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SolarWars (Palm) April 9, 2000

SolarWars is a financial game along the lines of Taipan and Dopewars. The object is simple: to become as rich as possible in the given timespan (which is 60 days by default). To do this, the player must warp around various planets in our solar system, including Pluto, Neptune, and good ol' Terra Firma, buying goods at low prices and selling goods at high prices. In short, you play the role of a galactic "middleman" merchant.

The gameplay is simple. You start out with a ship, 100 cargo bays, and a fat 10,000 credit (why is the default unit of cash in sci-fi always "credit"?) debt to the Corp (whose only purpose in the game is to loan you money, apparently). Of course, you also start with 10,000 credits, and theoretically, you can pay off your debt immediately. However, the money is better spent on purchasing goods to sell on other planets, especially fuel (which is needed to warp to other planets). There are many space goods to trade, from the cheap holovids to the precious dilithum. The markets for these items are randomly determined... sometimes a planet at a given time does not even trade in certain items! Your object is to buy low and sell high, all the while avoiding (or destroying) space pirates, ship damage, and looking for opportunities (in the form of random events). There is a bank which gives a generous 6.25% interest daily when you deposit in your savings account, but it also charges a whopping 30% surcharge for withdrawals at any planet other than Earth. Hint: Pay off your debt as soon as possible. It accrues interest at an alarming rate, so paying it off should be your first priority.

There are no graphics and sound in this game. The screen is functional and shows you pretty much everything you need to know, but it is void of any eye candy. Although Solarwars proves that a game does not need fancy sound or graphics to be entertaining, it would be nice to see cut-sequences when certain events occur. For example, in Taipan, when your ship is attacked by pirates, the view changes to a "battle mode" where you actually see the pirate ships and fire cannons at them. Even little icons, such as arrows or little "explosions" in the popup menus might be nice. Of course, one can argue that graphics and sound would get in the way of SolarWars' simplicity.

My only problem with SolarWars is the extreme randomness of the events in the game. It is more like playing Monopoly, where your financial future is dependent on the luck of the dice, than trading in a marketplace. I once, in a single game, was able to get a cargo of 90 dilithum and sell it for over 120,000 credits each (do the math... that's a lot of money), but in the next game I could not even break a million. I encountered space pirates about every 5 days in one game, but only encountered them once in another. The best random encounter is the "wormhole" which gives you 3 days (the logic is that you go back in time, 3 days earlier). This randomness ensures that no two games are alike, but it also takes a lot of forward planning and strategy out of the game.

Nonetheless, I found myself amused by SolarWars. I enjoyed the original DopeWars, and I give credit to the author for making the game more accessible to the mainstream audience by making it a "G-rated" game. Drug-dealing is a serious issue, and many people can misinterpret the meaning of DopeWars, even though it is only a game... SolarWars takes all the best parts of DopeWars and simply tacks on a sci-fi theme. There is a certain attraction to making money, even if it is virtual money. If only making a billion dollars were this easy in real life...

Final rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Title: SolarWars
Publisher: David Webb
Summary: A financial game in which you manipulate the whims of galactic supply and demand to become a billionaire.
The Good: Simple gameplay, variety of goods and events, well-done economic model, it's free!
The Bad: Sparse graphics, random game mechanic, repetitive gameplay
The Ugly: Withdrawing money from the bank costs a 30% surcharge of the amount withdrawn on any planet but Earth! (and you thought banks in real-life had hefty surcharges)

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