Man. This is one of those games that can easily do one of two things: suck you in for hours on end, or leave you cold no matter how much you play it. Fortunately, I found myself enamoured with the setting and the concept, but it took quite a bit of hard work to get to a point where I could enjoy Patrician II
. The learning curve is steep, but the result is worth it, for fans of the trading genre who'd like a little originality in their lives. Standard strategy gamers might do well to steer far away, but those who don't mind spending a little blood, sweat and tears to get into a game may very well find a new love here.
The concept of the game is intriguing, and while it may seem familiar to fans of Merchant Prince and the like, it's definitely done differently than any other game I've played. You're to become a patrician, as the title says, by building a massive trading empire and controlling the seas. If you work hard enough, you may even become head of the League, which can only mean fantastic things. Of course, as the game progresses and you gain more and more abilities, you also gain more and more responsibilities.
The whole thing starts off as a fairly simple trading simulation. Find what your home port sells cheap, find places that would like that stuff, and sell it to them for a profit. Find what /they/ have that you could use, buy, sell, and so on. This is how all trading empires start off, and you'll find yourself doing a lot of this sort of thing at the beginning of the game as you build up your starting cash.
Of course, as in any complex game, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Not only can you trade back and forth with your ship, you can control a fleet of ships, hire sailors and captains to keep them running, and even create convoys on profitable routes. When you have the raw resources in a location but no production of a finished good, you can always build a workshop to produce the goods, in which case you make the profits. If you want to hand out loans and charge interest, you can do that too. The game is very open-ended in terms of what you can do to make money, and indeed it can be very confusing for a first-time player. It's something best learned step-by-step.
Part of the learning curve comes from the realistic portrayal of markets. You can be making a profitable run, when someone else floods the market and drops the selling price of your commodity way down, eating into your profits. Of course, this is a valid attack as well, if you're trying to drive away a trader. It can be frustrating, but it's a part of life in the times, and it's well simulated.
Unfortunately, while the game itself is amazingly complex, it took the route of Tropico instead of Railroad Tycoon II. Instead of giving you a large number of scenarios with goals to fulfill, you're practically expected to play in the sandbox mode for the greatest amount of time. It's a shame, too, because there's so much that could be done with trading goals. It's still not a bad setup, and the game's quite configurable, but it would have been nice to have more built-in challenges.