Set in the age of clipper ships, Ancient Trader sees you sailing around an undiscovered set of islands, moving from port to port while trading in three commodities, Tea, Spices and Fruit. The aim of the game is simple: Be the first to amass enough money to upgrade your ship sufficiently and to purchase several artefacts that will enable you to achieve your final goal.
Ancient trader employs simple turn-based mechanics for both movement and combat. During a turn you may move a set number of squares across the map, enter ports to trade, upgrade and accept missions as well as fight the many opponents that will also appear on the map. Unlike other strategy games, the ability to move is not lost when you start combat or enter a port, meaning that you can always use the maximum movement quota if you so wish.
Combat employs a rather simple yet effective mix of classic “rock, paper, scissors” style combat with various levels of attack strength. The relationship between attacks is clearly shown at the bottom of the screen and is indicated by applying colours to each attack. For example, a blue attack will typically beat a red attack of the same level or lower. While you don’t know which attack your opponent is going to select (especially when facing an AI opponent), these strength levels help to offset the initial blind selection of attacks at the start of combat. Losing combat will generally see you either losing money or cargo. While winning will generally see you earning a little more gold.
Trading is a simple matter of finding the ports with the lowest prices to purchase from and then other ports with a far higher price to sell to. Once a port is discovered its prices are always visible on the map, making it very easy to plan your destinations ahead of time. You can also always see how much you purchased a commodity for when you are in the trade screen – so you will also always know if you are selling at profit.
Quests take on several forms, such as delivering items or people to specific port, gathering information on a location or defeating certain enemies. Quests carry a time limit of several turns, and in the case of combat orientated ones, can be failed when one of opponents defeats the enemy concerned.
The entire game experience is delivered with a unique style that sees all the action taking place on classic seafaring maps. This helps to give Ancient Trader its charm. The music too, fits well with the game play and is low key enough to not be too over bearing. While several preset maps of different sizes are provided, there is also a random map generator to help keep things fresh.
A multiplayer mode is also provided, but this is local only (i.e., one to four people taking turns on one PC). However, there are plenty of options to customise a multiplayer game, such as the size of map, type of map (ranging from beginner to advanced), number of AI opponents and the goal. The goal can either be similar to the single player goals, or based on cash/wealth.
Unfortunately, this game is not perfect. At times the AI opponents appear capable of advancing far faster than yourself which can see you at a disadvantage fairly quickly if you’re not too careful. The game lacks any ability to save your progress on a map, so you will always have to complete a game in one sitting. There is also a distinct lack of any video options so you will be unable to select a preferred screen resolution or run the game windowed. On the multiplayer side, there is no online multiplayer and the monetary goals are all preselected, so it’s not possible to specify custom cash or wealth limits to be reached. These are probably the only real disappointments in an otherwise charming casual strategy game. So if you’re looking for an enjoyable strategy game that is not overly complex and have an entire afternoon or evening to kill, Ancient Trader is well worth considering.