Taipan! (1982) is a computer turn-playing game, created by Art Canfil. It was originally playable on the Apple II and TRS-80 (Radio Shack). It is a game that tests leadership skills & resource management, with life-like perils & opportunities mixed in. As in the real world it is important in Taipan! to distinguish between the two, as good risks (as well as fatal traps) are often hidden or presented as their opposite.
A single player is the captain of a ship, which can transport goods to seven different Oriental ports. The captain also controls a warehouse in the home port of Hong Kong, which allows for 10,000 units of commodity storage.
There are four moneymaking commodities available for buy & sell at each port (values in parenthesis): general (1’s), arms (10’s), silk (100’s), and opium (1000’s). Their values fluctuate within a normal range of 5-25, with 12 being each commodity’s average. There are occasional instances of wildly high/low commodity prices, offering opportunities to make a killing or speculate at a bargain.
Commodities can be carried by the ship to any of the seven ports, for sale & purchase. Opium is illegal, and therefore can be seized by the port authorities. No other tradable commodity can be seized. The amount carriable is limited by ship size, minus the number of cannons. Each cannon takes up 10 units of ship’s hold. The first ship’s hold is 60, and always increases by 60 when buying a new ship.
The warehouse is the primary money maker, with a capacity nearly three orders of magnitude greater than the ship. It’s weakness is its vulnerability to theft, so quick turn-arounds are preferred. When dealing with warehouse units under 10,000; cover all primary commodities [opium & silk], with arms or general, to hedge against theft.
Example: You have $15,500,000 in total cash, and an opportunity to buy opium at $6,000 apiece for your warehouse. It’s an offer you can’t refuse, but you’re concerned about the possibility of theft cutting into your hard-earned stake. What’s the correct move?
Answer: Buy 2,500 opium for the warehouse (cost $15 million), and insure it by purchasing 7,500 arms or general– whichever is the better deal. Buying 7,500 general at $25 each (it’s highest typical cost) is still only $187,500, which equals 31.25 units of opium at $6,000 each. If you are hit with theft, the relatively worthless 7,500 general will take the biggest hit, instead of your precious 2,500 opium.
Hong Kong is also unique in that it features a bank and money lender, along with a shipyard for repairs— services no other port offers. The bank allows for unlimited cash deposits and withdrawals, and pays an interest rate of 0.5% per turn– measured in months.
The money lender is the game’s Black Hand. This is the mafia you must pay-off for protection; otherwise he sends his ferocious pirates, and you become a Galley Hand who sleeps with the fishes.
You can borrow money from him, which can be useful if a golden opportunity presents itself. Money lender interest rates are brutal, so borrow only manageable amounts. Avoid leveraging to fill the warehouse (unless opium drops to $5,000 per unit or lower), as theft & money-lender interest will tend to eat most of the profits.
You can borrow up to twice your available cash on hand. Start each game (No cannons, $400 cash & $5000 debt), by borrowing $800 from the money lender. This starts you with $1200 cash and $5,800 debt; a much better cash/debt ratio. The money lending bug must remain disabled, otherwise the game of Taipan! becomes unbalanced, and no longer a test of management skill.
If you start with 5 cannons & no cash (the easier game option); you are looking to clobber a band of pirates and grab some booty. Once you’ve acquired the cash, go to Hong Kong and borrow from the money lender to jump-start trading.
On the high seas, your ship can (and will) be attacked by pirates. It is advisable to never carry more than $200,000-$300,000 in cash, as larger amounts make you a screaming target for robbery while in port. Carrying excessive cargo (especially opium) after the first $10-$20 million has been banked, invites larger-scale pirate attacks and opium seizures with fines. This could prevent purchasing a cannon, or even worse, a new ship when most needed. It’s called ‘Bad Joss‘ and a minimal level is unavoidable, but this game routinely punishes those who are careless & sloppy.
You must pay Li Yuen whatever he asks, until you have at least 40+ cannons; otherwise the Black Hand will send 48 nasty pirates–eventually in consecutive waves. When you are summoned for a ‘donation,’ go immediately. If you already have ship damage and fear a large-fleet (30+ pirates) assault, sell all cargo (even at a loss), so you can run faster if necessary. Dumping means you waited too late.
Never have the ship’s carrying hold bigger than 80 or 90; and understand that 30-50 is ideal. A bigger ship is a bigger target for enemy guns; it also evades more slowly.
Make the big money from warehouse deals; then later in interest earnings from the bank. Notice the interest banked per turn when your deposits are over $200 million, and realize how real money is made.
This is an emulator screen shot of a well-played game, with fair luck:
By the time you reach the rank of Taipan, life on the seas becomes all about evading trouble & finding cannons–and a new ship, as needed. Cannons are always snatched up until the hold is near-full, or even completely full. A new ship simply means room for more cannons, not a bigger cargo hold. Cannons are the game’s most precious resource, as they are the only route to invincibility & peace of mind.
Until then, you the captain must learn when to run, and when to fight to the death. This is part calculated risk, and part art form; a blend of fighting nerve, savvy & leadership skills. Eventually Li Yuen turns his fleet of pirates loose, and you must be able to defend yourself. You can’t outrun 40+ pirates. When your ship has 45+ cannons, any 48-pirate attack [the maximum number] can be wiped out, while sustaining no more than 25% damage. Always make contingencies for storm damage, by getting to Hong Kong ASAP for repairs at 50% health or lower.
When the solicited ‘donations’ get to be astronomical, retiring is often the best game option. Even though you are invincible, their constant harassment makes it impossible to do business.
In summary, Taipan! is a classic computer game from the 1980’s, a great tool for developing leadership, management and life skills. It capsulizes & mimics many of the challenges people must deal with under capitalism on the path to success including: courage, recognizing opportunities, and risk management. All of this is weaved into an easily learnable & addicting classic computer game.
Fatal Mistakes in Taipan!
1) Being cheap and/or too greedy
2) Running when you should fight
3) Not maintaining full health of the ship
4) Going out when you should retire
5) Getting too big in the hold
6) Not respecting the Black Hand