In the 14th century, German merchants dominated trade throughout Northern Europe, thanks to trade concessions granted to the Hanseatic League. At a time when sea routes in the Baltic and Mediterranean carried the vast bulk of goods and raw materials across Europe, it was possible for fortunate long-distance merchants to earn great fortunes and rise to positions of significant local power. Patrician II is a game that gives you a hands-on opportunity to follow this path; you start as a struggling Hanseatic trader and eventually become a powerful patrician. While the game's hands-on micromanagement, slow pace, and open-ended goals might discourage some players, its interface generally succeeds in making trading as painless as possible. There's also some degree of city-building and isometric ship combat to further keep your interest. But Patrician II's well-balanced game design lacks polish; this is especially evident in the translation errors, some of which are downright confusing.
The historical center of the Hanseatic League and your default hometown.
The amount of depth and detail concentrated in Patrician II's design is somewhat explained by the fact that this is a sequel to a German game originally produced a decade ago for the Amiga home computer. There are a number of ways to make money in Patrician II, from building and renting houses and loaning money to other traders at exorbitant rates--on the order of 2 percent a week--to sponsoring a freelance pirate or two for a cut of the loot. But despite this diversity of options, the core of the game is trading, and this is generally your most profitable pursuit. The game combines broad goals and high-level management tools with detailed ship trading. From humble beginnings with only one small ship until you have the significant resources to organize your own convoys, you'll buy and sell goods on a ship-by-ship basis and sail between the game's 20 Hanseatic towns looking for profitable routes. While you might not be intimately familiar with the geography of the Baltic Sea, it's not hard to figure out which towns produce special goods. For example, Cologne, located on the Rhine River south of Belgium, produces the wine that rich citizens crave, Scandinavian towns stock whale oil, and the eastern towns near Russia provide premium animal skins. These regional products are all graphically represented on the overview map, and while it may take a long week's trip by sea, it's often very worthwhile to seek them out.
As you'd expect, the prices for the many goods in the game vary by town, depending on the demand created by the size and relative prosperity of the town and the supplies already in the market. Prices fluctuate dramatically, but it's always easy to see if the goods stored in your warehouses or on a ship can be sold for a profit because the break-even price is always conveniently displayed in the trading windows. When you move on to manufacturing your own goods, it's important to buy raw materials cheaply and produce in high enough volume to make the end product as inexpensive as possible and to fatten your profit margins. Unfortunately, it's not possible to get an estimate on the costs involved in manufacturing until the goods are already in your warehouses, so sometimes despite your best efforts you'll spend time setting up industries that are completely unprofitable, while others can create goods at a 100 percent profit margin.
Make donations at the local church to increase your reputation.
New paths open up as you grow your trading company: You can join the local guild, establish trading offices in other towns to maintain local warehouses, and build additional and larger ships. Your larger goal isn't just wealth, but power and social status. There are several levels of social status that are dependent on your wealth and your reputation among the common and wealthy residents of your hometown, a hidden score that is improved by providing needed goods, sponsoring public celebrations, and upgrading the local health conditions. When you reach the rank of counselor or patrician, you can be nominated for the yearly mayoral election. Once mayor, you're eligible to be elected alderman to lead the Hanseatic League itself, but with official power comes the responsibility of building and maintaining the town's defenses out of your own pocket. Fortunately, by this point it becomes much easier to make large sums of money quickly as you group your trading ships together in convoys that can be instructed to automatically run a set trade route.
Patrician II succeeds in creating a lively sense of Hanseatic League trade. There are many ships owned by other merchants that come and go from ports and crowd the sea-lanes near key towns. The many competing merchants have a direct effect on market prices, and as soon as they dock they can dump goods onto the market or buy up surplus goods, and they can drive prices dramatically up or down just as you prepare to make your trades. But these same merchants can be a boon when you're trying to protect your ships from the pirates that hunt the open seas. Any ship can join a public convoy for protection, but unless you've formed the convoy yourself, the destination is set in advance. Although you're not the only merchant supplying the Hanseatic towns with the goods they trade, distant towns often aren't supplied with all of the goods they demand. With sufficient scarcity, towns will post contracts for large deliveries of specific goods at a fixed price, which can be a quick windfall for high-margin goods given how prices otherwise fluctuate so dramatically.
The town hall is the seat of local politics.