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Intro to East India Company
Take the strategy that grows naturally from a trading simulation, where different goods are available in different ports at different prices. Add the excitement of cannon broadside and pirate boarding parties, and you have a tried and true gaming niche. The establishing game here was Sid Meier’s Pirates in 1987, but the ground work was arguably laid by Errol Flynn, based on a site survey by Robert Louis Stevenson, of land originally donated by Daniel Defoe.
The point here (there is one, honest) is that we’ve seen our Atlantic pirates before. East India Company, developed by Nitro and published by Paradox, offers a twist on the beloved trading and naval combat game, taking us ‘round the Cape for the distant shores of India.
The new setting is a very welcome change, but not the only one. You don’t play as a private merchant or privateer or a national military interest. You are like the 200 year CEO of your nation’s East India Company, which makes for some subtle gameplay differences.
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East India Company Gameplay
Running a nationalized company as opposed to a country or a private enterprise makes for an interesting combination of elements in gaming from the two. You spend most of your time trying to get rich by trading, but if pirates act up, or if East India Companies from other Countries (you choose from one of eight, and compete with the others) conquer too many ports with trade items demanded by your nation’s leaders, you have options. The Crown will gladly allow you to undertake military operations, and might even reward you with cash infusions for your trouble.
The game is a bit simpler than say, Ascaron’s Port Royal series, so it is easier to pick up and less annoying to people who don’t like the number crunching side, but will be less appealing to those who like that depth. Instead of the page of goods to buy and sell, with maybe four to twelve being generally good to buy from any particular location, there are about six to ten goods for sale in any particular port, and they are all at prices good enough that you can sell them for profit if taken to the right target port.
Ports are divided into three kinds: your home port, which sells export goods and buys everything else at profit; trading ports, which sell assorted trading goods; and most importantly, the African and Indian ports, each or which sells some trading goods, as well as one of what the game calls a Main Trade Item, or MTI. The MTIs are only available from a couple or few ports each, and most of the Campaign mode’s goals revolve around bringing back increasing amounts of them to sell at your home port.
Since you’re assured of some profit on your trades, the hard part is not spending all your money on ships or port upgrades, then not having money to fill your ships with goods, which leads to not being able to pay your port upkeep and crew salaries. There are more tips about this in our East India Company Campaign Guide. The other challenges you face will relate to pirate attacks, and not being able to access MTIs because competitors lock up the supplying ports.
Controlling non-MTI ports is also important, as your fleets have a range mechanic, (an interesting addition), past which they slow dramatically, so they need to put in for resupply at ports several times to keep up their speed when running from Europe to India and back. Between the need for resupply ports and MTI access, not to mention the pirates, there is plenty of opportunity for conflict on the waves.
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Naval Combat in East India Company
Combat is well executed, taking into account the accepted conventions of sail powered combat: wind direction; broadside cannon placement; solid, chain, and grape shot; damage to hull, sail, and crew, etc. There is also the normal option of taking direct control of one of your ships. There were two major problems with combat. One, that combat was interminable and could not be sped up, was resolved with a patch, so you can now fast forward your way through those chase downs.
The other problem is technically not with combat, but avoiding it. The auto-resolve option is very punitive, shredding your fleets even when you have the enemy largely outgunned. For people who don’t like the combat, or even those that do and inevitably don’t want to bother with less significant, one-sided fight, it is a frustration.
An interesting addition is that fleet commanders get Abilities: some passive, some active. Passive give your fleets constant bonuses like enhanced speed, maneuverability, damage resistance, or improved prices when trading. Active abilities are used in combat and have a cooldown time before you can use them again, doing things like repairing hull or sail damage, or providing a temporary buff to accuracy, range, and so on.
We explain this in more detail in our East India Company Combat Guide.
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Graphics and Sound
East India Company’s main view looks quite nice: an attractive map with a reasonable amount of detail. The graphics in combat are great, the water looks good, occasional weather effects are nice, and the ships look great at full zoom, with detailed rigging and little sailors. The ports also looked great: actually they were too great. They took forever to load, and a patch allows you to turn them off, providing a static background instead of the 3-D rendered rotating model.
Sound is also excellent, the weak point being the voice acting, which is still adequate. The problem is there is only one voice used for all your captains. That isn’t just window dressing, as distinct voices would confirm you had clicked on the right captain before you sent them off to attack a port. The music is great because you get a regional theme based on where the port you’re observing is, so it helps set the environment and doesn’t get too old. Most importantly, the cannon sounds are top notch, with the damage sounds good as well.
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Issues with East India Company
With the main issue of slow combat patched up, the biggest issues aren’t all that big. The Auto-resolve was mentioned above. Other than that, the user interface is kind of a pain. In all fairness, almost all trading games have clunky UIs, but East India Company makes you switch ships and deal with each one in a fleet individually, and doing anything other than filling it or buying one or ten of something makes for a lot of dragging. Usually you are trying to fill your holds, so it isn’t too bad, but Diamonds are sold by the carat, so that is usually outside your budget.
Watching your budget can also become frustrating, as it will take a few years before you realize you’ve spent yourself into a hole you can’t get out of. Some more guidance from the board of directors, who only intercede a year before they put you out of business, may have helped.
The game doesn’t have the depth of other trading games, specifically as far as port management goes. The option to develop your own production facilities would have been interesting. Currently, you can build warehouses, shipyards, trading posts, and the means to defend them, but that’s as far up the supply chain as you can vertically integrate.
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A Solid Addition to the Trading Sub-Genre
What the game loses in depth, it gains in accessibility. You can pick it up and play without worrying about buying things for prices where you won’t realize a profit when you sell them, or buying a rope factory and running out of hemp to keep it going, or settlers to put to work in it. As long as you have money in the bank, you’ll be fine.
The combat is well done, and the experience and ability systems add to the depth on that side. East India Company looks and sounds great, so there is a nice layer of presentation on the enjoyable core gameplay. Overall, the good leaves the bad behind, and at forty bucks for a new release, EIC offers good value and some nice twists on the trading genre for those who tire of plying their wares in the Caribbean.