Venerable, oak-aged, the Patrician games first sailed onto our screens back in 1993. As with its predecessors, Patrician IV is one of those transport management games we all tell our cool friends we're really not into. Eschewing the lorries or trains the genre usually attracts, Pat IV is based around middle-ages sea freight.
There's little joy to be had in travelling from port to port: the journey is represented by crawling glumly across the map, and each stop proves practically identical upon arrival. Interaction is also disappointingly limited.
Load your goods: click, click. Travel to a distant harbour: click, click. Unload your wares: click, click. Load your ships up again: click, click. Set sail for another harbour: click, click. Fabulous adventure on the high seas this is not. There are other things to do – join guilds, cosy up to locals in the tavern, build your own farms, mills and the like – but it's joyless and clinical. Each building is rarely more than a dropdown menu obscuring a spreadsheet, and rebuilding cities is inaccessible and unsatisfying. Click bloody click.
With pirates pottering aimlessly around the Baltic, you'll eventually have to give your guns a workout. But ship-to-ship combat has all the complexity and depth of the ship's cat's litter tray. Your boats circle each other disinterestedly, occasionally sneezing out cannonballs until one side falls off the ocean, mercifully bringing matters to a close. It's flat, unexciting, and feels like it was tacked on at the last minute.
In your quest to become top seadog, you end up with several fleets – a juggling act as you try to keep every ship in the water at the same time, constantly loading and unloading goods. Various agents can be hired to automate the process and given simple instructions to buy low, sell high and patrol reliable trade routes. But with prices fluctuating on a daily basis, your micromanaging hand needs to remain firmly on the tiller to get the best deals.
The goal in Patrician IV is efficiency – to have a fleet on hand to react to every shortage, to snap up every hot deal before your competitors catch it, to be producing as much of the trade resources yourself as you can from your own farms and factories. Efficiency. Without wanting to sink to crass stereotypes, it's worth noting that the Patrician series is 'big in Germany'. Like David Hasselhoff.
Patrician IV is a ship's biscuit of a game: plain, short on flavour and with the occasional weevil poking through. There's a hint of nourishment: if using spreadsheets and calculators to conquer the world is your thing this will keep your Sunday afternoons occupied for a bit. But for the rest of us, the lack of any real passion or joy in its construction leaves Patrician IV as a scurvyinducing bore.