Sim City has it easy. Build a coal power plant and some roads and the people will come. Not so with Tropico. An island somewhere in the Caribbean, it’s down to the Presidente to provide employment and welfare to the population in game mixed with economic struggle and political tension.
Tropico is unlike any other game I have played; what exists is simply a patch of earth surrounded on all sides by ocean, a dock, your extravagant palace and a handful of locals. You decide the size of the island, its elevation and natural resources such as iron, bauxite and gold. Each tweak adjusts the difficulty rating, which contributes to your score as a multiplier. It’s down to the player to decide how they become elected in the first place, their strengths and weakness as well as their background. Each option has its ups and downs, from changing the costs of certain construction types to political opinions; the religious faction won’t be too pleased to have an alcoholic pulling the strings.
After this selection process it’s down to work to shape the island through various economic phases, using the proceeds from industry to upgrade housing, welfare and entertainment facilities. Each construction and policy has political effects and as such you may have to weigh up your options before continuing. One of the best ways to boost your island is through foreign aid, be it cut price housing plans, sending trade delegates for better export prices or paying an agency to send in high school or college-trained workers. Before this, however, you’ll have to build a foreign ministry and then get either Russia (the communist faction) or the USA (capitalists) or both on your side. Both these countries can be praised through the media to help raise their affection towards you but generally it will be how you run your island that affects your relationship.
Early industry will be general resource gathering, such as logging, mining, farming and fishing. Whilst these create jobs and offer vast profits, it does require a large work force, in turn increasing demand for a good quality of housing and leisure facilities. Militants on the island will start pining for you to boost the island’s armed forces through an armoury, outposts and a barracks, the religious faction will garner for churches and cathedrals whilst the intellectuals require education. It’s a balancing act that becomes harder since the islands inhabitants like elections every few years. Like everything else on the island, these can be influenced somewhat through edicts such as tax cuts and parades down to dastardly acts like having your opponent arrested or assassinated, or the election tampered with. The darker acts have more prolonged consequences as you lose the confidence of the voters, making future elections harder to win. As much as it’s possible to declare martial law and rule with an iron fist, your people can still cause an uprising and join rebels in the community, who’ll eventually overthrow you through a coup. It’s a tough life.
As the game progresses you’ll find yourself gaining favour and failing out with the various factions; capitalists want the island to exploit itself in return for high profits, communists want smaller income disparity between workers and environmentalists hate to see mines ruining the landscape. Depending on the length of the game you’ll eventually start to attract tourists, which means you can abandon resource gathering and factories and instead build hotels and casinos plus an airport to fly them in directly. The more advanced buildings need electricity which in turn is generated by power plants, so to get the tourists in you have to carefully place a huge polluting plant on the island without making it unsightly, this lowering the tourism rating. As previously mentioned, every action has its advantages and consequences.
And that’s Tropico in a nutshell. Your goal changes based on your pre-game options and your score is calculated based on the difficulty level, how near you got to completing your target and how much cash you managed to bank through increasing construction costs for your own personal wealth. The entire time is spent trying to satisfy the needs of the population and keeping the island in the black whilst trying to keep a firm grip on your seat in power. There’s only a certain amount of inept decisions that your islanders will accept before your turn in office becomes borrowed time, which keeps gameplay on a knife edge. Should you build that church when the money could be spent on a goldmine? That’s your decision, Presidente.