I’ve never been the first person to grab a strategy game, new or old. You’ll find me keeping tabs on the latest sci-fi, horror, and narrative adventures, partially because I only have so many hours in the day of free-time, but also because when it comes to strategy games, there is a high learning curve with me. I’m not the most strategically-minded person, but a shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of gal. I just want to run in, guns blazing, and figure it out from there. Tutorials? Who has time for that? Offworld Trading Company said I did, and they not only sat me down and made me pay attention, but they did it in a way that didn’t leave me confused at the end.

Offworld Trading Company begins on the premise that Earth is dying. We’ve used up much of her resources and must travel to other planets to save human kind. What awaits us is a brutal competition for land and resources that makes the Wolf of Wall Street look like a pup. Between fending off sabotage attacks from your competitors and firing off a few of your own, money-grabbing is as much about power as it is survival as you move from one beautifully designed map to the next.

The single player campaign sends you on a quest to financially conquer all of Mars. Players will first choose their CEO, which will designate what HQ they will begin with, but they will also start with some perks specific to the CEO. Maisie Song from the Expansive HQ will start off with double the engineers for an electrolysis reactor, but Paulo Rubini will start with only one. From the same screen, you can also customize the difficulty level and add-on special rules.

From there, players will choose the location of their next franchise. Each city on Mars comes with various levels of resources and different items can be bought on the black market. As an added bonus, if you expand the colony the most within 7 sols, you’ll get a permanent, special perk.  All that is left to do is hire staff and conquer several financial markets – cake. It’s very real in the sense that your goal is not to destroy the other markets, but rather absorb them, meaning a greater cash-flow and a greater abundance of resources for you.

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I highly recommend starting with the tutorial, especially if you are new to strategy games. Each step through the tutorial lets you play an entire game for you to experience the ebb and flow of managing your money, upgrading your HQ, and buying out your opponents. Many tutorials I have experienced in the past for similar games quickly teach you the basics – use this button for this, watch out for this, or a click on this sort, of thing. They focus too much on the controls and not enough of the game’s ecosystem. Offworld Trading Company focused on the whole of the game from the start, making it easily accessible to any level of player.

One of the more important aspects is learning about the different HQs; not everyone utilizes resources the same way. To go back to the Expansive HQ, they need half as much steel for buildings, and their units more 50% faster. The Scavenger HQ, in contrast, uses carbon instead of steel to construct buildings. Playing as either HQ would be beneficial during a steel strike. However, neither can plop a building directly over a resource and start manufacturing; they need a mill to do that. The Scientific HQ can do that, saving precious land claims.

The ability to slow down, speed up, and pause when needed is the perfect feature to let anyone take the game at their own pace. I could take my time when deciding what structures to build next, what resources to sell, or where I wanted to cause a mutiny. Clicking on a company’s name took me directly to their headquarters, and I could see who was trying to buy shares of my stocks at all times. The tutorial is heavily focused on the stock-trading aspect; that’s how you buy out your opponents. The single-player campaign is focused on buying the most buildings to expand the colony so you get a larger share of the profits. The stock market aspect doesn’t come into play until closer to the end of the campaign. Either way, Offworld Trading Company doesn’t use aspects of an RTS that some people (like me) find daunting. You won’t need to worry about micromanagement or actions per minute (APM). You can kind of kick back and watch your HQ do its thing, but building more efficient factories and acquiring more patents doesn’t necessarily mean you will win – flexibility is the key, and a bit of resource management. It’s easy to lose when you’re not paying attention.

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The tutorial was more robust than the single payer campaign, in some regards. It showcased each of the four main headquarters through cheeky banter that subtly developed each of the characters showing you the ropes of the business. One character, Anastasia Xu, heiress to the Asteroid Syndicate’s founder, makes her debut in the single player campaign, but there is little personable dialogue aimed at the player all-around. Your job is to financially conquer Mars, Monopoly or Risk-style, not engage with the characters. It dulled the single-player campaign buy making the objectives no-nonsense and straight forward.

The replay-value is solidly held in the multiplayer and custom game options. While you can play the single player campaign over and over again, conquering the same places and the same people does get repetitive. I felt I got a solid handle on the rules and the mechanics after completing the tutorial and playing the optional missions, which give you a good idea of the increasing difficultly levels available. Like playing Monopoly or Risk, I found that Offworld Trading Company naturally lends itself as a more social game. I can see myself having fun playing against other people or friends online, but that excitement is dwindled when playing alone. The competitive element is self-contained.

With the cutthroat nature of the game in mind, the gorgeous music creates an antithesis soundtrack. The theme song is slow and haunting with a hint of melancholy, and the other songs masterfully capture the exact theme and emotion as intended. It’s really fun to pause the game and listen.

Offworld Trading Company has simple resource management system lets you focus on what your competitors are up to. You can pause the game for as long as you need to strategize, or just to zoom in and scroll though the map. The single player campaign is short, with its replayability largely contained within changing difficulty levels and playing as a different character. The game has the same social elements as classic board games, which would make playing against other people (not AI) more emotionally invigorating and rewarding. Overall, if you are looking for a kind introduction to strategy games, Offworld Trading Company will give you just that.

Offworld Trading Company was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.

Developer: Mohawk Games | Publisher: Stardock Entertainment | Genre: Indie, Simulation, Strategy | Platform: PC | ESRB/PEGI: NR  | Release Date: April 28, 2016

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Joanna Nelius
Joanna is drawn to sci-fi and post-apocalyptic worlds, and games with a generous amount of gore. When she's not gaming, she's convincing her friends it's a good idea to go into abandoned buildings.

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