The success of Stardock's Galactic Civilizations taught it a valuable lesson in capitalism: monopolies are good. Stardock pretty much owned the OS/2 game market because, well, no one else wanted it. Since there were so few native OS/2 games, all those astigmatic LAN managers wearing "LUV A WOOKIE" pins and swearing that OS/2 was the Second Coming (even though it ruined every system I put it on) would buy any native games. They had to. It's in the geek manual. So Galactic Civ was a pretty strong seller and garnered a few awards along the way.
Well, OS/2 has gone the way of the woolly mammoth, but Stardock is still around. Its latest game is Entrepreneur, and while you won't mistake it for Capitalism, it's a decent real-time economic game with good Internet support. Entrepreneur is pretty much a real-time conquest game with a different motif. Instead of using armies, you use salesmen and marketers. It's all kind of strange, actually, and vaguely reminiscent of MULE.
Entrepreneur puts you at the head of a corporation selling computers. The game ships with only this market, but more are promised, possibly for free over the Internet. You begin a game on one of a variety of maps by selecting a specialization in marketing, manufacturing, or research. (You'll use all three of these areas, but the specialization provides a bonus.) Play unfolds on a large map of the world that is divided into regions. You and the competition are trying to secure a dominant share of the market in these regions, and the player who achieves a monopoly in computer manufacturing wins.
This is done in a number of ways. First, you research regions to determine what elements they like to see in their computers. (Do they prefer ease of use over reliability?) You control a single region at the beginning, and here you build your main offices and facilities. Five structures can be built and upgraded: research, production, marketing, sales, and recreational. Using sliders, you hire and fire people to work in these buildings, and they in turn produce whatever you need. Engineers, for instance, conduct research into a wide area of product improvement areas, like cost, production speed, operating system, keyboard, monitor, and so on. Marketers create either positive or negative marketing campaigns that you send into other regions.
The idea is to improve product and tweak prices, then send salesmen and marketing strategies (which are represented by icons) into other areas to help maintain strong sales. Other players are doing the same thing, with the result that you have to continually monitor regional sales and needs to ensure you maintain a monopoly. Along the way, you and other players receive special action cards that can tilt the odds. Some improve worker morale and production, others harm the competition or give you a one-time boost.
The various elements and basic premise of Entrepreneur are strong, but the details and the integration of these elements is somewhat lacking. For starters, there seems to be no real-world economic model. "Money" is very abstract and markets fluctuate rapidly and without true cause. The game makes no claim for economic realism, but why make an economic game where the economics are just window dressing? The particulars of taking over a market seem vague. Why am I succeeding or not succeeding? There are some charts and tables, but they don't provide enough feedback to allow you to fine-tune your approach to market dominance.
Entrepreneur's interface also doesn't come together as a fluid, functioning whole. There's too much screen hopping in order to change settings and not enough information on the main screen. The manual is also littered with spelling, grammatical, and factual errors that had me scratching my head. On the plus side, there is strong and easy Internet play (via STARDOCK.NET) and aggressive AI.
The idea of creating a real-time strategy game in which you conquer with sales instead of tanks is novel. (Though Stardock forces the military analogies too much: salesmen as generals and marketers as tanks? C'mon.) But there is much to like about Entrepreneur, if you can get by the fussy interface and nebulous economics.