Firing cannons and blasting an enemy ship can be rewarding in Port Royale 3, but it's far more enjoyable to take on your foes through subversion. Sure, you could attack their ships as they leave port, either illegally as an unaligned pirate, or by getting permission to do some privateering in the name of a King you don't care about, but you could also sabotage their production. Then you just watch the colony as it withers, offering their beleaguered citizens jobs on your ships or in colonies you like or control. Meanwhile, why not sell them resources they're in dire need of at an inflated price? Rinse, repeat and profit till your coffers are full.
In life many of us spend our time being generally good and honest, so games like Port Royale 3 offer the perfect opportunity to let our inner-¤¤¤¤¤¤¤ come out. Port Royal 3 takes place in the Caribbean, where you attempt to seize control of it and carve out a life for your burgeoning empire during the period of European colonization. You can ally yourself with the Dutch, French, English or Spanish (or any combination thereof depending on how they're currently allied), and then get to work at establishing yourself. Cannons are useful tools in this turbulent time, but a savvy trader can easily become a force to be reckoned with, wreaking havoc with their coin purse the same way pirates use cutlasses.
You're encouraged to pursue both options, as Port Royale 3 has two campaigns. The Adventurer campaign is action-focused, guiding you towards combat. The Trader campaign, on the other hand, encourages you to help lead towns to prosperity, teaching them the ins and outs of the economy system. Both campaigns are there to help you learn about certain aspects of Port Royale's complex game world, but both also allow you to jump into the other's content. More specifically, a Trader can still become a pirate; likewise an Adventurer can become a booming merchant. Both campaigns also let you conquer enemy colonies through economics or military might.
If you've ever played Sid Meier's Pirates!, then you'll be familiar with the ship combat in Port Royale 3. Combat can be auto-resolved, but if you're dying to get your hands wet you can jump in and take the helm yourself. Fleets may consist of a large number of ships, but you have to select your three most powerful and use them against the enemy's. You have direct control over any one ship at a time, and can switch between them on the fly. Like Pirates!, you can also use several types of ammo for your cannons depending on what part of the enemy you want to damage. It does get a little more in-depth than Sid Meier's great game, though, as each side of the ship has its own cannons, enabling skilled players to fire regularly if they can bring their reloaded cannons to bear on the enemy.
Where the Pirates!/Port Royale 3 comparisons end is the sheer scale of the game. In Pirates! you controlled a single fleet of ships, while in Port Royale 3 you have a host of fleets at your command. A skilled leader will take direct control of fleets when needed, but will also automate actions, having some ships form tactical blockades, others screen for pirates, and others still operating trade routes based on some ground rules you put in place.
Economics in Port Royale involve a lot more than just savvy trading. Docking at a colony allows the player to observe a fully 3D town, whose visuals directly represent its relative prosperity. To build up a town, either because you've taken it from another nation or because you have a vested interest in it, you need to pay attention to the needs of the people there. Fulfilling the needs of the citizens can directly influence the town, helping it flourish. Then you can take the goods you're creating and sell them to other colonies for profit, or even dump them all into the market at once to bring the price way down and hurt an enemy's profits. If someone flooding the market and hurting your bottom line, you can always sabotage them and create a shortage.
Port Royale 3 is being designed to appeal to both console and PC players. To this end the development team has been drawing a lot of inspiration from Firaxis' success with Civilization: Revolution. Interface is obviously a concern, so many options have been added to let players automate certain actions. If you want to micro-manage your fleet's every action and play every battle manually you can, otherwise you can just let the computer sort it out if you find that sort of gameplay tedious.
Short demonstrations can only give a glimpse at its sheer depth, and even with many actions automated it still seems like a steep learning curve is in for any prospective trader or would-be pirate. For now I'd recommend reading up on economics, as it just might give you the edge you need to succeed in this epic simulation.