategy, like a rarefied, high-speed version of Risk. No doubt some will find the simplistic gameplay not deep enough, or lacking in variety – but we urge you give it a try; we’re hooked!

Big planets with small numbers are fiercely contested in 3-Way mode.

Big planets with small numbers are fiercely contested in 3-Way mode.

Price: $1.99/£1.49

Version: 1.9.10

Size: 9.8 MB

Platform: iOS Universal

Developer: Hassey Enterprises, Inc.

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Galcon Review: Compelling bare-bones strategy
“Galcon is a brilliantly deconstructed version of the realtime strategy genre, with lots of modes and ruthless AI”
For
  • Compelling gameplay
  • Excels at combining strategic thinking with action
Against
  • Schematic
4.5Overall Score