The graphics are cheap and cheesy but the systsem requirements so low this game will probably run well on a George Foreman grill.
Spice Road reminds me of Railroad Tycoon -- optimizing finances and spending a good bit of time interpreting spread sheet data -- logistics. But where I got tired of Railroad Tycoon rather quickly, this game keeps my interest by having a bit of Civilization (the Sid Myers series) thrown in. The ability to train guard units and send them out alone or embedded in caravans really rounds out the game nicely. In the future, I hope there are more types of military units than simply "Guards," or some small expansion of combat. There are many types of buildings to put in your cities and choices to be made about when to level them up which also helps this game be more compelling than simply optimizing spread sheets.
The depth of game is quite good. Don't be fooled by early missions; there are like 20 missions for a good reaon -- it takes that long to learn the basic game. There is a lot of subtlety here which is key to keeping any game interesting after multiple play-throughs. After 2 missions you might think it is simple, but after 8 you realize it is anything but simple. After 12, the possibility of Buyer's Remorse begins to permanently fade.
I was hoping to learn a bit of history when I bought this game, and in that arena, I have been disappointed. I have not come away with a deeper understanding of who the major players of the area were nor what their cultures were like, but the game is still an enjoyable change of pace for thinking fans of strategy games. Adding a few sentences of historical context to each of the mission descriptions would go a long way for history buffs.
Still it is fun to engage in the virtual construction of opium dens, slave markets and monastaries with consequences for the choices you make. You can choose war or peace with NPC factions and pay protection money or fight NPC bandits. Limited finances will make you constantly choose carefully what to build next. Choices, choices!
Some complaints I have: When I start a new town and send out 4 scouts, I often leave 2 on auto-pilot and give 2 instructions on where to go. Later on, I can't easily tell which ones I'm controlling. I get the impression that if you ever take a scout out of auto-explore, it just patrols back and forth to the point you set, wasting time, not exploring after the first round trip. (Not sure if I fully understand its AI yet.)
Worse, the caravans and guards remove the fog of war, but don't fill in the resources, so I can't tell if a patch of ground has been explored for resources by scouts or not. Put it all together, and I feel quite out of control when it comes to exploring for resources. I need more information and more control. It is frustrating when resources are suddenly revealed long after you thought you had scouted out an area... long after you chose where to place your city in that area.
I'd like to see a path when I mouseover a scout -- his planned route of where to go next. Or maybe an icon showing whether he is on auto-pilot. I'd like the ability to return a patrolling scout back to auto-exploration. I'd like to see two different types of fog: one that lets me know if an area has been explored by scouts or not. Maybe a caravan can remove the fog of war, but the area still has a grey tinge until explored by a scout?
I'd like the scouts to look a little less like the caravans. A medium blue oval is sometimes hard to distinguish from a medium-small blue oval. How about adding some bumps to the caravan icon or something?
The list of commodities in the profit/loss view is not alphabetized, making you read the entire list every time you want to find "weapons" or "food" or "ore." On the other hand, at least there is a long enough list to make the game interesting.
Occasionally you will take out loans, but when you repay them, you must repay your largest loan first which can make it hard to get out of a hole once you get a little stuck.
All in all, Spice Road definitely has its charms. It is stable, smooth, coherent, and consistently entertaining. Despite discussing some specific short-comings, I expect to get a couple hundred hours out of this title. I got it on Steam sale for $11.99, and that price seems about right to me. I would hesitate at $20. I am hard to impress, but give it 6.8/10 in its current (Nov 2014) form -- a worthy entry in any Steam library of strategy games. New patches still coming out -- should improve over time.