DescriptionAye, she's a beautiful ship. Sublight Ion Drives, Gamma-Ray Lasers, Rifter Pods that can rip space itself -- not to mention any hostiles -- and a Hyper Drive that'll zap you and 50,000 pounds of cargo from one corner of your starmap to the other in a blink of an eye. And now she's yours. The trouble is that you're left all but broke. The galaxy is out there waiting -- deals to made, star systems to explore -- and you have an empty hold and 500 Megabucks. It's enough to buy a few hyper cells and some penny-ante cargo like monopoles or wine, but the return on that stuff won't pay for the ion fuel to dock, not to mention patch all the holes the Thoft raiders will put in your shield between ports-of-call. That is, unless you can figure profit margins and targeting corrections like a pro. That's the galaxy out there; it ain't for the faint-of-heart.
Avalon Hill's Free Trader is a no-safety-net, you-against-the-galaxy space merchant game. The profit margins are tiny, the market fluctuates mercilessly, the Thoft spider attack cruisers are deadly accurate, and everything costs Megabucks. The Atari version has an arcade side, combat requiring a quick eye and a light touch, while on the Apple careful estimation -- laser range, angle, and impact -- wins the day. Uniquely, you do not aim your lasers or Rifters, but correct them according to your bridge computer's report of the previous shot. The target is invisible and your correction must be the inverse of the report, giving the rapid-fire combat on the Atari a brain-churning verisimilitude.
Regardless of platform, though, combat is merely another liability for your bottom line. Profit is the measure of survival: keep your shields intact and you'll have ample time to blast the occasional Thoft cruiser. Days fly by, however, like minutes on the clock, meaning that the hefty margin you scouted can be negative when you finally arrive with the cargo. The fourteen planet types -- discernible when you arrive in a star system -- each have fixed imports and exports among thirty-five different trade goods (which include the various fuel cells for your ship). The planets and the starmap are fixed from game to game, allowing you necessarily to hone your strategy.
The game screen sequence varies by platform, but principally consists of a ship status screen, cargo manifest, a map of your local star system, a hyperspace map leading to sixty-three other star systems, a planetary market screen when you're landed, and a first-person-view out your main portal whenever the Thoft come to visit. A few simple sounds like your ion drives in subspace, the tick of days turning over, and the relentless zap of Thoft lasers, serve to heighten the tension by reminding you of the Megabucks draining away.
Saved games? This is the galaxy, baby; it ain't for the faint-of-heart.
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