When you first start a Spaceward Ho! game you'll have a lot of options about how you want the galaxy to look. You can decide how many players to play against, how good they'll be, how big the galaxy is, and things like that.
As a new player, you'll find that not all of the options are initially available. Instead as you play, earn master points, and gain skill levels, more of the options will become enabled.
Here are all the options in detail:
The "Player Home System|" determines your starting position or handicap. Normal is an average start. Abundant includes two home systems and a number of pre-built ships. Outpost is pretty bad. You will find that different starting positions can have a large effect on your economy, especially in the first 1,000 years.
The " Computer IQ " determines how hard a game the computer players will give you. Smarter players will learn from their mistakes, will build larger fleets, will invest more heavily in Technology, and will expand faster.
The "Computer Home System" determines what resources the computer players get to start out with and mirror the human starting positions. A human playing on Ouput vs. a computer playing Abundant will find the game incredibly more difficult than the other way around.
At the highest skill levels, you will be able to turn on the "Computer Best Buddies" option, in which case all the computer players start out and remain best buddies the entire game, focusing all of their ire on you.
"Galaxy Shape " is the general shape the galaxy will have. Ring galaxies tend to have the most even starts, with each player strewn around the ring. Cluster and Spiral galaxies start players off fairly evenly. A Random galaxy has stars tossed down higgledy-piggledy. Any player might start in an extremely good or bad position -- right on top of several enemies, or with nobody in any nearby stars. Grid and Hex remove the element of random distances from the equation.
The " Galaxy Size " determines how big the galaxy is. The bigger the galaxy, the more room there is for each player to roam. In a small galaxy with many players, the game will tend to be heated and fast. In a large galaxy with only a few players, the game will develop for a long time before there's any combat. Games in humongous galaxies will take forever.
"Galaxy Density" determines the relative distance between stars. The more sparse a galaxy is, the longer it will take you to gain enough range tech to visit every star.
A standard "turn" in Spaceward Ho! is 10 years. If you have a ship with speed 2 that is trying to go a distance of 6, it will take 3 10-year turns to get there. By increasing the number of "Years Per Turn," you can take away some of your turn-by-turn control to make the game go faster. In a 30-years-per-turn game, that same ship will still take 30 years to go the distance of 6, but it will only take one turn.
At first, even the Dumb computer players will prove to be difficult opponents, but as your skill grows you'll find them unchallenging. Eventually, you may be good enough to defeat Smart players consistently, even with yourself on Outpost. This puts you in the ranks of the very best Ho! players. Try playing against humans. Try playing against Joe and Peter.