I am a fan of history. I know my fair share of certain parts of the world and also admit that I know nothing about others (didn’t a horse become the Emperor of Rome for a bit? I’m serious). Two areas of the world that have kept my interest over the years are the histories of eastern Asia and Britannia and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a game that pertains to both of them during the mid 19th century.
By Wellcome Collection and Preloaded, High Tea tackles the interesting topic of the opium and tea trade between Bengal, Britain and China which led to the infamous ‘Opium Wars’ of the 19th century. Like Channel 4’s game 1066 (another game Preloaded worked on), based on the Norman conquest of England, it does pertain to real history and plays out in the same pseudo-scripted way. In 1066’s single player mode the Normans win every time, no matter what…because that’s what actually happened. To be honest, I don’t know if this “actually happens” in High Tea, as I can’t beat it…which begs the history related question, are you suppose to fail, is this game suppose to be impossible to beat?
See, the British like their tea and will do anything to get it; you can ask a few of our staff (don’t fire me…again, please). Well, who had the best tea back then? China! But there was a problem. Britain didn’t have anything the Chinese wanted but Bengal did…opium. So, the British bought opium from Bengal and sold it to the Chinese in return for tea and the world was right again. This would’ve all worked out fine except for opium being a debilitating and addictive drug and Chinese officials didn’t like their population being hooked on the stuff. To keep the history lesson short, Chinese officials stopped the trade of opium in 1839, effectively “harshing everyone’s mellow” and things went downhill after that.
So, in the game you play out these events. You are the British. You like tea and you must coordinate your ships and bank account to get as much as possible. This starts out very easy at first as the game introduces you to your tasks of buying and selling and maintaining this economic triangle. Things get more complicated as the interactive history lesson plays out. The price of opium rises and falls as well as the price of tea. Ports become risky to sell to and you can lose your ships (or bribe an official) until you effectively “lose the game”. Also, if you don’t meet your quota of tea or run out of opium, you will fail. The game turns into a frantic click, click, click fest as your eyes scour all sides of the screen looking at ports, tea prices, opium prices, date of your quota, the number of ships you have and so forth. All of this is done while looking at the amazing visual design that Preloaded has come up with, which not only is pleasing to the eye, but executed well…such as 1066.
When the game is over some neat stats come up such as: Number of people hooked on opium, amount of tea sent back and a nice little graph shows you the volumes of these numbers. High Tea is a great game, in my opinion and definintely worth checking out. Also, you’re learning while having fun…video games, what can’t they do?
All pictures were screenshots