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Patrician III Review

Climb the ladder of the Hanseatic League in this deep and satisfying strategy/trading game. US, October 15, 2003 October 15, 2003 October 15, 2003
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by Barry Brenesal A little more than two years I was sent Patrician II from a German developer, Ascaron, to review for PC Gamer. Trade simulations are typically of minor interest to most players, but this one also threw construction, resource management, career advancement and agreeable graphics into the hopper. As I played, the depth and quality of the title became more and more obvious. Only half-apage had been assigned to it, however, and there was no more space available. The review of Patrician II ended up as an awkward anomaly, a 90% rating attached to a discussion of just over 250 words. The magazine understandably had to put its efforts into reviewing better-known games, for that's where the interest of the majority of its readers lay; but it still felt at the time rather like explaining the Human Genome Project in a 15 second sound bite for local Action News Five. Now, we can remedy that. In this review, we'll be taking an in-depth look at the latest release in the Patrician series, paying especial attention to its wealth of gameplay detail. And by the time we finish, I think you'll agree that this title is a must for strategy lovers who prefer their combat using weapons of shrewdness, discernment and greed, rather than iron. What, you don't think bankers and lawyers work for the Dark Side of the Force? Starting Out Patrician III is all about the doings of the Hansa, but who the hell were the Hansa, anyway? Let's spend a moment briefly checking out the realworld on which our game is based. During the 13th century ACE, nationalism in Europe was a nascent concept. Rulers hadn't yet evolved national boundaries, nor developed national myths designed to whip up patriotic feelings that kept citizens in line. The map of much of Western and Central Europe was a patchwork quilt in which a given Duke might own a town here and two others some distance to the north, and a piece of forest of undetermined extent far to the east, with nothing in between. Complex lines of fealty meant that the ruler of a province might hold it under an acknowledgement of allegiance to his own baby son, who in turn could own through a different line of inheritance a tract of countryside in which fealty went the other way.

From out of this mess, the Hansa (or Hanseatic League) evolved: a series of "free" cities (actually ruled by local plutocracies of burghers) in different parts of Northern Europe that might be called proto-capitalist. At this point there still were no banks, no paper money or theory of bimetallism, nor had the Netherlands developed stock and bond markets; in fact, there wasn't a Netherlands. But the Hansa understood an important modern principle better than any of their European contemporaries: wealth translated directly into power, something that would later be the making of such Renaissance superpowers as the Republics of the Netherlands and Venice, and in modern times, Japan. They had many other ideas, some of them quite nasty by modern standards, for gaining riches. (Enough to make Fletcher Pratt, one of America's great historians, refer to the Hansa in distaste as "Movement and monopoly, civilization in terms of creature comfort...intellectually sterile, politically acute, militarily formidable.") But the point is that the Hansa employed cutting edge technologies in the new field of extensive international trade to ruthlessly control its world, and did so with great effectiveness. Its ban could starve a people to their knees. Its favor could turn a military defeat into victory. It funded invasions, and created or toppled rulers with ease. You can play to be nothing but a rich trader by the end of Patrician, respected in your home port, but the ambitious merchant will settle for nothing less than the role of alderman, elected leader of the entire Hanseatic League. Touring the City You start Patrician III in one of twelve potential Hanseatic cities. (There are another dozen cities available for various purposes, particularly trade, but they remain outside the Hansa. You can't begin a career in any of them.) Each is rated individually for its size, population, and ship facilities, as well as its requirements in twenty different resource categories that are subdivided into food items, raw materials, consumer good and luxury goods. Public businesses meet minimum thresholds for important resources in most cities, but everything else, both export and import, is handled through ships owned by traders such as yourself. There are many buildings for interaction. The dock cranes bring up a trade menu that lets you buy and sell merchandise, moving it to and from your trading office, your ships, and the market hall. The market hall itself supplies information about the city's production and consumption levels, while clicking on the harbor master's lighthouse reveals all the ships currently docked in port. Repair docks do just what you'd think they do, while shipyards let you order, repair, upgrade or name a ship. (As you might expect, ships usually take several months to build. The more business a shipyard possesses, however, the more experienced they gradually become and the more locals they

