The Patrician has to be the Europe-wide surprise hit of 1993. This game has dominated the German charts for longer than anyone can remember, and judging by the response Daze Marketing have received after last month's exclusive playable demo, it's set to repeat that same success in the UK. Who would have thought that a strategic trading game would have done so well?
Just in case you aren't familiar with this particular phase of history. The Patrician is set at a time of great change in Europe. The Renaissance is on its way, and all over this great continent traders are calling for some kind of agreement - a union almost -to ensure the safety and livelihood of those who carry cargo from port to port. It's at times such as this that great ideas are born, and in this period the Hanseatic league was created. In essence it worked as the predecessor to the European community. Mayors from the main towns would oversee the running of their ports and would answer in turn to the Alderman of the league, otherwise known as The Patrician,
If you didn't play the demo, you might be wondering what your role in all of this is. In short, you are a simple trader with designs on fame and fortune - well, fortune anyway. Starting the game with a single boat and 200 Thaler to your name, you have to complete a number of tasks. Firstly, you have to become incredibly wealthy through shrewd and cunning dealing. Secondly, you need to get married. Thirdly, you must rise in public opinion to the point where you are elected Mayor of your home town. Finally you must rise even further and become The Patrician him/herself. And once you've reached the top, you'll probably find that it isn't too easy to stay there.
The first thing you'll need to come to grips with, however, is money. Thaler, the currency of the league, isn't the easiest thing to get your hands on. The safest way to get it is to trade, and with around 40 commodities to barter with, some solid logic is needed. The position of the port and the time of year both play strong parts in the pricing of goods. Corn in summertime is plentiful in most ports, and therefore very cheap indeed. So, buying a large amount, and then waiting until winter, when supplies are low, will guarantee you a good return on your investment. People will always pay high prices for spices and pepper, so when the spice ship arrives, you'd better get down to its port of call as quick as you can. Get there first and you're guaranteed a small fortune.
SPARE SOME CHANGE?
What if you can't get the money together to make the investment? Then it's time to borrow At the time, though, the banks were run by the church, and borrowing money was seen to be a great sin. So, the only way that you can possibly borrow any cash is to seek a private investor who, at the start anyway, will only offer you small amounts of money over very short periods of time and at over 40 per cent interest. Don't worry, though. Things do get better.
This is the pan of the game where you begin to learn about power. There are two types to wield, and to get anywhere in this game you'll need to have both. There's political power and there's people power. People power is that small factor that counts the number of people who will vote for you in elections. Gain the trust of the people, and you can start to attain political power. Once you have both, things get a little easier for a while. For a start, wealthier businessmen will want to deal with you, offering you larger and larger sums of money, over much longer periods for much less interest. Now you'll begin to see how the whole game intertwines with itself to create one of the most realistic and thought provoking strategy titles yet seen on the Amiga.
Of course, all that power does have its downside and, like I said, borrowing money is illegal. So is bribing a council official to give you a leg up the ladder, or leak important information to you. In fact, this game lets you do a hell of a lot that isn't actually allowed. This is purely to drop you in it later in the game. Picture the scene. There you are. Mayor of your own town and adored by your citizens. All of a sudden you receive a letter from a trader who has never reached your lofty heights, threatening to expose all concerning you and certain borrowings that happened early on in your career unless you pay a lump sum each month into a Swiss bank account. Do you try to call their bluff, or do you pay? The tension ups yet another notch.
You can no doubt already tell what a superbly designed game this is, and so it should be after 18 months of hard work What's really nice is that the same attention to detail and perfection has been carried over into the presentation. You can see from the screenshots on these pages what a gorgeous looking game it is, but they can't tell you how well it plays. Controlled entirely from the mouse. The Patrician uses a combination of static screens and control panels to handle everything from having a bath to borrowing beyond your means. If you want to go to your office from the town square, you click on the window to enter. If you want to leave again, you click with the right mouse button.
And that's really all there is to it - there are no messy menus, no masses of key control. This is a game that leaves your concentration alone. You can focus on your next move without reading through the manual to find out which key to do it with.
This has to be the single most involving strategy game since Elite. There's just so much to do that you could never play the same game twice, and the thrill of taking a gamble and seeing it pay off merits the purchase by itself. Unbelievably good stuff.
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