The Hanseatic League was a loose confederation of trading cities that flourished on the northern coast of Europe during the late Middle and early Modern Ages. They are an interesting example of the effects of trade on otherwise isolated cities.
This is the milieu into which you are thrown in Patrician IV. You start out as a fledgling merchant, with just a single ship to your name. Now, a ship is nothing to sneeze at – they are pretty expensive both to buy and keep up. Luckily you are not all alone in the world. You have a rich uncle who will provide advice throughout the game. Perhaps your uncle bought you the ship.
The advice is definitely welcome. This is an economic/business simulation game with all the behind-the-scenes mechanics that implies. Your uncle will start with the basics - buying, selling, and intercity trade. The very basis of your budding trade empire is the simple process of buying stuff cheaply in one city, sailing that stuff to a different city, and selling it there for a profit.
Each city has things that it produces and things that it demands. Sometimes there is a production chain-style relationship (cities that make clothes demand cloth) and sometimes a city just wants stuff. Either way, you will start out plotting trade routes to take advantage of the supply/demand situation. After a few trips around the trade route you will see the money start to flow in.
If that were all there was this game would have been named “Micromanagement Hell IV”. Your uncle will introduce you to the trade route interface, where you can plan out and assign fleets to trade routes. Each fleet comes with a captain. You can tell the captain what goods to buy and sell at what price and in what quantity, or you can let each captain use their own judgment. The captains are generally pretty good at buying and selling on their own. The automation is welcome.
This frees you up to the concentrate on the next phase of the game – in-city production. After you have been trading a while in a given city your reputation in that city will rise to a point where you will be able to build a trade post in the city. Trading posts are handy for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most importantly they are the first step toward being able to build production buildings in a city.
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