St. Thomas
for Amiga (OCS/ECS)

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Mr Creosote:
Company: Sphinx / Rainbow Arts
Year: 1994
Genre: Strategy
Theme: Business / Historical / Nautical / Pirates / Logistics
Language: Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 1287
Review by Mr Creosote (2023-09-16)
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Errol Flynn sailing the Caribbean with a band of buccaneers. Facing Basil Rathbone in a fencing duel to free Olivia de Havilland from the clutches of this rival pirate. Battling two warships at once. Then, employed by the English, overthrowing the French garrison of Port Royal. The inspiration for a certain ultra-famous game going by the name of Pirates! Which makes it into the grand adventure of a heroic individual. Nobody, on the other hand, made a movie about the “adventures” of Lionel Atwill as the colony's original governor in the movie. A week in the life of the head of local administration? Though that is exactly what some German game developers tried here.

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At least it does start from a fairly original scenario within the scope of possible ones within this frame. You find yourself as the governor of the tiny Prussian colony of St. Thomas. Leased from the Danish crown, this tiny port was historically mainly used for slave trade. When a couple of decades later the home country's priorities changed, the overseas adventures were over. The Prussians did not leave any lasting influence in the region, but at least they had, for a short time, tried to play in the big league.

Sphinx, developers of the computer game St. Thomas, also didn't last all that long in the business. None of their games are widely remembered at all. This one had been announced as “almost done” in 1990 already. When it finally came out four years later, they had made a handful of other games in between. And nobody heard from them again after. Maybe publisher Rainbow Arts actually released a game which hadn't actually been properly finished by their developers? St. Thomas isn't noticeably incomplete. It isn't a very polished experience, either.

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At its core, it is – as expected – a sort of trading game. The main objective is to supervise and expand the triangular trade common during this historical period. Convoys of trade ships are just waiting to be scheduled. Ideally protected by some war ships, if available, to defend against pirates and other powers with which your home country may not be on good terms.

Though local trading and supporting politics are also of relevance. Agreements with influential traders active on other islands or military pacts with other governors will pay off sooner or later. A political marriage could tie even closer bonds. Finally, if everything else fails or if opportunity strikes, there are military means available. Semi-covertly, by employing pirates, or openly, by planning invasions.

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Granted, the initial (negative) astonishment about the role allocated to the player doesn't exactly set high expectations. The underdog role, surrounded by superpowers, is an appealing one, however. Even if at its heart, this is a typically German number crunching game, the scenario isn't a horrible one. For sure, it could offer sufficient variety.

And indeed, the first impression is that it does, judging by the overwhelming number of options found in the various sub-menus. At least most of it is greyed out at first, i.e. not immediately available. Otherwise, the entry hurdle would have been impossible to jump. With growing influence, expanding power, new options are introduced gradually, which is essentially a good thing. Or so it seems, until you realize that most of it plays out rather samey. I.e. in typical business sim style.

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The attempts to lighten things up a bit are almost comically inspired by the aforementioned Pirates! Of course, there are swordfights as well as ship battles. The former suffers from slow gameplay and poor controls, the latter is (ironically) just too fast. An extraordinary amount of time can be spent on negotiations with other characters. Guessing from their character descriptions what style of conversation they prefer, you try to get political figures, merchants or ladies onto your good side. Which all feels much too random and anyway takes way too long. Though, ironically, isn't it sort of a predecessor of the dancing minigame introduced in the Pirates! remake?

The minigames are neither well executed, nor do they really fit well into the theme of being a chief administrator. The core subject matter itself, however, is, relatively speaking, better suited for a game than making a movie out of it. In that respect, St. Thomas is a serviceable game with a fairly awful interface, made for fans, incorporating no new ideas, but sporting a nice scenario. Its main pitfall is indeed that it lacks focus and streamlining. Its strength not being particularly strong, but then even those being buried beneath a load of unavoidable busywork. Which, for sure, is entertaining neither in a game, nor a movie.

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