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Apr 29

Want To Be A Shipping Magnate? TransOcean Shipping Company Lets You Try

I missed seeing this game when it came out, or I would have gotten it sooner, It is a simple cargo ship company tycoon game, very much like the classic 1986 Ports Of Call, with lovely 3D graphics and overall a nicer art style. For those interested, Ports Of Call XXL is in development (, and you can get versions of the classic game as well.


TransOcean has all the nice elements for a trading game — transport cargo from port to port, trying to make the most money and boost your reputations in order to improve your shipping company. Travel to more ports, play the ship driving minigame to get in and out of the docks for more status (and to save money and see the nice scenery), buy more ships, complete company contracts, and get rich. Or go bankrupt if you fail, but the game is overall fairly easy to play.

This is a single player game, with a sequel with multiplayer and more features coming out in May 2016, As such, my recommendation is to get this one on sale, unless you can’t wait to get your ship captain fix now. The polish of this game is a good sign for the future of its replacement, and I expect that you won’t get exactly the same sort of challenges and game play features in the sequel.  This original game does, though, contain the background story and missions which set up the campaign mode of its sequel, and may be a little easier to play (in single player).

There are two basic game modes, the campaign — a mission-driven game with an investor who gives you orders and wants to be paid back, with the ultimate goal to become a tycoon and take control of the company — and the free game, where you just run the shipping company however you want. The campaign can be a challenge to win, but also provides a nice tutorial on how to play.

Much of the joy of the game is making smart choices and watching your company and bank balance grow. You will spend most of your time watching your ships sail around the world, and making decisions when they reach ports. Refuel now, or wait for a cheaper location? Select cargos for the best pay, but take into account the chances of getting new valuable jobs at each destination. Repair or upgrade your ship as needed. Some cargos require upgrades in order to legally carry them — take them without and you risk customs inspections and fines. Time spent sitting in port costs money, so that is another hard choice.

Some jobs have time deadlines. They pay better, increase your status if you are one time, but penalize you if you fail. The company contracts you can take give you a mission to deliver a specific kind of cargo from one specific port to another, with a time limit as well. They add another piece of depth, trading guaranteed work with a good payoff at the end (and more status) for a commitment which makes you miss out on valuable high-paying loads to other locations — or taking them, and risk failing the contract.

All the ships in this game are container cargo ships, and can carry multiple cargo loads as long as they fit on the ship. Sometimes you have enough to fill the ship and go to one destination, but often you must it several destinations in order to travel fully loaded. Each port docked at takes time and money.

Early in the game, you will dock manually and play a simple ship driving game to get into or out of the harbor. It isn’t hard to do being slow and patient, but most of us don’t want to wait too long, and so you take chances and risk damaging your ship. Succeeding boosts your status. Being Famous means you’ll get better deals and cargos than a small, Unknown company and captain.

Later in the game, especially once you’ve seen all the ports in 3D, you’ll just pay the tug costs and skip this part of the game, as long as you have the money in the bank.

There are dangers which can affect your ship’s travel — storms at sea, fires, sickness, reefs, pirates, rescue missions — plus the risk of customs delays if your ship isn’t running legally. Taking the risky illegal goods (counterfeit and questionable merchandise) pays very well, but has much higher fines and delays if you are caught. Plus the illegal goods are confiscated, unlike loads where you aren’t compliant with regulations.

Most trips, though, are uneventful for legal, properly maintained ships. You’ll spend your time making good choices each time a ship hits port, and when you cast off to send it to its next destination. The game proceeds in simulated real time (you can accelerate the clock, and will do so often in the early game). With more ships in play, you will have a lot on your mind, as you try to figure out the best way to make money and complete your missions.
Does this sound like fun? The play style is relaxing, and the real time nature of moving ships and the horn sounding as each one makes its destination and you choose its next operation, makes it easy to just keep playing “just one more turn” style. Pausing the game to buy and outfit new ships, or sell old ones you don’t need, upgrade your existing ships (you will usually decide this when they hit a port), check on ships parked and waiting in a location for cargo, checking new and existing company contracts to make plans, or just looking over the balance sheets and see how much money you are making — lots of stuff to do here.

The game runs well and is fairly bug free, but it isn’t quite perfect. Any feature upgrades will have to wait for the sequel.

The campaign is challenging and has frustrating elements by design. You are surprised with new demands by the investor, and some are very hard to manage. Fail to complete these goals, and your company can fail. Run out of money, and you can go bankrupt. The investor and bank can give you loans, but you had better pay them off quickly. The investor is effectively the villain antagonist of your story, and will demand an unfair share of your money. So when you see the warning that the payment is due soon, make sure you have money in the bank.

Borrowing money from the bank becomes possible once you gain status, but the investor treats loans as if they were gifts or profits. Just a fair warning, if you have bank loans and the investor comes wanting money, the payment will be larger, with the debt not accounted for at all in your assets. It is best done for very short term gains, such as buying new ships to make money faster, and using the new money to pay off the loans (regardless of term, try to pay all off within a year at most, a quarter ideally).

You can amass a huge fleet of ships in the game, but all your orders are done manually. You can’t stack multiple orders. There is no automation, AI managers for the ships, or anything to make it easier to handle dozens of ships and routes. The game is playable and winnable without having more than two dozen ships, and you can sell old ones (and should sell your cheap starting ship once you own better ones, as it isn’t very good), but it is entirely tempting and easy to simply buy more and more until the game bogs down. Solution? Sell off ships until your fleet is a fun size to play, and just let your bank balance grow.

The last is important for the campaign. The investor wants a ridiculous amount of money for you to buy out and win the game, based on your assets at the time you hit the highest rank and complete the terrifically hard Hotel mission. I thought that I was doing well — objectively, a company worth 6 billion is a good thing — but it meant I needed to raise 15 billion in order to win. If I was worth one billion, getting another 2.5 billion wouldn’t be nearly as much work. Plus the investor keeps taking a cut while you do this, so making more money actually makes the end game goal even harder.

Fortunately, a lot of the fun of the game is in the early phases where you have only one or a few ships, and are just expanding your company and your reach in the world. Free play lets you do this over and over, without the hard missions imposed on you. You need to explore — reach new ports — before you can access the whole world and larger ships.

The biggest thing missing is competition.  This is corrected nicely in the sequel, which allows for 8 players — human or AI — to work against each other.  It also adds a lot more details and options to the game play, which should increase its replay value considerably.  The classic Ports Of Call game worked very well for hotseat game play, and TransOcean 2 should deliver the same sort of money-making business challenge.

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