Because all 4X I have played had poor AI and a lack of strategic & diplomatic scope.
I define strategy as the following :
Planning : This is a time element thing. Games usually permit a player to react fairly quickly to an unexpected situation. Fast reaction time eliminates the need for planning.
Logistics : Dealing with the logistics must not be onerous, but its effect has to be there so it affects decisions. This aspect can present many strategic opportunities, like cutting lines of supply, interdicting re-enforcements and the need for intelligence regarding it.
Intelligence : Lack of information can really add a lot of intrigue to a game. For this, fog of war is a must and it has to be persistent (what I mean is, if you have no assets at a location, you have little, none or old info about it).
Manoeuvre : Major & minor battles, feints, diversions, supply & trade disruption, siege, retreat, looting and scouting all add to strategic scope. Many games seem to devolve into placing the majority of assets in one big fleet and going on a rampage. Basically a FPS and about as far from the type of strategy I am talking about as you can get.
All these aspects of strategy are available in other genres, but rarely in a 4X.
As for the AI issue, I think breathing humans are the best opponents.
Here are some screen shots & reasons why this 4X may be different :
There is an emphasis on diplomacy.
Much effort has gone into creating organic "situations" that evolve into diplomatic crisis. These come about from conflict between several realms of influence. These being political relationships, trade, military actions, resource access and a feudal hierarchy.
Trade is encouraged by a mechanism whereby the number of types of minerals governs the efficiency of your refineries and thus your limits to production of assets. Since only a few mineral types are found locally you must trade with other areas to gain more mineral types.
The manoeuvre element is the fleet. Fleets move between stars by an instantaneous jump, but then must wait while the jump engine re-charges. This slows down the pace of the game, giving you time to plan. It creates the feel of a turn based game, even though it is a persistent universe.
Fleet movement may be automated.
- Patrol routes may be created to look for enemies.
- Gathering routes take minerals to stars with a refinery. This works kind of like railway tycoon.
- Other routes may be configured to move new ships to the front, return the battle weary for R & R, etc.
Fog of war is constant. If you have no ship or spy at a star you do not know what is there, you only know what was there last time you visited. This permits a "cat & mouse" situation, where cunning can win out.
Building assets takes a long time. This creates pressure to plan, as you cannot react immediately to a new threat by "popping out" fleets of new ships at a moments notice. You can build & assign additional builders to speed up a project, but there is cost there as well.
A large selection of technologies are available that affect all aspects of the game. There is no "tech tree" you just research the areas you want an advantage in. you may choose to be mediocre in all or focus on a few that complement your overall strategic direction.
There is a robust economic model that provides many ways to gain income and many ways to lose it. Taxation, tribute, piracy, export contracts, asset support, salaries are some of the factors.
There is a whole game within the game in regards to spies. Covert agents may conduct espionage, sabotage, incite labour or student unrest and incite rebellions. They can embezzle, slander and assassinate as well.
In the beginning you manage all aspects of your realm, but as your empire grows you may opt to do less micro-management and automate repetitive tasks.
The game progresses though stages; exploration, build-up, contact and then the core game play begins with diplomacy, trade & conflict.
There is a play through of a typical 1st session on the website. The game begins slowly as you are mostly exploring and colonising, so the video may be a bit boring. Any suggestions on how to present a "cerebral" game and not make the presentation boring?
This slow start is intentional as the game is complex and is designed so that a new player is not overwhelmed and has time to get his bearings.
We need a few more play testers, pm me if interested.
All feedback is welcome.