After a few years' wait, Stardock's second completely in-house game has been released. (Galactic Civilizations was the first, all their other games were games which they published but did not develop.) Can Brad Wardell's second creation live up to expectations? Will it be a game played predominantly by OS/2 users or will it be a hit with Win32 players as well? Was the extra time (a year or so) worth it to create a cross-platform version? The answer to all the above questions is a qualified "yes."
The demo version of Entrepreneur shipped as a self-extracting and installing Win32 executable, which miffed a few OS/2 users, but by using InfoZip or PKWare's unzip programs it was a simple task to unzip the demo and run the OS/2 install program. With the GA version, there is a setup.exe program for the Win32 version and an install.exe for the OS/2 version. It's a simple matter to get things up and running since the installer is the standard IBM installer.
Unfortunately for Stardock, it appears that the game suffers a bit in the "first impressions" department. I'm not sure why, but it seems that people have a bit of trouble getting into the game. With most games I can pick everything up without touching the manual. I mean, seriously folks, who needed a manual for Doom or Quake? Who even picked up the manual for SimCity or Civilization? With Entrepreneur, though, it's absolutely necessary to read the manual to understand how things work, and I fear that this is something that may hurt the game if it doesn't pick up some momentum in the market.
The question you're probably asking is, "Is the game REALLY that complicated?" The answer is, no it's not complicated at all, but it may be a little unintuitive at first, and that's really a shame, since it's absolutely addictive once you get started -- in fact, it's the first game in a long time to keep me up all night several times after the first week of playing it.
In my opinion gameplay is the single most important aspect of a game. Graphics and sound are nice, but eye candy alone doesn't make a game. When it comes down to it, the thing that keeps me coming back and playing for weeks or months is how much fun the game is to play -- something which seems to be suffering a little in today's "gee whiz" 3D graphics game market.
Entrepreneur is fun to play. It's fun to play against a computer and it's even more fun to play against four or five people on the Internet.
The game starts (GIF, 76.6k) you off in a market (the computer market is the only market that ships with the game, but others such as the automobile industry will be added in the future) with a small site in a garage, building PC's (JPG, 25.3k)
You are pretty much like the other upstarts (you can play against up to seven opponents) all over the world at this point. You can specialize in either production, engineering, or marketing, with your employees' capabilities being doubled over the standard capabilities for whatever aspect you choose to specialize in. You only have marketing information for the region you start in and you start with one salesman with which to push your product. You must spend money to research other regions in order to expand the areas to which you can sell your product.
As your territory expands you will have to hire more and more employees to keep up with demand and you will make enough money to build new sites and expand the capabilities of these sites. Each site can have several types of buildings: factories, sales offices, R & D centers (GIF, 19.9k) , marketing centers, and recreation centers. Each building type has several levels which expand your site's effectiveness and the number of employees you can hire.
As you expand your knowledge of the world in which you're playing you'll need to expand your distribution. This is the area which really seems to cause some trouble for people when they first start playing the game. In order to sell your product, you have to get it on the shelves. Your salesmen are responsible for getting your product on the shelves in regions in which you place them and in regions surrounding those regions. If, for example, you don't have a salesman or site in Europe, you can't sell any product in Europe. If you move a salesman into Europe he will make your product available and people may start buying it. There are a number of factors which will effect whether or not people in a given territory purchase your product. Availability is the first important factor. After that there is demand, which is determined by price, attractiveness to the given market and miscellaneous bonuses, another area which seems to escape new players.
Much of your product demand depends on market momentum. As an example, why does Gateway sell so many computers? Are their computers that much better or cheaper than the competition? Of course not, but Gateway has market momentum. People buy their product because they are familiar with it, and for another product to make a dent in Gateway's market share it has to not only be better than Gateway's, it has to be significantly better. It also has to have some marketing to give it a boost and probably a better price.
The same thing is true in Entrepreneur. If you move your salesman into Europe and IBM already controls Europe, you're going to have to really work to make a dent in the market, even if your product is just as good or even better than IBM's. There are strategies for entering into established areas, and probably the best one is to attack the point of least resistance: the fringe regions with lower product availability and lower bonuses (bonuses for a territory are increased for each territory controlled by a given player which is adjacent to the territory). Controlling territory, and thus achieving high demand bonuses from market momentum, is absolutely key to having a winning strategy. It also lets you make good use of your direct action cards.
Direct Action Cards
Probably the best idea in the entire game is the addition of direct action cards (DACs). At the end of each game year, each player is given resource points for each region he controls that contains one of five resource types. Each player also receives one randomly selected DAC (GIF, 13.4k) at the end of each year. After you've collected enough resource points, you can make use of the DACs and wreak havoc on your opponents or increase your market demand or help the guy who's doing really badly. DACs range from trivial, such as Government Grant #1 which gives you $2,000,000, to all-powerful, such as Dark Continent which bans sales of a competitor's product from a continent for a full year. Of course, the really powerful cards don't show up until late in the game and take a ton of resource points to use, but something like Paying the Piper, which takes away $50,000,000 from an opponent, can be devastating if played at the right time.
Graphics and Sound
Graphics and sound in Entrepreneur are good, but not great. The graphics are clean and well thought out, but the game could probably use some extra animations and detail shots. This extra eye candy would probably help hold people's attention while they learn the game. Entrepreneur is probably the most well laid out game I've seen under OS/2, but it's probably par for the course for full-screen games. It does a good job of looking like you're inside a game and not inside an OS/2 program window. The sound is all digital and isn't bad, but it doesn't sound like you've got the London Philharmonic in your computer either.
With the creation of their first multiplayer game Stardock has introduced STARDOCK.NET. With your Internet connection active you can use an interface built into the game to find other Entrepreneur players and start multiplayer games (GIF, 11.6k). The interface supports multiple rooms, including rooms designed strictly to chat. Every Internet capable game should have an interface like this one.
Stardock has created a fun and addictive game that I've really enjoyed playing. The computer players are challenging and the multiplayer support is more than acceptable (I've played quite a few games over the Internet with players as far away as Australia). Overall I think it's one of the most enjoyable games I've played in some time, and I look forward to continual updates and improvements from Stardock.
Entrepreneur by Stardock Systems MSRP: US$49.95