Orbital Trader Strategy Guide
Compiled by Dave Johson
Orbital Trader is a great little game. It combines the fun of being a
super rich merchant with the challenges of market trading. It is a
simple game with a great deal of depth. The in game help feature will
answer almost all of your "how to" questions and this modest strategy
guide may give you some ideas on how to rack up high scores.
Before you read any farther, you should know that the game has a huge
amount of in game information. Put your mouse over just about anything
and it will tell you what is happening. Take a few minutes to do this
at the start of your next game, it will boost your understanding and
Time is Money
Sure, you have heard the old cliche, but in this game it is very true.
Time is the key to how much cash you make and how high your final score
will be. It affects the game in several ways.
One: The longer the game you pick, the more money you will make. In
the short game, you are unlikely to be able to buy many planetary
improvements and it is almost guaranteed you will not make a profit off
them. These improvements can make you a lot of cash, but they need
time. In the medium game, you can make money from them, but you need to
be picky and you will not get them all. If you note the high scores,
you will see they are kept in different tables, one for each combination
of time and number of planets. The highest of the high scores will be
in the 50 year game.
Two: Watch the travel time indicator. You make money trading, not
flying around. Sure, your planetary investments generally pay off per
month, but their rate does not change because you are on a long business
trip. If you see a great price 8 months the way across the galaxy,
remember that you are likely to make more trading four times at planets
2 months apart. Weapons during wars are a possible exception to this
rule, as they bring a very high profit per unit. Missions are also an
exception, as they can bring a lot of money into your pocket.
Three: The space elevator can really reduce your travel time. I like
putting one on the rim planets, as they tend to have the longest flight
times. You may wish to consider having one on an inner planet as well,
so you can get out quickly as well. Cutting a trip from 8 months to 4
months essentially doubles the number of trades you can make.
Moderation is good, as these do not return any money directly. Also,
unless you are in a really big hurry, it is better to make the long trip
to the rim with lots of short hops and lots of trading. The Space
Portal are even faster, but only go to other planets that have Space
Portals. In my opinion, this is not terribly versatile and I do not
recommend them, even with the cheaper price
Four: When should you stop investing in planets? What, you mean you
can not just keep investing until the end? Of course not, you need to
know when to stop. Watch the amount of time left in the game, as it
will tell you when to stop investing in different things. Some
investments will stop being worthwhile earlier than others. This is
very important in the short game, fairly important in the medium game
and not very important in the long game. In the long game, you should
pretty much have finished buying everything some time before the end.
Five: Wormholes are your friend. The instant travel means extra
riches. Be sure to look at the possibilities, especially if you get one
of the wonderful ones which go both ways. You can make a lot of cash in
a hurry in those situations.
Six: Compound growth. Remember, that at a 4% growth rate, things
will double in 17 time units. In the short game, the planet populations
are small and you will find that bonds give better yields. But in the
longer games, the populations can get huge and you can make a lot of
cash from population dependent investments.
For example, I ran a 50 year game, not trading anything, just watching
the populations. Sinope was a medicine producing planet with a starting
population of 2,250 and a growth rate of 1.8%. This is not a very
impressive return, especially in real life. However, the growth rate is
per month, not per year, so by the end of the 50 years the population
was 901,300! This is 400 times as large as it started and means that if
you had bought a planetary improvement there, you would be getting 400
times the initial return.
This last point about compound growth is so important that I am going to
say even more. What look like small percentages, such as the above 1.8%
will have a huge impact over a long time. What look like moderate
percentages, like the -11.8% I saw during one virus attack, will have a
huge impact over a short time. In ten months, a planet with a
population of 10,000 would drop to 2,850. That only 28.5% of the
original total. Using the same example, if the planet started with
10,000 and you get a solid rate of 5%, you would have 15,513 population
after ten months, a 55% growth. With heavy trading, you can get the
growth rates over 10%
So, if you had investments on the example planet, the growth rate is
going to make all the difference. And remember, these examples were
only for 10 months, the long games goes for 600! The Gene Lab, which
boosts the population growth rate of the entire system by 1%, is a very
good investment. Get it early, as it will really pay off. Note that if
you buy two, the effect is not cumulative.
Seven: Save games. Ok, I am a bit dumb, but I missed out on the fact
that if you exit, your game is saved. When you start again, you jump
straight back in. Only one game can be saved, so do not let your
brother/sister/significant other start the game and mess with it. I am
lucky, my girlfriend would rather play Diablo... In any case, the 50 year
games can take a fair bit of real time, so do not be afraid to save.
Profits are good!
