"1602 A.D." like some other games may seem aimed at the history buff. We reviewed this game thanks to our continued interest in the subject of empire simulations and found ourselves disappointed.
The premise is that the player is the government in charge of setting up all the economic and social institutions of a new colony in a world that is a set of islands with varying resources. Although designed for Windows 98 it appears to still work with the more recent Windows XP. In our runs on XP, it crashed frequently especially as the game developed and battles started, but as long as the player saves the game every minute, nothing is lost.
For history, one is better off with "Europa Universalis" and for the economic simulation, "1602 A.D." is no substitute for "Tropico" or Trevor Chan's "Capitalism II." The whole idea of settler economics as portrayed is not that interesting and "Europa Universalis" tries to introduce at least the politics of feudal times on the cusp of capitalism. Island economies of the "1602 A.D." sort are most useful for theory--and this is not very interesting theory.
While the economic model in "1602 A.D." is simplified compared with those used behind other games, it's not simple enough to recommend to the very young and inexperienced computer user. Nor is the interface so simple. It will require an intermediate game player.
On the subject of indigenous peoples, a tribe existed in one simulation that simply traded spice for cloth and alcohol. We see the tribe roaming the island carrying spears.
The road to success in this game is balance--not overbuilding impatiently and then waiting for citizens to show up. When the annual budget goes into the red, possibly for a lack of subjects/citizens to tax, it is the player's job to shut down the various businesses and adjust import and export prices one is willing to pay until the overall economy shows a profit again. The need to shut down or bulldoze businesses (lay-offs) distinguishes the player from some sort of socialist of the year 1602. Many other simulation games share the same underlying idea that it is the government's revenue that is profit. If the government can take in more revenue than it spends, the player seems to succeed to invest another day. The game provides a breakdown of the revenue surplus for each city and the most important figures are the overall budget surplus for the whole empire that the player sets up. Not so important is what is going on inside each firm with each customer: that's why we call "1602 A.D." "state-capitalist," instead of Liberal capitalist or free market capitalist.
Marxists have always opposed how capitalism manages to leave productive business shut down and workers simultaneously unemployed in a world where it is obvious that everyone's needs for employment and goods are not satisfied. It is often in capitalism that there is both too much capital and too many workers--a terrible paradox. That's why we call for the capitalists to step aside and allow scientific planning of production, since obvious needs exist with the means to satisfy them, if we take out the profit motive or other indiscriminate motivating forces.
The underlying model in "1602 A.D." is exactly of this sort where the proto-capitalist class fancies itself successful because it solves "supply chain" problems. The player is supposed to build commodity warehouses, fill them up and sell oversupply for money. As in other games, in "1602 A.D." it is important to focus on supplying certain commodities at the right time or there will be bottlenecks holding back the whole economy. Where there is oversupply the price goes down and where there is undersupply the price goes up: that's the whole and limited extent of economic understanding in this game.
One paradoxical result is that it is possible that the budget will balance just when no one works. Somehow it proves possible to tax people while all their businesses are shut down. That is proof that the underlying model is not realistic. Such a situation is only possible when the government is obtaining surplus-value from somewhere else or spending down previous overstock, something better handled by a theory of overproduction crisis like Marx's.
The key bottlenecks in the game are military-related. Thus being able to produce one's own cannons and the related ships and defense buildings is key if competitors are at all on the move. Later comes the ability to build fortresses.
This game is actually a measure to what extent the idea of state-capitalism is in the air. There are now many games like this one where the government's surplus revenue plays the same role as profit in the private sector. In this and other games, the government/player gathers surpluses to invest. Perhaps in response to this lack of fit to the actual U.$ or other imperialist economy, we now see games arise that specify which sector one is in charge of, "Zoo Tycoon" or a similar one for mall developers for example. It remains to be seen whether consumers prefer to play as tycoons in individual business sectors as in "Zoo Tycoon" or continue to serve as the "king," "dictator" or "god" of a given economy. Given that most video games in our sick capitalist market are pure mass-murder simulations, games with a military component probably have an edge even in the strategy games market.
In the many state-capitalist games, well selected government investments result in more revenue for the government and a further expansion of economic activity. For cases like that, Marx and Engels spoke of "social capital" and "state-capitalism." Rather than look at companies individually, these sorts of games come to an average profit for all the businesses combined. The fact that the player is still competing against three other empires guarantees by itself that the social profit rate --or government profit rate for practical purposes in games like these--is in fact a capitalist criterion, not a socialist one. If a supposedly socialist economy met humyn needs and achieved full employment, it would still face military disaster at the hands of expansionist competitors. (That is all unless one plays on the easiest settings and the competitors all fall apart. In that case, in part because the game starts in "1602," it's still easier to understand late capitalism in "Capitalism II."
In real life, it is the challenge of the international proletariat to go beyond state-capitalism and actually change the underlying competitive dynamic of the whole world. For this reason, instead of promoting the fad about "globalization," which is really imperialism, MIM fights for a global minimum wage, global child labor regulations, global environmental protection etc. MIM also fights for the kind of socialism that is not "autonomous" or set up with "local control." We seek to connect people together globally in a tangible way, so that workers internationally will know how to keep bourgeois relics from corrupting their relations even with other workers who live at a great distance. "1602 A.D." starts and ends in a period of time likely to leave its users reinforced in beliefs better left to the historical age of 1602.