Firaxis' newest game is Sid Meier's Starships, and we got an exclusive sneak peek at PAX South this morning.

Meier headed the Firaxis Megapanel alongside Beyond Earth designers Will Miller and David McDonough. Gamespot's Chris Watters was the panel moderator, and he walked the Firaxis guys through a few questions about the development of Starships before handing it over to Sid so we could see a quick demo.

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Starships ties into Beyond Earth in that it continues the story of your Beyond Earth colony beyond that game's conclusion. Each game of Beyond Earth (hopefully) concludes with your colony becoming prosperous on an alien world. Starships focuses on a wider question - what happened to the other colonies launched to other planets?

(Spoiler alert: it's not all sunshine and roses...)

Instead of taking the role of a "leader" you assume control of your civilization's spacefaring fleet. Each ship in the fleet can be upgraded, giving it more firepower, armor, shields, cloaking, sensors, and so forth. You fly the (singular) fleet from system to system, undertaking quests and trying to add new planets to your empire. Meanwhile, other factions are also vying for control of systems, which inevitably leads to Civilization's staples of diplomacy and combat.

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The aforementioned combat takes place on a 2-d hex grid that is unique for each system. Asteroids and other obstacles block ship movement and provide "cover" against enemy attacks.

Unlike Civilization titles, the tech tree is not a tree at all. Rather, your research directly improves primary attributes of your ships. From what we saw in the demo, it's a bit more like allocating skill points than researching new technology.

The overall game skews more towards Heroes of Might and Magic or XCOM than classic Civilization - raise a fleet, capture outposts to fund your expansion, and engage in tactical combat, rather than manage the intricacies of an entire empire.

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Starships looks interesting - certainly worth keeping your eyes on if you're a Civ or tactical combat genre fan. The video of the panel and the demo is supposed to become available next week on Youtube and elsewhere. Starships is slated for a "spring 2015" launch on iPad and PC.