Ever want to out-fight, out-explore, or out-love the galaxy into submission? Then have I got the only game for you, until Gene Roddenberry’s estate release Kirk’s Interstellar Bangathon. DO IT YOU COWARDS.

But before you boldly go where Starfleet’s finest prophylactics have gone before, you’ll need to learn a thing or two. A few things. Many. Lots. So many things. It’s a Paradox game, so of course.

Happily, a robust tutorial makes Stellaris easier to get your head round than Crusader Kings. Take that as gospel from someone who makes your average shitty retail manager look like Richard the Lionheart.

Unhappily, the ins and outs of Stellaris’ many orbiting parts are rather more complex than my humble 1,000+ words can properly convey…

Make sense? Don’t worry, it gets better

Rehappily, I’ve got a much better idea than wasting our time blowing hot air down the game’s exhaust port. I’m going to tell you a tale of a fearsome empire. One that grew from a single world into a galactic contender, that would be spoken of in hushed whispers until the heat death of the universe…

The Flufflekinnian Hugswarm.

Admit it, Space Fox is the cutest choice

Birth of a monster

Every terrifying dictatorship starts with one thing. Style. Regal posture, soft hypoallergenic fur, big strokable ears and the most boopable snoot… all trappings of the galaxy’s most voracious conqueror. The only form befitting the dread name Flufflekin.

But the only answer to an attempted boop is an overwhelming number of snoots…

Every member of the Flufflekinnian Hugswarm is instructed to lay down their lives, and multiple lovers a day – in every possible configuration – to ensure our borders expand ever onwards. Even with enough snack breaks this takes a significant toll on our species’ lifespan… but what’s a few decades sacrificed for an immortal legacy?

Who needs smarts when you have the power of love?

Democracy is a must. We’re not monsters, after all

And what legacy do we choose to leave? In the eyes of the Flufflekinnians everyone is equally worthy of being brought into our warm and crushing embrace. We choose to dominate world upon world in the name of xenophilic egalitarianism. We shall show the universe how much we love and cherish them. BY FORCE if necessary.

Grasping the void

Our legend starts on our homeworld of Furrian, its arid plains dominated by the outstretched arms and firm bosoms of the Hugswarm. This solar system has been embraced. It grows stale. Our eyes turn upwards, and outwards, to the stars and the unknown beings who have not yet known our touch.

See those blue lines? They show precisely three ways the other empires can screw me over

We are not alone. Interstellar neighbours also yearn to venture deeper into the cosmos. We must outgrow them, reach new systems before they do, for it as the ancient proverbs say: “Last one there is a rotten egg doomed to fester in a forgotten and forlorn corner of a crumbling empire”.

Forcing our way (politely and apologetically) past our mortal frenemies, we spend resources and influence in equal measure to secure our claim to new worlds and new systems. At each one, the voracious Flufflekinnian hordes descend for the traditional post-domination buffet. There are always mints afterwards. Nobody ever takes the last one.

Every world, every star, every asteroid that falls into our manicured hands makes us more powerful. And as our power grows, so does our knowledge. Flufflekinnian scientists who once cocked their heads in puzzlement at the mysteries of the universe now wag their tails in the joy of complete understanding.

Yet not complete… for on the fringes of our most distant worlds, we hear a noise. Long unanswered invitations to a tasteful supper sent out into the cosmos are finally RSVPed. And it looks like we’ll be setting extra places…

Diplomatic impunity

Dinner at the pan-galactic table is… tense. Some forget to wipe their pseudopods before entering, many do not know the purpose of the 17th salad fork, and a few keep declaring their intent to exterminate all other races and raze their planets down to the core.

I think we’re in there…

Our agents are en route to their homeworlds before the appetisers have left the table, armed with military-grade gift baskets and the strongest perfumes known to Flufflekind. The will of the Hugswarm shall not be denied. By compliment, present, or lavish ball, all shall fall comfortably into the lavender-scented fur of our dominion.

For the barbarians who rail ceaselessly against our inevitable hospitality, we are forced to bolster the fleets. Flufflekinnian scientists research ever more powerful weapons that we will not hesitate to never use. Our diplomats prepare federation allies for the worst…

It happens. Those fanatically opposed to our peaceful ways launch their ships in an undeniable declaration of not-peace. Our retaliation is swift. Wave after wave of apology fleets are sent forth, equipped with the latest in tasteful bouquet arranged to spell out “Sowwy”. The twisted wrecks of ships form new asteroid belts around our planets – some of those wrecks were even our enemy’s.

Fear the might of the dread fleet Furrian Welcome Wagon

They destroyed our gift shop. Hope is dying…

This interstellar back-and-forth continues for millennia, generations of calm giving way to an uneasy peace, finally broken by uneasier not-peace. Entire sectors go back and forth in a tug-of-war that costs billions of lives and takes thousands of years. The Flufflekinnian factories never falter, churning out hundreds of thousands personalised ‘Thank you’ cards for our better-armed friends.

Still the Flufflekinnian Hugswarm holds its own, against the ravages of time and the orbital bombardment of races that would probably really like us if they got to know us better. Destruction and rebuilding are constants that seem like they’ll repeat for infinity.

Until they came…

Always a bigger fish

Frantic transmissions from our furthest colonies arrive, almost rude in their desperation. Scrawled missives of alien ships blotting out the skies, and then silence. They didn’t even ask how our day was.

Diplomatic corps are dispatched to the homeworlds of our staunchest allies, to speak to their Supreme Leaders with utmost urgency. If they wouldn’t mind. Sorry to intrude. When you’re done burying your dead. Oh, turns out you already knew! How embarrassing. Truly a chucklesome anecdote we’ll be sharing at the annual fete on the 0.7% chance both of our races survive.

All looks lost. But then, a glimmer of hope.

See that purple? It ain’t me son

Scouts far behind the newly-formed enemy lines report a single gateway through which the marauders are pouring out of, like pistachio cream from an overstuffed Furrian profiterole. If we can capture that system, we may be able to stem the unending onslaught and save the known universe from eternal subjugation.

Clue was in the name really…

Gathering the last remnants of our fleets in our remaining system, equipping them with the largest weapons known to the Hugswarm (after dusting them off), we set out on our million-to-one mission.

We’re immediately destroyed one system over. Obviously. It was a million to one and we’re basically huggable space hippies. But our race will live on in the unearthed ruins of community centres and teacup rides.

Final frontier

Stellaris is as much a story generator as it is a game, and the type of story is heavily dependent on your choice of governing ethics, species traits, research, traditions (and ascendancy), ship design, diplomatic choices, random encounters and events, etc. etc. etc.

It’s a big ball of chaos managed by the high degree of control you can theoretically exercise over it. However, that control is dependent on you understanding a lot of different systems. Even if you don’t understand them you can still have a good time though – I’m bloody awful at this game, but I’ve still got over a hundred hours on it, and I’ve enjoyed… most… of those hours?

That’s the one criticism I’d level at Stellaris. Mid-game can drag. When you’ve taken every spare bit of space and you’re rubbing elbows with less friendly neighbours who don’t like you enough to give you free access but don’t hate you enough to give an excuse for war, you’re mostly stuck waiting. Admittedly I tend to play less dynamic/bastardy races so a genocidal landgrab is off the table, and they’ve recently added new diplomacy options… so hey. Your experience may differ.

It’s a big universe, but even so there can be a lot of dead hours…

If you love sci-fi and story-telling I would heavily recommend you grab Stellaris. You can often get the main-game for under a quid, and the expansions add new races, systems, events, and a lot more. Just don’t forget the cautionary tale of the Hugswarm – always carry a big stick when exploring the cosmos.

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