I don’t let myself play Civilization anymore, because I know what inevitably happens when I do — I succumb to the infamous “one more turn” syndrome and end up bleary-eyed at 2 in the morning on a weeknight, telling myself I’ll get to bed right after I finish off Germany. That’s why I was so excited to discover Slipways, a game that promises “the endless possibilities of a grand strategy game” in an hour or less. It doesn’t disappoint — and it isn’t keeping me up with decades-long land wars in Russia.
As governor of a previously uncharted region of space, you’re tasked with exploring and building out your little space civilization over the course of 25 years. You do this by launching probes to reveal planets, choosing how to utilize them (e.g. mining, growing food, or harvesting water) and then connecting them with the titular slipways. The basic goal is to ensure every planet is able to import what it needs and export what it produces by creating linked chains. Planets that lack something they need decrease the total happiness across your empire, while planets that are flourishing increase it.
It’s a simple concept, one that boils down the complexities of turn-based strategy games to their absolute essentials. There’s no war, or really any kind of interaction with other parties. That makes Slipways feel like a Zachtronics puzzle or a classic Euro board game, where the goal is to create systems that are as complex as possible without collapsing under their own strain.
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But there are layers of complexity to Slipways, too. Each game, you select three of five species to populate the council, each of which has their own unique style, expressed through the perks they unlock as you complete tasks for them and the technology upgrades they make available to purchase. One species focuses on mining, another on trade. And the tech trees they provide are all hugely impactful, letting you destroy or move planets, build slipways across one another, and create transdimensional space angels.
Slipways can be a frustrating experience at times — I found myself restarting runs quite a lot early on, when I’d built myself into a corner and didn’t see a way of fixing the holes in my production chains. But the game generously allows you to undo turns, and since the total length of a normal game is less than an hour anyway, you don’t lose as much from a rocky beginning as you would in a game like Stellaris. The 25 years allotted to you go by pretty quick, with nearly every action you take — launching probes, colonizing planets, connecting slipways — taking some number of months to accomplish. Since everything you do happens immediately, the years can tick by as fast as you can make moves.
Of course, you’re free to go as slowly as you like, too. And that’s the nice thing about Slipways — it’s a flexible game, one that’s compelling both as a contemplative exercise as a hardcore score attack. The lack of combat or negotiation with other factions might turn some players off, but anyone looking for a way into the grand strategy experience or simply a compelling turn-based puzzle game will get a lot out of it.