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Video Game / Distant Worlds

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Distant Worlds is a vast, pausable real-time, 4X space strategy game that allows the player to experience the full depth and detail of large turn-based strategy games, but with the simplicity and ease of real-time, and on the scale of a massively-multiplayer online game.

Vast galaxies are made to order: up to 1400 star systems, with up to 50,000 planets, moons and asteroids. Galaxies are so deep, fun and immersive that you won’t want to finish the game... Build, expand and improve your empire endlessly. The galaxy is packed with life and activity. Encounter other empires, independent alien colonies, traders, pirates and space monsters. Explore star systems, asteroid fields, gas clouds, supernovae, galactic storms and black holes. Discover evidence of civilizations long since past, uncovering secrets about the galaxy's troubled history...


Enough of the sales pitch, Distant Worlds is a 4X game that innovates by using an automated macromanagement system that allows the AI to take control of as much of the game as the player wishes: one can delegate large swathes of gameplay to the AI which will automatically manage it, or so that the AI will make suggestions of the player, asking for only a thumbs-up. The game has three expansions (Return of the Shakturi, Legends and Shadows), each of which improve the game so much that playing without them is like night and day.

An Updated Re-release titled Distant Worlds: Universe was released on Steam on May 24th, 2014. This release includes the base game and all of its expansions in a single package, as well as modding support and a historical scenario of sorts that covers the first war of the Freedom Alliance with the Shaktur Axis, made as an example of what can be created with the game's modding tools.


Distant Worlds provides examples of:

  • A.I.-Generated Economy: Distant Worlds contains a vast private economy that the player cannot directly control. This economy directly simulates a major detail that many games abstract out: the actual physical transportation of resources and people from one point to another (be this within your own economy, or between civilizations) through trade, tourism, emigration, and so on. These are then taxed by the player's government. It is always financially beneficial to arrange things so that a private economy can develop with minimal disruption, even if you can't micromanage the details. This means ensuring that your people's privately owned ships are well protected, and that trade with other empires is as open as possible.
    • A major source of income comes from private entities using your unused spacedocks to build their starships. Interestingly enough, when things go poorly enemy factions start ripping into your empire, the constant need for private fleets to replace their losses can be a huge boon to your treasury... that is, until your economy starts to suffer for it.
  • All Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted. Most planets can't ever be inhabited by any means, and most of the inhabitable planets in the game are quite different from Earth.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Though there's no hard rule that says they must be this way, the insect races all lean heavily towards violent conquest and casual genocide, especially the Shakturi.
  • Appeal to Force: Pirates operate this way by default: you give them cash on a regular schedule, and they have less reason to seriously cripple your shipping and invade your planets. The player's empire and all other empires can do this too, either by enforcing blockades, threatening war, or just having a larger military than the other guy.
  • Anti-Armor: Compared to Pulse Blaster weapons, Phasers are twice as effective at destroying armor, making it easier to damage the components underneath with each shot. The tradeoff is that phasers consume more power to fire.
  • Archaeological Arms Race: With the extreme amount of of ancient, advanced, and still useful precursor technology lying about, this is bound to happen. These artifacts will have a huge effect on the balance of power, and unearthing these artifacts before other civilizations get them can be the difference between victory and defeat.
  • Artificial Brilliance: Distance Worlds is rather unique in the fact that you can automate whatever specific parts of your government you want to, and the AI tends to do a pretty good job of running things. This can be anything from the use of your Intelligence Agents, the construction of ships, declarations of war, battle strategy, economic strategy... you can have AI take over the entire game if you wish. However, if you do that, keep in mind that when it comes to high level strategy, the AI tends to make very DUMB choices.
  • Asteroid Miners: Both specially designed ships and space stations can mine asteroids. Lots of mining stations will be built during the game, and they can easily become a source of conflict when built inside a territory that someone claims later.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Space Pirates are effectively treated as these. They have their own populations, and sometimes even have entire planets of billions of citizens to themselves, all of whom are treated as pirates.
  • The Battlestar: The in-game ship designer puts no limits on how you design your ships. Thanks to that, it's entirely possible to add fighter bays to any of your ships. Many ships that you can encounter in the game carry fighters without being dedicated carriers.
