Trade Empires Review (PC)

Many strategy games incorporate trade as one of the central challenges for the player to overcome in building an empire. But perhaps none re-creates the art of buying low and selling high in such detail as Trade Empires. The game puts you in charge of a merchant family with the straightforward goal of growing as wealthy as possible in a variety of scenarios that cover a vast reach of history, from the first civilizations of the Mesopotamian and Indus river valleys to medieval China and industrialized Britain. The single-minded focus and historical scope promise great depth and variety

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Trade Empires is built on a tradition of conquest-driven empire games, but it strips the model down to its economic core. The game's developer, Frog City, previously created the Imperialism games, which strongly tie the military rise of European powers to mercantilism. Trade Empires does away with political borders and military operations. Now profit is both a means and an end. But your itinerant merchants aren't just piggybacking on natural economic growth. The trade routes you and your competitors create shape the ancient world. Markets with plentiful food and luxuries will encourage the local population to grow from nothing into bustling cities in the course of decades.

Trade Empires makes you keep a constant watch on price fluctuations, as your merchants will follow your preset orders to the letter, just as gladly dumping products for a loss as selling them at a premium. However, the game doesn't give you centralized tools for either monitoring markets' demands or measuring the success of trade routes. For a game focused on financial management, it's astounding that there are no graphs of any kind at your disposal. There are only two simple counters for gauging your success: the amount of gold currently in your treasury and each merchant's lifetime earnings or losses. Fortunately, you can reset the merchant counters periodically, since it's otherwise impossible to tell if a long-profitable route has turned into a money-losing endeavor.

Victory in the game's various scenarios amounts to racking up a high score. That is, if you're hoping for varied scenario objectives, then you'll be disappointed. In fact, the game's victory conditions screen is really just a summary of how any given scenario is scripted to unfold as new technologies become available. It doesn't help that the artificial intelligence for competing merchant families seems faulty or at least not very engaging. In several episodes against the AI, the competition quickly ran out of funds to buy goods for trade and subsequently spent the rest of the time doing nothing, its merchants holed up in towns. It would have been better if the AI traders just declared bankruptcy and let new competitors take their place. The only combat in the game is handled through abstract encounters--bandits and buccaneers will occasionally stop a merchant crossing between regions. As insurance, you need to hire various guard types to prevent losing your cargo and having to ransom your merchant, but this is one of the least involving of your management duties.

by Misc
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