Disclaimer: A review key was kindly provided by Federico Casares, Founder of Hermes Interactive. Say hi to him on Twitter!
The strategy games market is not as saturated as the FPS or Roguelike one, and players are still considered niche even after the booming sales of games like Stellaris. Still, it’s more alive than it’s ever been and indie developers keep choosing to take on the challenge of contributing to this often complex genre. Such is the case of Hermes Interactive, a one man studio (although Federico told us that several contributors helped during the 27 month creative process) based in Buenos Aires, Argentina that released Winds of Trade on Steam earlier this month. The main focus of the game is business and trading simulation in an eighteenth and nineteenth century procedurally generated world.
Before we get on with the review itself, I feel it’s important to clarify this point: even though Winds of Trade is currently available on Steam for its full price of $14.99 USD, we can still expect big updates in the short term which change existing mechanics and dynamics and add new features.
That being said, let's cut to the chase: Winds of Trade is rough around the edges, graphics and game-wise. The world is procedurally generated and, as such, can take a while to load. Once in the proper game, the first two things that came to my attention were that the scenery looked pretty dull (although, let’s be honest, that is certainly low on the list when talking about business simulators) and that the map itself is quite small. We asked Federico about this topic:
“We wanted the maps to be big enough to offer some variety but small enough so the players can get to fully know it and get familiarised with it. Our aim was for the player to rationalise and remember it, instead of having to consult a massive, tedious list of 200 cities in 50 different countries. Also, we wanted to keep traveling times within reasonable limits.”
One of the first updates for Winds of Trade added a tutorial covering the basics of managing your ship(s), buying and selling and the most important core mechanics. Many other aspects of the game are not covered in it (like combat, for example, but we will talk about it later), although a more detailed tutorial mode is in the works to be released in future updates. In the meantime, we are left in the dark and forced to learn the mechanics by trial and error, which can get frustrating in this kind of game, where decisions may not have immediate consequences but could ruin the run later.
Winds of Trade offers four game modes: Millionaire (compete against other AI trading companies to be the first to reach a $1.000.000 net worth), Marathon (get the highest net worth in 10 years against AI trading companies), Conquest (be the only company that doesn’t go bankrupt), and Sandbox (No objectives or conditions). While the randomly generated worlds and the different gamemodes add some replay value, I found it got repetitive and tiresome after a couple of hours exploring all four of the modes. All of the countries have different political situations and are susceptible to random events that can change the market value of certain products or the materials needed for creating them (for example, a war will raise the price of weapons because of demand and, by proxy, this would up the demand for iron and coal; or a bad harvest could drastically increase the demand for wheat). Also, every city has its own randomised Industry specialty, do there's always a demand for specific raw materials. Other cool features include the Investments tab, which you can use to invest into non player companies in order to maximise profit and the Contracts, which you can take for a quick buck (or a quick penalty if you can't complete it). Once you’ve figured out how supply, demand, and availability work, the trading mechanics are as simple as buying where that product is cheap, directing your ships to a city where those goods are expensive and selling them there. Nice and easy.
Winds of Trade has its ups and downs, but I found the combat system to be the sloppiest part of the whole game. Many a time your ships will encounter pirates that will want to get your cargo, triggering a pop-up message that poses three options: Surrender Goods, Attempt Escape or Face them in Battle. Most times, even when using the fastest ships and having 60+% of chance to escape, attempts will fail, which will take us to the combat interface, a hexagon grid reminding of the Civilization series in a turn-based minigame against, most of the times, two or more ships, which doesn’t look like a good prospect if you want your crew and your cargo to get to their destination.
Overall, Winds of Trade is not a bad game but it still needs more work, and there is plenty of room for improvement. You can get it for $14.99 on Steam right now, which is a reasonable price for the state in which it is right now and a very good one if future updates add more value to the game. If strategy and business simulation games are your cup of tea, definitely give it a shot, if not, I would suggest not to risk it.