hire to work. This can speed up shipbuilding orders dramatically: yet another example of the level of thought put into Patrician.) In the market square you can organize a celebration for the citizens, reveling in increases of goodwill, while the local church accepts donations for feeding the poor, improving the interior, or upgrading the physical structure. There's a bath house, where you can bribe local officials to support your run for mayor, or your acquittal for various crimes like piracy or smuggling that of course you never committed, and wouldn't dream of doing so in a thousand years. Some buildings are multipurpose. The town hall provides public notices (for those who are willing to deliver goods very speedily to distant ports), Hanseatic information (name and home town of the current alderman, date and location of the next election day, etc), local town council information, and either data on whose ships are currently patrolling the area, or whether new ones are needed; and if so, how much remuneration can be expected. The moneylender lets you take out and repay loans, or extend loans to other citizens indicating the amounts they need, the interest rate and period of repayment they suggest. The Guild is a sort of rich trader's club, where you can see what goods are being traded in newly discovered population centers of the Mediterranean and the New World, and sell or purchase ships, houses and production facilities in auctions. Hey, trader AIs can go bankrupt, too. No city worthy of the name, of course, would be complete without a local tavern, where adventurers can team up with Elven mages, Dwarven clerbeg pardon! I mean, where you can unearth a range of clientele, the best and worst of society, available for interaction. You can hire sailors and even occasionally discover a captain in a tavern, the latter possessing statistics that may raise a ship's trading capabilities, or maneuvering and fighting skills in battle. You'll also uncover illegal weapons' dealers, informers, travelers who need quick passage to distant locations, and/or overstocked traders seeking storage space for rent. Looking to smuggle goods? Purchase treasure maps? Secure the services of thieves to destroy another trader's goods? Perhaps you want to provide a freelance pirate with a ship and some men, then let him loose on your opponents' ships in a preselected region? Not all these services will be available at the same time or in the same port, but this is your one-stop shop for anything that's jumping. You'll also locate rental properties and businesses in the city that are constructed by your competitor; and you'll have the ability to construct your own, as your prosperity increases. Wells and better roads will add to your reputation. So will building hospitals, chapels, a school (increasing the influx of new inhabitants) and a mint (increasing the proportion of rich folk to all the rest of us shoddy idiots).

The 2D city graphics are extremely attractive, with structures taking on different appearances according to the general geographical region, and to reflect the four seasons. You can also learn something about the city by clicking on the multitude of citizens that walk its streets. A guard will comment on the state of the city's defenses, while a wellborn lady prefers to remark about how many rich citizens know of you. Learning the Thing Complexity can be a good thing in a strategy game, but not as a rule in an interface. As players, we want to spend our time focusing on the content of the product, not figuring out how to get to a certain screen or what a specific icon means. Fortunately, Patrician III is strong in this respect. Documentation is excellent, in the form of an accompanying, well-organized book of nearly eighty pages. The game also comes with an extensive, five chapter in-game tutorial that covers basic commands, the interface, ship battles, etc. (Oddly enough, the excellent voiceovers which accompanied it in Patrician II are missing, yet there seems to be little discernable difference between the tutorials in the two game releases.) Trading basics and tips are covered in the first scenario of a campaign held over from Patrician, called The Advancement. Finally, hovering the mouse over any button or building a short while brings up an appropriate tool tip. Those of us who are really into Patrician, however, understand that the best way to learn it is by trying a single player game with no goals in mind on the lowest setting, Shopkeeper. You can accept its defaults (low difficulty of trade, quick reputation advancement, high starting capital, etc), or make many changes that affect gameplay. These include ratcheting up pirate activity, for example, choosing a different starting town, or increasing the initial number of your ships. There are five possible winning conditions, each of them timed, or you can just play for as long as you want, doing whatever you want. The ability to randomize starting resource production/consumption among the cities has been removed from Patrician III, but I can't honestly say that I used it much in Patrician II. There were more than enough variables to keep me occupied as epidemics hit, pirates struck, and opponents attempted to build their own financial empires in my corner of economic paradise. Many strategy games run in realtime, and when I say run, I do mean run. They gallop along so quickly that the average player, pausing to catch their breath, might reasonably wonder whether the speed was deliberately chosen to mask deficiencies in the opponent AI. By contrast, Patrician's selection of six speeds furnish everything from swiftly passing days, to a crawl that should please even the novice who wants to examine every structure and button in sight. While you can't raise or

