Here's a brief history résumé for those of you who are not au fait with 14th century Europe. The Patrician is set in said period and you play the part of a struggling merchant. It was so different in those days - the continent was in constant state of change. The Hanseatic League - a sort of equivalent to the common market - governed European trading and its aim was to promote free trade between all the main cities. What a long way we've come in 600 years, eh?
The League's council was made up of all the mayors of the major parts in Europe and was led by the Alderman. Although you start the game as a minor League merchant, your ultimate aim is to rise to the heady height of Alderman.
To achieve this you have to trade first and make stacks of cash, which you can then spend on furthering your political career - money buys power - unlike today's democracies, Asil Nadir is living proof of that. Not only do you have to be loaded but you have to be happily married, otherwise people don't vote for you (as David Mellor will no doubt agree come 1994).
Enough politics - on with the gameplay. At the start you own just one ship and a couple of hundred Thala (currency). The way to increasing your readies is by trading which involves buying and selling (at a profit) the many types of goods available.
This presents your first obstacle - trading is not easy initially and can often result in you drifting aimlessly from port to port unable to find a favourable price for a commodity you've got on your ship. If you get stuck with goods it is possible to store them in a warehouse for later resale. Of course, if you're very clever you could buy corn in the summer when it's plentiful and cheap and make a killing in a winter market place.
So the main problem during the early stages of your trading life is money, or lack of it. It can be incredibly frustating to see a commodity such as wine or pepper at comparatively low prices and not being able to afford them. But this can be alleviated by judicious use of your limited funds and by trading cheaper items.
Or alternatively, you can acquire a healthy cash flow by doing a deal with the Money Lender. This guy will organise loans, usually at exorbitant rates of interest, which can be repaid as and when you get enough money. But if you go over the repayment deadline, creditors, will come snapping at your heels like a pack of voracious pitbulls. And if you haven't got the money they want, then it's bon voyage to one of your ships, which can be catastrophic if you only have a single vessel.
Fortunately, new ships can be built for you at any port of call. The ships available range from the small but speedy pinnace, to the heavy and wallowing galleons. Which one you choose will depend on how big your load is and how quickly you need to shift it. Constant use of your ships obviously takes its toll and ships get damaged, and your journeys take longer to complete. Repairs are easy if you have enough Thala, but if you neglect them then your vessels will flounder ina storm, or sink with a full cargo and crew aboard, which as well as being terribly sad, is economically unsound.
Hiring and firing crew and helpers is done in the local watering hole, and this is done by clicking on the various people inside. Click on the drunks being dragged out of the pub to press-gang a crew at one Thala per employee, or if you want to maintain business at home click on the guys sitting quietly at the back and these will act as helpers at your warehouses.
The hard looking blokes at the frong are your ordinary everyday dodgy arms dealers, whose services you need, because of the danger that lurks on many trade routes. The high seas are not a safe place to be - pirates, storms and even sea monsters can obstruct your route to fortune and fame.
Even bad weather, the captain getting seasick, or even green toadstools growing in the galley can change your plotted course, or force the ship to find land, or worse turn about. When such incidents strike they can really screw up your planned trade route, dumping you somewhere you don't want to be. If you're particularly unlucky pirates attack your ship and you have to fight them off with weapons onboard. This fighting sequence is optional with the computer working out the outcome if you do not participate. If you lose, then another ship vanishes from your fleet at a time when your fleet should be growing.
Slide into the tub
Once you've amassed your fortune though, it's time to put the money to use on self advancement in the political arena, and hopefully becoming Alderman of the Hanseatic League. To achieve high political status you have to become popular enough to gain the confidence of the rest of the Hanseatic Council.
You can gain popularity in your home town in several ways. The first and easiest way is to throw a massive party for all the plebs. The only downer is the cost, but political popularity doesn't come cheap. It is vital to provide enough food and drink, otherwise the townsfolk go home hungry and distinctly sober; get them absolutely inebriated and they'll think you'll make a great politician!
So what exactly do you have to do if you need to regain vital votes? Well you can always bribe your peers. This is done at the local bathing house. Just slide into the tub next to them, and if you have enough money then they will arrange for you to get a few extra votes in the next election.
But it's not as simple as that, bribery can lead to you being black
Control of the game is easy. It is entirely mouse based and involves no icons. You just use the left button to select something on screen and the right button for returning to the previous screen. This makes for a totally intuitive system so that all of your concentration can be directed at actually playing the game and not struggling with studying the instructions in the manual.
The Patrician will absorb your attention until the wee small hours as you become engrossed in the intricacies of the game's wheeling and dealing and you will find keeping your political head above water almost as difficult as keeping dry in Mississippi.
Playing it will keep even the most die-hard platform freaks among us glued to their machine, yelling out loudly with frustration at the high price of corn in medieval Hamburg! Just like you do!