You like trading simulators? You might like Patrician IV, if you haven't already heard about it already. Otherwise...well, let's just say the genre doesn't really bring a broad audience.
Patrician IV is the latest title in the merchant series, which puts you in the trailing edge of the Medieval Ages as a trader beginning to build his empire. The game's about building your wealth, status, reputation, and eventually rising to control the seas with your wealth and power as you take up the reigns of production and administration.
At the heart of the game is the aspect of trade. Buy low, sell high, ride the wave of fortune to victory. It's a simple matter of finding what cities produce what goods, then finding what cities want those goods, then setting up trade routes between the two and hoping that your profits outweigh all those pesky costs on the side. The interface to trade creates problems in some respects, but a lot of things can be automated so that your convoys will automatically buy and sell the goods you tell them to when the AI finds that the prices are in a good range.
There's more to the game than just being an honest trader, though. Some unscrupulous folk might want to take your goods, or you might want to take someone else's, leading to some conflict. The ship battles aren't great though, leading to some overdrawn battles that seem to be far too slow. Beyond that, there's also the ability to raise your rank and reputation, which give you more and more options from the game. You can unlock the ability to build production facilities, for example, giving you a leg up both on profits and on dictating what exactly is being made in cities you have a foothold in. You can even get to the point where city projects are under your command, though this obviously requires just a little bit more time.
When you first begin the game's campaign, all you have is a simple counting house in a city and an objective. Through this, the game gives you a tutorial of the gameplay, teaching you more and more as the game progresses. The tutorials aren't very clear, but they are good enough to have you learn the game's mechanics. Navigating some of the game's menus is still a bit of a chore, however: though most of the interfaces are easy to make your way through, there are a good number of them that have you question what the heck you are doing.
The biggest problem is that of the trade route menu, which you will be seeing a whole lot of. Figuring out what goods are being loaded and what goods are being unloaded isn't bad, but items involved in both of these actions are put on the same list, forcing you to switch between the two of them to see what the numbers say, which determines what goods are actually being put on the boat and what are getting sold.
Things also get clunky when you want to see particular information in towns, such as how much goods cost, because not only do you need presence there (such as a counting house or a convoy), you must also have the convoy selected if it's your only presence. This makes sense if you want to buy goods and put them directly on the convoy, but when you just want to see the price, this becomes needlessly complicated and a bit of a pain to figure out in the first place.
Graphics and sound are pretty good, for the type of game this is. That said, you can turn down the graphics a substantial amount, allowing the game to run even on some older systems, if all you're interested in are the numbers, and not the flashy appearance.
If you're looking for an economic simulation game set during the reign of the Hanseatic League, then look no further: Patrician IV will scratch that oddly-specific itch of yours. It's got some good trading depth with combat, the ability to rise in power, and a way to become a ruler through your merchantry. Though you may be miffed with the lack of a really tough challenge from your competitors. If you don't usually play this kind of game, then you're not going to be convinced in the slightest. It's got some serious interface problems and does nothing really exciting to the genre. So if this is your kind of thing, awesome. Otherwise, well, don't go in expecting much.