Ancient Trader is a casual pick-up-and-deliver game on the high seas. It is one of the many modern interpretation of the 80's classic Apple ][ game, Taipan. You and three other (AI) players are captains of trading ships and your goal is find the three mystical items that are scattered throughout the various undiscovered ports, with which you will locate and and beat the boss sea monster. The one that beats the boss is the winner.
You manage your shipping and exploration operations with one sailing ship with basic attributes. You can upgrade your ship to move more spaces per turn, increase cargo capacity, or improve your combat prowess. Your primary source of financing upgrades is arbitrage. You find a port that offers a low price in one of the three commodities: fruit, tea, or spice, buy them then sell them at another port that at a higher price. Once you find a few good ports you will get tempted to "gold farm" by repeatedly trading between few those ports only to upgrade your ships rather than exploring new ports. This can cost you the game because you must balance exploration and upgrades. You need to find the find the three mystical items: book, compass, and sextant to locate and defeat the boss. Furthermore, you have three different types of weapons, and thus you must visit multiple ports to upgrade weapons. Having upgraded weapons is mandatory to the beat the boss and keep other players and minor sea monsters at bay.
What I like about Ancient Trader is the fine balance it has. Trading is a breeze because the commodity prices are shown on the map next to the port, hence you do not have take notes on the prices because they do not change and are always visible. I like trading but I do not like it when it gets repetitive. Over-trading is not an issue because there is immense time pressure from the AI players -- a race to beat the boss, hence there is no time for gold farming. One must balance between the intermediate goals of having a faster, stronger, or larger (cargo bay) ship and then balance those goals to the long-term goals: find the three artifacts and upgrade the weapons to fight the boss.
I found this game to be a good casual game, easy to pick up and and play. Even the combat system is simple; it is rock-paper-scissors with modifiers. I kept playing Ancient Trader because the choices were meaningful and I wanted to find better ways to reach my goals. I recommend this game, especially if you have an Xbox 360 because it is a great multiplayer strategy game that anyone can play. The icing on this cake is the art — it is gorgeous.
I wonder how selling short could be implemented in these pick-up-and-deliver type of games. In the real world financial markets, you can do a reverse transaction called shorting - selling high of borrowed oranges then buying the oranges back at a lower price to return the borrowed oranges. The price difference between the selling and repurchase price would be your profit.