Profits are, in fact, the entire point of the game. You want to end up
with the highest net worth you can. How to get the highest score is the
hard part. Try thinking about some of the following points, they will
help you make more money.
As the name, Orbital Trader suggests, you are going to do a lot of
trading. In fact, never stop, no matter how much you might become
focused on your investments. Trade is the only way to make money in the
beginning and is likely to be the main source of income over all.
Further, almost every trade you make will boost the population growth,
which will boost your investment profits.
A good principle to remember is that while in real life you can make a
fortune on cheap goods sold in large volume, in Orbital Trader it is
better to sell expensive goods in large volume. Think of your cargo
hold. It only fits a limited number of items. You want to get the
greatest profit from each item. Now, think of percentages versus
absolute amounts. Pretend you have a choice between five food or five
antimatter. You buy the food at 10 and sell it at 50, a great return of
500%. The antimatter you buy at 300 and sell at 600, a mere 200%
profit. However, the five units of food earn you 40 profit each, for a
total of 200. The five units of antimatter earn you 300 each, for a
total of 1500!
This is what I mean when I say trading expensive goods is best. Focus
on absolute profits per unit, rather than percentage gain. That said,
food, medicine and crystals, the cheapest goods, also tend to give the
greatest benefits to population growth, so include them when you can.
Green prices are lowest, yellow are moderate and red prices are
highest. Red prices are good for you as you make more money per sale,
green prices are good for the planets and yellow is in between. Of
course, that is unless the good is something like narcotics or weapons.
According to the programmer, all prices have a
minimum value and a maximum value and just float between the two,
growing until they reach the maximum value and dropping when you sell
goods there. You will notice that prices tend to be high on a planet
you have not visited for some time and the growth rate is usually low or
negative. It is all driven by the price and you need to drive those
prices down. Read on to the investment section to see why growth is
Space in your cargo hold is usually your biggest problem, so use it
well. Do not ever leave empty! Just because you are not going to earn a
lot of money on food, you will still earn some money. If you end up on
such a planet, perhaps because it was close or had good prices, be sure
to take at least some profit from the food. Of course, if you know you
are going back to a planet that will not buy all the product in your
cargo, and you know you want to buy a lot of what they are selling, you
might leave empty space. This is somewhat unusual and you need to
exercise good judgment.
Trade as often as you can. It is hard to lose money in the game, so
pretty much any trade you make is going to be a profitable one. There
are times this is not true, so watch for it, but it is not that common.
You will note that as you sell things, the profit is shown next to the
line, which is a good indicator when to stop.
Tied to this and the time issue, it is usually better to make short
trips and trade as much as you can. You will get times that longer
trips are more profitable, particularly wars, but most time a trip with
three or four stops to trade will bring much more profit than a long
trip of seven months. If you have a huge cargo, you might have some of
the very profitable item in storage, while you trade along the way with
other goods. You can have your cake and eat it too! Your cargo can get
really, really huge, it is a different world than when you start out.
Watch for special deals. If the market fluctuates and something is very
cheap or very expensive, try to take advantage of it. If you become a
planetary governor, take advantage of it. Tied to the above about per
unit cost, see if you can become governor on planets with the most
expensive goods, as those are the ones you want to trade the most.
Further, the 25% discount will have a bigger impact on more expensive
goods. It is a lovely synergy.
Investing for Profit
Bonds are a favorite of mine in the short game. A 500% return over 20
months! If populations are low, this is far better than the other
investments, so, buy, buy, buy! Also, the 150k which returns 300k in
five months is attractive, especially early when you need money to buy
other investments. However, in the long game, populations grow and they
grow big. You need to look closely at these, examine the length of time
left and the population of the planet. In the long game, I try to
minimize bond purchases, but sometimes in the early stages, it is a nice
way to boost income.
For the more mundane investment items, those which produce goods, here
are some thoughts.
Note that when you invest in something, the asset value is a lot lower
than the purchase price. This is realistic, but it does have the nasty
side effect of lowering your net worth. If we are tying to maximize our
net worth, why would we do it then? Simple, it is an investment and we
are going to earn a return on it.
How do we tell if it is a good investment? You need to calculate your
rate of return and how long you will hold the investment. This is
simpler in the game than in real life for a few reasons. One, you can
not sell the investment in Orbital Trader, so you do not have to worry
about resale value. Two, you know exactly when the game ends, unlike
real life, where most of us do not know when we die! So how do you do
it? Well, the following is one way that might makes sense at first.
