There's something about the actual title of DreamSpike's Space War Commander that didn't thrill me. Where something like Sins of a Solar Empire might be a bit too abstract, Space War Commander just seems a bit too straightforward to inspire much hope that the contents are anything more than a predictable by-the-numbers real-time strategy game set in space. Fortunately, I was wrong. Instead, it's a refreshing title that uses some very basic concepts to create a complicated but enjoyable challenge. You are the Space War Commander in question here, and you'll be leading your forces in either a lengthy campaign of increasingly difficult (and we do mean 'difficult') missions or in a variety of random gauntlet challenges. There's a bit of a story here tying the missions together but, apart from one intriguing twist, the action of the campaign is context enough to keep playing. Whether you're in the campaign or the gauntlet, the game ramps up the difficulty quite quickly, so it becomes not so much a matter of figuring out how to play the game itself as much as figuring out how to play the specific map you happen to be on. The basics are simple, but the challenge is complex. The real joy of the design relies on a small number of very simple concepts that combine to create complex and challenging gameplay. The starmap is divided into sectors and populated by planets, asteroids, starports and a starbase for each player. You earn income by having the only ships in a planetary or asteroid sector, or by sending Freighters to the spaceport to sell the goods you collected from asteroids or traded for at other planets. Money is used to buy ships, from tiny Interceptors to massive Destroyers. You use those ships to claim planets, defeat enemy ships and ultimately, destroy your enemies' starbases. There are just a handful of ships in the game, but they all serve a specific purpose and require you to think of the type of fleet you need for the tasks at hand. It's easy to guess that the Interceptors are cheap but weak while the Destroyers are powerful but costly and slow. The real strategic conundrums are found in between. Bombers, for instance, don't bother firing at enemy ships, which makes them ideal for base assaults, but since they don't engage in combat, they're easy pickings for enemy defenses. When choosing your main combat ships, you'll have the option of going with the sturdy Cruisers, which can soak up a lot of damage, or the fast Assassins, which rely on the speed and power of their attacks to make up for a lack of armor. What's really awesome about the ship combat is that you can opt to disengage certain ships from the battle, pulling them back off the front line when they get too damaged. They can still engage in combat, but the enemy can't get to them until all the front line ships are destroyed. The balance to that is that if the enemy can concentrate more fire on fewer ships in the front line, they'll quickly demolish it. Your unengaged ships will move up one-by-one, making them easy pickings for your enemy. Another of the more interesting (and occasionally provoking) aspects of the design is that your own space station has been sabotaged and put in a slow self-destruct mode. Every second that you spend developing and executing your strategy brings you one second closer to complete and total destruction. If enemy ships manage to damage your base, you'll be that much closer to complete and total annihilation. That means you've got about ten minutes to defeat all your enemies. Don't bother to ask how you manage to survive after you've claimed victory; it's really not that important. The narrative bits between the missions are appreciated. It's this ticking clock approach that lifts Space War Commander out of the realm of predictable min-max tactical action and transforms it into something closer to a kind of puzzle game. Now, it's not the type of puzzle experience where you need to discover the single path that the designer intended for you to follow; there is a lot of room for a variety of tactics to work. We found ourselves playing and replaying levels over and over again to find just the right approach for a given situation. In some cases, we'd try to focus on developing profitable trade routes and playing a defensive game until we had enough cash to fund a crushing assault on the enemies. Of course, focusing purely on trade means that we have to protect our Freighters with combat ships that might be put to more direct use somewhere else. It also means that we leave the income-rich planets completely uncontested, which gives our enemies that much more money to build their fleets. . There's something about the actual title of DreamSpike's Space War Commander that didn't thrill me. Where something like Sins of a Solar Empire might be a bit too abstract, Space War Commander . Real Time, Real Strategy. Set in a universe that no longer needs humans, Space War Commander challenges you to defeat the destroyers of mankind with creative strategy..