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Master Of Orion is a turn-based 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) strategy game set in space. Players select a race and make decisions that would spell either the supremacy of their race or its destruction. They are not alone in the vast ocean of space, with other races controlled by the AI (or other players) attempting to do the same.

And throughout the galaxy, there are worlds filled with the Lost Technology left behind by the Precursors. Legend still speaks of the lost capital of their empire, Orion itself, filled with technological treasure for the taking of whoever can defeat its Guardian...

The game is famous for its ship designing feature, where everything from the hull to the components available are taken from the research decisions that the player makes, which is dependent on the selected race's bent toward a particular mindset, and thus technological focus.

Victory is achieved by winning a popularity contest, or by conquering the galaxy. The second and third games feature a third winning condition.

By default, the entries below refer to Master of Orion II, easily the most popular of the series nowadays; though many of them apply to one or both of the other games as well.

The game series provides examples of:

  • Acceptable Breaks From Reality: MoO 3 demonstrated very well just why many aspects of running an empire are simplified or abstracted in 4X games, and almost as well why the rest aren't.
  • The Alliance: Confederation governments, an advanced form of the Feudal Future.
  • All There in the Manual: While all of the game manuals contain backstory that has little to no effect on the game itself beyond establishing things like Orion (and later the Antarans), the manual for MoO 3 includes an expansive and intricate history of the galaxy, complete with a complicated system for establishing the galactic date, leading up to the events of the game.
  • Arbitrary Maximum Range: In MoO 2, lasers and almost all other energy weapons have range-based damage penalties due to bloom, but mass drivers, gauss guns, Disruptors, and the Stellar Converter do not. However, all weapons in the Master Of Orion series do have a maximum range that's not a direct function of ship's hit probability.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: In MoO 2, some weapons can be made in armor-piercing variants (and some in shield-piercing, for that matter) so that damage that passes through armor/shields is applied to the target ship's internals immediately.
    • The piercing effects of guns with the Armor Piercing mod can be negated by heavy and Xentronium armor, but neither can protect against an attacker equipped with an Achilles Targeting Unit device. Shield piercing weapons can be stopped from bypassing existing shields with the Hard Shields device.
  • Artificial Brilliance: The AI can be pretty damn clever, especially on Impossible difficulty.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The AI couldn't design a good ship if its life depended on it, and its vessel designs invariably tend towards the Master of None.
  • Asteroid Thicket: Not so much for ships, but in the first game the player can, with luck, use asteroid patches in the combat screen to thin out incoming missiles.
  • Beef Gate: The Guardians in all the games; each one an incredibly powerful automated warship left to guard Orion from any intruders.
  • Big No: In MoO 2, you hear this when a ship bearing a leader is killed in battle, and the dead ship's owner hasn't researched Survival Pods tech, which allows you to retrieve a leader as long as at least one ship survives the battle.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Silicoids are able to land on and colonize hostile environment planets without the need to research specialized habitats. They are mineral lifeforms, after all. On the other hand, they reproduce very slowly and are virtually unable to communicate with other races.
  • Blob Monster: One of the game's random events is being attacked by a space amoeba.
  • Boarding Party: Enemy ships and space stations that have had their shields and engines disabled can be boarded and captured. Transporters and assault shuttles can be used to board at a distance. Like captured colonies, captured enemy ships can give you access to technology you either chose not to research or have not researched yet, when you scrap them at one of your systems.
  • Boring but Practical: Since weapons become cheaper and take up less space as you climb the Technology Tree, a ship with a lot of slightly-obsolete weapons will often be cheaper and have vastly more firepower than one with a few ultimate weapons.
  • Bug War: What happens when you get involved in hostilities with the Klackons.
  • Cleavage Window: In the first game, the Mrrshan ambassador has an outfit that does little to hide her... vast tracts of land, including one of these.
  • Command and Conquer Economy: The original game abstracted management enough to avert the trope. MoO3 was a deliberate experiment to subvert the trope by forcing players to only give high-level orders and rely on AI subordinates. For most, the experiment failed.
    • The second game plays this straight (in the style of Civilization). You have to give orders to construct any particular building (from barracks to space station). On the other hand, you could let the AI handle construction... in which case you end up with a planet full of farmers trying to build a Doomstar.