lower speeds incrementally by using the plus and minus keys, the pause key lets you switch between the slowest speed and any other you choose from the options screen. Similarly, those slower speeds can really aid when fighting battles at sea, as you have wind direction, shot types, steering and forms of attack to consider. (It's all handled in third person, and doesn't look exciting, but assimilates easily into the rest of the game.) Alternatively, you can resolve sea battles automatically, or settle for manual control while leaving your ships' AI free to handle the specifics once you've given each a target. This last option also lets you jump into the thick of events quickly, and take direct command. What impresses me most about Patrician III is the way the game seamlessly integrates what amounts to a series of truly different games into a single title, silently beckoning you onward. From trader to real estate broker, to business construction and resource supplier; on to lord mayor, and ultimately, alderman: each new aspect of the game supplies you with a new series of options, without abandoning the old ones. Thus, when you start out, your entire focus is on discovering the best rates to buy and sell different resources among the different cities, and how much you can do either of these before the market price is no longer to your advantage. (Buy a good, and its price starts to climb. Supply and demand isn't the name of the game, but it might as well be.) You build a couple of ships, perhaps expanding your warehouse, carefully observing the way local production falls off-season and compensating to increase your profits. Perhaps you'll try your luck at hunting pirates, always a sure way to improve your popular standing while increasing your fleet. Or maybe you'll turn pirate, instead, using selected ships to stealthily destroy your opponents' fleets at sea. Either way, as money accumulates, you start to build a few tenant houses, creating additional room for population growth. The more you serve local needs, the better your reputation, so you'll probably start expanding next into production facilities. You may also pay at this time for the services of a matchmaker, who will furnish a likely marriage candidate for betrothal. Don't care much for her dowry, or do you suspect her parents aren't sufficiently well connected to advance your cause? There's no harm done should you turn down the offer. The matchmaker merely pockets the fee, and shows up sometime later with a new nominee. (Note: Patrician is an equal opportunity game. Though historically trade was a man's business at this time, and dowries were always supplied by the bride's family, starting conditions are identical for women launching their merchant careers. Should you play a woman, the dowry will be supplied along with the blushing bridegroom.)

Meanwhile, the game does its level best to simplify continued trade so you aren't buried under detail as you expand. You can set each ship with a captain to an automated trade route, one that includes selected towns, repairs, prioritized goods to sell and buy, and the appropriate quantities for a given transaction on each day. You can also purchase the services of a manager for your trading office who will buy, sell and store just those goods you want in a given city, once again according to the conditions you pre-set. When your finances and reputation increase sufficiently, you'll end up automatically on the local council, suggesting and voting for a variety of measures with the most affluent and influential citizens. Eventually, with luck and effort, you'll get elected lord mayor, allowing you to handle the fun task of city defenses. If you survive without leaving your reputation in tatters, the Hansa may recognize your skill and tag you for special tasks. These could involve establishing overland trade routes, destroying pirate villages, or even starting new towns and making them fiscally successful. By now, you'll probably have sent ships to explore the unknown trading opportunities of the Mediterranean. Success is crowned with the ability to purchase rare goods cheaply from up to twelve previously hidden harbor towns and trading posts, whose locations vary randomly from game to game. The final step in Patrician III occurs when you actually get voted in by all the Hanseatic League council members (essentially the most important people in all twelve Hansa municipalities) as alderman. Congratulations: you now rule the Hansa. But even here you have to deal with new game elements, such as forming a pirate hunt convoy, or selecting an appropriate form of punishment for each non-Hansa town that attempts to interfere with the League's business. The Perils of War Historically, most European municipalities during the Renaissance owed allegiance (usually taking the form of various taxes and military service) to a sacred or secular lord. But there were exceptions, when cities either fought or won their freedom in court. (You might wonder to whom the city elders would legally appeal for succor. It was usually a more powerful, unfriendly neighbor of the current ruler, who had the physical might or moral or political clout to make a judgment stick.) Still, freedom and prosperity had its price. If a city became wealthy, marauding mercenaries, cashiered by a nearby ruler, could decide to storm it and sack it. In the same way, a local nobleman or churchman might become envious of a free city sitting in the middle of his land. He might put forward a claim, usually at the sharp point of a small army of knights and pikemen. While such attacks could occur by sea or in tandem, both by land and sea, most of the serious efforts made to port cities from their civil coffers in Patrician typically occur by land alone; and the richer a city's revenues, the more likely it is to attract the attention of a rapacious Prince. As an outsider viewing such an attack, all delivery of goods via ships to a besieged town will significantly enhance your reputation, but if you own businesses yourself outside that city's walls, you can only expect pillage. (Why would you want to build outside the walls? Because there might not be enough space to meet your needs within the walls. It's a tradeoff you have to endure, at least, until you become powerful enough to push through a motion at the town council to expand those walls.) There's precious little else you can otherwise do to influence matters, at least, as long as you remain an ordinary citizen without municipal powers. However, once you've become a city councilor (wealth of 500,000 gold pieces, with some influence among the poor and rich) you'll be able interact with the local Prince through his local representatives. This involves selling him quantities of goods cheaply but in bulk, and handling sporadic delivery contracts that can pay well. He may even ask for goods on credit from a trader with an extremely high reputation, such as yourself; and that can pay off very well, indeed. Taking care of these matters expeditiously ensure that you have a

