By the power of commerce, I shall rule the world!
When I was younger, I used to quite fancy the idea of running a shop and supplying the average Joe with the things that they needed or wanted. As it happens, that never worked out, even though I did do a stint as a store supervisor. But when a game like Patrician IV: Conquest By Trade, from Kalypso Media, comes along that allows you to build your very own trade empire spanning a large chunk of Europe, it offers a comparable experience. Well, sort of…
On starting the game, the player has two simple choices. They can either run through the campaign, or jump into a sandbox game in which the player is master of their own fate and flies solo. Being that I have played Patrician in the past and thinking that I am far too good to need any instruction, it is just a trading game after all, I leapt straight into the sandbox mode. I then proceeded to sell all of my towns grain supply and caused everyone to hate me. Maybe it is a bit more complex than I remember.
So my first bit of advice is to take the story mode, as it offers a number of handy hints and tips for the beginner that explains how the game is controlled. Once the player understands where to click and what options are available, the rest is plain sailing.
The story begins like so many stories. Successful uncle wants the player to emulate his success, but must start from scratch in order to learn the ways of the business. In this particular instance the player must build a successful trading empire from the ground up, starting with just one ship. As the player reaches certain levels of cash, they will level up and new options will become available to them. Being that running a powerful trading empire is as much about status as it is financial know-how, the player will soon find themselves dabbling in such non-trade related activities as politics and land ownership.
Indeed, it will help your plans no end to become Mayor of your local town. So, although the main emphasis of the game remains the trading of wares from one town to the next, there is plenty to do on dry land, including buying or building property, impressing the local guild and maintaining a good reputation, as no one will vote for someone they don’t like. The player can even start their own production buildings, allowing them to start producing the very wares they want to sell, but for a fraction of the price.
Of course, the player is not alone in their aspirations. There are plenty of competing traders to deal with, not to mention the pirates. Each have their own solutions, such as building patrol ships to take care of the pirates, or dabbling in a bit of piracy to hinder other traders.
Now my second bit of advice is “buy low, sell high”. This may seem like common sense, but this is the entire basis of the game. If you can manage to stick to this simple rule, then success will surely come your way. Each town produce a certain item and it is at these towns that the item in question will be cheapest. Buy it from them and then sell it to a town that needs it for a tidy profit. An indicator will show how much of a given product a town has and it is important that the player not buy so much as to leave the town short of that product. Bring a town something that they are very low in, and they will be dancing in the street singing your praise. Well, it will make you more popular at least.
It can get quite involved micromanaging numerous fleets of ships as they go from town to town, buying and selling. But thankfully there is a rather good AI that can do most of the work for you. Simply plot a route with your fleet and then give an indication of what you would prefer to buy and sell at each town. Then, without further ado, that side of things can take care of itself, leaving you with the more pressing tasks on dry land.
This is perhaps one of the games weaknesses, with the AI taking control of such a large portion of the game the players’ interaction is reduced and the game becomes quite simple. Another issue is that the menus are rather unclear and can leave a player confused at the beginning, when things are either not explained at all or only vaguely discussed. An example of this was the sheer amount of time it took to get two ships combined in a fleet. It really should not have been that complicated, but I ended up sacking three captains before I worked out where I was going wrong. Veteran player are probably finding this highly amusing, but new comers will undoubtedly find this game quite unapproachable.
The game looks really nice and, while the menus could use a bit of clarity, the graphics themselves are very well done. The little harbour towns are highly detailed and, I would guess, authentic looking, and the ships and sea itself look great.
By no stretch of the imagination could this game be called action packed. But what it does offer is an intelligent gaming experience for gamers that fancy taking of the world through commerce, rather than big guns. I am sure that it is not for everyone, but the feeling of watching your empire grow and become powerful certainly makes it worth trying this game out. With no sense of urgency, Patrician IV is the perfect laid back Sunday afternoon game.