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Move over, Castro—a new dictator's coming to power. Tropico is an entertaining virtual training ground for dictators-in-waiting, and it offers a lighthearted look at politics with a snazzy premise.

You've been elected el presidente of an impoverished Caribbean island. How you lead your life and play the game is your decision. Will you whip your island into a strong economic power with tourist attractions, a happy citizenry, and enough cigar and rum factories to attract big export bucks? Or will you turn your tropical hideaway into your own private sandbox with secret Swiss bank accounts, lavish palaces, dancing girls, and enough tough cops to keep grumbling peasants in line? The choice—goody-two-shoes idealist or paragon of evil—is yours.

The gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played city or empire building games. Play one of ten ready-made scenarios or opt for an open-ended game on a random map. The scenarios range from moderately easy to hair-pullingly difficult. You'll erect buildings, micromanage crops, create a strong military force, and build hotels and swimming pools to attract tourists.

The game can also randomly select a customizable map—you can choose your own environment, island size, population, weather conditions, and vegetation, and build your dictator dossier from the ground up. For example, you can be a former pop singer, an intellectual, a leftist author, a boozer, or a religious fanatic. You can also choose personal characteristics and flaws.

Be warned—whether you're a Harvard graduate, rabid Communist, or flatulent womanizer, you'll meet citizens who don't like you. You can quell their abhorrence (and save your political career) by raising salaries, educating children, and providing expensive diversions. Or you can beef up your police and army, clamp down on complainers, and delay elections by sending assassins to eliminate organized opposition.

Whether you play down and dirty or try for sainthood and a halo, you'll need to raise money from crops and manufactured goods, and keep tabs on your nation's social problems and contentedness. No problem. Tropico not only gives you an annual report of yearly successes and failures, but also provides helpful color codes that show where to find valuable minerals, which farmland is best for tobacco or cotton, pollution levels, average rainfall, and high-crime areas.

Though the building process can be slow, Tropico is like Sim City with sombreros and banana daiquiris—satisfying if you love life in the slow lane. —John Lee

GOOD NEWS: Enjoyable premise. Good look and feel. Opportunity to play good or evil role.
BAD NEWS: Being evil doesn't work as well as one might expect.
CONTACT: 800-229-2714 or 612-249-7600 ,
PRICE: $45 (SRP)
REQUIREMENTS: 200MHz Power Mac or faster, Mac OS 7.5.3 or later, 32MB RAM, 820MB free hard disk space, CD-ROM drive