Ever wonder what it’s like to run your own business – in outer space? Gazillionaire is a business simulation designed to teach people about the basics of economics, but it does so in a way that’s cleverly disguised as whacky space-themed fun. As the captain of a cargo ship, you’ll traverse the galaxy buying and selling items, coping with challenges like space pirates, the tax man and a surly unionized crew, all while trying to grow your business to be more profitable than those of your alien rivals.
You’ll start out by choosing a company name and buying a ship, selecting from a range of science fiction-inspired designs. (I chose "Cerebralis," a ship that resembled a purple brain in a glass bubble.) You start the game with $50,000 cash and $100,000 in debt to Mr. Zinn, a financier who loans you the money to buy your ship. He charges 4 per cent interest per month on the loan, and if you fail to pay it he’ll repossess your ship.
Your goal, other than paying back the loan, is to grow your company faster than the competition. The first company to reach the minimum net worth is the winner. You can set this amount at the beginning of the game, and it ranges from 1 million Kubars (a fairly fast game) to 10 billion Kubars, which will be a game of epic length.
You’ll make most of your money by observing the principle of supply and demand, buying goods at a low price on one planet, then travelling to a different planet where demand for those goods is high and selling them at a tidy profit. Through charts you can monitor the demand of goods across all planets in the solar system to decide where to go next.
Gazillionaire isn’t the most attractive package, and you’ll find a lot of your time spent looking at charts and menus. But what the game lacks in polish it makes up for with enthusiasm, humor, and some truly inventive scenarios. Like Chocolatier, you frequently encounter random events during your travels that require you to make a decision. For example, you meet a space crook who offers to sell you stolen goods at a discount price. Do you accept his offer and risk getting caught, or tell him to get lost?
These events are just part of the unexpected opportunities and hurdles that even the best-planned business must weather. You might win the lottery, or get sued by a union boss when one of your crew gets injured. You can also participate in secret ballot auctions to buy improvements for your ship, or buy facilities on planets and charge your competitors every time they visit.
It’s clear that the developer, LavaMind, went to great lengths to flesh out the world. Each planet has its own personality, like Pyke, the industrial center; Loro the vacation spot; Tilo, the gambler’s planet, and Kukubia, the media captal. If you wish to take the time, you can learn about each planet’s unique history, culture and backstory.
There are five levels of difficulty in the game, ranging from Novice to Master, as well as a tutorial. Since the business world might be intimidating to some, Gazillionaire allows players to adjust the complexity of the game using a slider. Leave the slider where it is after the tutorial and you can enjoy a basic, relatively stress free experience. But start to move the slider to the right and more features will be added, including having to buy fuel for your ship, carry passengers, outfit your ship with a crew, advertise on planets and pay taxes. You can also get a bank account to deposit money and earn interest and warehouses to store goods on each planet. You can also adjust the intelligence of your competition at the beginning of the game. For an extra challenge, you can even play the stock markets.
The ability to adjust the game’s complexity makes it accessible to a wider range of players. Personally, I would have like to have been able to toggle specific features on or off instead of add them cumulatively. (I hate paying taxes, for example, so it would have been nice to turn that off but have everything else on.)
The final feature worth noting is that, in addition to the six computer-controller characters in the game, you can have up to six human players competing as well, for a potential total of twelve. The human players must all take turns at the same computer, though. A game like this is just screaming for an online multiplayer component, but perhaps that’s outside the scope of what is at heart designed to be a relatively straightforward simulation.
While games like Fairy Godmother Tycoon manage to get across more or less the same message in a more attractive and "game-like" package, Gazillionaire scores points for originality and the sheer quirkiness of its universe. Think of it as Monopoly in space.