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Review by: Jack King
Published: January 17, 2003
Finally, an economic simulator where players can cheat opponents, steal riches, swindle competitors and break laws! No, it’s not a strategy simulation based on exploits of Enron executives, its Europa 1400: The Guild, JoWooD’s latest title that combines role-playing and real time strategy. But how exciting can a game based on 14th century economy really be?
Life in late medieval Europe was harsh. While the plague was still ravaging the countryside, robber barons and petty kings gave in to relentless warring over border disputes and taxation rights that constantly re-drew the boundaries of Europe. While the land was divided, some towns embraced peace and commerce, experiencing unprecedented periods of growth and wealth by establishing a complex economy that has formed the basis of modern commerce (albeit without the slander, duels and curses that made 14th century trade so interesting). Europa 1400 places players in this tumultuous setting and challenges them to build a lasting dynasty that transcends the ages.
Historical simulations often draw a fine line between strict realism and loose ideas. JoWooD chose to simulate medieval Europe without too much attention on the importance of religion and the place of women in society. It’s entirely possible for the player to create a strong female character and earn election to offices. Likewise, religion is present, but not emphasized. The primary focus is on plying a trade, be it a crafting profession like a blacksmith, carpenter, perfumer or purveyor of other goods, or a societal profession such as a thief, preacher or banker. While sex and religion do play a role in how the head of your dynasty relates to other players, there’s no sexism or religious persecution present.
Europa 1400 can be played with a number of options that completely change the focus of the simulation. Starting a session brings up a 3D map of Europe, where the player chooses a town in which to start; from there, the player selects the difficulty level, chooses a goal-based or free-action game, names their player and selects the kind of profession they’d like to pursue. Starting statistics can be chosen at random, or players can pick their parents from a list of archetypes, who then combine profiles to create the character. Skill points can be modified between statistics such as rhetoric, tradecraft, spying, combat and thieving. The game begins in the year 1400, giving the player a modest amount of money and a basic starting business. The objectives can range anywhere from earning a specific government office, a set amount of money or surviving for a number of generations to open-ended action where the clock passes the years and the challenge continues until the player’s dynasty runs out.
Gameplay centers on earning money and increasing the notoriety of your character. Money is primarily earned by managing one of 12 possible businesses. A surprising amount of attention has been given to how each business operates and the differences associated with them. A blacksmith, for example, will need to obtain raw materials such as iron and stone to create items like trinkets and rapiers that can be sold in the marketplace. The economy will fluctuate to the point where some items are in higher demand than others, so the profit margins for manufactured goods are never set. Managing a thieve’s guild, on the other hand, is drastically different, as player thieves will need to hire burglars and send them on pickpocketing excursions or off to break into local homes and businesses. Eventually, thieves can raid the carts of opponents on their way to or from the marketplace, or even capture other townsfolk to hold for ransom. Businesses can be improved by spending money on features that’ll increase employee productivity, employee safety or security that keeps thieves at bay. Tradecraft businesses that produce goods will need to keep a fleet of carts and wagons to transport manufactured goods to the marketplace and bring raw materials to the shops, where they can be reworked by employees into useable goods.
Managing a business also requires paying attention to your workers, who are people with opinions and agendas of their own. Pay your workforce too little, and you’ll lose favor with them. Pay them too much or treat them too fairly, and their productivity will slacken. Newly hired workers are apprentices with few skills, and usually aren’t too happy about working. Within four years, apprentices can be appointed the rank of journeyman, increasing their talent on the job, but also requiring additional wages to keep them employed. After several decades have passed and players have amassed enough wealth to buy additional businesses, managing them all would be difficult without some assistance. Luckily, there’s an option to hire a master to take over the operation of your interests. Hired managers will make decisions for a company, including which raw materials to buy, which goods to manufacture, how often to send carts to market, and whether or not to pay for increased storage capacity. Managers don’t, however, make decisions about workers, how they’re treated or how much they’re paid.
Aside from a place to buy raw materials and sell manufactured goods, the marketplace is also where players can get their hands on specialty items that can enhance various facets of the game. Wearing perfume makes members of the opposite sex like you better, while donning a ring increases favor with members of the town council. Higher officials won’t be impressed by a ring, though; you’ll need to buy gold pendants or a Lord’s staff for that. There are also a number of items that can be purchased for more nefarious means, such as bombs, swords with which to arm your thieves and a flower of discord that makes two parties hate each other. Since each item is produced by one of the businesses, it makes sense to build up several companies to earn items cheaper than you would by purchasing them outright.
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