I discovered that Space Empires V came out while I wasn't looking. Well I wasn't really paying all that much attention, but 4x games don't come out all that often anymore. That would be Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate for the uninitiated (as coined by Alan Emrich in an early article on the subject). Some of the best 4x gaming has been presented in the iconic Civilization series (that would be Sid Meier's Civilization , not Avalon Hill's Civilization , which has it's own merits but lacks the whole computer presentation).
These games usually feature a set of interlinked modules designed to present you with the concept of running an empire, and not always in space. Those modules can include economy, technology, espionage, military (which may have both a strategic and tactical sub module and if it has a tactical sub module that module is often divided into space and ground combat), and diplomacy. The genre has a long history of single player only presentation, multi-player support often added as an after thought - well, honestly who can get their buddies to sit around for literally hours and hours and hours to play a game. The other aspects of the game are common to all games - the User Interface (UI), the Artificial Intelligence (AI or Non Human Opponents), graphical and sound design.
Funny thing is I should just stop reading reviews, as they completely fail to present me with enough meaningful information on these games. I've looked over some reviews, and I now know that the AI may or may not be competent and that the tech tree is deep.
Yes, they have left a bit out. The reviews never cover all of it. And rarely cover the bits I am most often disappointed with once there.
Unfortunately, I find myself at odds with most fans of the genre. Of course, having had several cracks at putting together a design for just such a game, I have some fairly solidified ideas about what I'm looking for.
Lately I've been thinking that a return to the sensibilities of play by email empire games might be the way to go. I vaguely remember a discussion about something called a 'Pit Boss' mode for Civilization 4. I see a download for an application from the Firaxis Web, named such, but I need to do some research to see if it works the way I think it should.
Anyways, the deal is that I can't tell from the reviews if the parts of the genre that interest me are simulated well or at all. I know the thing has a combat model. I have no idea how it works. And being that combat is one of the primary parts of the genre (the exterminate part, usually) that leaves me neutral on reviews that don't bother to mention it. At least there's a demo.
I'll get back to you on it.