When I was just a wee lad I would spend countless pasty-faced hours staring at my monochrome Apple IIe monitor, playing a high-seas trading game called Taipan. The basic goal was to amass as much wealth as possible, trading in silks, spices, and - if you were willing to break the law for the big dollars - opium. The game was hypnotic in its simplicity - port to port, buy and sell, the repetition only broken by the occasional skirmish with privateers.
Years later, along came Gazillionaire from LavaMind. While not incredible or original by any stretch of the imagination (and with that unmistakable shareware-game-disguised-as-a-retail-game flavor), Gazillionaire kept its place on my hard drive because of its sheer simplicity. The basic premise was no different than it was in Taipan - fly to a planet, buy some cargo, fly to the next and sell it. You won if you beat the other five entrepreneurs to the magic mark of a million Kubars. There was no attempt to employ complex strategy or realistic economic elements. Despite this simplicity, I found myself playing the game constantly. It didn't consume my life but, like Solitaire (or, dare I say it, Minesweeper), Gazillionaire was consistently reliable for an hour or so of mind-numbing fun.
Now LavaMind has released Gazillionaire Deluxe, a "sequel" (their word, not mine) to Gazillionaire. Actually not a sequel in the classical sense, this Deluxe version simply gives the player more - more ships to choose from, more planets to visit, and more random events. But there are some problems with these additions. In the case of the new ships, they are, for the most part, superior to the originals, rendering old favorites nearly useless. The new planets are great too, but you can still only have six planets in your custom solar system per game. This makes it easy to gear the game in your favor. For instance, pick a ship with a fast engine and eliminate Pyke (the engine upgrade planet) from your chosen solar system. Bingo, you've got an incredible speed advantage for the whole game.
There is really only one major gameplay addition - the stock market, which allows you to buy and sell stock on each planet. It's interesting, and I've had entire games swing in my favor based on stock I bought. One feature sorely lacking is the ability to play with remote human players. You can play hot-seat with up to five other players on a single computer, or you can play via e-mail. Likewise, LavaMind have done little to update the simple graphics or sound. The visual elements make little difference, but the use of silly sound samples for every action was one of the most annoying things about Gazillionaire, and Deluxe uses a nearly identical library of irritating beeps and giggles.
Gazillionaire Deluxe isn't going to change your life. The price is a tad high, and the look a bit dated, but it's a nice little diversion for the occasional moment when you're just looking for a "quick game."