Five separate races vie for supremacy of the final frontier in the strategic empire-builder Space Bucks. The empire in this case is a galactic transport empire, complete with commodities, starships, cargo shipments, pirates, and aliens. Sabotage, war, economic trading, and technological advances enter into the mix as you try to establish yourself as the most successful space trading baron in the known universe.
In the mid-20th century, the first meeting between humans and an alien race resulted in intergalactic trade when a Tesarian trader accidentally ventured into our galaxy. From that point, faster-than-light (FTL) travel opened up the universe to human trading and led to contact with four other alien races, each with unique attitudes and characteristics. In addition to the Tesarians, humans met the ambiguous Krec N'had, aggressive Secanii, secretive Colikar, and the most technologically advanced race and inventors of FTL space travel, the Madorians.
While people of Earth colonized numerous worlds in the far-flung galaxy as a result of FTL technology, the galactic community was stunned when the Madorians simply disappeared in the year 2333. Now, 42 years later, FTL travel is once again available, this time with all five remaining races having access to its inner secrets. In Space Bucks, the goal is to build the biggest and most successful transport empire in the galaxy before the year 2500.
Whichever race you choose to play, you'll begin with one starport and one ship. By expanding to planets not owned by other races, trading in industries (metal, chemical, specialty goods, toxic waste), building facilities (terminal, landing pad, fuel dumps, shipyards), and establishing luxury hotspots (restaurants, malls, casinos, sports arenas), you'll increase your company size through successful business dealing.
Negotiation of commodity prices, start up bids, delivery service contracts, competitive market bidding, and attitudes impact the establishment and maintenance of efficient trade routes. Constant ship upgrading, better shielding, and more advanced weapons become available as you build wealth and garner experience. You choose to build your empire through might or trade -- how you approach competitors is up to you, but pirates are a plague to be contended with by all races.
Space Bucks features a dozen types of planets, ranging from arctic to tropical, 12 cargo types from food to toxic waste, a myriad number of ways to earn revenue, raise (or lose) profits and control costs, as well as random events and combat options. For those with a desire to customize, a ship builder module is available that allows modification of pre-designed ships or the chance to build one from scratch.
Space Bucks is one of the most overlooked strategy games from Impressions, maker of the successful Caesar series. Although the game is not as bad as Impressions' notorious Rise and Rule of Ancient Empire, it's not so much better either due to extremely tedious micro-management that gets worse the more you play.
Space Bucks is essentially a space trading game, a genre that goes back to M.U.L.E. and more recently Gazillionaire. Your goal is to amass wealth by buying various commodities from different planets, and selling them at a higher price elsewhere. You have until the year 2500 to build your company into the best and biggest space trading empire in the galaxy.
There are reams of statistics that you must keep track of. This is not bad in itself: after all, a good economic simulation must take into account dozens of factors. But the more complex a game is, the more important it must convey the information in a way that is both user friendly and efficient (i.e. requiring as few mouse clicks as possible; Capitalism Plus comes to mind as a great example of this). Unfortunately, despite the attractive SVGA graphics and some inventive commodities, Space Bucks suffers from the same "spreadsheet syndrome" of many old Impressions games. The user interface is very cumbersome, which makes the micro management nature of the game even more tedious. For example, there is no way to tell at a glance what goods each planet is receiving, without looking at each route separately.
In addition to extreme micro management, you will have to deal with many things at once, while keeping a close eye on income level, number of transports, ships, and of course trade routes. In the final stages of the game you may have over 60 planets and more than 40 ships and routes. Although the game allows you to do many things in "pause mode" without your competition advancing, it's still tedious. The game does have some random events to break the tedium, like the discovery of new engine types, or better cargo modules, and so on, but they are minor compared to numerous static screens of statistics.
Overall, Space Bucks is the kind of game I really want to like, but simply can't. As fan of business sims, I find the economic model in the game quite decent, and I also enjoy the little details like setting maintenance schedules for my ships and fitting them with new weapons. But ultimately the awful user interface and extreme micro management makes Space Bucks more repetitive than fun. The first time you play and finish the game (which should take about 15-20 hours maximum), you will probably enjoy it. But your enjoyment will gradually diminish when you have to revise your routes for the umpteenth time in subsequent games. Worth a look if you enjoy this kind of games, but check out Gazillionaire Deluxe instead if you want a truly playable game with a long-term play value.
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