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.
Production buildings are just what they sound like. They either produce a trade good or can be rented out. Rent is nice as it is money directly in your pocket. Trade goods are just as important, as goods you produce are cheaper than the ones you buy on the open market. As in real life, a vertical monopoly is the way to go.
You'll find that, beloved as you are, you can't just run the various cities to suit your whims. Each one has a city council that can make your life harder (or easier). This introduces the third phase of the game, politics. It is possible for you to become part of the city council, or even mayor. From such august heights you will, for example, be able to determine whether a city builds a cathedral or a university. Decisions like this can have large if somewhat indirect effects on your trading empire. It is instructive that the path to political power is paved with money. Almost every political maneuver one makes is either accomplished or enabled by the expenditure of cold, hard cash.
The overall arc of the game takes you from a small-time merchant with one ship through a multi-city trader on to a production powerhouse and into the halls of power. Success in each stage leads very naturally into the complications of the next. It makes for a very pleasant feeling of progress over time. At any given point in the game it is pretty clear how one got into the current situation, and what lies ahead. Patrician IV pulls off a rare trick for a sandbox game: the player is given a lot of freedom but is never in doubt as to what their goals are.
That is not to say the game is perfect. Business sims have their own set of problems and Patrician IV is not immune to them.
First off, the only really direct source of conflict is pirates. There is a tactical view in which one can fight said pirates, but the less said about it the better. One can create some pirates of one's own in order to harass competing merchants but this no more fun. You are best off buying some war ships and letting the AI resolve the pirate battles.
Second, replay value is low. Subsequent games have the same cities with the same supplies/demands, so whatever you did the first game can just be done again. As much fun as the first playthrough is, it is unlikely you will play too many times after that.
Finally, this reviewer felt that, at the end of the day, there could have been more recognition of accomplishment. In-game, it is easy to figure out how to progress. Looking at the game, however, not much changes to reflect your progress. For example, in a city-builder game, at the end of a scenario, one can look back on the city that was built and feel a sense of accomplishment. The presence of the city validates the effort put into its building. In Patrician IV that feeling is harder to find.
The graphics and sound are subpar, but not oppressively awful. Economic sims are not known for their awesome particle physics, and nobody in the target audience is really expecting much in that line.
The interface is okay. Most commonly-used buttons are ready to hand and it is usually clear where your stuff is and how it is moving. The cities are colorful, with peasants scurrying about and ships bobbing at anchor in the harbor. If you want to absolutely optimize your trade routes (for example, you could try to monopolize the production and sale of bricks) you will need a paper and pencil to plan out delivery times and prices, but most mundane functionality is well-supported.
In the end the Hanseatic League was out-competed at land and on the sea. On land the newly-powerful Prussia, Poland and Russia were able to militarily threaten the individual cities. At sea the Italian city-states were just better at using financial tools (such as letters of credit) to make a profit. It is an interesting story, and would make for an interesting game. Perhaps in Patrician V?
In summary, Patrician IV is a slightly above-average business sim. It has the usual strengths (a sense of building something great) and weaknesses (lack of direct conflict) of the genre. Its addition of a political angle raises it above the average.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Patrician IV braves a becalmed market in a world bereft of business simulation games. The result is a middling game with an interesting political angle and good tutorials. This is a pretty thin genre right now, with only “Commander: Conquest of the Americas” for competition. An expansion pack would add gameplay, but gamers looking for the next great trading game will not find it here.