So far as the strategy gaming community is concerned, Soren Johnson earned his stripes back in 2005, when he designed the highly-regarded Civilization 4.
Now he's back in the thick of Windows PC strategy gaming, with his own company Mohawk Games, which also includes Civilization 5 art director Dorian Newcomb.
Mohawk unveiled its first game today, which has thus far been kept pretty well under wraps, confined to a small group of beta players, who've politely declined to share their views with the world at large.
Offworld Trading Company is headed for Steam Early Access on Feb. 12. The images and trailer posted here supplement what we did know about the game: primarily that it eschews military unit building and combat for a more economic outlook.
Players run commercial interests on a Mars colony, and seek to corner various markets for resources. Much like in board game "The Settlers of Catan," each player usually has a surfeit or some resources and a shortage of others. Players seek to control supply, demand, distribution and price in order to become more profitable than competitors.
"Each game is different. The tricky part is getting an intuitive feel for how the prices change over the course of the game," Johnson told Polygon. "In StarCraft you see set build patterns: these are the first ten things you should do, in this order and by this time, otherwise you're not going to be competitive. Nothing like that can exist in Offworld because there can never be a best resource. It totally depends on how every specific game plays out."
You can't build units. Period.
Players explore the map, choose resources, build in such a way as to maximize profits and seek to manipulate the markets. There are different races, which are chosen by the player according to the advantages and limitations of the resources they have decided to market.
Most strategy games are about conquest. If another player has something that you desire, you build a giant army and try to grab that something, destroying your enemy along the way. Offworld Trading Company does not work this way.
"You can't build units. Period," says Johnson.
There are low-level aggressive tactics that players can use. These basically come down to sabotage, but their use is limited, their acquisition is expensive and their effects are brief.
"You are spending most of your time figuring out how to make money," says Johnson. "But it is fun to mess with the other players. You just have to limit that because otherwise those strategies tend to dominate. You see that in the typical RTS which is about wiping out the other players' stuff."
As you might expect. Soren has opinions on the state of real-time strategy genre. "As the games get more and more expensive, there is less and less room for risk taking," he says. "The RTS is in danger of dying off. There are not that many RTS brands that are really healthy any more.
"They found a formula that works but it's a narrow formula and there are a lot of people who are not interested because they are extremely demanding on players. It's an experience a lot of people don't think is fun but there is a good chance that they might enjoy a real time strategic experience that is not around finagling units."
Offworld Trading Company is available for discounted pre-purchase directly through publisher Stardock, for $35.99.