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Picture Scorched Earth crossed with StarCraft. Now strip out the excessive proliferation of units in SC, leaving just sixteen essential elements. Oh, and make it turn-based. What you have is MoonBase Commander, an unlikely hit from an unlikely source (Humongous Entertainment, the people who brought you the Freddi Fish, Putt-Putt, and Backyard Sports series).

For twenty bucks, you don't get a lot of story. A few factions are vying for control of various moons and planetary landscapes, using networks of robotic structures and weaponry controlled by a MoonBase Commander (that would be you). You begin the game as the NiceCo corporation (the voice of which is an unusually authentic-sounding Asian woman doing her damnedest to sound British or something), fighting the DeWulf corporation for control of resources. Later in the game, the Borg-like System7 and the renegade-cowboyish Team Alpha come into play.

And what is the play, you ask? In most games of MoonBase Commander, you begin with a single Hub. From this Hub, you launch other structures by setting a trajectory, then holding the mouse button down on the Launch button until the Power meter shows the right amount of force. Structures successfully launched from a Hub leave a trail of little glowy things that the game simply calls a cord (the glowy things fall entertainingly from your structure while it's in flight, as if it were incontinent with fear). Cords can never overlap, so there's a limit to how much you can shoot off from one Hub. You can fire other Hubs, of course. (But if a Hub is destroyed, all structures "downstream" from it are destroyed too... and if your first Hub is destroyed, well, you know the quote.)

Each round, you get an allotment of energy to spend. You can increase your allotment by laying Energy Collector structures, especially if you lay them near the bright-magenta energy pools built into most maps. Some scenarios require control of these pools for victory, whereas some are just about wiping out the competition - which brings us to the star of our show! Many of your available units are not structures at all, but bombs, missiles, electro-disablers and what not. Some of the most powerful structures will pre-emptively take out anything that gets launched into their radius - including structures. Between cords, energy, and these protected areas (which generally deactivate for a rest on the turn following their discharge), you get an enormous amount of strategic depth out of a very small set of game elements.

According to Penny Arcade, MoonBase Commander was first developed as an internal, personal project by a Humongous coder, and had undergone years of playtesting even before it was on track to become a commercial product. This game is solid. Thanks to the attentions of PA's Tycho Brahe, its true nature as a deep, sophisticated game has been revealed to the hardcore gamers of the world who might have otherwise dismissed it, given its developer and its ages-9-and-up rating. The downside of this is, in these first few weeks of its release, it has proven to be very difficult to get a hold of. Keep at it, and you'll be rewarded with a truly innovative gaming experience that stands a good chance of eating your brain.

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