First, subtract the asset value from the purchase price. This will tell
you how much your net worth will drop. You need to make at least this
much back before the end of the game or it is a bad investment. As I
mentioned in the Time section, at a certain stage, you will stop
investing in new planetary investments and simply trade as much as you
How do you figure out if you will earn the money back, plus, hopefully,
more? This is where things start to get a bit trickier and where the
really good players can make a lot more money than beginners like me.
Typical investments provide a certain amount of a product each month,
depending on the population of the planet. For example, the Hydrofarm
produces one unit of food for each 1000 population, then sells it at the
market price. For quick calculation purposes, you can look at the price
of food at the market and multiply it by the amount of food the
population will produce each month. This will give you your monthly
Divide this monthly return by the total difference between the purchase
price and the asset value and you will see how many months it will take
before you break even. If that figure is higher than the number of
months left in the game, you may not want to buy.
Now, this might sound great, but it won't work. It ignores the
population growth rate. As mentioned earlier, the populations grow at
an amazing rate, because of the compounding effect. As the growth rates
are per month, a planet with a 6% growth rate can double the population
in a year! Whoever we are trading with, they are not human. Let us not
be xenophobic, they are great for business, so long live inter-species
Planets grow, as indicated by the percentage growth rate. You have some
influence over this, both negative and positive. You can buy a
hospital, sell narcotics, weapons or anything at all, all of which will
change the rate of growth. Pretty much any kind of trade will change
the growth rate, you need to play around to see which does what.. The
more positive the growth rate, the faster the investment will pay off
and the faster you will start making big profits. In other words, while
selling drugs and guns can make you rich in the short term, they will
drop the growth rate into the negative and it will cost you a lot in the
long term. Narcotics are much worse than weapons. At times, the same
of weapons will actually increase the growth rate, but as the price
drops, the effect becomes negative. In a small system, you probably can
not afford to sell narcotics and need to be careful with weapons, as you
will be investing everywhere. However, in the beginning, you need some
fast money and drugs and guns may be the way to go. In a large system,
you might be able to poison a few worlds, while keeping others healthy.
Who would have thought morality would come into a simple space trading
game? I told you this game was deep.
When you put the mouse over the population growth rate, you get a series
of % next to each good. This represents the contribution of that good
to the growth rate. The sum of these percentages will usually equal the
growth rate, but some buildings or the Virus can effect it. Thank you
Diodor for this information, I had no clue!
If you are lucky enough to play multiplayer, and your opponent becomes a
planetary governor, it means they have a lot invested in one planet.
Seems like a great place to sell all your narcotics and weapons, ruining
your opponent's investment...
So, returning to how to tell if the planet is close to the break even
point, you can do things to increase the growth rate and ensure you
break even. For a planet that is certainly going to break even, you
still want to increase the growth rate, as, in the long run, you will
increase your profits. A smart player will do this. The growth rate
will effect all the investments you have made.
But the question remains, how do you know exactly when to stop
investing? Well, let me be honest here. How serious are you about the
game? Are you trying desperately to beat your brother's high score or
are you just having fun? If you want to figure out exactly when to stop
and get the optimal maximum score, you need to do some serious math.
You need to use a formula which determines the rate of compound
interest, based on projected growth rates, which will give you your
predicted population. Then you have to match that to the return, per
month. The last time I did that sort of math was 19 years ago and I
don't have the calculator any more, so I do not worry about it. For
those who do, use the following formula:
Profit = Principle (2.7183) rate x time.
If all of that seems too complicated, just know this. At a certain
point in the short game and possibly the medium game, you should stop
investing. If you use the simple method above and ignore growth rate,
you will be stopping way too early. Cut it in half and you are still
probably safe. If you are an accountant and reading this, let us know
and we will be happy to add your more professional comments here.
A couple of last comments on investments generally, before moving on to
specific ones. You can manipulate the price of products in the game.
Have you noticed that when you buy a lot, the price goes up? How to
take advantage of this is simple. If a planet sells a certain good, try
to buy the investment which produces that product. Make a point of
buying a lot there, driving the price up. You then get the benefit of
the higher price as your good sells there. Note that the change in the
price is dependent on the ration between size of planet population and
the amount you sell. In other words, you need a lot of goods to change
the price on a big planet. Once you get really high populations, you
can sell small amounts of narcotics at little risk of hurting growth.
You will get a good return on them, but the total profits will be
relatively small. There is also a random element in the price changes,
but for your planning, assume it will average out over time.