    • The third game tried to find a middle ground, where the player could set general, empire-wide "Development Plans" for different categories of worlds while leaving the AI to manage the specifics. It failed.
  • Death Ray: One of most powerful beam weapon techs in the game; the Infinity+1 Sword the player (hopefully) wins for defeating the Guardian of Orion.
    • But since Death Ray is never miniaturized, it eventually becomes worse than Disrupter or Mauler Device, if you put enough research into their Tech Tree - see Boring but Practical entry above.
  • Deflector Shields: Sectored and regenerating.
    • Some energy weapons, when sufficiently advanced, can gain shield-piercing abilities. Particle Beam is always shield-piercing, but it's artifact (cannot be researched normally). However, shield piercing abilities can be countered by the shield tech Hard Shields.
  • Design It Yourself Equipment
  • Earthshattering Kaboom: The Stellar Converter weapon in MoO 2 gives your ships the ability to to turn enemy planets into asteroid belts.
  • Eat Dirt Cheap: The Silicoids and custom Lithovore races.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Antarans from MoO 2.
  • Enemy Exchange Program:
  • Epic Hail: The intro to MoO 2. Relive it here.
  • Executive Meddling: Probably the single biggest factor in MoO3's failure, as management blunders at both the design and executive level caused problems both before and after its release. Among these:
    • Art director Rantz Hoseley (his real name) reportedly hated the look of the aliens used in previous MoO games, labeleing them as "cheesy" and comparing them to actors in rubber suits. He pushed for the inclusion of more realistic, non-humanoid creatures, while cutting most of the established races, many of which were fan favorites. The in-game explanation for their absence is that they were bombed to extinction by the Antarans, who then performed hideous genetic experiments upon all of the surviving races. Ouch.
    • Rantz also clashed with Alan Emrich, one of the original MoO designers (and at the time, lead designer on MoO 3), over which direction the game should be taken in. Emrich favored a traditional approach similar to the previous games, while Rantz again wanted a more "realistic" depiction of how a complex galactic empire would really be managed (this at one point resulted in a build of the game which used over 100 different GUI screens to keep track of everything). Emrich was eventually forced out early in the game's development, the various gameplay mechanics he had proposed (such as including systems of religion, government corruption, and the ability to explore neutron stars and black holes) were cut, and things went downhill from there.
    • Software piracy was a big concern around this time, and Atari took steps to prevent it; unfortunately, the copy protection software they packaged with the game was so draconian that it actually prevented the disk from being read on optical drives that were capable of burning CDs, which meant that a number of paying customers who had legitimately purchased the game couldn't even install it. If you still want to buy it, MoO 3 is now available, DRM-free and fully patched (see below), at
    • After the game was released, Atari created two bare-bones software patches that addressed only the worst of the outstanding technical issues; afterward, support for the game was quickly dropped. The developers claimed this was because many of the programmers who had worked on MoO 3 had either left the company immediately after the game was finished or had since moved on to new projects; as a result, the staff who were brought in to replace them didn't actually know how most of the game code worked, and were unable to fix any bugs.
  • Extra Turn: In MoO 2, ships equipped with the Time Warp Facilitator get an extra turn in the ship combat screen, before the other side gets to take their turn. Makes a very deadly combination with Phasing Cloak (if the ship doesn't attack, it becomes untouchable at the end of its turn).
  • Fan Nickname: "MoO 2: BaA" - Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • In MoO 2, planets with a mixed population of races (from moving colonists between worlds) gets a morale penalty that can be fixed with an Alien Control Center. In MoO 3, there are hardwired bonuses and penalties to diplomacy between certain races. Everyone hates the Harvesters, except the New Orions, who only mildly dislike them.
    • The Meklar in MoO 3 were so convinced that they were perfect in every way that they came to hate all organic life forms.
  • The Federation: Democratic governments, especially in their advanced form, called...Federation.
  • Feudal Future: One of the government options.
  • Final Solution: Unless you are a democracy, when you capture a planet, you have the option of exterminating the populace. You can also simply nuke the place from orbit, regardless of your government type.
  • 4X: A review of the first game was the Trope Namer.
