Trade Empires

Snap471_1Most economic or world-building strategy games have a tendency to go overboard with charts and graphs, sometimes giving you more complexity than you need. Trade Empires, which puts you in charge of a merchant empire in various historical periods, does a fantastic job of stripping away much of this complexity, and in the early stages of the game lends to a rewarding experience. It’s only after completing more of the advanced scenarios that the game’s flaws emerge, when some charts and graphs could come in mighty handy..

The 18 increasingly difficult scenarios range from early civilization to modern industrialization. You can compete against up to three computer opponents. Your task is to manage and grow a family business from small trading posts with simple agricultural resources and cart paths, and expand your empire to huge emporiums, factories, railroads, and overseas shipping routes.

It’s a delicate supply-and-demand balancing act in Trade Empires. made extra challenging by far too many design lapses and clumsy interface issues. Managing the whole process is a migraine. Once you establish a trade route, merchants cannot deviate from it. Constantly shifting demands — new products making old ones instantly obsolete — and new raw-material needs force you to abandon trade routes midstream, throwing away costly products and starting from scratch. There’s no simple means to temporarily alter a merchant’s route.

Snap480_1The early elegance and simplicity of the game starts to fall apart as you need more and more complex goods to satisfy the needs of the people. For example, as soon as dye becomes available, everyone suddenly demands dyed cloth, requiring pigment and dye factories, and they will no longer purchase regular woolen cloth. So when these new resources become available, demand immediately switches, breaking old routes or causing merchants to end up in markets with no one to buy their “old” goods because there’s no demand.

This is also where the lack of information comes into play. There’s no easy at-a-glance way to determine demands that need fulfilled, or where supplies are backing up. Also, there’s little sense of a bigger reason to be playing—you’re just trying to make money. You don’t end up being elected Emperor, and you never have any conflict with enemies (aside from occasional bandits) or opposing families.

Despite being somewhat shallow and lacking in conflict, Trade Empires is playable in small bursts. But other, more advanced games have presented this old formula with far more flair.

System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win95

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