Rise of Venice is a trading and economic simulator, never played one? Well they couldn't be any simpler, the main aim is to meet the supply and demand of all of the cities in the Mediterranean whilst coming out with a profit, a bit like eBay in the 15th Century, the only problem is, you're not the only trader selling their stock, so you must compete with other families to please any of the twenty five cities that you can open trading agreements with.
In Rise of Venice you take on the shoes of Giacomo Da Narni of Venice a simple shop keeper with all the ambition to become Doge -basically Duke of the city-, the only trouble is, his family means nothing to the exclusive merchants of Venice that elect the prestigious title. As grandson to the legendary Erasomo 'The Leopard', an infamous mercenary, his dying wish was that Giacomo does not fall into the same trap that he did, and that choice is all up to you.
If there's one secret pleasure I have it's the in the simulation of trading, if a game manages to sneak it into their mechanics I'm going to be there buying at the lowest price and selling to the highest bidder, heck it’s one of the reasons that Star Wars Galaxies’ economy was fun, because it was pretty much a real economy. So for me, staple trading simulators like Port Royale or Rise of Venice are three times as addictive as the optional paths of trading goods in Sid Meier's Pirates! or controlling prices in Theme Park.
Of course not everyone is the same, which is why Rise of Venice comes with two possible paths to take, sure if you chose a Mercenary career you'll be acting against your grandfather's will, but for some the path of a simple trader may pose a little dull.
Rise of Venice is a bit of a slow burner, when you start out Giacomo's story you'll be a simple trader who can trade with only the nearby cities that you already hold trading licences with, and it’s not until you've made a decent amount of money and climbed up to the ranks to merchant that you're given the ability to purchase all of the trading and building licences needed to start a proper production line, and boost your family to the respected position they deserve, as you might expect production is slow at first, but once you've helped to increase the population of cities, you'll find far more goods stacking up in your warehouses, allowing you to become a wholly sufficient trading arm.
However Rise of Venice is not simply centred around trade, and a large portion of the game relies on your schmoozing ability, with ten different families vying for the seat of Doge, you can expect a lot of dirty politics going on, you see, coming from nothing, each step you take makes somewhat of a mockery to the ten most influential families of Venice, so don't be surprised when you achieve the higher ranks you'll find your warehouses robbed, vicious rumours spread about your family, and worst of all, you may find harbours blocking your ships for a few days due to reported dodgy dealings. No one in the families of Venice plays fair, and whilst at times it can get a little frustrating, exacting your vengeance is wonderfully sweet, but there's nothing better than persevering through it all, and showing them just what the Da Narni family is capable of.
The politics of the game are not all dirty however, and whilst getting payback on the important Council of the Ten families may be funny, drawing them closer to you as a friend is far more effective, after all, pleasing these men is the difference between a yay or nay vote to secure your place in the higher rung of the ladder, and so appealing to the type of personality they hold is key to a sure advancement!
It sounds pretty straightforward, however you won't be able to please every council member, as some have some very contrasting ideals, you could simply sail up the ranks with a good amount of respectable bribes, but the key to everyone's heart is not cheap, especially when noble merchant family's are concerned, which is where appealing to their personality and ideals comes in; one councilmen may have a soft spot for certain goods, or in the worst cases is a fan of chaos and dishonest actions against other families, and so trading these required goods to Venice, or sabotaging certain towns will net you some reputation with them. They will also have missions crop up from time to time that can also boost your reputation if you can perform their request in time, both aspects fit snuggly into the standard trading role that you take on, and ensures you will never be lost with nothing to do.
Working your way up the ranks will not simply earn you more respect, climbing the ladder of the mercantile elite will unlock the potential for more convoys, the use of larger ships, and best of all, the trade in more extravagant goods, overall the balancing seems to be achieved extremely well, and ensures that your campaign doesn't turn sour after too long at the helm of the Da Narni family, despite the fact that you feel a little neutered at the start of the game.
To keep you entertained during the spells in between climbing the ladder, or building your convoys for a big fight, Rise of Venice won't simply sit by and wait for you to perform your tasks, each city can suffer spells of disease, fire, drought, even a lack of workers, this increases their need for certain supplies, but may also slow production, now these may be remedied in two different ways, the more long-term resolution is to populate your cities with buildings like hospitals that will decrease the chances of your cities falling ill, however your family members can also play a role in improving the cities you hold buildings in, you can ignore these requests and other traders will fulfil them, but they'll be making profit on the wares you could have been selling, the digitised world of the 15th Century Mediterranean does not wait for you to act.
A big problem with most trading simulations is it’s not too difficult to gain the upper hand against your AI, to the point that you're practically untouchable, Rise of Venice attempts to remedy this with an extremely fickle reputation system; unless you keep performing deeds that please a family, the council won't be your friend forever, the same goes for cities; over time they'll forget that load of saline and wood you delivered in their time of need, which greatly removes the feel of immortality, and really makes you consider each of your allies when setting up your trading routes. Of course you could simply amass a fortune of gold and bribe everyone til your heart's content, but where would the fun in that be?
Probably one of the most impressive features of Rise of Venice is that the economy is completely self-contained; supply and demand is dictated by the current goings-on in the city, and an increase in population will require an increased need for certain goods, everything that you can buy and sell is produced by factories in the cities and used by the inhabitants of them. If a city uses up a lot of fruit but does not have the means to produce any, then the demand for it will be high, this is where you come in, deliver the goods as per a city's need and your reputation with that city will increase, it’s a never-ending cycle, and one that you can simply watch unfold right in front of your eyes, and it's pretty remarkable.
As a game set on the high seas you cannot get away from the odd pirate or two, and whilst ship combat is not quite up to the standard of Sea Dogs or Sid Meier's Pirates!, what you do get is an extremely tense battlefield where the tide can turn at the drop of a hat. Thankfully if you aren't a fan of sea battles you can auto resolve most of your fights, but you probably have a far better chance of outwitting their ships personally, and it's pretty fun too.
Alongside the single player campaign Rise of Venice also includes a multiplayer mode, allowing you to free play with up to four other users as you fight for the most wealth, population, or largest convoys, unfortunately you can't enjoy the multiplayer for an infinite amount of time, and the longest available game is 6 years which is a little unfortunate if you were hoping for an epic battle of trading expertise.
It’s never fun when you pour hours upon hours of your life into a game to find it simply end when the credits roll, more often than not they're with huge expansive games that you establish an emotional attachment with; the steps you took to make Rome yours, the lengths you endured to ensure that Alvise Loredan is rooting for you all the way up to Doge, simple things. Well quite possibly the best feature of Rise of Venice is the ability to further your campaign into Free play for as long as you want, allowing you to practically rule Venice for all time, well as least it seemed to allow us to do so.
If you're looking for a great trading simulation with an autonomous economy then Rise of Venice is exactly the game you want it to be, hours can be lost in the pursuit for the highest price, and the rise to Doge of Venice is by no means an easy feat, which is great because unlike similar games you won't find yourself climbing the food chain too quickly. Whether you're a veteran trading sim fan or perhaps you find the novelty of buying and selling in a game appealing, you can find hours of entertainment in Rise of Venice, just make sure to eat and sleep inbetween trade agreements.
Rise of Venice is available now for the SRP of £29.99 from all good digital distribution channels, from the creators of Patrician IV and Port Royale 3, you know you've got a brilliant trading simulation in store.