  • Beam Spam: While it's technically possible to do this with any beam weapon in the game, the Pulse Blaster variants (Shatterforce Laser, Titan Beam, etc.) are the easiest beams to achieve this trope with - they are cheap, use little energy when fired, and fire quite quickly. Towards the end game, most warships will have enough power to spray energetic death in a continuous barrage, and as such, both the Ancient Guardians and Shakturi apply this trope liberally.
  • Big Bad: The Shakturi, introduced in the 1st expansion.
  • Big Good: The Ancient Guardians, introduced in the 1st expansion.
  • Body Armor as Hit Points: Each individual piece of armor will be destroyed in turn as it takes damage. Due to their low durability, early armor techs tend to obliterate instantly when hit, effectively making them extra hit points.
  • Civil Warcraft: The citizens of any empire can revolt if they become unhappy enough, which often results in this trope. If a sufficiently advanced planet revolts, they can even become their own empire.
  • Comically Small Bribe: This can happen, either as a result of an empire simply not having the funds to sufficiently pay a superior enemy, or as a result of an empire not taking another empire seriously. Additionally, the amount of money an AI empire can give anyone in a bribe is capped.
  • Command & Conquer Economy: Averted. The presence of a realistic economy that exists almost entirely outside of direct player control is this game's biggest selling point. It's also the single most important element of any society: maintaining that economy's ability to grow essentially dominates gameplay.
  • Conflict Ball: The tensions that inevitably form between races that naturally hate each other (for example, bugs vs humans) can certainly feel like this. Depending on how the world generates, you can easily end up with one or more alliances fighting genocidal war against the species that they hate.
  • Collateral Damage: Most misses in the game are treated as not hitting anything. However, "area" weapons and World Destroyers cause Splash Damage that affects everything within a certain radius. As a result, it's not uncommon to see these weapons destroying friendly ships and enemy ships alike.
  • Colonized Solar System: You start the game as one of these: a civilization with a single capital planet and perhaps a colony or two, trying to expand beyond that system into the larger galaxy.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: It's very easy to create a ship or station with severely limited functions if you don't know what you're doing in the ship designer. That said, this trope is generally averted: nearly all ships and stations in the game have multiple functions by design.
  • Death Ray: A weapon with this name can be obtained from ruins. It is a devastatingly powerful beam weapon that often destroys ships in only one shot. Access to it can greatly shift the balance of power among races.
  • Deflector Shields: Most every ship in the game will have shields unless it is designed before shields are invented. However, it's entirely possible to deliberately avoid using shield defenses, and in some rare cases it's encouraged to avoid them in order to free up space for other, more immediately important equipment.
  • Design-It-Yourself Equipment: Thanks to the existence of a ship designer system, every single vehicle and starbase in the entirety of the game can be thoroughly customized. This quickly leads to situations where warring factions build ships specifically to counter the enemy.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The "Super Laser" is Lost Technology that can be found installed in some desolated space hulks, and the knowledge needed to build them can be recovered from the computers of some ancient military fortresses. Just one shot from a Super Laser is all it takes to completely obliterate a planet. In the modded scenario depicting the first war against the Shakturi, you can build them by default.
  • Easy Logistics: Averted. Every single ship and every single space station in the entire game requires money and a sufficient supply of various (more than 40) differing materials for each individual component involved in it's construction and maintenance. This includes different types of fuel, active and inert gases (argon, hydrogen, helium, caslon, krypton, etc.), different metals and building materials (steel, lead, chromium, gold, iridium, carbon fiber, polymer, aculon, etc.), various rare stones (osalia, emeros, nekros, dilithium, etc.) all of which need to be mined and processed for use. There is no hard or soft unit limit to the number of ships, stations, or planets that you can support... except your ability to pay for them, fuel them, resupply them, and pay for any repairs in both time, money, and materials. Especially in the early game, this can be a real hassle.
  • Emergent Narrative: Each empire in the game will have a succession of rulers with different personality traits and skills, as well as constantly shifting internal and external politics. As a result, the game evolves into a grand narrative of intrigue, diplomacy, technology, alliances, rivalry, and war.
