November 3, 2013 8:00 PM | Lena LeRay
Military power is typically a significant element in empire-building simulation games. Even if a game offers paths to victory besides crushing your enemies, you still have to be wary of enemies trying to crush you. This means spending time and resources on defense whether you want to or not. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, as the realism of it can add a nice touch. Sometimes, however, it's nice to try to create a non-military empire without having to worry so much about invading armies. That's an area in which Spice Road from Aartform Games shines. You do need to build up some military forces, but they exist for security from bandits. That leaves you spending most of your time focusing on creating profitable trade routes to maximize your income and prosperity.
Spice Road is set in 18th century central Asia. You, the player, are a colonial governor seeking to extend the spice road and get rich through trade. Other nations, of course, pick up on the lucrative opportunities you are seeking out and try to get a cut of the action. That means that you have to balance a need for expansion to find the available resources before your rivals do with a need to keep all of your trading hubs well-supplied.
The full game is broken up into 20 missions and a sandbox mode, though the demo consists of only the first 5 missions. A good chunk of those 5 missions is a very well-done tutorial, with the 5th mission giving you an end goal of having a certain amount of cash on hand and free reign to use what you've learned however you see fit. Even if you have trouble with the 5th mission, it won't be because you don't know what's going on. The game may not have the beautiful graphics of big budget simulation games, but the graphics are good and, more importantly, the user interface is very clear.
The one problem with the user interface at present is that with some building improvements in the upgrade tree (not all of them), the information only says that the upgrade gives you access to a level X version of the building. For most of the upgrades, though, you can see exactly how an upgrade benefits you, and since the rest of the game is very clear, it doesn't really hamper gameplay.
Besides, the game is still in beta, so that could change before the official release next month. Even so, the game is already well-developed, as you'll see for yourself if you download the Spice Road demo or pre-order the game. The game is $19.95 US, and anyone who pre-orders gets access to the full game in its present condition, with access to updates as the game improves. Aartform Games is also running a Steam Greenlight campaign. Spice Road is available for Windows and Linux.