offworld trading company

Offworld Trading Company is a Euro Game in RTS Clothing

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I’ve never been much of an real-time strategy (RTS) gamer. I like building up bases, but smashing opponents doesn’t excite me and I hate having to do everything in a hurry. So it took a lot of rave reviews before I tried out Offworld Trading Company, but now I’m hooked on the twists and turns of its design.

Offworld Trading Company is the brainchild of Soren Johnson, best known for designing Civilization IV(That previous effort sucked a few hundred hours out of my life, so I’m not sure if I owe him thanks or a hangdog expression for time well wasted.) He calls the game an “economic RTS” that gets rid of the fighting armies and focuses on the base building. You can see why that would appeal to me, but Offworld Trading Company goes much farther than that.

The game sets you down on Mars with a mission to mine resources, sell them, and ultimately buy out your rival companies. To succeed, you have to mine the right resources and sell at the right times. The competition sounds polite, but it’s not. Your rivals are constantly messing with the market and dipping into a black market of dirty tricks. I never knew I could hate a corporation full of robots so much.

The Subversive Design of Offworld Trading Company

Offworld Trading Company is full of clever design flourishes. The black market system keeps the game from feeling like multi-player solitaire. The debt system separates the player’s ongoing maintenance from expansion — which means good money management is important for long-term success but the player never feels held back by cash flow. Auctions add little bursts of excitement while stripping the players of excess cash.

However, this game’s best trick is in misdirecting the player. Offworld Trading Company looks like a business simulation, but it’s really an abstract board game of getting good A and turning it into good B, then exchanging good B for points. Its basic market and resource gathering model could come straight out of modern board games such as Power Grid and Le Havre.

That may not be a selling point for a lot of gamers. But that’s what the flashier elements like the black market sabotages are for. In the long run, though, the market and resource model lays down a firm foundation for the game that does a lot for its replayability. I don’t know if Offworld Trading Company will suck up the hundreds of hours that Civilization has, but it’s going to be on my playlist for some time to come.

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