THIS is a strategic game of galactic exploration, colonisation and conquest. Although the sound and graphics are disappointing, they don't matter quite so much in a game which is practically all tactics, planning and strategy.
The idea is to explore new star systems, pick the most promising and set about colonising them. Once occupied, the stars can be used for production of resources which are then allocated for research, development, defence, environment, social matters, consumer needs and industrial growth.
RFTS is a four handed game, the computer playing all the roles of those not taken by human players. Each player takes it in turn to give his complete set of orders, the turns alternating between movement only and production plus movement.
A wide number of reports and choices are available during a turn. You can get stacks of information on the star systems including which have been explored, check out the status of all task forces, costs, current spending, placement of forces, and so on.
Building your forces is an essential part of the game. The more productive a planet is, the more materials you can buy to construct and equip your galactic navy with transports scouts and warships.
When every player has finished a turn the computer executes the movement of ships. When ships of different empires end up in the same star system, combat takes place.
Combat is split into rounds, at the end of which each player is given the opportunity of withdrawing his ships. Victory in that battle goes to the player whose forces are the only remaining ones in that system.
The ultimate winner is the one who has scored the most victory points, earned by developing colonies, being triumphant in battle, conquering planets and destroying colonies.
Graphically, the game is unimpressive. The main display is a segment of a star map showing the named planets and any scout ships. This map can be replaced with a smaller one showing the entire system. Sound is used mainly in the form of alerts - for instance invasion taking place.
However, it is not the graphics or sound which really matter too much in a game like this but the wealth of detail and strategy options that it contains. And those Reach For The Stars has in plenty.
It is not the sort of game you can plunge straight into - you'll need to at least browse through the detailed 32 page manual first. Fortunately, there is a simple tutorial which helps ease you gently into the complexities.
This will appeal to all who like their entertainment to be of the more leisurely and cerebral kind. While it lacks the pace, visual attraction and excitement of an Elite, it is nevertheless engaging stuff and a game you can play many times over and yet still find new variations.