Trade Empires Review
By Monica Bair |
Have you ever wished to go into business for yourself and found that the market had already been cornered? Ever wished that rich expansive lands, filled with nuts, berries, and iron ore, were virginal and ready for your financial exploitation? Well, in Frog City's Trade Empires, you have the chance to prove your marketing skills on the risky economic battlefields of historical Earth. Money is to be had and lost in the deserts, coastal valleys, and rice paddy plains of Trade Empires. Satisfying the ravenous diets of your customers can fatten your belly, while ignoring supply and demand will bankrupt your once wealthy family.
Trade Empires is an economic simulation that takes place on multiple continents and multiple time periods. For example, you may test your mettle in pre-bronze age China or industrial revolution era Britain. Your ultimate goal is to increase your family's power. You do this by producing or buying products (at independently owned establishments) at low prices and selling them to customers at higher prices. As long as your prices aren't too high and the demands of the population are met, the market increases in volume and profits.
As you can imagine, the greater the number of advancements your civilization has experienced the greater the number of products available for sale and the greater the demand for those items. Fortunately, the designers at Frog City created levels that cater to both simple and intense gaming. The game is broken down into eighteen scenarios, which are distinguished by the dates of the mission, the number of competing trade families, and the region of trade. The size of the market and the number of competing families gauge difficulty.
Easy missions tend to place your single family in the driver's seat in markets that are very simple -- bring the people wheat and fish, give them clothes to wear, pottery to decorate with, and they will be happy and multiply. As soon as your customers demand products from regions outside your own, you will need to venture across bandit-filled hinterlands to lands rich in the goods you need, set up a base of operations, and establish interregional trade routes. When such a need arises, early in your trade empire's development, it is extremely difficult to meet the demands of the people. How you address the problem, and many others just like it, is precisely Trade Empires' bag.
Competing trade empires make it their mission to vanquish your family -- after all, your business can be theirs for the right price -- and it is up to you to steer your family through the storm. By buying up independent businesses or establishing your own in another family's market, you can dictate the flow of certain items into your opponent's economy. This allows you to increase prices and stunt the growth of their economy or flood the market and inflate their currency. But, there is a flip side to that coin and you must be wary of the enemy's attempts to do the same to you.
Trade Empires comes with a number of different playable game speeds. Pausing the game while planning a financial strategy is priceless and saves your fortunes when you are faced with economic crises. Most of the scenarios in the game last for a couple of game time centuries. Speed modes can set game years to elapse anywhere from a few minutes to a handful of seconds. Your decision-making abilities are at a premium in this game and the more problems facing your empire the more time you need to figure your strategy.
The variability of the game's markets makes it apparent (at least superficially) why the game does not have a multiplayer capability. I can only imagine how chaotic and annoying a multiplayer Trade Empires game could be. All the players constantly pausing the game to plan strategies would drive a monk to murder. Then the question of turn-based gameplay comes to mind. Why didn't Frog City try that out? Maybe they figured the time to finish a typical TE's game with multiple players taking turns would be prohibitive on the fun front. Anyone up for a four-hour game? It's too bad, though. The game would be interesting to see in a multiplayer world.
To ready you for the diverse world in Trade Empires, Frog City provided the game with an informative tutorial system. You are taught how to set up marketplaces and trade routes, and hire traders to represent your family. Simple infrastructure like stables and roads are discussed in the tutorials and prepare you for more advanced systems of transport. Eventually, you will be faced with specialized buildings that demand items of high value called luxuries. The tutorial boils down to one thing: know the demands for items and meet them.
Since the game is set in many different regions and times, the number of variables you are tasked with can become overpowering. The thirty-seven-page manual that ships with the game does not cover the hundreds of different products and production facilities that are present in the game. Instead, the information about what building needs what raw material to produce a given product is supplied electronically and can be accessed in game. There is not a graphically represented technology tree, but a text based encyclopedia. Two days of Trade Empires gaming will give you an alchemical skill not seen since MacGyver aired on ABC.
With the amount that goes on in the trading world you would hope that you had a team of financial advisors working to help you. That is not the case in Trade Empires. Unlike Sim City 3000, in which you are given a number of advisors, this game pits you against the bloodthirsty hordes of consumers all by your lonesome. Constantly checking all of your market places to ensure a solid supply of products can be quite annoying -- especially when one market craps out (undoubtedly due to some financial blunder on your part) and you are not warned of its ills. If you love micro-management, you will love this game. Otherwise, you may quickly tire of treading the turbulent capital waters of Trade Empires.
Trade Empires is depicted through a 2D isometric view of cities, farms, and mountains. Each time period and region in the world has a specific design, the overall affect of which is quite nice to behold. Larger area maps allow you to zero in on an elusive resource or production facility. This can be extremely handy when choosing a starting position or regional strategy. And, an even larger map clues you in on regions that can supply you with products not available in your own region; as well as, providing intelligence on the whereabouts of enemy families. Animation is limited to moving your traders from facility to facility and the waving flags that depict working production facilities. There are no environmental effects like running water, rain, or snow nor is there a day/night cycle. Even with these issues aside, the game is presented clearly and with historical flair.
Sound is pretty limited to the sounds of cities and farms. Sheep, horse, steam engine, and the white noise amalgam of large groups of people accentuate as you hover over or select their respective sources. Each scenario's introduction is text based without the aid of voice actors and there is no other voice characterization to be found.
One thing that surprised me was the lack of an intro movie or any kind of media when the game loads up. The game simply loads to its main menu. I can't remember the last time I bought a game and there was no intro movie or animated corporate icon at start up. Maybe Frog City didn't have a cutscene animators on the payroll during the game's production. The game would certainly garner points with audiences if it delighted them every once in a while with a movie -- say, after finishing a particularly difficult mission in which you decimate the competition and achieve the rank of Merchant Prince.
With all that said, I'd have to say Trade Empires is a fine entertaining game. You will find yourself playing the missions for many hours and repeating them to use different strategies. The educational side of the game -- discovering the concepts of economics -- is an added bonus. Play the game and learn something new. Maybe after you've conquered all the missions you will finally be able to figure out how to make your hair-brained business ideas work.
But, if you are a player that is satiated with a gripping multiplayer battle or abhor micro-management, this game is not for you. The multitude of market options can be tedious for those that wish to dive right into the action. Not taking the time to plan a viable business plan will bankrupt you early in the game. The games are long, intense, and devoid of bloody battles -- that is if you don't count the blood leaking from your dishonored enemies' wrists.
-- Mike Murphy
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