  • Franchise Killer: MoO 3
  • Game Mod: One of the few strengths of the third game was its ease of modifying the game, as most of the game data is stored in spreadsheets that (once you figure out how to access them) are fairly easy to modify.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: The Biology tree thrives on this, and of course Evolutionary Mutation takes the cake by actually allowing you to change one or more racial traits for your species.
  • Giant Mecha: Battleoids, the end result of armored tank research. Awesome but Impractical, since armor barracks are thoroughly useless.
  • Gone Horribly Right: In the third game, the Harvester Project. It was an attempt by the Antarans to create a sentient bioweapon that could kill any species. It started with them.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Elerians
  • The Greys: Psilons. They're actually rather nice, but don't get on their bad side. They would rather sit back and do research... and have the advantage of gaining all the technologies in a given category (instead of one to two of them). So, if you go to war against them thinking your new Battleship is going to wipe them out, they roll out a Death Star Doomstar and blow up a few planets.. Beware the Nice Ones indeed...
    • The MoOII AI randomly selects various races attitudes, with the pre-existing races weighted toward having specific attitudes nearly every time. Psilons are normally Pacifistic Technologists. But on occasion they'll end up Erratic or Ruthless, in which case they're more terrifying then the Antarans.
    • However, if the Psilons have enough of a technological edge over other races (which they usually do if left unchecked), even a "pacifistic" Psilon leader will eventually start a campaign of genocide against all other races.
  • Healing Factor: If your race is cybernetic, or you have the Automated Repair tech (or both), your ships can repair damage during a fight. In the second game, leaders having the Engineer trait can also repair the ship they're assigned to, as well as giving an increase to the shield regeneration rate. Generally speaking, however, the percentages of improvement are low enough, without stacking repair powers, that many feel it's not that likely to save all that many ships, particularly given more powerful weapons later in the game.
  • Homing Projectile: Uses traditional missiles to track targets. A research upgrade makes them dauntless, where the missile switches to a different enemy if the original target was destroyed.
  • Humans Are Diplomats
  • Hive Mind: Another government option, and the preferred choice for the insectoid Klackon race.
  • Horde of Alien Locusts: In the later stages of the first game, the AI loves to drop tens of thousands of ships on your head. Changes to the later games prevent fleets quite that large, but the AI does still tend towards believing that quantity has a quality all its own. Which is probably just as well, given their ship design philosophies.
  • Hyperspace Lanes: In the third game, a ship technically could go "off-road," but doing so took far longer than using the predefined star lanes. On occasion it would allow one to bypass chokepoints, like systems defended by a Guardian.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better:
    • In the original game, while energy-based weapons don't have particular weaknesses, in their tech class, particle/ammo-based weapons halve the effectiveness of shields. A side effect of this is that projectile weapons take longer to become ineffective due to the onward march of technology.
    • In MoO 2 the only mass-based weapon that can pierce shields is the particle beam, and that's only available if dropped from defeating the Guardian or salvaged from captured Antaran vessels. Projectiles, however, have inherent No Range Dissipation property, which is good in itself.
  • Last of His Kind: Loknar, the last of the Orions, can join your civilization as a leader in the second and third games.
  • Living Ship: The Guardian of Orion.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: 10 to 16, and in the second to third games, conquered populations can be assimilated into your empire. It's not impossible to have a Psilon empire where, aside from your homeworld, all your citizens are actually Meklar. This can be a tremendous help, since assimilated citizens retain their racial abilities. Klackons for the forge worlds! Psilons for the research bases!
  • Magnetic Weapons: Master Of Orion 2 has quite efficient rail guns (called mass drivers) and coil guns (called gauss cannons).
    • From the original game, there's the Gauss Autocannon. Each round doesn't do much damage by itself, but it fires 4 times each turn, and unlike the sequel's Gauss cannons, they halve the effectiveness of shields, making them viable for longer than their energy-based contemporaries. 4X, meet More Dakka.
    • Gauss cannons are also an option in the third game, though earlier in the game their value is limited.
  • Mechanical Lifeforms: Meklar started out as cyborgs, they ultimately split in two races in the third installment. Those who ultimately became purely mechanical kept the Meklar name, while their still partially-organic counterparts became the Cynoids.