  • Emperor Scientist: The "Technocracy" government is essentially a kind of Elective Monarchy where the only eligible leaders are the scientists in the empire. Generally, the smartest one rules.
  • Enemy Civil War: Internal war can occur for a number of reasons related to population unrest. It can also be directly caused by espionage.
  • Experience Points: Every character in your civilization can and will earn experience through their actions that gradually makes them more effective at their jobs.
  • Explosive Breeder: The Atuukans, Gizureans, and Securans all breed very quickly compared to everyone else. It's not uncommon for a Gizurean colony to grow as many as 11 billion citizens in the time it takes humans to get to a population of a few millions.
  • Fantastic Racism: Insectoid species tend to hate absolutely everyone except other insects for no real reason.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: This game explicitly uses the "warp drive" variant: all ships going faster-than-light generate a bubble of warped space around themselves to do so, and can travel in any direction at will so long as they have enough fuel.
  • 4X: But of course.
  • Galactic Conqueror: Naturally, this is how you win a military victory: by conquering the galaxy. The Boskarans and Shakturi match this trope by nature.
  • Glass Cannon: Thanks to the in-game ship designer, it's very easy to make a ship that fits this trope: just load up on weapons and leave no room for shields or armor. Thanks to the cost in material, this typically isn't a good idea, but ships like this can be used to great effect under the right circumstances.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Securans.
  • Gunboat Diplomacy: If your military power is great enough, other races will send you tribute even if they hate you. It's also possible to force a civilization to submit to trade demands with military force.
  • Humanoid Aliens: The Kiadians and Securans are distinctly humanoid.
  • Humans Are Average: Humans get moderate boosts to espionage, diplomacy, and research. Other races tend to have higher boosts, but in fewer areas.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: Lots of abandoned ships and other goodies can be found while exploring.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: With enough money or resources, it is possible to pull this trick on another Empire by conceding a war, only to resume it almost immediately. Be wary of doing so, though, as they will certainly use that money against you.
  • Karma Meter: Your empire's overall reputation affects diplomacy an awful lot. The reputation of an empire can range from "diabolical" to "heroic" depending on it's international behavior, such as honoring or breaking defense pacts, bombarding planets, dealing with or dealing with pirates, and how many spies got caught recently. Empires that have a good reputation will see a diplomatic bonus, thanks to the perception that they are trustworthy and honorable. Empires that lean towards the more evil side of this scale are generally hated, and their wartime enemies are progressively allowed to use more extreme methods in dealing with them without incurring any reputation penalties from anyone else. Also, it's entirely possible (but very difficult) to do countless horrible things and yet still have the reputation of a saint.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Like all weapons in the game, railguns have their ups and downs: they have a chance to penetrate shields, and later versions can be used as bombardment weapons, however, they severely suffer in range. As a result, they aren't very useful on slow moving ships.
  • La Résistance: Planets revolt against their government if and when the populace becomes unhappy enough. Citizens don't like ongoing war, resource shortages, or living near species they deeply dislike (example: Gizureans hate everyone except other Gizureans). Revolt becomes more likely to happen if your government is opposed to the values of the dominant species living in it (example: Humans don't like autocratic governments, such as Military Dictatorships and Despotisms). This is also likely to occur if you enslave or exterminate other races on your planets: be prepared for them to fight back.
  • Lensman Arms Race: Any war that goes on long enough will see both sides inventing technology to shift the tide of battle in their favor.
  • Lost Superweapon: You can discover multiple game-changing weapons from ruins and have them reverse-engineered to fit into your ships in order to prove your technological superiority.
  • Lightning Bruiser: A sufficiently advanced warship will generally be this compared to it's lower tech opponents. This makes salvaging the various ancient warships lying around the galaxy a valid method to tip the scales in your favor in the event of a war: in the early game, some of them can even win an entire war for you.
  • Lost Technology: There are countless precursor artifacts and temples scattered across all of space: ancient cities, space stations, starship graveyards, et cetera. Most of them have remnants of advanced technology that can be used by whatever civilization possess them. Some have extremely powerful weapon technologies that are only available to the first civilization that encounters them (presumably, the original technology is destroyed or deleted to prevent any others from using it).
