Ranking the Space 4x games

EDITED: I have gathered more review data and incorporated it into the list. I removed Pandora, which is not a space 4x (my bad) and added Sword of the Stars, which I had forgotten about (also my bad).

I also added a red trend line for each chart to show the recommended % based on how much time the reviewer has played the game. If there are less than 5 reviews in a time period, that line is not shown.


I don’t play very many space 4x games. At all.  To be perfectly frank, MOO1 ruined me for most games in this genre.

However, I understand that I am an anomaly in this area. All of you guys LOVE space 4x games and constantly debate about which ones are better — games I have very little bias for or against. So who better to objectively rank these games than someone who’s never played them?

Here’s my methodology: compile a list of space 4x games currently available on Steam and analyze their reviews, looking beyond the simplistic Up/Down percentages given for the game. I generally do not trust those because: a) most gamers are not reviewers and don’t understand how to properly review a game, b) most gamers let their biases for or against a game (or its publisher) influence their up/down vote.

No, what I will do is examine the best barometer (not perfect, but best) of whether a player enjoys game: hours played.

  • < 10 hours means the player plainly rejected the game
  • >100 hours means the player was hooked by the game
  • Anything in between is a subjective gray area and ignored

A score from 0-100 is then calculated for each game, where a perfect 100 score means that 100% of the reviewers have played at least 100 hours, and a perfect 0 score means that 100% of the reviewers played less than 10 hours. Median and maximum hours played is also presented, but do not affect the score.

It’s also possible that newer games (like Polaris Sector, MOO, Stellaris) will improve their scores as more reviewers’ play time surpasses 100 hours.

Make sense? Then let’s see how well this algorithm comports with your own opinions of the following games. I’ll also show a useage curve for each of the games.

Sometimes in the curve you can see a pronounced bump where a game presumably starts off well and hooks the player, but lags in the late-game resulting in a noticeable dropoff. Maybe it’s my imagination, but I see that in both the curves for Stellaris and Master of Orion.

Score: 67 – Galactic Civilizations III

  • < 10 hours: 9.8%
  • >100 hours: 43.6%
  • Median time: 82.7 hours
  • Maximum time: 6,842 hours


Score: 59 – Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion

  • < 10 hours: 14.9%
  • >100 hours: 32.2%
  • Median time: 53.6 hours
  • Maximum time: 10,824 hours.


Score: 58 – Stellaris

  • < 10 hours: 6.3%
  • >100 hours: 22.9%
  • Median time: 53.1 hours
  • Maximum time: 974 hours


Score: 57 – Distant Worlds: Universe

  • < 10 hours: 17.3%
  • >100 hours: 32.1%
  • Median time: 51.2 hours
  • Maximum Time: 1629 hours


Score: 53 – StarDrive 2

  • < 10 hours: 14.8%
  • >100 hours: 19.9%
  • Median time: 41.1 hours
  • Maximum time: 1537 hours


Score: 52 – Sword  of the Stars 2

  • < 10 hours: 31.7%
  • >100 hours: 34.9%
  • Median time: 41.6 hours
  • Maximum time: 5802 hours


Score: 51 – Endless Space

  • < 10 hours: 19.0%
  • >100 hours: 21.3%
  • Median time: 39.8 hours
  • Maximum time: 12,375 hours


Score: 46 – Star Ruler 2

  • < 10 hours: 23.8%
  • >100 hours: 16.4%
  • Median time: 31.8 hours
  • Maximum time: 797 hours


Score: 46 – Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars

  • < 10 hours: 20.8%
  • >100 hours: 11.8%
  • Median time: 25.6 hours
  • Maximum time: 1,453 hours


Score: 42 – Polaris Sector

  • < 10 hours: 28.7%
  • >100 hours: 13.0%
  • Median time: 30.1 hours
  • Maximum time: 788 hours


Score: 12 – Lords of the Black Sun

  • < 10 hours: 77.5%
  • >100 hours: 1.0%
  • Median time: 4.2 hours
  • Maximum time: 439 hours


Score: 9 – Apollo 4X

  • < 10 hours: 82.9%
  • >100 hours: 0%
  • Median time: 3.4 hours
  • Maximum time: 21 hours


Score: 5 – Galactic Inheritors

  • < 10 hours: 89.3%
  • >100 hours: 0%
  • Median time: 2.9 hours
  • Maximum time: 25 hours


15 thoughts on “Ranking the Space 4x games”

  1. Only problem I see is that in turn based or pausable games about 50% of my play time is usually AFK. I’ll leave the game on while doing other things etc. Take a turn. Come back later. (I’m 45 with a family so this is how I play most games) 🙂


  2. You’d have to total between 50 and 100 hours of playtime for a 50% AFK period to affect the ratings (and then only as a single person out of hundreds/thousands of reviews). Any less or time than that and there’s no effect.


  3. I’m partial to Swords of the Stars (unfortunately, they never made a sequel), which doesn’t feature on your list but I consider the closest to MOO1 of the bunch.


    1. Um, you didn’t know that Kerberos made a sequel to SotS? It’s called Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter, and was released in 2011.


  4. Hi Ray,
    Two things that should be a factor on the time used. Some games came out more recently than others, so that has some impact on time played. Real time vs TBS. Games like Distant World and Star Drive will require less time played to get some enjoyment IMO.

    In those games, I can have combat right away and be busy the whole time I play. The new Moo, I will be doing little for some time and could get bored early and abandon games.

    In any event I do not even see reviews for most games. It is not like the 80’s and even the 90’s, where I got mags that reviewed all the games. I would have to search to find out what others think and they would have no real track record for me to know how to interpret their input.

    IOW, do they like the same things I do in a game. Just like movie review, they are useless to me as I have no idea what the person likes or dislikes. You use your friends for that stuff, if they were still alive.


    1. I guess it could increase the % of players with > 100 hours. But look at it this way. If the game is too slow or boring, players will quit rather than devote that much of their time to the game.


      1. I think the way it worked was I downloaded the HTML for the reviews (there’s a max it will display so that’s wonky), then ran that through a Java app that parsed out the data.


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