You can pick from 1 of 5 empires established in the television series, you can choose the tech level of each race, the shape of the galaxy, how many minor races and events can possibly occur. The game starts with each race owning a handful of colonies and ships with which the player must use to colonize / conquer the rest of the galaxy in a turn based scenario. The game was published by 4x veteran Microprose.
At the start of each game the player is presented with a zoomed in view of the galaxy, this is enough to see the home and neighboring systems. From here the player can see which ships are available to deploy in a system, trade routes, spatial anomalies, star types and all the information needed to govern your empire. The user interface changes its styling depending on the race you've chosen and your adviser voices change with respect to the races established behavior.
Each system requires food, population, energy, industry and a high morale to function properly. When starting a new system the population is small and can sustain itself, each system has a growth rate which is decided based on what planets you have terraformed. e.g. earth type planets offer higher growth rates and volcanic planets offer the lowest, with gas planets being unable to be colonized.
As the population grows it requires more food, food is generated by production buildings, in this case farms. Each production building requires one labor slot, one labor slot is comprised of ten population. If you have labor slots not working in any building this is classed as unemployed citizens which lowers the morale of said system.
There are other buildings which can be built to provide bonuses in a system, like food replicators produce an extra 50 food for the cost of 10 energy, shipyards enable the user to build ships in that system, certain buildings provide bonuses to planetary defense/morale/research/intelligence etc. All of these require energy which is produced with reactors which is a type of production building and requires labor.
Each building costs a certain amount of industry, industry is provided by production buildings like Mass Replicators which require labor. e.g. If your entire system produces 250 labor and the building/ship costs 500 labor it would take two turns to produce your building/ship. You can also build something in one turn provided you have enough credits.
You stockpile credits for every unspent point of industry which you can use for instant purchases or gifting to other empires.
Players must maintain morale by making choices their citizens approve and by not letting unemployment or starvation take effect, if morale gets low enough a system can secede from an empire.
Ferengi excel at the economic aspect of this game.
There are six fields of research in the game:
All research is conducted by allocating research points to the tech field you wish to study. Research points are earned over all of your systems instead of just one and when you spend them, instead of just click "upgrade to level 2" you increase the percentage of RP going into the tech field of your choice and with each turn whatever percentage you chose will be added to that field.
Each tech is the base of each type of production building with the exception of weapons and propulsion.
As you upgrade biotech farms can be upgraded to a higher level (which must by "built" in the system, doesn't happen automatically)
Computers upgrades intelligence, construction upgrades industry, energy upgrades reactors.
Ships on the other hand require all six, and all at varying levels. A level 1 science vessel requires all research to be at level 2 whereas a level 2 science vessel might require level 4 energy, level 6 computers and level 5 propulsion.
Research can be affected by Intelligence as players/races can spy on each other and gain a percentage of RP a player has spent on a specific tech or sabotage a tech by erasing data.
The United Federation of Planets and The Romulan Star Empire both excel at research.
Intelligence in this game is probably the deepest part of this game, it is dived into three parts:
- Internal security
The base of intelligence in this game is intel points, these are gained through Intel production buildings which require labor.
Internal security is the strength of your ability to foil enemy intel attacks on your empire, if you produce 5000 IP and have all of it funneled to internal security you will more than likely foil any espionage or sabotage attack of 5000 IP strength, but there is still an unknown factor where you may not stop an attack even if your points exceed the attackers.
With espionage your agents will attempt to only gather information, such as what buildings are in a system, if a systems morale is low, gain intel on a science project which will benefit yours, what ships are stationed in what part of the galaxy, the subject generally depends on of you choose general, science, military or economy, how ever you can still receive military intel if you have selected science however most reports will be gathered on science.
With sabotage your agents will actively try to destroy or steal enemy buildings/ships/money/data.
With both espionage and sabotage you are sometimes given the opportunity to implicate another race or player. An Romulan agent can destroy several Klingon ships and falsify the report to say it was the Federation's doing. In a single player game this will lower the Federation's political standing with the Klingon's which could eventually lead to the AI deciding it should go to war with each other. In multiplayer you can implicate other players and the information cannot be disproved short of a screen capture taken and sent outside of the game, it can lead to very tense situations of not knowing who to trust even with people who can see each others screens.
Cardassians and Romulans excel at intel.
With the large number of races, diplomacy plays an incredibly important role in the game.
There are two different types:
Diplomacy with empires generally dictates the limitations of each empires military. Many things can have an effect on another empires such as:
- Flying through their claimed space
- Building outposts/starbases or colonizing planets close to their borders
- Signing treaties with other Empires depending on their relation to each other
- Bribing any minor races they have absorbed to leave them
- Enemy intel implicating your empire in the heinous acts of another
- Each race views breaking treaties differently
- Each race views the act of bombarding a planet differently
You can form a non-aggression pact which will deny either race passage through their space and ships meeting in neutral space will not fire upon one another.
Friendship treaties allow two empires to negotiate passage through each others space and also allows trade between the two empires systems.
