This game immediately struck me as having huge potential to be deep and enjoyable. A trading game set in the Colonial Era – I find that games that have such a thought about match of environment and genre don’t need to try to be good, they simply are. Merchant Colony let me down. The graphics are standard for the time and quite colourful to attract a younger audience. However, there is limited instruction within the game so even on the easiest difficulty you are thrown in at the deep end with some sort of economy set up beforehand.
The objective of the game is to spread your colonial influence across the world – granted, this game is huge. The whole world is viewable through the globe tool and ships can traverse the oceans to the new (or old) world for trade. I’m usually attracted to big games such as this but it is often easier to grasp such a large environment when you are introduced one stage at a time – given the port of Liverpool to start out, the initial area to start trading would be Europe – but the prices of goods are adjusted across the globe so that it is most beneficial to buy from the farthest colonies and sell in the nearest; and so the Atlantic trek
begins as you send wave after wave of cargo ship to attempt to make the trip worth while. But it isn’t, because the trade interface simply hasn’t been thought about and you can’t tell if you have bought or sold an item without checking multiple screens. So, you arrive at Buenos Aries after your trans-Atlantic cruise and after confusing yourself into buying some cotton, you return to Europe, only to find that by the time you’ve arrived, the world is in economic decline and you make a meagre profit of £1 per plant.
The game tries to branch into military but there is only one military unit so tactics and strategy are limited. For a game that relies so heavily on naval manoeuvring, be it for aggressive or passive purposes, there is a distinct lack of ships types - there are actually only 3, each with inversely proportional cargo space and military ability - at one end, the cargo ship can hold 16 'units' (be they goods or people) but has near to no firepower - at the other end, the frigate can hold just 4 'units' but has the best firepower to take out enemy vessels.