Saturday, May 30, 2009


Next up on my journey through my game collection is Trailblazer, a small game from the early '80s about making money in space. Seriously. The setting is a generic future where interstellar engines have been invented, and mankind takes to the stars to find its fortunes. Each player controls one of four corporations, trying to make the most money. You do this by buying items and then selling them. Each star system only creates a small number of items (there are 12 total in the game), and systems want to sell what they do make, and buy what they don't make. The player corporations are the middle-men, building fleets of ships to travel between systems, trading goods.

The underlying system is actually fairly simple. Each turn, players bid money to purchase items at each system. The order in which this is done matters, in that money spent to purchase items at the first system isn't available to purchase items at other systems. The bidding is fairly simple, with players bidding how much they want to spend per item, and how many items of the good in question they want to purchase. For example, if system A has 3 drugs for sale, and player A bids 6 money for 1 unit of drugs, and player B bids 4 money each for 2 units of drugs, and player C bids 3 money each for 3 units of drugs, then player A gets 1 drug at a price of 6, player B gets the remaining 2 drugs at the price of 4 each (total 8), and player C gets nothing because none are left to sell at 3 money each.

Once items have been purchased, players put them on starships and transport them to other systems, where they are sold. Charts that come with the game detail what price different systems will pay for goods, and this changes over time. To use the previous drug example, a system that doesn't produce drugs may pay 8 money for drugs. Once they have some, they don't need as many anymore, so the price they are willing to pay goes down. If nobody sells them any drugs, they might then raise the price they are willing to pay. So, you have to balance scarcity against plenty to get the best price for your goods.

There are other complexities to the game, but not many. You must have a starship in a system in order to transport goods offworld, which especially early in a game limits who gets involved in goods auctions in each system. You can build what the game calls "factors" in systems, which basically means you open a branch office of your company, which allows you to store goods from turn to turn, so you can buy goods at a system even if you have no ships present. Players can also purchase scout ships, which let them explore more of the galaxy, perhaps bringing new systems into play, increasing the opportunities to sell goods to more systems, and thereby make more money.

And that is pretty much it. Players can play as long as they like, but there are suggested ending points based on earning certain amounts of money. Being a game that is over 25 years old, the graphics design is very minimal. The galaxy map is just a blank grid with words in the spaces where starting systems are. The counters are simple pictures of starbases, buildings, or spaceships, all in a two-color pattern. There are no dice, as nothing is random except drawing newly discovered star systems out of a cup. This is a great example of what I like to call a "spreadsheet game." I call it this because gameplay is enhanced by creating spreadsheets to track everything, rather than writing it all down on paper charts, which was the only option realistically available when the game was designed. Being a professional accountant and auditor, you might think I would like this kind of thing. Well, I did. Back before I became a professional accountant, and just had dreams of being such, I loved games like this, because it let me pretend I was an important business person doing important business things. Now that I crunch numbers and track data for a living, I don't have much desire at all to do the same thing in my spare time. Thus, I kind of doubt I will ever play this game again. In fact, my copy has never been played, as the counters are all unpunched and pristine (my plays of this game many years ago were with my brother's copy). Anybody want it?

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