Have you ever looked out into the clear night sky, churning and teeming with a myriad of twinkling stars, and wondered if there's life on other planets? Pondered your own infinitesimal smallness against the still backdrop of a cosmos much too vast for any sane person to reasonably comprehend, and wondered about your place in the grand scheme of things? If so, Galaxy Harvest, the realtime strategy game by Lev Simonov and Anna Maskaleva has your answer: Biomass. Yes, biomass. You see little Billy, it just so happens that keeping an advanced civilization humming along doesn't come cheaply and the yawning maws of those huge reactors that power it aren't going to feed themselves. That's where you come in. Biomass makes the perfect fuel source to keep a sophisticated, well-developed civilization thriving. Oceans rich in aquatic life, continents thick with musty pine forests, galloping herds of unsuspecting giraffe roaming innocently across the plain, generations of humans and yes even you, all of them have an important place in keeping a refined civilization ticking over. They're all just waiting to be scooped up and thrown to the reactors as biomass, and they're just the ticket. You can even seed nearby planets with life if you're the kind of civilization to plan ahead and you're willing to play the long (long, loooong) game and stop by again in a few billion years to reap what you've sown.
The basics of Galaxy Harvest will be familiar to those who've played realtime strategy games before, and the game features a clear tutorial as well. Click on a planetary system to survey it and if you decide that it's a worthwhile investment you can spend a fair chunk of your existing biomass to seed it with life which will grow and develop on its own. By default now, Harvesters will be sent from your homeworld at regular intervals to cull some of that life and bring it back. You'll eventually be able to research options that can enable you to seed planets too cold, hot, or corrosive to ordinarily support life, seed regular planets with a larger chunk of biomass to hasten their growth, and even improve conditions on the planets to make them thrive. As they grow though you'll want to keep tabs on their level of development, since for some reason civilizations that have developed beyond a certain point tend to take exception to being culled (the nerve!) and shoot down your Harvesters when they arrive. Quelling uprisings is a matter of apportioning biomass to send out the appropriate category of attack ship to respond, but that will also deteriorate living conditions on the planet and affect your bottom line.
Left unchecked, insurgent planets will extend to other planets and form their own federations (which is bad, for you). But Tech Points are gained if you subdue planets which have been allowed to develop beyond a certain technology level (for you, that's good). Trouncing upstart civilizations isn't the only way to gain Tech Points; you can also glean them by exploring unidentified space phenomenae and occasionally by discovering ruins of ancient civilizations when you colonize. Tech Points can be spent researching improvements to things like your range, ship capacity, rate of travel and firepower, but can also be used to improve your effectiveness at seeding a planet with life. Researched techs can then be purchased on your homeworld with, you guessed it, more biomass. However phenomenally bleak its premise, Galaxy Harvest's RTS action brings plenty of playability. The tutorial system is comprehensive and gradually adds new game elements through the levels as you play so you never feel particularly overwhelmed. The inclusion of a fast-forward feature is certainly appreciated, enabling you to skip past aeons of planetary development while still being able to attend to things when needed. For all its gameplay we found the underlying question Galaxy Harvest presents to be engaging and thought-provoking... just how barbaric can a civilization become and still deserve the title, and without civility is there any point?