We have all been dictators of a sort in simulation games before, but now is your chance to be a True Dictator. You have just been ‘elected’ President of Tropico, a small third world island nation. Will you be a kind ruler, someone the people love and respect, or a total despot, hated and feared by the people?
Tropico is a welcome change from some of the games I have been playing lately. I knew from the moment I saw the box that I could not wait to play the game. And for once I was not disappointed by the game itself. The staff at Game Industry News can usually tell by the look on my face the morning after I get a new game whether it is going to score well or not. Either, it sucks and I look well rested or I come in looking like I have not slept all night and they know that the game is going to get a good rating. Well, I did not sleep much the week after I got this game. And then I received a double whammy by getting another great game right after this one, but more about that later. Needless to say, I have not been getting much sleep lately.
You start out in the Presidential office where you can start a tutorial, start a game or customize the island. If you pick any of the options, although you should play the tutorial as is, you can customize your background and how you came to power. These factors influence how the game runs. For example, if you were put in power by the CIA, then you will get a $2,000 stipend from the U.S. government each year to help out, but the communist faction on the island might not like you as much. If you are a religious scholar, then the religious faction will like you, but the intellectuals may be somewhat cool towards you.
While you are a dictator in name, your power is not absolute. The people will want to hold elections every eight years. But fear not, if you expect to lose, you can fix the election. It just makes you even less popular with the people, and you can change only so many ballots before folks start to notice that something fishy is going on and it starts to look certain counties in Florida.
The people of Tropico are divided into different factions, each faction consists of a group of people with the same ideological and political beliefs. To simulate the real world, citizens can belong to multiple factions. For example, if the religious faction only contains 10 percent of the population, then you can blow off building a church. On the other hand if 75 percent of your population belongs to the religious faction, then you had best get to building a church and cathedral as quickly as you can. If you chose to be a total dictator, then you had best appeal to the military faction over all others.
If a faction gets too demanding there are options however. You can bribe the leadership to be more receptive to your plans, kill a leader or make some of the followers disappear, or just declare martial law and have the dissenters arrested and tossed into jail. In doing all this, as I said above, you had best appeal to the military factions, because if you are not very careful you will end up with a rebel force, and then you are going to need the army to stop them. If you’re really not careful, then you’re going to end up with a US gunboat, or a Russian gunboat, off the coast or worse yet, an invading Army.
Just to make the game more interesting, the designers at PopTop Software threw in an economic side to Tropico. It fits in really nicely with the political side of the game, and is another one of the reasons that I fell in love. Each of your citizens has his or her own needs and desires. These desires range from religion to entertainment. Yes, there is that pesky religion thing again. The economic system is technically divided into communism and capitalism, but just like in the real world, a good system is a mix of the two systems.
I usually start my games with a nice communist economic base of farms and mines, then I move into industry and finally I make the other end of my island into an American tourist paradise with lots of entertainment and hot spots. On the main side of the island I try to build up a mix of affordable and expensive housing, clinics, religion, and entertainment to keep my people happy. I usually take that route, because the first time I tried to make a good dictator, I ended up in a boat sailing away from lovely Tropico in disgrace. Guess that was better than being executed by an angry mob.
Another element of the game is the edicts. You can create a presidential slush fund, but other than for scoring purposes, I found this to be pretty useless. I was hoping to be able to spend it within the game. Other options are inviting the Pope for a visit to keep the religious faction happy or praising the USSR or the US, and you can declare martial law and pretty much anything else you may want to do.
If your relations with the USSR or the US become really good, you can invite them to build a base on your island nation, though doing so pretty much freezes your relations with the other side. Does all of this sound really complicated? Well fear not, this is one of the easiest simulation games to pick up. Try out the tutorial and you will be ruling your own island nation in no time at all. This baby is totally mouse driven. Everything you can do is just a mouse click away.
The graphics on Tropico are neither good nor are they really bad. Basically, it’s standard sim-type graphics. You can zoom in and out of the island and you can turn on and off cloud cover and trees. When buildings are places, you see a shadow of the building to be constructed and you can see workers working the building. But the only change is that the building takes on a deeper shade of yellow over the percentage of the building that is completed. I am just used to seeing some construction so this was not very satisfying. Also when you zoom in on the people, they just don’t look that great. As I said I was not dissatisfied with the graphics, I just was not very pleased either. Besides the graphics, the only real failing of Tropico is the manual. I have seen some hastily put together manuals before, but this one takes the cake with misinformation and typos galore.
Overall, I had a great time playing Tropico. Looking beyond the so-so graphics and the crappy manual, this game is just a lot of fun. I mean come on, who has never wished they were a dictator at some point in their dreams? I could just sit there and picture my self playing this game with a beard, a big cigar and a bottle of rum. As one of the most interesting new simulations that I have seen in a while I am very pleased to give Tropico 4.5 GiN Gems and a hardy recommendation.