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Exactly how the Atuukian race managed to develop space travel with their primitive, tree-dwelling culture is never explained.
  • Military Coup: The military dictatorship government often forms as a result of one of these. Any kind of military uprising may have this as it's ultimate goal.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Fleet combat, planetary invasions, orbital bombardment... most military actions in the game will result in many, many deaths. You won't even notice how many unless you make a point to keep count of the fatalities, and you'll likely lose count after 547 million or so (a relatively moderate planetary invasion).
  • Mook Commander: Captains and Admirals are non-playable characters who add bonuses (or deficits) to entire ships and fleets, respectively.
  • More Dakka: Railguns and Pulse Blasters fire very quickly for little energy, but do little damage per shot. As such, they do best when there's a humongous amount of them being fired downrange.
  • Naming Your Colony World / Settling the Frontier: Once you have a colony ship settle an actual habitable world, you can name it to your personal liking.
  • Neglectful Precursors: Not "neglectful" so much as terribly unfortunate. The civilized peoples of the ancient galaxy were amazingly advanced and had mostly learned to coexist in (mostly) harmonious equality. Through no fault of their own, they were suddenly attacked by the Shakturi, a militant race from outside the galaxy who did their best to fracture the old alliances as the first step to exterminating everyone. Their manipulations were discovered, and quickly led to a a galaxy spanning war that ended abruptly when the Kiadians released the incredibly deadly Xaraktor virus to end the Shakturi as a species. It ended up working TOO well, wiping out nearly all sapient life in the galaxy so incredibly quickly that many of their cities and most of their technology was left intact, from fleets of dead ships to half-constructed planet destroying battlestations.
  • Non-Entity General: The player is an ageless thing that sees everything there is to see about their nation and presides over every decision made. The expansion Distant Worlds: Legends includes an aversion in the form of civilization leaders who can be interacted with much like other characters, though the player themselves still fits this trope.
  • One Nation Under Copyright: The "Corporate Nationalism" government nationalizes all private revenue. This fosters an extreme boost to the state economy at a significant cost to everything else, including trade bonuses. As such, it is best used as a temporary solution to a severe money problem rather than a long-term strategy.
  • Outside-Context Problem: There are several things a civilization can encounter in this game that can create unexpected problems, such as making a new enemy before finding out that they have a working World Destroyer or other doomsday weapon, accidentally activating ancient nanomachine weapons that eat everything, or being unprepared when the Shakturi decide to make a return to the galaxy.
  • Pacifist Run: This can be done, depending on the specific victory goals of that race. In fact, some races victory goals nearly require pacifism to complete.
  • Planet Destroyer: The World Destroyers are Death Star inspired starships the size of moons that can literally blast an entire planet instantly into very tiny fragments. With the right technology, any normal species can build them.
  • Possession Implies Mastery: Completely averted - just because you found a super-powerful battleship full of extremely advanced technology, in no way means that you can reproduce it or any part of it. While you can repair it, you'll have to research the technologies in it before you can build it on your own.
  • Purposely Overpowered: Among all of the the salvageable ancient relics in this game, there are many things that are deliberately designed to give the middle finger to Competitive Balance in the most horrible ways imaginable. You will spend much of the game fighting over them. These can range from amazingly advanced cities that grant insane bonuses, note  to exceptionally rare trade goods that grant extreme bonuses to whomever has them, to super-technologies that, once obtained, are immediately made unavailable to anyone else. The absolute kings of this trope, though, are the World Destroyers, which come with a self-recharging laser cannon that is powerful enough to blow up ANY planet and everything else in the area around it once every 30 seconds... luckily, they take a very long time to build.
  • Random Event: The game is filled with these. Many random events come from exploring or just from normal play.
  • Regenerating Shield, Static Health: Any ship's shields will regenerate as long as it has enough power. Armor and components must be repaired manually, either by a construction ship or at starbases or spacedocks.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: The "Way of Darkness" government is every bit as repressive and powerful as a typical Military Dictatorship, but with none of the usual drawbacks.
  • Robot Soldier: The "Robotic Troop Foundry" allows your empire to make battalions of robot soldiers. They are essentially cheap cannon fodder compared to most any other military unit.
