|Release date(s)||Microsoft Windows, Xbox Live
Ancient Trader is a turn-based strategy video game developed by the Slovakian studio 4Kids Games (unrelated to 4Kids Entertainment). It was released in 2010 for Microsoft Windows, the Xbox 360, and iOS. The game was designed using Microsoft XNA, and it was developed in one year by six people. Piloting a ship, the player explores a large map and makes trades, while seeking three artifacts that will help to defeat the game's main antagonist, a sea creature called the Ancient Guardian.
The game design was influenced by board games and the video games Elite and Advance Wars. Lead designer Peter Levius worked with artist Petr Vcelka on the game's graphic design, and with Milan Malik on the game's score. Ancient Trader received a positive response from critics, who praised the art design and overall gameplay structure of the game. A sequel, Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader, was developed by Legendo Entertainment and released in 2012 for Microsoft Windows.
Ancient Trader is a turn-based strategy video game played from a two-dimensional perspective. The player controls a ship and seeks out three powerful artifacts to defeat the game's main antagonist, a sea creature called the Ancient Guardian. First, the player must explore the map and gather tea, spices, and fruit. These can be exchanged for gold, which can be used to buy upgrades for the ship. The commodities are stored in the cargo hold, whose capacity can also be upgraded with gold.
The map consists of a landlocked sea with several islands, wreckage, sea creatures, enemy ships, ports and whirlpools. Commodities can be found in wreckage. Sea creatures and enemy ships appear randomly and challenge the player for gold or commodities in a card minigame. Ports (called puertos) are trading and safe zones where the player can sell their ship's cargo for gold, buy upgrades for the ship, and take on sidequests. Whirlpools teleport the player's ship to a random location on the map. The player sometimes encounters message bottles that clear away fog of war on the map to reveal hidden ports.
At the beginning of the game, the entire map is obscured until explored by the player. The ship can be moved horizontally and vertically, but not diagonally. The player makes a set number of steps each turn, after which the artificial intelligence (AI) does the same for non-playable characters (NPC). If the player's ship is not docked at a port at the end of a turn, the player can be attacked by an enemy ship or a sea creature. If so, a card game is triggered to decide if the player loses gold to a rival ship or cargo to a sea creature. The player and NPC draw colored and numbered cards; the highest-numbered card wins each turn, unless presented against a powerful color. The strongest hue receives a two-point attack bonus. The player's following turn starts at the end of the minigame.
After sufficiently upgrading the ship and exploring the map, the player is allowed to buy the three powerful artifacts. Defeating the Ancient Guardian in a card minigame awards the player additional loot and previously unavailable upgrades.
An online multiplayer mode allows for several players to simultaneously play the same map, chase the artifacts and defeat the Guardian. The prices of the artifacts increase as other players buy them. The players can check the wealth and artifacts gained by other players. The game also includes several alternative game types, which focus on reaching a set total wealth or cash tally before other players. Ancient Trader does not include a saving feature, which means that all progress is lost if the game is closed.
Ancient Trader is the first video game developed by the Slovakian studio 4Kids Games. The development team consisted of lead designer Peter Levius, artist Petr Vcelka, game designer Miroslav Petrasko, and programmer Andrej Vakrcka. The score was composed by Milan Malik, while Jan Ohajsky designed and animated the graphics. The game was developed using Microsoft XNA, a set of game development tools. According to Levius, Ancient Trader took around one year to finish; "most of our team members [...] were working hard on other higher priority projects at the same time." The game was submitted for XNA approval on 2 June 2010.
Ancient Trader 's design was influenced by that of board games and of the video games Elite and Advance Wars. Levius and his girlfriend dedicated around two months to test and balance the game's mechanics, gathering groups of friends to play the game "without explaining anything to see if they can understand the rules and controls." He worked with Vcelka to design Ancient Trader 's appearance, including paper textures and clouds. He revealed that some of the maps' features came from a scan of an old military map of present-day Slovakia. According to Chris Schilling from Eurogamer, Vcelka took inspiration from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cartography, as well as from Abraham Ortelius and his Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, to create "exceptionally detailed art".
For the Xbox 360 version of Ancient Trader, the team introduced a feature to reduce the color saturation in the game and allow players to decide how much color they wanted to have. Levius acknowledged that this feature "is a big thing for me and Petr as we always wanted to also have a black & white version of the game in style of Jules Verne's illustrations." He also commented that several other features, such as more animations and leaderboards, were left out for lack of time, but he kept them in mind for a possible sequel.
Ancient Trader received positive responses from several video game journalists upon its release. Most critics praised the game's art design and gameplay, but criticized the lack of key elements such as a saving feature and scoreboards. British magazine Edge included Ancient Trader in its 2010 list of the Best 20 Indie Games available in the Xbox Live Marketplace, acknowledging that the game was "ambitious, devious and surprisingly hard to fault." IGN called it "a simple, easy entry strategy game suitable for all ages."
Tom Chick from FidGit compared Ancient Trader to video games such as Seven Cities of Gold and Pirates, as well as to other indie games such as "the sci-fi space operettas Strange Adventures in Infinite Space and Flotilla, but wind-powered and sepia-toned." Like most reviewers, Chick highly praised the artistic design. However, he also mentioned the game's atmospheric music and the vividness of the environment: "It's all ink and vellum and cursive script and layers of lovingly drawn facades drawn on plywood and stacked up for a 19th Century stage production."
Eurogamer's Chris Schilling commented that although Ancient Trader was not as comprehensive and expansive as other Xbox Live titles such as Risk: Factions, it deserved "the opportunity to do business with the big boys rather than risk getting washed away with the shovelware tide." Schilling also expressed concern that "a game so elegant and accomplished should have to be dredged up from the depths of Indie Games." Lorenzo Fantoni from Eurogamer Italy awarded Ancient Trader the same score as Schilling, and elaborated that "the final result is a quite simple title, which will last long enough to make you feel happy of having invested your money in this indie title."
Gus Mastrapa from Wired commented that Ancient Trader was well worth its price "for its art alone". He also praised the game's overall style, "borrowed from centuries-old maps ... more handsome than any other game you'll find in the Xbox Live indie category." A reviewer from Gaming Union awarded the game 8 out of 10, but faulted the lack of an online scoreboard.
A sequel, Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader, was developed by Legendo Entertainment and released in July 2012 for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X. Fortune Winds includes improved AI, new player avatars and a save feature. GamesMaster was unimpressed with the sequel. The magazine awarded it 69 out of 100 and commented that it deviated too much from the original indie game.
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- IGN Staff (3 August 2010). "Beautiful Looking Indie-Game Released on PC and Xbox 360". IGN. J2 Global. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
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- Edge Staff (16 November 2010). "Best 20 Indie Games". Edge. Future Publishing Limited. Archived from the original on 4 April 2013. Retrieved 6 May 2013.
- Mastrapa, Gus (1 July 2010). "Ancient Trader is a Hidden Xbox Treasure". Wired. Condé Nast. Retrieved 25 March 2014.
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- "Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader out now on PC; available on Origin and Gamersgate". Gamasutra. UBMTech. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2014.
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- "Fortune Winds: Ancient Trader review". GamesMaster (Future Publishing). October 2012. p. 92.