Merchant Colony logo

Impressions * £29.99 Mouse

Historically, Europeans have often longed for a place in the sun. The Portuguese, Spanish, French and British were first off the mark as soon as it became apparent that (a) the world was in fact round, (b) there was a large unknown blue bit missing on all contemporary maps known as the Pacific, (c) the lands contained masses of ‘free’ commodities – gold, silver, etc. - and thousands of volunteer workers, ie slaves.

This is history, but Impressions are giving us a chance to relive those days and to right the wrongs of those free-market imperialists. In Merchant Colony you get the chance to build your own economic country, ruled in name by the king but in reality by the profit motive.

Firstly you must send ships across the sea packed full of colonists who will build a base and then develop it into a growing, thriving, self-sufficient town. Once these foundations have been laid, they will start to produce surplus goods which can be shipped off and sold at an enormous profit. Or that’s the plan: but as ever with the free market, things are rarely so easy. Everything from storms to privateers stands in your path...

Ships for sail?
The drive for empire is led from two main perspectives: a map and an office. The maps range from global, for general route-planning, down to detailed colony-level from which towns are managed.

The office is where your East India Company equivalent can be monitored for profitability, ships bought, colonists hired and so forth.

Vital to the running of your Merchant Colony are people. Finding folks who want to get away from it all is easy, but getting the right mix is vital if the colony is to thrive. The eight vital skill types – soldiers, settlers, workers, explorers, teachers, engineers and storemen – all have obvious roles, but are required at different stages.

The management side forces continual monitoring of, and addition to, these teams. New needs must be anticipated, because ships of this day take an absolute age to reach anywhere.

The introduction of land and sea battles with pirates allows an aggressive style of play to evolve. Caution has to be built into any gameplan to avoid the ship being scuppered by a stroke of fate: icebergs or locust plagues.

Cursor or curser?
Merchant Colony looks good, for what essentially is a strategic management simulation. Figures only intrude where they have to, namely the accounts. The movement of goods, people and ships is icon driven.

Here Merchant Colony starts to show its flaws. When the mouse cursor is moved at speed, it jerks on update and begins to make accuracy difficult. The detailed, colony-level map window can be moved by pushing the cursor at the edge of the screen, but a jerky mouse makes accurate movement difficult, even over small distances.

Yes, Merchant Colony is a challenge. It would be unrealistic to expect it to be exciting, but strategy games should have tension – will the grand plan work? Will the enemies attack before you have a chance to finish building up the towns garrison? - and Merchant Colony lacks this element. It is hard to build and maintain colonies that are scattered over the globe, but the level of commitment needed to sustain long-term gaming is hindered by this lack of tension.

This puts the emphasis on the subject matter to sustain interest, which means if you’re a history buff you’ll probably love it, but otherwise everything starts to flag once you’ve mastered the principles involved.


Possibly the most famous of all 'private' empires was that of the East India Company, who from their London desks ruled nearly a third of the world's population. They were established thanks to Queen Elizabeth's Royal Charter of 1600, which gave them a monopoly of all trade between England and the Far East.

This monopoly gave them effective governmental control of most of India during the 17th Century, which can't have been bad for profits. After Pitt's India Act (1784) they were forced to share power with a committee who answered to Parliament. The end was signalled in 1834 when the East India Co lost their Chinese monopoly. In response to the Indian Mutiny (1857) Parliament awarded themselves complete control of India. The company was abolished after the India Act of 1858.

Böse Wirtschaftsflaute...

Merchant Colony logo

Wer mal sehen möchte, wie man eine gute Idee durch miese Realisierung umbringt, darf sich an Impressions wenden - deren neues Händler- und Kolonistengame zeigt genau, wie's geht!

Simuliert wird ein kontinuierlicher Zeitablauf, wobei man als Händler des Jahres 1700 ins Geschehen einsteigt.

Der Schwierigkeitsgrad ist variabel, und auch die Nation, der man angehören möchte, darf man sich aussuchen – bloß wird dummerweise dabei auch gleich die Sprache der Screentexte festgelegt: Im Heimathafen kauft man sodann ein Schiff unt stopft es mit Siedlern, Arbeitern, Ingenieuren, usw. voll.

Auf einer zoombaren Weltkarte läßt sich nun der Kurs zu einem noch unerschlossenen Anlegepunkt bestimmen. Endlich am Ziel, lädt der Handelsmann die Kolonisten aus, welche die Gegend erforschen und sich an vielversprechenden Stellen niederlassen können. Die von ihnen produzierten Güter warten dann im Hafen auf Abholung...

Später kommen Lagerhäuser, Fabriken oder auch Brücken hinzu, und natürlich sollte die Handelsflotte ausgebaut werden. Gelegentlich machen Freibeuter die Meere unsicher, auch Naturkatastrophen drohen allzeit.

Datenblätter informieren über Preise in den verschiedenen Hafen oder die Lage der Firma; sogar Kreditaufnahme ist möglich.

So weit, so schön. Nur arbeitet die Maussteuerung teilweise so erschreckend zäh und umständlich, als stamme sie wirklich aus dem 18. Jahrhundert! Der Sound macht "Pling!", die Grafik haut niemanden vom Bürosessel, und das Scrolling der ärgerlich ungenauen Landkarte muß man sehen, um‘s zu glauben.

Merchant Colony war sicher gut gemeint, dabei ist‘s aber leider geblieben. (jn)

Merchant Colony logo

Impressions invite you to step back through the mists of time to the glory days of the British empire. Merchant Colony, their latest release, is set in the eighteenth century when ‘Rule Britannia’ still had some meaning (dubious though it was) and the British Empire dominated the world map.

Merchant Colony is a trading, war and development game which purports to be a semi-realistic representation of colonial rule and trading conditions from 1700 upwards. Your aim is to establish new colonies, build up manufacturing capabilities, and then ship the produce around the world, hopefully selling it at a large profit.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that, as rival colonial powers compete for territory, pirates launch hit and run raids, storms destroy shipping, natives rebel, and even the price of goods can sink to an all-time low if you’re not to careful.

All sub-screens are accessed by clicking onto the appropriate icon in the main Office screen. From here, you can buy one of three ship types (some more effective against piracy than others), hire soldiers, settlers, workers and other useful people for the voyage ahead, and even get a loan from the bank to help finance the expedition. Watch out, though, as later on you might be hit wit crippling interest payments if you don’t budget wisely.

Once you’ve established a colony, you can start manufacturing saleable items. It’s up to you to decide what to manufacture, but certain parts of the world offer better opportunities than others.

After building up sufficient forces, it’s then possible to launch attacks on neighboring settlements and either impose your will or strip them of valuable assets. If a settlement is protected by a fort, it won’t be easy to defeat the locals, but a small native village is easy pickings.

Natural hazards include plagues of locusts, tornadoes and icebergs which are dangerous to shipping. News items run along the bottom of the screen and help keep you up to date on important developments.

There’s a lot to do in Merchant Colony and it’ll take some time to build up a network of trading colonies. However, the game suffers from poor graphics, virtually no sound, and a cumbersome control system that involves accessing numerous subscreens which is rather annoying and time consuming.

As an educational tool, its value should not be underestimated – it offers a useful insight into a period of history from our ignoble past and comes complete with an authoritative booklet which helps put the game into some sort of historical context.