Affiliation treaties allow two empires to share military outposts and shipyards for repairs and present other empires (AI and players) with the threat of retaliation from an affiliate if one is attacked. It also makes The two affiliated empires more sympathetic to attacks on them and lowers the political standing towards other empires who chose to attack. Affiliated empires cannot win the game together so must decide to go to war with one another or form an alliance.
Alliance provides all of the same options as affiliation and adds the ability to to win the game together.
Request is a treaty where you can ask an empire for either money or space that is in dispute, when two empires build close to one another their space can begin to mesh together if this is no starbase or planet occupying the square, this can cause tension between the two empires.
War pact is a treaty whereby one player will agree to go to war if another player or AI does too. You can also use a war pact to ask another player or AI to go to war for you without actually declaring war yourself.
Declaring war allows you to bombard planets and liberate oppressed minor races.
Signing any treaty with an empire alerts all other players.
Diplomacy with minor races is mostly the same as empires with the exception of most military treaties.
Friendship replaces non-aggression as the stepping stone in minor race diplomacy, this allows trade.
Affiliation allows the use of a minor races shipyards if they have any.
Membership will absorb the minor race into your empire, with the player/AI gaining control of their system and any ships they have while maintaining or even increasing morale on the planet. Each minor race has a special building which can only be constructed on their home planet.
Request can only be used if another empire has an affiliation or membership treaty and will ask the minor race to break that treaty so you may affiliate with them.
Federation excels at diplomacy, Ferengi can be quite good at it considering they have endless amounts of money to throw at everyone.
The tactical interface is engaged whenever one player decides to engage another ship in combat, this happens when ships of two or more empires occupy the same square in the galaxy.
There are 5 types ship with many classes falling into each.
Non-combat would be:
- Colony ships
- Troop transports
These ships have no weapons of their and very light armor, they can evade, ram, retreat and opening hailing frequencies. Klingon Non-combat ships have weapons but are effectively useless.
Light ships would be:
- Heavy destroyers
These ships have very good maneuverability and work best evading other light ships or circling slow ships. Klingon and Romulan light ships have cloaking abilities. Klingon light ships work better in groups.
Slow ships would be:
These ships have huge shields and armor and tons of weaponry but they lack of maneuverability and cannot target as well as the smaller ships. Federation rules the command class with its formidable shield technology, Romulan command ships can cloak.
Long Range would be:
These ships are primarily for bombarding planets but in combat they have long range weaponry and can fire from out of the range of most ships or starbases. Romulan strike vessels can cloak.
Stationary would be:
These are huge structures, outposts are fairly weak but can do a lot of damage to small light ships. Starbases can destroy entire groups of light ships and even some small slow ships.
When you enter combat you are presented with both groups of ships facing each other, unless you or the enemy is cloaked. Cloaked ships get a free turn and can very much be the deciding factor in the game.
You are then tasked with giving your ships orders to attack, each order is a different tactical maneuver which can be countered by its opposing maneuver, the effectiveness of the counter is entirely based on the stats of each ship.
When you click turn the battle will animate and you can see the phasers and torpedoes firing and shields flickering when hit. If both sides open hailing frequencies the battle is a draw and morale will either be raised or lowered depending on the empires view of battle. The more tactical races wont mind retreating from battle whereas the Klingons will take a morale hit as they see more honor in dying in battle. The morale of all your citizens is affected by the outcome of a battle, a win with few losses will boost morale whereas a win with heavy losses might lower morale if the fight was unjust.
Players can use their ships to raid trade lanes for credits, terraform and colonize planets, construct outposts, bombard planets, and even deploy troops to occupy a planet.
Ships and starbases carry a maintenance cost which will be deducted from your total income at the beginning of every turn, this limits the number of ships a player can effectively sustain depending on their economy thus providing a need for stable peace and trade.
There are numerous events which will occur at random from a planet shifting climate (for better or for worse), plagues breaking out in a system, meteorites hitting a planet, something something cosmic string war drive is now broken, Crystalline Entity, Gomtuu (Tin Man) to even the Borg showing up and kicking everyones collective ass.
There is only one way of winning a game of Birth of the Federation: War and Peace, how you accomplish this is entirely up to you. You can use your intel to confuse other empires into fighting a war between each other while you befriend the victor, you can actively take part in occupying enemy worlds, you can completely eradicate all life on their planets, you can use your economy to pay off others to do your dirty work, but if you don't try to make friends you can suddenly find everyone against you.
In short, the actual conditions of winning a game are to Ally with those who will accept you and destroy those who wont join you.
Bugs and Problems
The game suffers from severe memory leaks and is incompatible with anything above Windows XP. There were two patches which attempted to fix the memory leaks but the problem still exists but doesn't take effect until much later in the game. Its effect makes the turns take longer to process. With the closure of Microprose shortly thereafter and the lost of the source code Atari are unable to provide a patch.
The multplayer portion of this game supports only LAN and the now defunct MSN Gaming Zone, though there are programs which use the old MSN Gaming Zone code to work around the match making.
There is still an incredibly active modding community who have fixed the incompatibility and incorporated newer Direct X graphics into the game.