Review - Gazillionaire (DOS, 1994)

There's something about software that changes me from a walking financial disaster zone to a fiscally sound fanatic.

For instance, I could never balance my checkbook on a regular basis until I bought a computer. While the concept of keeping track of what I spent eluded me when I had to enter it by hand into a register, the money management program that came bundled with my trusty Packard Bell turned me into an accounting fool.

On a larger scale, that same theory holds true with computer business games. The only reason my household deficit doesn't rival the federal government's is because they have access to more money than I do. However, put me in front of a computer screen and tell me I'm in charge of a business, and budget is no longer a four-letter word.

Therefore, I'm a sucker for a game like Gazillionaire, from LavaMind. There's nothing complicated about it. As a matter of fact, it's somewhat of an exaggeration to call it a resource management game, since the only resource that you have any direct control over is money. Playing Gazillionaire gives you a good feel for what it would be like to dabble in commodities or play the stock market, since the key to winning is buying low and selling high.

Your company is trading between six different planets, competing with up to eleven other companies. The first company to achieve a net worth of one million kubars wins the game. The net worth distinction is important, since you start with no cash in hand – only a line of credit from your friendly local banker which allows you to buy a cargo ship, hire a crew, and set up warehouses on each of the planets.

Each planet's marketplace includes a list of all the commodities available for trade, their present price, and the range of prices paid for the product in the various planets. Before you make your buying and selling decisions, you can call up a chart which shows what sort of demand there is for your particular planet's products at other marketplaces.

Your warehouses add the element of speculation to the game. If there's no market for an incredibly cheap commodity available on a particular planet, you can still buy it and simply stash it until the price improves enough to give you the swollen profit that you so richly deserve.

Unfortunately, warehouse management is one of the game's major flaws. There's no menu available that allows you to see what's in all of your warehouses, which means you have to (gasp!) write stuff down if you want to keep track of what you're storing. Call me new-fashioned, but I just don't believe I should have to write anything down when I'm playing a computer game.

The game's interface is very simple and easy to learn, but you have to cycle through quite a few menus to manage your assets, a problem that Gazillionaire shares with virtually every other business game I've ever played. If I'm going to spend 12,500 kubars on TV advertising every week, I shouldn't have to repeat this command on a regular basis – but I have to in this game.

That small bit of whining aside, this game makes you keep track of a number of different elements. Your crew, a collection of ungrateful wretches, wants to be paid every week. You can spend as much, or as little, as you want on advertising. You can delay paying your taxes – at least until the tax collector starts making threatening noises about confiscating your cargo. And, you can even brave the dangers of deep space and elect not to insure every trip your ship makes.

Something that I enjoyed about this game which may not appeal to everyone is the fact that you can't spend your opponents into oblivion. This is very much a staunch Republican's nightmare – a managed economy. You can't expand your ship's cargo space at will. That's up to the government, which holds an auction of cargo upgrades, meaning that you're bidding against your six opponents for the extra space. Extra warehouse space isn't auctioned, but only happens when the government wants it to, at the government's price.

This all may sound too simple to be much fun, but I found Gazillionaire to be an extremely addictive game. There's something truly magical about buying at 180 kubars a ton, then flying to another planet and selling for 720 kubars a ton.

I just thank God it's not my own money. If that were the case, we're talking bankruptcy in three turns.

Download the demo for Gazillionaire