Spaceward Ho! is a turn-based science fiction computer strategy game that was written by Peter Commons, designed by Joe Williams (Joedelta) and published by Delta Tao Software. The first version was released in 1990, and further upgrades followed regularly; the current version, 5.0.5, was released on July 8, 2003. The game can be categorized in the 4X game genre (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) with a theme of galactic conquest. It has received wide recognition in the Macintosh community, for example being inducted into the Macworld Game Hall of Fame.
Version 5 is available for Mac OS (where it is Carbonized to be Mac OS X native, although there is no universal binary) and Palm OS. Version 4 is also available for Windows and version 2 for Amiga.
Spaceward Ho! can be played against a computer AI, or against other human players over the internet (via spacewardho.net). Previous versions of the game allowed also LAN-based networked play, but this feature has been disabled in the Mac OS X version. It has a very simple gameplay compared with most other games in the genre (such as Master of Orion). Depending on the initial settings, games take from about ten minutes to an hour. Its small but dedicated fanbase considers the simplicity to be elegance, and its designers boast that it has gotten faster and more intuitive to play with each new version. All unnecessary complexity has been stripped from the game, resulting in a fast-paced game that still manages to be very engaging.
The core of the game is the two-dimensional map of "planets". Each "planet" has three characteristics: temperature, gravity, and metal. Temperature and gravity are both used to determine how fast colonies can grow and how large they can become (based on the preferred temperature and gravity for the colonizer, which is different for each player); the difference is that a player may spend money to change the temperature ("terraforming") while gravity cannot be changed. Colonies with low population take a certain amount of money per turn to support, while colonies with high population earn money for their owner. Metal can, with money expenditure, be mined for use with shipbuilding. A planet's stats are unknown until explored (to get current info on a planet, a player must have ships in orbit with no enemies present). Travel between planets is via hyperspace (ships cannot encounter each other except at planets), and the time it takes depends on the distance between the origin and the destination on the map, as well as on the speed of the ship in question.
Ships are built with money (representing renewable resources) and metal (representing non-renewable resources). Money and metal are available instantly, wherever needed. There are several different kinds of ships, including the basic Fighter, a Scout with longer range but weaker weapons, a Colony Ship used to found new colonies, Satellites which are cheap but cannot move from the world at which they are built, and in recent versions a few others as well, such as the Tanker and Dreadnought. Each ship has a ranking in each of five technologies: range (determining how far a ship can fly before refueling), speed (determining how quickly ships reach their destinations and who shoots first in a battle), weapons, shields, and "miniaturization". Higher-tech ships cost more money and metal, with the exception of ships with high "miniaturization" which take far more money but less metal. Miniaturization is much less effective when applied to Colony Ships, compared to other types of ships. Ships cannot be upgraded, although old ships can be scrapped to retrieve a portion of their metal. When a ship is destroyed in battle, a smaller portion can also be recovered. The first ship of a given design costs two to four times as much as subsequent units, to account for research and design costs.