Except for narcotics and weapons, every sale you make increases the
growth rate. That is right, somehow robots make the people in the game
have more babies. So sell as much as you can, it helps the planet
populations. Even weapons sales will increase the population, as long
as the price of weapons does not get too low. Narcotics in small
amounts may not effect a very large planet and it is said that a low
medicine price will reduce their negative effect. You might want to
experiment with this, especially combined with the global militia.
Personally, I see so much advantage in a high growth rate, I do not want
to risk it. In any case, a reminder that instead of a single long
trip, take a lot of short ones, with lots of selling on the way. If you
get the price of crystals, robots and antimatter down at the same time,
the effects are better than one at a time. With lots of trading, all
the time, you will managed to do this.
If you buy one of the investments which produces goods, it will help
keep the price of those goods down. In turn, this keeps the growth rate
up. The food and medicine producing investments seem to do this
particularly well. Thus, the cheap hydro farm appears to have some
hidden benefits which make it more worthwhile.
Each planet gives you a different set of investment choices. The three
tiers give you three choices. Plan ahead, to see if you can maximize
the benefits. Try to makes sure you are helping yourself. Do not
invest in a hospital and a space elevator in the same place. Why? The
hospital helps keep your growth rate up, but the elevator's benefits
have nothing to do with population. Make this planet one that
population is not so important. Only purchase the hospital in a place
where your other two investments depend on population.
Comments on Different Investments
The Art School and Art Gallery. If you can get these two together, it
is great. You produce the luxuries, then sell them straight to the
highest priced market in the system. Further, every time you sell
something here, you get both the profit and a boost to the asset value
$1000 per unit. It is worth selling more luxuries here, even if the
simple profit is lower than elsewhere, as the boost in asset value alone
is huge. Later in the game, having liquid cash is not difficult, so
sell as many luxuries here as you can.
Hospital. This does not bring you money or growth, but it protects your
growth rate. If you have other planets near by that have medicine or
narcotics, consider this as a purchase, as you can sell those items here
to good effect.
Megacaves and Megatowers. The towers boost population 1% and the caves
2%. This is usually a great choice, as it boosts long term growth on
this planet. Just be sure that your other investments' profit is based
on population. The description states that the cave make the towers
obsolete and it does. This means that your first level investment is
cancelled out by the second level one. The the Solar Bank loves a big
population, so having one of these plays well into that strategy.
Getting both on the same planet is not such a great idea. I suggest
that if the planet offers both, chose to get a population dependent
first level investment, then get the Megacaves at the second level.
That two percent is a huge boost to growth and you do not lose the first
Solar Bank. What can I say, this is a real money spinner. It is based
on the system population, not the individual planet, though the planet
is included. This will pay off anywhere and massively in the larger
systems. You can have more than one of these and, as far as I can tell,
they are by far the best investment.
Global Militia. An interesting mix of benefits. Less war, so less
population loss. It negates the effect of low weapons prices, making
this a great place to sell them. Tied to this, the price of weapons
goes up, so you get more when you sell them! Finally, it fights
narcotics. Suddenly, this is the planet to dump guns and drugs on! On
a planet without this investment, weapons have a negative effect when
the price is around 4,400. Usually you can buy them around 3,500, so it
is tempting to sell them for a profit, even if it hurts population.
Research Inc. This makes goods cheaper to buy, but the cost of selling
remains the same. This means fatter profit margins for you and the
large volumes you can move late in the game can really make this add up.
The Gene Lab. As mentioned earlier, this is a wonderful investment, as
it boosts populations across the system by 1%. This means every single
one of your population dependent investments will now grow 1% faster and
be more profitable. Remember, only one of these will increase the rate
of growth, so do not waste money on two.
Investment funds. These items reduce the cost of the next purchase by a
set percentage. If you know what you want to buy, it is easy to
determine how much money you will save. Seems pretty straightforward,
but is it? If you buy one of these, it prevents you from buying another
second level investment? You need to look at opportunity cost here. If
you buy the investment fund, yes, you will save a lot of money.
However, the cost you pay is the missed opportunity of buying something
else. This happens in two ways. First, the money you spend on the fund
is not invested somewhere else. You do not gain from it. Second, you
can only have three investments on each planet. If you buy the
investment fund, you will not buy something else that will give you a
You need to balance your investment. If you buy the fund, you might get
the next investment a lot earlier. This might balance out the lost
investment earlier. Also, you might save so much money on the purchase
that it makes up for the profits from the bank or hydrofarm you did not
As a final word on this, in the long game you are going to make hundreds
of billions of dollars. The most expensive investment is the one
billion dollar Solar Bank. Saving 20% of one billion is nice, but in
comparison to the final score, it is not a big deal, especially when you
know you could have bought something else which would have made back at
least part of the 20%. I don't use these and I do not think they are
worthwhile, but that is my opinion.
