It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of resource management sims. I like buying cows with just the wheat I can grow in my flash-based farm and building entire cities out of the wood my tiny computer minions chop themselves. And boy, do I like Christmas. Put the two together, and I’m sold.
That’s how construction management simulation Trade Nations: North Pole found its way onto my computer. Not only do I get to build Santa’s home town, but since developer Z2Live has teamed with Child’s Play, I can also help out a good cause. There’s nothing like doing a good deed at the holidays, and hopefully the gameplay of Trade Nations: North Pole will leave you feeling just as warm inside.
Living on Top of the World
Santa will welcome you to the North Pole, and guess what? You get to be the mayor! It’s like every dream of my six-year-old self has come true. Santa lets you know that you’re going to have to finish up all the presents this year. He doesn’t seem overly concerned, but unless everyone wants to receive ill-fitting handknit sweaters, he and I should probably have a word before he lays this much responsibility on me.
Except for Santa’s house, there’s not really any place for the elves, your labor force, to live. So you need to get on building them some homes. The elves won’t go inside their houses, though, presumably because they’ve all still got that fresh paint smell, and the elves are trying to avoid breathing in the VOCs. Instead they just wait around outside their houses for you to give them something to do. You are the mayor of the North Pole, after all; can’t you feel the power you wield?
As the mayor, one of your primary goals is job creation. You create jobs by building small businesses, like logging camps, cobblers, and bakeries. Your elves go to work at the shops and start producing things that can be used to make presents. The elves don’t ever seem to get paid, though. They just work and work incessantly, for no compensation.
The elves create more stuff, you collect more stuff, and you ship off more presents to Santa. Along the way you can upgrade your facilities, build more shops to employ more elves, and expand your town to hold all that prosperity you’ve brought to the the North Pole. You might be the best mayor ever.
Keeping Up With the Clauses
If you’ve got friends playing Trade Nations: North Pole, that will probably make it a lot more fun, because you can go around to each other’s towns and get bonuses when you do. Otherwise, Santa is your only friend. I mean, Santa’s a good friend and all, but as you can imagine, he’s that friend who always does too much. He’s that friend who’s always just a bit better than you and always has to one-up everything you do.
Santa is the king of one-upsmanship. Just check out his town. I could play for years and my town would never look like Santa’s town. It’s like a real life winter wonderland, right there on my computer. How can I compete with that? I can’t.
If I really wanted my town to look like Santa’s, though, I could probably make it happen. You can use “stars,” one of the many magical resources in Trade Nations: North Pole, to get a more magical-looking town. You won’t have that many on hand by just playing the game, though. If you want to get fancy, like that Santa over there, you’ll have to spend some real money. Yeah, you can buy some stars if you want to really make your town shine.
Frankly, I didn’t really feel the need for any extra stars or any other game currency. I didn’t hit any big walls and the game went along just fine, if a bit slowly, if I played without any in-app purchases. That said, Trade Nations: North Pole is free, and if you like a free game, it’s not a bad idea to show the developers some money love. There were also some tasks that didn’t move as quickly as I would have liked, and as this is a standalone game that you have to startup and shutdown whenever you want to play, speeding up a 60 minute task with some stars isn’t a bad idea.
What Would Santa Do?
There are some tasks that move gameplay along right at the beginning. These tasks work effectively as a tutorial. You’re taught how to buy houses and shops and put elves to work. Once that’s over though, there aren’t anymore goals. You’re just sort of on your own to play as you like. Some people may like being left to their own devices and be happy to finally be free of a nagging resource management sim goal system.
I missed it, though. Before I fully had my feet about me, I was left to navigate my own little town, and I wasn’t 100% sure what to do next. Besides repeating the same tasks from the tutorial over and over again, I was at a loss. Eventually in all of these sorts of games, I begin to ignore the task system and play how I want, but I like that guidance in the beginning, and I wish it had gone on for a bit longer.
Despite my personal feelings of abandonment at the end of the tutorial, Trade Nations: North Pole is a really cheery game to put you in the Christmas spirit. I was somewhat worried it would be the sort of game constantly trying to push in-app purchases, and while that was present, it wasn’t overwhelming or oppressive. I could easily play on at my own pace, creating my little Christmas town, pressing my elves into labor, and spending my own money as I saw fit (or not).
And Z2Live has pledged to donate $15,000 to Child’s Play, a charity improving the lives of children in hospitals with toys and games. You just have to play the game, make packages, and send them on to Santa. If I can help out someone who really needs it, just by playing a game, well that’s pretty cool, too.