  • Mutants: In Master Of Orion II, there's a tech called Evolutionary Mutation, which, as the name says, allows a one-time change to statistics of the race that discovers it, resulting in the second kind of mutant.
  • Negative Space Wedgie: In Master Of Orion 2, some of the one-time random events screw with hyperspace to impair or outright deny[1] space travel.
  • New Tech Is Not Cheap: Tech discoveries start out at their maximum cost, which in some cases can be a bank-breaker if you're short on funds, but as the tech tree continues, the older discoveries become cheaper over time to eventually become Boring but Practical.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The Orions sealed their worst rivals the Antarans away in a pocket dimension, and shortly thereafter collapse as a civilization. When the Antarans learn how to get out, they realize this means they have a nigh impregnable fortress from which they can raid the shit out of everyone.
  • Obvious Beta: The third game.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: The Antarans from the second game. The manual tells us that they're Starfish Aliens, but they send threatening Evil Overlord messages whenever they launch their attacks.

  You may not surrender, you cannot win, your only option is death.

  • Our Elves Are Better: the Elerians from the second game, complete with Mind Control.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Space Dragons sometimes guard planets from colonization, and sometimes wander the galaxy in search of Plunder.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: In the second game, some planets are connected by a wormhole that allows a ship to travel between the systems in a single turn regardless of the race's propulsion tech. The wormholes can span distances anywhere from a few parsecs to going from one side of the galactic map to the other.
    • A one-time special event can also create a temporary wormhole for a ship/fleet in transit, letting them finish their trip at the start of the next turn regardless of how long they would normally have had remaining.
  • Planetville: In MoO2, the colony view shows a single sprawling city with all the structures you've built. MoO avoids this by abstracting planets into 5 sliding bars (Ship production, factory production, ecosystem spending, planetary defense spending, and research spending), and not bothering to show you what the built-up planet looks like.
  • Point Build System: Although used for building a race instead of a character, the second and third games give you a set amount of points to distribute as the player wishes, with positive and negative attributes. For the second game, a later technology, Evolutionary Mutation, allows the player to add four extra points, though there are some restrictions on what racial traits can be modified. Obviously enough, no amount of genetic alteration is going to add Precursor ruins to your homeworld.
  • Portal Network: In the first game, one of the later Propulsion technologies gives you Star Gates, which have to be specifically constructed by a planet. In the second game, however, one of the mid-game technologies you can research lets the player build one of these, though it only speeds up travel instead of making it instant. The late-game version really is instantaneous, and if you're successful enough you most certainly will need it to defend far-flung systems.
  • Petting Zoo People: several of the races from the first two games; MoO 3 tried to Drop a Bridge On Them. They're still present in the game, just no longer playable.
    • Catfolk: Mrrshans.
    • Everything's Worse with Bears: Bulrathi specialize in ground combat. Success in ground combat nets the invader a mostly intact colony. Conversely, it is good policy to bombard Bulrathi colonies, while researching better ground armor and weapons than theirs, before attempting to mop up on the ground.
    • Fish People/Cthulhumanoid: Trilarians, the aquatic race. In MoO2, where they first appeared, they were aquatic humanoids with fins and small tentacles, and in MoO3 their appearance was changed to look more like eels.
    • Lizard Folk: the Sakkra from the first game.
      • See also Reptiles Are Abhorrent. Far more often than not, when they're not player-controlled, they're usually quite ready to attack other races, including yours. Basically, you can't live with them, and if you slacked off on building a big fleet you can't kill them.
      • On the other hand, from the perspective of a player that conquers the Sakkra, they're a god-send. Their subterranian trait raises the population cap of any planet they live on. That combined with their high population growth and farming expertise makes it a good idea to ship colonists from any Sakkra world you control to other worlds around your empire.
    • Winged Humanoid: the avian Alkari in the first game.
  • Powered Armor: One of the ground troop technology options.
  • Precursors: The Orions and Antarans.
  • Proud Warrior Race : Alkaris and Mrrshans in space, Bulrathis on world.
    • Also, MoO2's Elerians.
  • Rubber Forehead Aliens: Multiple examples.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The Antarans from MoO 2.
  • Sequelphobic: The designers of MoO 3 were emphatic that they were making "Master of Orion 3, not Master of Orion 2.5." In retrospect, MoO 2.5 may possibly have been a lot better.
