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Steve (Bane) Rhoades May 28, 2001 Review Feedback


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Fidel Castro led an army of 800 guerrillas to take power in Cuba. Juan Peron won an election to take power in Argentina. Anastasio Somoza Sr. was installed as head of the National Guard by United States marines, taking control of Nicaragua. How will you seize power on the Caribbean island Tropico?

 Software Specials


Release Date:

Gathering of Developers

PopTop Software


200 Mhz CPU
820 MB hard drive


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This is just one of many questions you will have to ask yourself when playing this game. Tropico, not just the name of the game, but also the name of the island you will take control of, is a fresh addition to the builder market, taking the idea somewhere entirely new.

The game takes place on the fictitious Caribbean island of Tropico. Somehow, the previous "El Presidente" has fallen out of favor, and somehow, you have taken over. This brings you to the question I mentioned before, how will you seize power? It may seem like a small detail, but it can make a world of difference in the long run, as the effects of your rise to power include the people's opinions of you as well as some other potential side effects. For example, if you seize power in a military coup, the military faction will think highly of you, and crime will generally be less pervasive. On the other hand, people will feel much more oppressed (they seem to think you care). Supposing you won an election fair and square, having run a "family values" campaign, religious people will respect you more, people will feel they have more freedom, and more tourists will come to your island. The downside is that people will expect a lot more democracy, and if they don't get it, they will get angry.

Such is the manner of El Presidente creation in Tropico, a give and take relationship to get the benefits you want and the detriments you can live with. Choosing between backgrounds such as Harvard grad, Chief of Police, or leftist author will affect factions' opinions of you, as well as some other aspects of your rule. Similarly, your method for power seizure, your traits and your flaws will all effect the coming years.

Let's talk about those factions I mentioned. There are six different factions in Tropico: military, religious, environmentalist, intellectual, communist, and capitalist. Know now that it is practically impossible to keep all of them happy. Communists and capitalists tend to have opposing views on what a good leader should provide, so if you please one you will likely anger the other. For example, if you have a large income disparity, the capitalists will be generally happy with the situation, as the higher educated workers such as doctors are making the wages they deserve. However, the communists will start complaining about failure to keep the people on an equal footing.

In general, there is not exactly a "safe" faction to anger. The intellectuals tend to be the smallest faction, but you don't want to make them mad, as they tend to be the educated workers in the most sensitive positions of society. Clearly you don't want to anger your own military, as many a dictator has discovered. While the environmentalist or religious factions may not have a lot of power, they tend to make up for this in numbers, and you definitely do not want to alienate large numbers of your citizens. Finally the capitalist and communist factions tend to be very close to the US and USSR respectively, and these two countries make better friends than foes for aspiring dictators.

Of course, how much the people's happiness matters to you will really depend on what your goal is in Tropico. While it is possible to play an open ended game, Tropico has much more to offer. You can choose between a variety of goals for a given game, ranging from happiness to economy to the size of your own personal Swiss bank account. If you want to make yourself fabulously wealthy, who really cares if the average citizen of Tropico is happy?

Similarly, you may wish to choose your attributes with your goal in mind. If you choose to play towards an economic powerhouse, it would be better to choose traits that enhance the economy, and flaws that do not hamper it.

Every random map game starts you off with a set number of citizens, a palace, a construction office, teamster office, dock, and some farms. The first thing you should do is switch one or two of the farms from corn to a cash crop. By checking the very useful info mode, you can see which areas of the island are best for each type of crop. Tobacco, coffee, and sugar are among the most profitable crops (particularly when factories are built later on), so these are the ones to shoot for. Either way, no profits will be turned for a few years, as it takes awhile for crops to be grown and hauled to the dock and such. There are plenty of choices for what to spend the first bit of cash on, and the decision is important. As I always tend to have money problems in this type of game, I tend to immediately construct buildings that will get me some more money, such as logging camps and mines.

Within about two years, various factions will start complaining that you aren't building what they want. Intellectuals will want a high school then a college, religious folks want a church and a cathedral, and just about everyone wants a clinic then a hospital. Depending on your goal, you may wish to please certain groups first, and build things in your own particular way. I have found that building the high school as soon as humanly possible is a good idea. This is because most of the moneymaking buildings (i.e. factories) require high school educated employees. Since most of the other buildings that people want are expensive, a good way to fund them is with these factories.

Of course, these factories are only as useful as their influx of raw materials. No point in having a cigar factory if you aren't growing tobacco. Tropico allows you to export all sorts of things, but you do not get any imports.