  • Scavenger World: Thanks to the many dead precursor civilizations surrounding your fledgling empire, a good portion of the game will involve scavenging wrecks and occupying old, decaying cities ravaged by time. Many of them are full of advanced technology to plunder.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: Securans can come across this way compared to other species, as if they were used to deflecting blame for criminal actions through their looks.
    "Covert missions? What missions? If there were any missions, we certainly wouldn't talk to you about them. But there are no missions anyway... So stop being so paranoid!"
  • Shout-Out: There are countless references to Star Trek, Star Wars, and other sci-fi properties.
    • Star Trek:
      • The first faster-than-light drive in the game is called a "Warp Bubble Generator", directly referencing Star Trek's Warp Drive, which generates a "warp bubble" to propel the ship.
      • Phasers are available in-game as an alternative weapon to pulse blaster technologies. They fire instant-hitting beams, while Pulse Blasters fire more stereotypical laser-bullets ala Star Wars.
      • Plasma Torpedoes do very high damage - higher than any other standard weapon in the game - but lose energy and fade over time, as does the iconic Romulan weapon of the same name.
      • Dilithium crystals are a mineable resource.
      • The Securans are directly modeled after Star Trek's Orions - skin color, promiscuity and all.
      • The Kiadians are based on the Talosians from The Cage. Like the Talosians, they are a very intelligent humanoid race with huge brains and a penchant for holographic illusions.
    • Star Wars:
      • Each evolution of Pulse Blaster technology looks like Star Wars' blasters/turbolasers, with the Shatterforce Laser in particular closely resembling Imperial Turbolasers.
      • It's entirely possible to build Giant Ion Cannons on your planets that disable orbiting ships, just like the Rebels did in The Empire Strikes Back.
      • Planetary Shields deflect all orbital bombardment, but troops can be dropped on the planet through the shield, just like the shield on Echo Base in The Empire Strikes Back.
      • The Atuukian race seems to be based on the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi.
      • The World Destroyers are very obviously based on the iconic Death Star battlestations.
      • In the late game, it becomes possible to clone the strongest soldiers in your Empire, as the Galactic Republic did to make their Clone Army in Attack of the Clones.
  • Shows Damage: Everything in the game that can take damage, from Space Stations to Giant Kaltors will become progressively disfigured as it takes damage until it finally explodes or dies.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Besides the uninhabitable worlds such as the Gas Giants and Barren Rock worlds, the game has six habitable planet/moon types: Continental, Marshy Swamp, Desert, Ice, Ocean, and Volcanic. They generally follow the Star Wars example.
  • Space Pirates: Pirates are a major part of this game. They conduct the usual actions that pirates are known for: raiding, boarding, smuggling, fighting each other, etc. However, they can be bribed for information, and can also be hired as mercenaries to provide protection for your empire, attack your enemies, or various other jobs. However, be wary: they can and will betray you if given a reason, and if they aren't destroyed in a timely fashion they can easily become troublesome factions that can contend with powerful empires well into the late game. They can even grow into a proper empire of their own. It's also an option to play as a pirate faction yourself.
  • Splash Damage: Despite their name, the "area" weapons in the game do this: they do incredible damage that falls off with distance from the point of impact.
  • The Spymaster: Intelligence agents are these. They can insert themselves deep into another government to monitor military and economic movements, assassinate political enemies, steal technology, incite rebellions, blow up space stations, and generally make life a complete mess for anyone who doesn't prepare for them.
  • Subsystem Damage: Every time a weapon impacts an unprotected target, it randomly destroys internal components equal to the damage being dealt. As a result, any ship or station that takes damage slowly loses its functionality as the battle wears on. The ship is only destroyed once all components are gone: this includes sensors, shield generators, thrusters, hyper-drives, countermeasure systems, cargo bays, life support... this can make it a bit of a chore to recover and repair damaged ships after a battle, especially if the hyper-drive is broken, in which case it's most effective to send another ship to repair it.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: In this game, this trope is generally averted. However, a weaker power can still initiate a hopeless fight if they decide that have no other choice, or they just hate you that much.
  • Technologically Advanced Foe: The Shakturi. In addition, any war in the game can involve this trope if the tech gap between the combatants is wide enough.
