Offworld Trading Company
I just love me space-based strategy games. There’s nothing like a good ol’ space 4X title that lets you e(x)plore your surrounding areas and scout out new territories and star systems, e(x)pand your fledging empire—usually by sending out colony ships and populating new planets and planetoids, e(x)ploiting the resources of your burgeoning dominion in order to build up your civilization and its military, and then of course e(x)terminate your adversaries.
As the 4X strategy game genre grew in popularity, many gamers yearned for ways to conquer their enemies through different means besides just militarily. Thus was born the Victory Condition system, where the game host could, for the first time, set each game up to facilitate distinct standards for winning a match. Some of these conditions required such things as ascending to some lofty position as a grand leader or chairperson, thereby ending the game; finding and killing an each opponent’s main headquarters structure or taking out their primary leader; or simply securing more money or resources than anyone else, thereby crushing all enemies through sheer economic might.
There have been many real time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy (TBS) games which have focused solely on smashing one’s foes through military force alone, and some which allow more options for victory, but games that intrinsically limit victory conditions to such factors as having a superior economy, or a monopolization of resources, are rare indeed.
Could the latter be a viable option that could keep players mentally and strategically stimulated and engaged enough to continue playing? Or would such a game, seemingly more limited in scope, be solely a bastion for lovers of city building or simulation games? Some gaming folks just aren’t into frequent violent encounters or the need to constantly be building up one’s military in order to defend against, and attack foes.
Luckily, the Stardock CEO, Brad Wardell, is a man with a vision—or should I say multiple visions. Stardock has never been afraid of taking chances. They rolled the dice with 2008’s hit Sins of a Solar Empire, which combined RTS elements with the strategic sensibilities of a TBS, topped off with a highly intuitive, ground-breaking UI. SoaSE was a revolutionary game that hasn’t been duplicated since. Their TBS Galactic Civilizations series showed that although it shared some similarities with Sid Meier’s Civilization, it contained enough original content to offer a unique gaming experience (and finally multiplayer with Galactic Civilizations III). But when I’d first heard that Stardock was making a purely economic-based RTS, I was a little concerned—could such a game hold my interest?
Enter Offworld Trading Company, Stardock’s new RTS title that eschews military considerations altogether in favor of flexing one’s business savvy and monopolistic ambitions. Indeed, Offworld Trading Company is an ambitious project—how could you make a game that is all about achieving economic dominance interesting to gamers who have long been weaned on RTS’s that focus primarily on annihilating one’s enemies with rockets, bombs, swords, lasers, and straight-up nukes? Not a developer to be intimidated by such an undertaking, once again, Stardock rolled the dice.
Offworld Trading Company has you step into the role of the CEO of a burgeoning corporation looking to establish a thriving business on Mars. First, you must explore the Red Planet’s surface and choose a place to touch down your headquarters (presumably close to a batch or two of resources), and soon after that, mine said resources in order to begin trading them so that you can build up your capital and surplus stockpiles. Although Offworld Trading Company’s graphics are similar to Starcraft in their cartoonish nature, you won’t be sending out any Zerg rushes, but rather overwhelming your adversaries (other budding corporations) with superior cash flow in order to buy them out.
Offworld Trading Company is not a shallow game—there is a lot to learn, especially if you didn’t study business or economics in school. Fortunately however, it features a simple, easy-to-learn tutorial that allows you to pick things up piecemeal, as opposed to throwing everything at you all at once. Although the tutorial moves at a brisk pace, it never gets ahead of you, and everything in it features something that will be of use later on. Stardock did a really great job of guiding gamers to fulfill their roles as blossoming, er…cut-throat CEOs, without being too hand-holdy.
However, if you’re like me and need additional coddling with regards to speed-learning hardcore business enterprising practices, the Campaign Mode, which tasks you with various scenarios and objectives, is a decent follow-up and continuance of the tutorial. After a few missteps, everything just began to fall into place and I eventually got it. Eventually, I began to feel like a Martian Gordon Gekko, and even imagined snapping my $10,000 suspenders against my chest while crushing my AI foes under my equally pricey Park Avenue cap-toe Oxfords.
Unfortunately, I was in for a rude come-uppance, just as Mr. Gekko was, when I causally sauntered into Skirmish Mode. This is where you really get to test your mettle—all that you’ve learned—against other actual human beings, and this is where the fun really begins. There is nothing like being pitted against other greedy…I meant, er… entrepreneurial, fellow CEOs. This is where Offworld Trading Company ascends into a fast-and-furious race for riches, as you pump, mine, and extract various resources which you then manufacture and turn into a wide variety of goods for Mars’ growing colonial populaces. It’s enough to make infamous corporate raider, Jimmy Goldsmith, blush.
As you increase your corporation’s efficiency through research, you always have to keep a keen eye on market prices and try your best to anticipate and estimate financial projections. Granted you do well by your company and turn a hefty profit in, and you can also begin to keep tabs on the stock market prices of your competitors, and eventually attempt to buy them out before they can do the same to you.
As mentioned previously, Offworld Trading Company features some pretty cartoony visuals, but that actually suit the game and its proceedings quite nicely. I just love watching the cool little animations that unfold as you place your various facilities in the hexagonal tiles surrounding your company, and watching your transport ships zip around through the skies, to and from structures, never gets old. You really feel as though you are helming a hungry mining start-up on a new frontier, lending weight to the sort of “wild-west” vibe that I believe Stardock was going for.
Simply put, if you are looking for a game that blazes its own trail and delivers a unique experience which involves not sword or guns, but rather the clever manipulation of stocks and a shrewd reigning-in of market forces and eventual economic dominance of your foes, then give Offworld Trading Company a try. There is enough diversity between the four factions, compelling high-speed economic hijinks, and fun gameplay and graphics, to keep you satisfied for a long time to come. And knowing Stardock, there is much more to come in the months ahead.
Offworld Trading Company has some excellent visuals that should be enjoyed on a decent gaming PC or gaming laptop, such as this one:
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