In essence, the building part of Tropico is quite similar to the building part of most other games of this genre. The people whine about wanting something, then you build it. The only significant difference is that not all people whine about the same things. While capitalists will want the factories for an increased economy, their smoke clouds will really piss off the environmentalists if you are not careful.

Of course, there are other ways to garner the favor of the distant faction. Issuing government edicts is a good (and usually quick) way to influence your island. Usually any given edict will have a positive effect and a detrimental effect. For example, issuing the edict of Mardi Gras will definitely make some people happy, but it often results in a slight increase in crime. Some edicts, like your attributes, please some people but anger others, such as the Contraceptive Ban and Anti-Litter Ordinance. Other edicts, such as the Papal Visit have no real detriments aside from the cost.

There are a large variety of edicts, but while the actual edicts tend to differ, issuing them tends to always give the same vibe. I mean, when you have a Mardi Gras, something should happen, but doesn't. No little cut scene, no party happens on the main screen, nothing. Try as you might, you will never see the Pope walking around on your island after issuing the Papal Visit edict. The gameplay effects still occur, but certain edicts, particularly the one-time-only ones, should have had some sort of visual output.

Overall, I think the political aspect of Tropico is by far the coolest, be it the taking of power, the elections, the relationships to your factions or foreign cold war powers, the government part of the game outshines the actual building aspects for me. However, I wish it were developed a bit further. Some general way to set general government policies would be nice. For example, a screen with sliders for government attitudes towards different factions and types of people would have been excellent. Perhaps the rebel slider could have gone from "forgiving" to "kill 'em all" or something.

The last thing I want to mention regarding the actual gameplay is the fact that unlike other games of this style, each and every one of your citizens has a name, an age, a personality, and a family, all easily viewable by you while playing. For instance, the leader of the capitalist faction at the start of this game is named Analisa Verde, and she is married to Frederico Verde. Analisa Verde actually has a high school education, and when you build a high school she begins teaching at it. Frederico is one of the palace guards. After many years, you will see Verde children entering the workforce. Since the Verde parents are fairly happy with your leadership, their kids will probably be fairly happy as well. They will marry, and have children of their own. Years down the road, you may notice that a descendent of Analisa has taken over leadership of the capitalists, or perhaps one of their children has become the leader of the military faction, following Frederico's military career path. Many times you will notice children following in the footsteps of their parents.

This family track is not only true for career, but often for faction membership, and even overall happiness with you as El Presidente. A family that hates you early on may end up spawning your successor or a rebel or two. Families remember how their members are treated. Arrest a Verde, and the rest will lose respect for you. Have a Ramirez eliminated, and don't expect support from their family. Bribe a Del Rey, and not only will the recipient like you, but his extended family will lean more your way as well.

I really, really like the way Tropico brings the citizens to the forefront of the game. Rather than simply being numbers and totals, your citizens are citizens. The leaders of friendly factions will become familiar to you, as will the unfriendly leaders, though in a completely different way. I find this system a much more rewarding one to work with, as rather than simply seeing the percentage of employed workers or happy citizens rise, you actually see particular citizens get jobs or become happier. This tends to make the gameplay experience a bit more rewarding, particularly when playing for the goal of happiness.

The overall presentation of Tropico is pretty darn good. Graphically the game is good, but not exceptional. People are fairly well done, their jobs easily identifiable by their attire (people are always dressed for their work), various weather formations blow across the island from time to time. Lightning strikes are fairly vivid (and possibly will kill people, but I haven't found a corpse struck by lightning yet). All these graphics are accompanied by sound. The music is pretty cool, but I think we could have used more reggae. The only voice you will ever hear to any significant degree is your advisor, who's voice acting is a bit hit and miss, and his accent is a bit stereotypical. Aside from him, your citizens will respond to a click, but don't have a large repertoire.

While Tropico is, at time of writing, up to version 1.02, I have not experienced any technical problems worthy of note. I have heard varied reports of crashes to desktop, even after the patch, but have not experienced these problems personally.

Overall, in my mind, Tropico is definitely one of the more interesting governing and building game out there. It is unique in a lot of ways, and the gameplay is excellent. This game is a great one for aspiring dictators everywhere.

Game Title Rating
What idea is more original than being a Caribbean dictator?
Very fun and addictive; could have used more development of the political side.

Good graphics, but not so good as to drive the system requirements up.

Pretty good, if a bit stereotypical.
No problems here, but patch and complaints signify others haven't been so lucky.

A great chance to take control of your own personal island.

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