Patrician IV: Conquest By Trade Review
By Catherine Black |
The best-selling and most popular games have historically always been about action and movement. Economic sims such as Kalypso's new Patrician IV go the opposite route entirely, rewarding patience and careful study of the systems involved. This approach, depending on the type of gamer you are, is either a breath of fresh air compared to other games available, or a reason to avoid the title like the plague its time period represents.
Patrician IV puts you in the role of a member of the Hanseatic League, a powerful group of merchants operating around the coast of northern Europe in the late Middle Ages. Starting as a fledgling merchant with a single ship in your chosen European coastal city, your goal is to sail around the northern Atlantic, buying low and selling high. While dodging pirates and dealing with trading rivals, your overall goal is to rise through the ranks of the Hanseatic League, with the ultimate goal of becoming a major power.
Patrician IV Video
Of course, becoming a famous trader throughout Europe is not as simple as making a profit, and this is what makes Patrician IV special: it tries to be two or three games in one, combining the mundane ideas of trading with political dealings and city building aspects to create a singular experience that has you balancing many different responsibilities at the same time. Even for players of older Patrician games, it would be confusing to throw everything at you at once, and the game does a fairly good job at introducing new aspects of the game without overwhelming you.
This is done through the game's campaign mode, which is essentially an extended tutorial. An advisor—your in-game uncle—is there to hold your hand through the basics of trading goods, and in-game videos will play with voice-overs to explain exactly what to do in any given situation. These videos are absolutely excellent, and the actual trading interface is fantastic: once you get a ship in port, it's a breeze to load up with any of your selected goods. The game does fail to explain extremely basic concepts such as what "average price" exactly means to your business, so hopefully you remember your high school math classes coming into the game.
Still, it doesn't take long to figure out how to trade effectively (always trade above the average price of your goods, and you're golden!). It won't be long before your advisor has you buying more ships to run multiple routes. At that point, it gets to be a little overwhelming to micromanage every single ship in your fleet, but there is a tool that allows you to set automated trade routes among each convoy. You can set general rules for a trade route, such as "trade this good if the prices are favorable," or more specific ones like "only sell meat if the price is at least $400 per unit." At that point, the game stops being so much about micromanaging the trading screen as it is setting up routes and monitoring their progress.
From there, once you have the cash at your disposal, you can create your own businesses, setting them up in cities using a rudimentary city builder interface. However, this feels a bit tacked on: it doesn't really matter where the businesses are located. All businesses within a single city are close enough that there are no special transportation costs or anything. Don't get us wrong, the extra customization of placing the business where you want it is nice, it just doesn't really affect anything.
As your business grows further, you are given the opportunity to become part of the council within a city, even mayor of your hometown. You can vote for city building projects, order research to affect new ship types, and slowly drive competitors out of business. If you want to be a jerk, you can even hire privateers in cities to burn down rivals' businesses or lead worker revolts. Every action you take, even the idea of courting and marrying someone in your town, will somehow indirectly affect your profits and need to be fully considered: do you spend money on the church, making you more popular and stabilizing your own worker morale; or do you instead spend the money on hiring a pirate to attack rivals' ships? Either way, it can help your business, and part of the fun of Patrician IV lies in experimenting to find what actions work best for you.