  • Tech Tree: There are three technology trees, all of which are researched separately at the same time: Weapons, Energy and Construction, and High Tech/Industrial. The placement, aptitude, and specific expertise of your scientists determines which sectors advance faster. Additionally, those scientists may become targets for assassination.
  • Terraform: Any livable planet will have a "quality" rating that determines how hard life is on that world. The terraformer building slowly increases quality to 100%.
  • They Don't Make Them Like They Used To: Especially in the early game, the galaxy is full of artifacts that prove this trope definitely true.
  • 2-D Space: The entire game exists on a two-dimensional plane.
  • Universal Translator: Oddly enough, everyone seems to start the game with these: there are no difficulties in interplanetary or interspecies communications at all.
  • Unstable Equilibrium: An empire with more accumulated resources and better infrastructure can build more infrastructure and accumulate more resources even faster. Therefore, the better an empire does in the early game, the better it will do in the late game.
  • Utopia: The "Utopian Paradise" is a unique government available to only two races in the game, the Securans and the Shandars. The government provides for every single one of it's people's needs and wants at all times, no matter what they are. This creates an extremely content society that is highly unlikely to rebel against the state... at the notable disadvantage of everyone being so amazingly lazy that upkeep costs drastically increase and the military basically doesn't exist.
  • Vestigial Empire: It's entirely possible for a vast empire that rules a good chunk of the galaxy to collapse in on itself and break into pieces as a result of invasion, lack of resources, internal struggles for power tearing the empire apart, or even successful citizen's rebellions.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: The amount of horrific things you can do to other empires and even your own citizens is pretty incredible. You can enslave anyone that happens to be living on any of your planets, even deporting undesirables to a designated penal colony if you wish. You can, as an official policy, kill all members of a certain species, or even their entire racial family (such as, killing every humanoid being in the galaxy). You can bomb any planet until it becomes a virtually uninhabitable waste - or, if you have the right tech, blast it, and all it's billions of inhabitants into an asteroid field.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: As it turns out, people tend to gang up on megalomaniacal tyrants.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: It's not uncommon to find empires fighting for a single cause to also kill each other. One particularly common example is two empires at war with each other, who happen to encounter some pirates in a system where they are skirmishing - they will kill the pirates, but they won't stop killing each other in the meantime. This can extend to factions that broke off from a bigger empire mutually hating each other despite both coming technically from the same rebellion.
  • War for Fun and Profit: It's entirely possible to fight a war merely because you want someone else's stuff. Some civilizations are more inclined to do this than others, especially military dictatorships.
  • War Is Hell: War is absolutely not a pleasant thing in this game. Invading even a single planet will typically mean the deaths of literally billions of soldiers on both sides. Using Orbital Bombardment beforehand to kill the defenders and save your own troops will kill many noncombatant civilians, which can not only cause your allies to reconsider their opinion of you, but can also turn formerly lush planets into uninhabitable graveyards. Civilian transport convoys will often be raided at opportunity, killing traders, immigrants, and refugees alongside the soldiers. Privately owned resort stations will often be just as much a target as a military shipyard. Finally, massive amounts of resources will be expended on both sides to train soldiers, repair and resupply the warships, and replace the constantly captured/destroyed civilian freighters and transports, leaving massive gaps in your economy that could potentially last for decades. Finally, depending on how a war goes, your admirals, ship captains, and generals can become addicts.
  • We Have Reserves: There's nothing stopping you from blowing up a planet while your fleets are still orbiting well within the blast radius. Additionally, Teekan and Gizurean militaries tend to have incredibly large numbers of very mediocre warships: military victory for them often comes at a massive cost in both destroyed ships and dead crews.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Of a sort: you can choose to play the game with all victory conditions disabled to maximize the immersion factor.
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: Just because peace was declared doesn't necessarily mean the hostilities are over. It's not uncommon to end a war, only to have one of your science stations suddenly and mysteriously explode, or a group of mercenaries show up out of nowhere to harass your shipping. That, and depending on the economic situation, they may manage to recover from the war faster than you do...
  • Worker Unit: Your empire will mostly be made of these: freighters, constructors, miners, transports, colony ships, and so on. They are vital to the stability and success of a civilization.


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