The Virus and the Bust
These are two special events you really need to pay attention to. The
Virus devastates planetary populations, you need to stop it as soon as
possible. This is a dangerous and vicious slap at your income.
Remember my example of what happens to a planet with an -11.8%
population crash? In 10 months, you have only 28% of the
You get nice cash bonuses when you stop the virus, but that is not
important. What is important is that you have saved your income.
Notice that you save thousands of lives in the process and that you only
managed to do it because you were rich enough to buy the medicine. Do
not let anyone tell you money is evil!
To stop the Virus, you need medicine. Carry as much as you can, as you
can trade extra to bring the population rate back up. Do not trade it
all though, as until you get the Virus Cured message, another planet is
going to get it. You want to be able to go there as fast as possible to
stop the damage.
Busts are not as bad and can be cured with big trades of medicine or
food. Not as bad does not mean good, so try to tackle these as soon as
possible. All of this is in the single player game. In a multiplayer
game, feel free to let the Virus run wild on your opponent's planets!
You have noticed that you start with very little money in a place where
you can buy food? That is a pretty big hint. Now look for the nearest
medicine planet. You might need to do a few trips back and forth until
you have some real cash. While you can make a great profit on
narcotics, until you have 1000, you can not buy a single unit. Do not
fly somewhere, sell your goods and then find you can not buy anything to
fly out with. It is a waste of time and time is all important in this
game. I have not used the term exponential growth, but it is the right
term. Get a good start and watch it grow.
Expand your cargo. As soon as you can expand your cargo and still
afford to fill it, do so. More goods means more profit. The price for
cargo space escalates pretty rapidly, so watch out that you do not spend
all your cash on new cargo space and find yourself unable to fill it.
Later in the game, you will find that the more you visit a planet, the
lower the prices tend to be. This is due to your earlier trades pushing
the price down. You may want to look around for a group of planets you
have not visited in some time. The prices will be much higher and the
growth rates will be low. You can take advantage of this and make a
nice profit. The low growth rates might mean the populations are low,
so you can not buy or sell that much. Pushing the growth rate up is
good for your investments, as well as you ability to trade a lot of
goods.. At the same time, some planets have low prices, but their
population is huge. You can sell millions of unit here, which means a
big profit, even if the price is moderate to low.
I will admit that in my first few games, I did not worry about these
very much. However, in one game, I tried to do every single one. The
amount your earn rapidly gets big, very big. Investing in the early
ones pays off, give it a try. That said, I am not sure it is worth it
in the short game, as every month is critical, but in the longer games,
it is very worth it. Over a billion reward for making trades you
already wanted to make, it is worth it.
I have not got to play a lot of this, as I mentioned, my girlfriend
likes Diablo. In any case, here are a few hints that might help you
out. First, the person who bring the final unit of goods for a mission
is the one who gets the cash. If you see your opponent did half the
work, you may be able to do the other half, but get all the money.
Always check the mission each time your turn starts. It might have been
finished or you might be able to finish it more easily than you
The election of the governor is different in multi player. As soon as
someone builds the first investment on a planet, they get to be the
governor. This gives a quick and substantial discount, so do it before
you trade. It also makes the Hydro Farm a more attractive buy, as it is
cheap and you gain from the governorship much sooner than in single
player. However, if someone else builds more than you, they get to be
the governor. Watch for this, as you might be able to steal the
governorship from you opponent. Turn their strength into yours.
You are the Boss
Well, maybe in real life you are not the boss, but in the game you are.
The prices of goods will pretty much stay the same, unless you change
them. Sure, special events will push the price of a single commodity up
or down, but once the event is over, the price will settle back down to
the usual price. When you buy and sell, you are going to push the price
up or down. If you watch this carefully, you can control it and
maximize your profits.
But wait, there is more. I ran a game with no trading, just watching
what happened. Well, almost every planet dropped to 500 population and
only one planet grew. The planet which grew produced medicine. So,
what does this tell us? The population is driven by the economy. The
economy is driven by trade. You are the only trader. Therefore, you
are the economy and you are the population. I told you that you were
Well Boss, all you need to do now is to figure out how to run the show
and make money. I hope this guide helps you make some money. A lot of
money! And, while you do it, you will drive the economy and the
population growth rate. The more you trade, the more things get better
for everyone. You get rich, they get happy. Remember that next time
you head out to vote, put a X next to the free market candidate. Then
go buy Diodor's other games, you are making the world a better place!