Many casual gamers immediately dismiss Gazillionaire III for its complexity and rather ugly presentation. In fact, when we decided to feature the game, I could hear one of our JIG writers turn his nose up from across the Pacific. Gazillionaire's characters have certainly got faces only a mother could love, but if you just get to know this addictive lemonade-stand game you'll come to appreciate its inner beauty. Build your business, explore new worlds, and make a fortune in this quirky strategy game.
You play a budding entrepreneur in the galaxy of Kukubia. The object of the game is to reach a certain amount of wealth, depending on the length of game you select. At the beginning of the game, you can decide the nature of the economy you'll be playing in by selecting which planets are available to you. Want access to engine upgrades? You'll definitely need to include Pyke and probably Xeen for the ship upgrades. Want a good deal on a commercial loan? Be sure to include Stye so you can beg your bank manager to lower the interest rate. If you're not sure, try hitting "Randomize Planets" and see what happens. Then you can select your ship. You can choose one of 12 models, each calibrated differently in terms of speed, fuel efficiency, cargo space and number of crew.
Now you're good to go! You start out in debt to Mr. Zinn, your financier, and you'll have to eventually pay him off to make any progress. You may need to borrow money from the bank to do anything important, such as buy stuff, advertise for passengers or commodities, take out insurance, or after a couple of turns, paying your taxes and crew wages. If you think you're up to it, you can buy stock on each planet's stock exchange, but only on that planet. Once you've bought stock and decided where to sell it—or, alternatively, decided to take an empty ship to a planet that has plenty of commodities—click through to the galaxy map to visit that planet and sell your goods, pick up passengers and check out the planet special. Rinse and repeat until you've made the required amount of kubars. You'll run into many different folks on your travels, and you'll just have to work out who you can trust. (Hint: It's generally good to invest in the arts.)
Analysis: I've left out a couple of steps in the above description—you also choose the difficulty of the game, and you can select the intelligence of your AI opponents or even have a multiplayer game. Put it all together and you can see why John B finds it discouragingly complex. There's a lot of things you can do before the game even starts, let alone during the game. However, it's up to you how complex you want it to be. For instance, I never play the stock market in-game, and I don't use the warehouses or buy utilities when they're offered—it's rarely worth your while in a really short game. You can set shortcuts so you just buy gas, insurance etc from the main menu rather than entering the gas or insurance screen. But if you want to make use of the game's complexity, you can fine-tune your loans, gas and stock purchases, ticket prices and so on to make good use of credit and stay ahead of the competition. You can check the news on each planet to see if it's subject to extreme weather or crime... or, like me, you can just buy insurance and cross your fingers. It's not essential to win the game, but in the Explore Planet screen you can read the history of each planet, which is often quite entertaining.
Visually, the game is simultaneously crusty and beautiful. The interface, I must confess, looks like an economics game you would have played in high school, and the animated characters are brilliantly coloured and spectacularly ugly. It's not schmick, but it's fast and easy to use.
I've played previous versions of Gazillionaire and I find it to be addictive, amusing and a good way to kill an hour on the easiest and shortest level. The one-hour demo gives you plenty of time to find out whether you agree that Gazillionaire is quirky, fun and infinitely replayable or an overly difficult pain in the assets.
One last piece of advice: If Emperor Dred Nicolson asks for a "donation" to the Imperial coffers... don't argue.