Classic Game Review: Tai Pan 1987 Commodore 64

Another blockbuster book by James Clavell makes its debut on the home computer. This time is Tai Pan and Ocean that tempt you with an oriental adventure. The team behind the conversion has taken a very different approach than Virgin took about a year ago, when the Shogun book and TV series were turned into a folding-screen arcade adventure.

Traveling back to the mid-19th century, you become Dirk Struan, a pirate and smuggler whose patch is the stormy seas of China. Make him a penniless pirate and smuggler.

The ultimate goal of the game is to become Tai Pan, the supreme leader and the merchant prince. The city of Canton is the starting point, and the first objective is to find a kind soul who will lend you a few thousand. Once a loan has been obtained, the donation allows the purchase of a ship, along with a crew, weapons and cargo that can be shipped to another city and sold, hopefully, for profit.

A hundred years ago there were no friendly government agencies to help the unemployed in China; the initial loan comes with conditions. If you can’t make enough money to pay your benefactor within the allotted time, it’s game over when you lose your mind! A successful first trip should put you on the path to unimaginable riches. Provide thieves, pirates and a hostile climate can be overcome.


The upwardly mobile aspiring hero can take several approaches. One ploy is to abide by the law at all times and leave the press attacking and pirating the scum. But then occasionally dabbling on the mischievous side of life, smuggling fast here and there, pays off. Clearly, boarding and looting passing ships or taking them out of the water, recruiting men against their will, and trading contraband are the most attractive (and precise) ways to reach the top in the 19th century China Sea.

No matter what your moral stances are on matters of piracy, the day-to-day problems of running a successful commercial business still need to be addressed. Decisions abound – which ships to buy, how to man them, what cargo to carry, where to sell it, and how best to get there – all are questions that need to be answered.


While Dirk is on dry land, the screen shows that streets and buildings can be entered and once inside the load, passersby from other merchants and the law can be bought and sold. The strange useful item can be found lying inside.

At sea, in general travel mode, a bird’s-eye view of the ship and the surrounding area is displayed on the screen. The point of view changes when the battle begins, representing the enemy from a point of view placed behind your cannon. When aiming the weapon, careful consideration must be given to where to place the shots if the loot contained in your target’s hold is to be salvaged. Successfully disabling another ship allows its crew to board it and intimidate the other sailors. If you save them their worthless furs, they tend to join you and hand over their current and future earnings to your tender care.

Activities, including buying and selling in port or reading the map and address at sea, are controlled through a panel of icons distributed at the bottom of the screen.

Tai Pan is a decent game for Commodore 64 and has a lot of gameplay that keeps players going for hours. My rating for this game is 3.8 of 5. See more of my reviews.

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