Just when you thought you'd been the tycoon of everything, along comes School Tycoon. The game puts you in charge of a school's operations, so you must make concessions between the school's budget and the students' education. It's rather simple for a tycoon game, and there are some noticeable bugs that can be frustrating. However, the game's simplicity does work well to create an entertaining strategy gaming experience, as long as you're not looking for a hardcore number-crunching game.
Right from the start, you know School Tycoon is going to be lighthearted. The introduction cinematic is amusing to watch because it features a stressed-out, bumbling principal who boils over the edge and tells you to run the school. You apparently take him up on the offer, so you can either solve 24 challenges or build a school from the ground up in a sandbox mode. The challenge mode is divided into eight beginner, eight intermediate, and eight difficult scenarios where you'll have to do everything from merely getting 30 students into your school to earning $100,000 within a certain time frame. The beginner challenges will only take you about an hour to finish in total, while even one difficult challenge can take you several hours to solve. If you want to start from scratch, you can play the instant action mode. This sandbox mode has no objectives, so you can just build and build to your heart's content.
You can construct all sorts of classrooms, from those used for mathematics to those used for English. There are about 10 different subjects that your students can learn. You start off with a small, portable classroom that will seat just a few students. Later on, you can build medium and then deluxe versions of classrooms for each subject, and these upgraded classrooms can house more students and can better educate them. However, academics aren't the only part of a student's life because he or she also needs to keep fit. You'll first build a basic gymnasium and field, but soon you'll unlock other athletic structures, like tennis courts, basketball courts, and football fields.
You do have to hire teachers for each of these buildings or else your students won't learn a thing. A teacher has three traits: fun, strict, and skill. The first will affect students' morale; the second will affect students' levels of discipline; and the third will affect students' academic and athletic abilities. Teachers' wages are based on how high these three traits are. You'll need to hire low-quality teachers at the start of your career because you won't be able to afford better ones. You'll notice that the teachers' salaries represent the highest cost of your school. But once you have a solid foundation, you can start to hire more-expensive teachers. If you don't like the selection of teachers available, you can just close the menu and reopen it to get a new set of teachers to choose from. It may be a simple way to approach the situation, but at least you won't be stuck with someone you don't want. Your school is ranked on several averages, including the three listed above. Better teachers are the best way to influence your scores.
Students will quickly get bored with your school, unless you provide them with a nice environment and good entertainment. You can pretty up your campus with trees, shrubbery, statues, and pathways, and you actually have a wide assortment of each to choose from, so even you won't get bored easily. You do have to maintain these frills though, because each item will degrade over time and may even catch on fire. Maintenance crews repair buildings, janitors sweep pathways, and landscapers keep trees healthy. They incur an extra cost though, because they are hired help. You also can--and should--build entertainment structures, like arcades, halfpipes, and miniature golf courses, to keep your students active outside of class. Both landscapes and entertainment will drive up your student body's morale and will keep students enrolled.
You want to keep your students enrolled because, presumably, they affect your income. Part of the game's simplicity results from its budget. You can see your costs, but you never see where income is derived from. The manual is no help either. You have no idea if your new pizza joint is providing you with income from lunch sales. (It would be nice to be able to charge a little more per slice to give you a slight income boost in a pinch.) The budget also seems to change often, so even though it says you will earn $2,000, you may actually earn less if a student happens to leave right before the next cycle. The charts also aren't very detailed, so don't expect any rewarding information beyond simple line charts.
There are several issues in the game that can get frustrating. First, when you reload a saved game, everything is reset. You can no longer track stats from your earlier play session. What's even more detrimental is that somehow your budget gets wacky. You can save the game with $5,000 in the bank, but when you load it, you'll find yourself $3,000 in debt. It becomes a real problem when you can't earn enough to get yourself in the black after three days. The game will declare you bankrupt, and then it's game over. Also, the game's disasters tend to strike with frightening frequency. Even one disaster can get you fired. For instance, just by losing all your decorations, your students may end up leaving. You can't save often and load to avoid these disasters because of the aforementioned problem, so you really must leave your game session up to fate. You also can't put out fires, so an outbreak of them can also spell your doom.
School Tycoon doesn't have cutting-edge graphics or sound, but it is a pleasant game to play. The environments and buildings are bright and colorful. You can easily design your school so that nothing is even close to repetitive. There are a wide variety of students, so you also won't see dozens of clones being taught in your classrooms. You can rotate and zoom in to get different views of your campus, if you need to see something from a different angle. You also won't get bored from the music or sounds. There are appropriate classroom sounds, from bells to friends chatting after bumping into each other.
It's easy to just roll one's eyes at the thought of another tycoon game, but it's not fair to dismiss School Tycoon for its name. It may not be the most complex tycoon game in existence, and it may have some unfortunate bugs, but its various gameplay elements work. There is a fair amount of micromanagement required in choosing the right teachers and constructing the right buildings, but it doesn't reach a point that makes the game unbearable. So if you're looking for a management game that won't overwhelm you with details and spreadsheets, School Tycoon should be right up your alley.