  • Single Biome Planet: Averted in MoO 3, otherwise played straight.
  • Shout-Out: And how! Merculite missiles, transporters, phasors, tritanium armor, food replicators, stellar converters, ion pulse cannons, proton torpedos, hyper drive, doom stars, positronic computers, powered armor, inertial nullifiers, space marines - and possibly more.
    • Planet/system names are frequently drawn from various sci-fi works, including Narn, Zhadoom, and Rlyeh (The game cannot handle punctuated names).
    • In the prototype version of the game, called Star Lords the Psilons were called Mentats and the Darloks Nazguls. This is why their homeworlds are Mentar and Nazin, respectively, in the actual game and it's sequels. And the font for the title of that 1992 prototype bears a striking similarity to the title font for Star Control.
  • Space Jews: The Gnolam.
  • Space Opera: The setting. MoO3 tried to approach the game in a more realistic manner.
  • Space Fighter: Master Of Orion II has Interceptors/Bombers/Heavy Fighters carried by ships and planetary bases.
  • Spiritual Successor: Arguably, Galactic Civilizations.
  • Starfish Aliens: Supposedly, the Antarans. Some of the space monsters are likewise unable to communicate with other races. MoO3 tried to make all the aliens more alien.
    • The Silicoids from the first game are supposed to be this - they're silicon-based whereas all the other races are carbon-based, and they can live naturally in hostile environments, but they're bad at diplomacy, reflecting how other races are put off by their weird biology. The Darloks could fit this too, for that matter, since they can shapeshift (although apparently their default form is just a humanoid in a cloak). The reason they're hated is probably more because they use their shapeshifting to steal everyone's technology, rather than the shapeshifting in itself.
  • Subspace Ansible: Control and diplomacy are obviously instant. In addition, Tachyon Communications (3 parsecs range), Subspace Communications (6 parsecs range) and Hyperspace Communications (unlimited range) allow to order around ships during FTL transit and give orbital bases extra Command Points.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence: The AI players will eventually declare war on another empire (yours or an AI empire) with complete disregard for the strengths of the respective empires. Particularly in the second game, at higher difficulty levels NPC empires will refuse to surrender even if their empire consists of only one population point on a planet blockaded by a fleet of warships that can turn the world into a rubble pile and eliminate the offending empire entirely.
  • Tech Tree
  • Terraforming. Each type of planet (except Toxic) can eventually be turned into a life-rich Gaia World. High technology even allows you to transform gas giants and asteroid belts into solid worlds.
    • Even toxic planets can be terraformed, if your enemies colonize them: just blow them up, then rebuild the planet from the resulting asteroid belt, then get a'forming.
  • Transhuman Aliens: Play as Humans. Take a walk down the Biology tree and pick up Evolutionary Mutation (along with a host of other technologies like Heightened Intelligence). Humanity may now look human enough, but it sure doesn't have much in common with the beings that flew into space.
  • 2-D Space
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: In MoO2, you can eliminate a planet's population after conquering it in a ground battle. Or just blow them all to bits from orbit, which is much faster than assimilating or eliminating large populations. On the other hand, conquest can give you new technology and averts the need to build everything from scratch.
    • Want the free tech and buildings but don't want the expense and hassle of troop transports? No problem! Just drop biological weapons on 'em. Population and defending ground forces are wiped out, while all the pretty pretty buildings remain intact. (However, you will take a major diplomatic hit, since all the AI players now regard you as a monster.)
    • If you want to really be a Jerkass once the tech becomes available, the Stellar Converter in the second game can be used to blow planets up and turn them into a asteroid fields, if a world is of no use to you (toxic environment, ultra-poor, tiny). If desired, once the player controls the system, the resultant rubble can be made into a barren, abundant large planet with Planet Construction. From there on out, it's eligible for a couple of rounds of Terraforming and ultimately Gaia Transformaion.
  • Visible Invisibility: In the second game, ships with a Phasing Cloak device equipped show up on the tactical screen as a transparent outline. You can scan a ship using their Phasing Cloak, but are unable to target it for weapons fire.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The reason why the Darlok make good spies.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: the "Cybernetik" species in 3.
  1. save for races with the Transdimensional trait