What if you could play Civilizations without the war? What if the infamous Blizzard RTS games allowed you to only focus on resource gathering and base optimization? Offworld Trading Company saw a gap in the strategy space and has built a unique experience for capitalist moneyhounds like yours truly.
First of all, this game isn’t nearly as ruthless as might think it is. Okay, it’s fairly ruthless, but the premise is that your corporation is saving humanity while turning a profit. In theory, this echoes the benefit corporations that are dedicated to the triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit… but we all know better. There ain’t no B-Corps Vision Statement hanging on the wall of Yoshimi Robotics’ board room and you can be sure that people definitely aren’t a part of what they’re delivering to their stockholders.
Offworld Trading Company‘s non-optional (and slightly gruelling) tutorials are a crucial part of learning the game’s mechanics for each of the starter corporations: Seneca Development, Yoshimi Robotics, Reclamation Inc., and New Meridians. Each of the corporations have their own special features that make them formidable opponents in their own ways. And the best part? You don’t have to choose your corporation before you survey the planet’s surface. You can have an idea of the game style you like to play (I favour Seneca because I like the extra claim with each colony upgrade and that I don’t need as much steel), but you won’t know what will be best suited until you see which minerals and metals you’re dealing with.
The tutorials prepare players for the unique challenges presented by each of the corporations. Though Seneca moves quickly, they can quickly claim themselves into a hole. Yoshimi Robotics may not require food, but if food’s resource value skyrockets and you’ve built nothing to capitalize on it… well, it’s a one-way trip to Subsidiary Hell. Reclamation, Inc is amazing at building with carbon, but if you’re not the first one to those carbon stores and you don’t have the ability to pull carbon from the atmosphere, thanks to the patent lab (a special building available for all players), things are going to go south quickly. Even New Meridians, with their ability to construct advanced buildings on top of raw materials (steel mill on an iron stack = science!) can have issues if the raw materials skyrocket in value without the means to produce it and cash in.
Once you’ve chosen your corporation and built your HQ, the game begins. Securing the necessities of life, regardless of what those are, is the first order of business. Food, water, power, and fuel often make up the core of your corporate needs early in the game. Your job is to secure a generous amount of each as early as possible to help keep your company out of debt. Of course, there are benefits to prioritizing raw material resource gathering first and not worrying about the debt you’re incurring, especially if it’s small in comparison to the profits you’re going to turn with selling off the resources. The trick is to get the power trickling in first — it’s the fastest way to turn a profit in the early game without wasting a ton of land claims.
Ah, land claims. Without them, all our corporate entities would be able to do is sit on their collective hands and wait for the end of humanity. Land claims allow corporations to construct buildings to gather resources like silicon and water or generate advanced resources like electronics and chemicals. They also allow corps to create buildings like patent labs, optimization centers, hacker arrays, and offworld trading, many of which are essential to the late-game experience.
So. How does one win at macroeconomic development and cutthroat business? Easy, Looters: you simply buy out the competition and stage a hostile takeover. Much as in meatspace business, a hostile takeover is the result of an outside corporation buying up shares of a company’s stock, sometimes giving the stock price a temporary boost, but mostly giving the CFO’s blood-pressure a boost instead. As you generate more income per second, the easier it is to start to buy shares in other companies. The trick is to ensure that you buy enough shares in your own company in order to prevent anyone else taking over. If you do end up on the receiving end of a buyout, you’ll be given your pink slip and the match ends.
One of the best things about Offworld Trading Company is the online multiplayer. Sitting down with my best friend and my husband to watch the three of us go for the throat has created some of my favourite memories of Offworld Trading Company. The three of us go silent as we meticulously plan our expansions, enlist the help of the Black Market to enable Bad Stuff to happen to one another, and vie to be the last corporation standing. There’s nothing quite like the threat of being the first out of the game to spur you to make smart investments early on.
There’s a fine balance between selling your materials & resources on the market and flooding the market, driving down prices. Sure, you can empty your supplies for a quick hit, but the market is usually slow to recover. It’s a last ditch tactic, right when you’re about to be bought out, and you turn it around on your competition. I watched my husband turn this tactic on me and buy me out at the last minute, even though my stock price was twice as valuable as his. It made it that much harder for him to buy out the last player, but it was effective nonetheless.
Winning Offworld Trading Company isn’t simple as you think. Staying afloat when you’re dealt a landscape with limited resources isn’t impossible, but it’s brain-bending. The Black Market, frequent auctions for land claims and other useful goodies, and consistently switching up buildings for greater profits is how you get ahead, even if the map isn’t in your favour. It’s a ruthless game that rewards players who are able to straddle the line between thoughtful analysis and the ability to adjust quickly.
Offworld Trading Company takes one of my favourite parts of a strategy game — building a thriving economy — and sweeps away that pesky army management. Not everyone is going to appreciate the subtle macroeconomic complexities in Offworld Trading Company, but for those of us who love a good challenge without the frustration of combat, this game provides a hell of an experience.
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)