I've always loved Monopoly and surrealistic animation, so it feels like Lavamind made Gazillionaire just for me. This trippy business simulator was developed it seems primarily as a teaching tool for students. The original game released as shareware on Windows 3.1 in 1994, but it's the 1996 version, Gazillionaire Deluxe that I first played.
The first thing that grabbed me about the game was the sound effects. The little clips of music that play and the sounds the aliens make are just so different than other games at the time. The first thing you have to do is get a loan from Mr. Zinn so you can buy a ship. The first part of the game is spent trying to frantically pay back this loanshark so that he doesn't repossess your ship. The dude charges 4% interest a week and just looks like a predatory lender.
At the first screen, picking the ship is where the strange art style makes itself apparent. You can choose to fly a detached eyeball, a whale with a pinwheel for a tail, or what seems to be a locomotive with a bunch of rockets in the back. Each ship has its strengths and weaknesses. Some cost less and take less crew to fly, but can carry less cargo and passengers, while others can carry a lot but have much higher insurance premiums.
You can basically go big and hope for good luck, or play it safe with a small or medium size ship. You can change and upgrade ships as you play the game so if you're not happy with your first choice, you will eventually get to switch to a new one. However, players who take the risk of a large ship from the time will have a chance to pull into the lead quickly as long as disaster doesn't befall them.
The crux of Gazillionaire is to move from planet to planet, buying cargo at low prices and selling it high at others. To supplement your cargo runs you can also take on passengers who will pay a flat rate. The game works on a supply and demand system which you can monitor when you land on a planet. Ideally, you'll buy good from a world with an ample supply and transport them to a planet with a large demand for a massive profit.
Of course, things in Gazillionaire aren't that simple. You can load down with a hefty cargo of exotics and by the time you make it to the planet you want to sell them at your competition could have already flooded the market making your cargo worthless. There are also random events that can help or harm you. A wealthy prince could offer to buy your cargo for three times what you gave for it, or your ship could be destroyed. Hope you paid your insurance.
Another unique feature of this game is that it's one of the few PC games I can think of that multiplayer is feasible. If you don't want to play against the AI, two-to-seven human players can take turns trying to outrace and outsell each other. The controls are simple enough that pretty much anyone can play, and even though the gameplay seems complex, once you play a bit it's not hard to catch on.
Unfortunately, this is one of those games that's really hard to find, even if you're the type of gamer that sails the seven seas. The original release and Gazillionaire Deluxe weren't big sellers in their initial release. The original pops up on eBay fairly often, but I've only seen Gazillionaire Deluxe on there a handful of times. Both of these versions don't play nice on Windows 10, so unless you're willing to set up a Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 virtual machine (or use a PC emulator), then there's no playing them on modern systems.
Sometime around 2010 or 2011, Big Fish Games re-released a version of the game that retained the original gameplay but ran on modern systems. Gazillionaire 3 is even rarer than the first two releases, and besides a trial version, you can play for 60 minutes I've never seen this game in the wild. As far as I know, it was only released digitally and Big Fish doesn't have the rights to distribute it anymore.
There is a web version of Gazillionaire available, that replicates the same gameplay in-browser. It's operated by Lavamind, the development studio behind the original title. You can either play it as a trial version with some limitations or unlock the full, unrestricted version for $15 a year. I prefer to play it as a standalone executable, but the web version replicates the graphics and gameplay of the original without any issues with compatibility with modern systems.
If you're looking for a fun game to play with the family with some excellent art and sound design, and engrossing gameplay, I highly recommend Gazillionaire. It's like a trippy, complicated Monopoly, and it deserves more recognition.