happy, well-fed Prince, who will keep his troops away from your charming city, graced with piquant businesses and seductive coffers. Lord mayors don't have it so easily, though. If you've made it that far up the political ladder, you'll be in charge of building and maintaining city defenses, as well as offering the Prince infrequent gifts to keep him satisfied. You'll be required to determine the general amount of tax paid by citizens, the number of troops to maintain, setting wages for the town guards, building defensive towers, buy and selling hand weapons, expanding the city walls, upgrading bombards to cannons, and equipping the gate with a pitch shoot. (Of course, it only works if you keep the town supplied with sufficient pitch.) Hey, you wanted the job; you also get the responsibility. Handle it well, and they may ultimately erect a monument to you. Handle it poorly, and you could end up reviled by the townsfolk, instead of simply by the towns' pigeons. Ascaron treats the matter of a siege with the kind of gameplay depth they seemingly offer everywhere in this title. Should the Prince attack, for instance, you can surrender the town to its besiegers. The place is looted and your reputation takes a trip to the local cesspit, but nothing else is touched. Defenses and troops remain intact. Alternatively, you can buy your freedom, attempting to guess how much your besiegers will accept. You get a second try, if the first bribe is too low.

Should you fail at bribery or decide to weather the Prince's wrath, the city is besieged. At that point, all your preparations come into play: the wall improvements you've made, the guards you've hired, the cannon you've installed...or left for some future date. If the attackers eventually win, they loot the city coffers before retreating, satisfied, while all local traders are informed by letter of the extra tax required for rebuilding. You're loathed. Live with it. If your gallant city wins, the goods shortage ceases, and your popularity soars. Closing Comments I've folded some of the changes in Patrician III into this review, but otherwise kept the content focused on the game in general rather than the differences between versions. That's because it's a pretty safe bet that very few people know about the title at all, at least in the United States. With all due respect to other fans of the series, a review that concentrated upon all the many minor changes in this release would have interested the average strategy gamer about as much as Thucydides' transcription of the speech Spartan commander Gylippus gave to his troops in 413 BCE, during the Peloponnesian War. It would have served only to please the small audience of those who, like myself, have previously taken great delight in the richness of the Patrician series. There's nothing in any case that drastically changes game design, here. Rather, Patrician III incorporates a host of tweaks and small add-ons that taken together significantly expand or improve

upon existing gameplay. For example, arranging trade deals with the local Prince is new, as is providing rental space in your warehouse to the occasional overstocked trader who shows up at the tavern. Harbors can freeze over during especially severe winters, halting shipping; and you now possess the ability to seize the goods, ships and buildings of an AI trader who's defaulted on one of your loans. For those who want a list of these changes, we suggest checking out the new features section of Ascaron's Patrician III website. I've also concentrated on no-goals, open-ended games. Players who enjoy formal scenarios will not be disappointed, however. Patrician III comes with the pair of multi-scenario campaigns that figured in the last release, plus a new campaign, and four standalone scenarios. The latter furnish a variety of interesting challenges, such as dealing with the Plague, a horrible famine, and reorganizing your budding empire after a cousin's mismanagement efforts have nearly caused bankruptcy. For the rest, I've already made my feelings about the game abundantly clear. Patrician is among the best strategic titles I've played in a decade-and-a-half of reviews. It's one of the few games where I've never felt my options were artificially limited by the developer within the environment, though obviously that's the case; and where every actions I took had a host of logical secondary choices attached to it. If you're into strategic trading simulations, it truly doesn't get any better than this. IGN Ratings for Patrician III (PC) Rating Description Click here for out of 10 ratings guide Presentation Excellent 8.5 manual, and in-game series of tutorials. Graphics Very pleasant 2D 8.0 backgrounds that vary geographically and by season. Sound Great music, particularly 9.0 the opening title theme. Good sound effects. 9.5 Gameplay Plenty of options that let you pursue whatever course of growth you care to take. Challenging scenarios and multi-scenario

campaigns. Excellent economic engine AI. Easy-to-learn interface. Lasting Appeal Multiple goals, difficulty 9.0 levels, starting locations and conditions ensure great replayability. 9.2 Amazing OVERALL (out of 10)