Fans of Tropico may wish that this were a more direct descendant of the original, and those who like the new pirate theme may wish Frog City had built a new game from scratch.
Tropico 2: Pirate Cove plays like both an add-on for the original Tropico and an entirely different game. But it doesn't play like a sequel. The things we expect from sequels are absent: Tropico 2 uses the same engine as the original, with a slightly modified interface and new art, and it doesn't refine the gameplay of the original. Instead, developer Frog City has used the basic blueprint of Tropico to build an entirely new game--one that exchanges the rum trade and political maneuvering for Jolly Rogers and eye patches. The pirate theme of Tropico 2 is more than just an aesthetic difference, as the dynamics of the game have been fundamentally changed to accommodate the theme. And though some of the changes are interesting, not all of them are good.
It was easy to overlook some of Tropico's more obvious issues. The game was inventive and gave you many unusual strategic options. As a result, its less successful elements weren't as problematic as they might have been in a worse game. For instance, Tropico gave you the option to be a benevolent dictator or an oppressive tyrant, but the latter wasn't usually a viable option because it was so much easier to just keep your people happy. Tropico 2 doesn't give you this option--most of your residents aren't on your island by choice, so happiness is out of the question.
Instead of managing a small, developing country, Tropico 2 puts you in charge of a secret pirate hideout. You must kidnap workers to create a basic economy of products and services, and then keep them terrified so they won't try to escape. The historical accuracy of the scenario is questionable--did pirates really manage huge, thriving towns and industries? The morality is even more questionable, and the jaunty music and cartoonish graphics can't hide the fact that Tropico 2 could be more accurately named Slave Tycoon. The amoral attitudes of games like Grand Theft Auto III and Postal 2 are denounced, or at least they stick out, and yet the similarly amoral Tropico 2 has somehow not been commented upon, even though executions, kidnapping, slavery, and forced prostitution are the backbone of the game.
Moral questions aside, Tropico 2 has some basic similarities to its predecessor. You must manage a small island community from its inception, building up the basic necessities and then moving into luxuries in order to create a thriving economy. You must build farms to supply food to your workers and then create more-extravagant products such as cigars and rum to keep your employed pirates happy. The difference is your workforce consists entirely of enslaved captives, so money is not much of an issue when creating your infrastructure. Instead, the only significant resource is lumber. But you'll also need iron to make weapons for your pirates, who are the breadwinners on your island hideaway.
Accumulating gold is the primary goal in Tropico 2, but you don't do so by trading the goods you produce on your island. Instead, you do so by outfitting pirate ships and sending them out to loot the high seas. While your workers don't need to be happy--just resigned to their fate or terrified--your pirates do. You must provide them with entertainment and housing, and make them feel as if they're safe from invasion. Entertainment includes brothels, gambling dens, restaurants, and taverns, so the goods you produce are used exclusively to keep these establishments well stocked.
The economic system makes for a somewhat abstract game. All the items you produce are used exclusively for the benefit of keeping your pirates from revolting, but happy pirates doesn't translate directly into monetary gain. Only bigger ships and more experienced pirates can bring you more wealth, and as a result the whole system has less immediate reward than a thriving cigar or rum industry in Tropico.
There are other ways to make money in the game. Your entertainment establishments provide some income, and in addition to snatching riches from the ships they raid, your pirates will be able to take wealthy captives who can be ransomed. This, however, leads to one of Tropico 2's bigger problems--the interface of the original doesn't suitably accommodate some of the new features. Instead, it feels like a new game was just crammed into an old shell.