The object of the game is to become Tai Pan by building a shipping line and then making money faster than your opponents. The first player whose corporate value exceeds £100,000 will be declared Tai Pan. You wish to make your fortune in China, in this adaptation of James Clavell's book. First job is to get enough of a loan to buy a ship; once you have this, and get a crew either by paying them or simply kidnapping them, you can begin trading.
The game has three main stages, and a number of different gameplay elements, largely allowing you choose your own path. Initially you walk the streets trying to get the right elements and people, then you head out onto the waters to head to other trading cities. Upon approaching other ships you can board them and do battle with their inhabitants.