I was not expecting to like Patrician IV as much as I did. The first historical trading sim I tried was Port Royale 2, and I found it plenty enjoyable to sail the Carribbean and snap up goods to offload for a profit. Patrician III does the same thing across Northern Europe, but it was a little too involved and challenging for my tastes. I assumed IV would be similarly complex, but to my surprise it was far more my speed than any of the others I've played.
Like its predecessors, Patrician IV places you in the finely-tailored boots of an aspiring merchant in the Hanseatic League. Starting with a single ship and counting house, your goal is to make your fortune across the many ports of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. Each city produces four or five goods from a list of about twenty, but consumes all at varying rates. To that end, they require traders like you to ferry goods around to supply towns and help them grow, and make a tidy profit while you're at it.
The basic trading is probably the best of its kind, thanks to some clever quality-of-life improvements. Buying and selling is done on a slider between your convoys or warehouses and the town, allowing you to quickly and easily pick exactly the right amount to give or take. A helpful four-dot display also shows you the effect of your trade on the city's overall supply, which is important because good trades for the city improve your reputation with them. In just an hour or two routes will start to become obvious to you, and you'll be zipping around the sealanes loading and unloading your wares.
Reputation in the many ports grants you access to construction options, allowing you to build your own industries and move on to selling your own goods at market. Your farms and workshops will produce goods for you to trade at much greater margins, thus expanding your operations across many cities. This phase of the game is helped by a very comprehensive trade route editor, which lets you specify which goods to load, unload, or trade at every port on the route, right down to specific quantities and price points. It's an elegant system that will see your profits soaring almost immediately.
There's plenty more to do in the many buildings found at each port. You can make business deals and loans, go on patrols and hunt pirates, or even woo a spouse. These secondary activities aren't as complex as they were in Patrician III but still add welcome variety to your trading adventures. Additionally there are endgame goals like being elected mayor and completing major projects for your cities as before, so there will always be more to do no matter how great your company grows.
Patrician III had all this and more, but it was hidden behind some steep learning curves and unintuitive designs. I'm happy to say IV is a major improvement on this point, mainly by having an extremely useful campaign questline to follow. These missions will ease you into every aspect of the game by giving clear instructions and context, and then leaving you to work out the execution. I've found much more success in this outing thanks to this, along with the clearer messages and polished user interface.
The cost of this accessibility is shallower gameplay than in III, but pulling back from such a deep well is not such a bad thing. Overall, IV feels just right to me, a perfect balance of complexity and fun. The graphics also help with the inviting feel, though fans of the previous crisp pixel cities may be disappointed. I love the soft colors and simple models of the new engine though, and the sound design completes the gentle, inviting ambiance that relaxing sims thrive on. Patrician IV managed to surprise me by shooting to the top of my sim list, and I'm looking forward to many more hours with it.