Ancient Trader’s Primary Export Is Fun

Review of Ancient Trader on XBLIG: Buy
Somewhere between turn-based strategy and board game, Ancient Trader is fun to play and beautifully designed.

Somewhere between turn-based strategy and board game, Ancient Trader is fun to play and beautifully designed.

Each player in Ancient Trader is captain of a sailing ship.  The goal is to collect three unique artifacts from various island ports and then kill the sea monster known as the Ancient Guardian.  Other gameplay modes are available, where players race to accumulate the most cash or wealth.  Gameplay revolves around sailing from port to port, trading goods, picking up salvage and treasure, completing quests, and battling ships and sea monsters.

The sheer number of choices was what I found so addictive.  While I could make money by fighting or picking up the occasional quest, most of it I accumulated trading.  Each port has its own values for tea, spices, and fruit, so traders must buy low and sell high to accumulate cash.  That cash can be spent on upgrades to the ship’s cargo capacity, speed, and weapons.

Weapons present another interesting set of choices.  There are three types of weapons, which the game color codes Red, Green, and Blue.  Each type must be upgraded separately, and each port sells only one type of weapon upgrade.  Combat consists of a mini-game that’s something like a cross between Paper-Rock-Scissors and the card game War.  It’s complicated to explain here, but easy to pick up when playing the game.  It provides an interesting tactical dimension to the gameplay.

End game is a matter of figuring out which ports sell the three unique artifacts needed to find the Ancient Guardian.  I found this could take well over 50 turns depending on the map, especially since I also needed to upgrade my weapons to take on the Guardian.  This slow-and-steady pacing requires long-term thinking.  Often players merely pass by each other without entering combat simply because trade and questing is sometimes more profitable than the spoils of war.

The game’s look and feel, which draws on the style of old maps, is amazingly well-done.  The game is so committed to the old map style that you can adjust the game’s color saturation in the Options menu.  While a muted, brown-heavy color scheme may sound boring, the art is detailed enough to maintain visual interest.  The style is used consistently though the entire interface, which helps immerse you in the game.

Ancient Trader offers both single player and multiplayer modes.  The sheer number of multiplayer options covers every possible match—local, system link, and XBox Live.

My one complaint is that some details of the rules are not spelled out.  I never could figure out how a round of combat was resolved when both combatants tied, so combat made me uncomfortable—I never felt like I could guess how effective my attack would be when values were close.  The rules are simple enough that this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the game, but rules lawyers may wonder if they’re missing something.

Ancient Trader gets an enthusiastic Buy from me.  It’s complex and engaging without taking too long or being too complicated.  The rules are concise and tutorial mode is helpful.  The game should provide hours of fun whether you’re a board game or strategy fan or a casual gamer. 

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