When you first fire up Space War Commander, you may at first wonder whether there can be much of a game here. The basic structure is one that often leads to symmetrical gridlock: You have one starbase, an opponent has another, you must destroy the opposition. Scattered about the starfield are a number of planets and asteroids; each produces income for the owner (whoever's got a ship there). Generate income, buy new ships, defeat the enemy.
This structure is normally a slog, and one that becomes tedious quickly. Surprisingly, however, Space War Commander has a great more depth than at first appears.
For one thing, the different ship types you can purchase are quite different; some are standard combat ships of varying power, but others are designed for quick raids, or suicide attacks, or last-ditch defense, or a Fabian strategy of wearing down the enemy base over time.
For another, in addition to standard resource extraction, there's a trade element -- if you're willing to divert resources to purchase freighters, you can pick up and deliver cargoes, to produce resources more rapidly.
Your starbase slowly decays over time, so there's an element of time pressure: you need to defeat the enemy before time defeats you.
And while I won't go so far as to say the AI is smart, it's clear that in different missions, the computer opponent adopts different strategies, some of which are quite interesting -- thereby, of course, teaching you more about the strategic options the game offers. Thus, unlike a typical symmetrical game, there's a fair bit of variation over time.
Space War Commander looks quite retro; each mission takes place on a square grid that doesn't pan. You're facing a fixed, and rather small, board, in other words -- and indeed, the feeling is something like that of a boardgame. It's billed as an RTS, and it is realtime (though pausable), but does not, in fact, feel like one: no exploration, no tech tree, no zerg rush. It feels much more like a game of strategy, in fact, than most RTSes (which are, when you come down to it, skill-and-action games with complicated structures): planning is essential, and there are tricks and interesting tactical approaches to discover.
If you view it through the lens of the puzzle game, in fact, there's a certain similarity; the developers have taken a limited suite of verbs, and in a level-based game, provided a set of increasinly complicated situations for your to resolve.
It is perhaps a little too retro: one longs for a more complex soundscape, a little more visual excitement during battles, a multiplayer option, and even more strategic options as the game progresses -- but that is, in a way, a compliment rather than a criticism: It's good enough that you want more.