Have You Played… Offworld Trading Company?


Featured post Business takes place across a series of hexagons on Mars.

OK, I know this is my second Have You Played…? to find an excuse to start by talking about Age Of Empires 2, and I imagine Alice Bee is making a proper wolf noise out of frustration as she edits this. I am almost sorry. But like a smug schoolboy proclaiming he’s “home” in a game of “it” by touching a tree, I’ve got a cast iron excuse here. Because Offworld Trading Company‘s lead developer Soren Johnson told me himself that this cracking solar-system economics-’em-up was directly inspired by the simple yet robust supply/demand modelling behind the market building in AoE2.

If everyone sells more of a thing, it gets cheaper. If everyone buys more, it gets more expensive. Simple concept – or so you’d think. But as I said in this article about Planet Zoo’s warthog crisis, “economics is what happens when millions of individual, rational decisions act together to create utter madness on a grand scale”.

That’s OTC in a nutshell. Playing as one of a number of space-focused megacorps, all embellished with some wonderfully shrewd flashes of character, your job is to set up shop on a planet or planetoid – Mars, Ceres, Io and Europa are all available – and make enough space money to buy out your competition.

There are thirteen resources in the game, some of which can be sold raw, and some of which can be made into other, more valuable things. Success depends on anticipating the market based on what your competitors are up to, manipulating it where possible, and – once opportunities are identified – pouncing on them like a pack of millionaires snatching boiled eggs off an orphanage breakfast table. It’s fast, it’s ruthless, and it makes you feel like an utter genius when you pull off a win.

It also makes you feel like an utter shitbag, which is clever. Because while the whole thing could easily be styled as a sort of Bezosian fanfare for eternal capitalism, it is instead that most dignified sort of satire, which critiques something by saying absolutely nothing and holding up a crystal clear mirror. Offworld Trading Company is one of the smartest bits of game design in the last decade, and manages to be a lot of fun at the same time – give it a go.

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