The political wrapper that PopTop has built around the core of the game is sophisticated enough to appeal to all types of strategy game players.
PopTop Software's Tropico is SimCity with a deep tan and an even deeper Jamaican laugh. It is Caesar with bananas, rum, and a gentle calypso beat. It is RollerCoaster Tycoon with a little mean-spirited junta thrown in for good measure. At its core, Tropico is just another city-building simulation that's reminiscent of many others before it. But the political wrapper that PopTop has built around the core of the game is sophisticated enough to appeal to all types of strategy game players. The game also has enough heart, soul, humor, and humanity to make it unique.
Most games of Tropico start with a few people scratching out a living on a small Caribbean island. You step in as their new presidente, with the background of your choice to give you a set of game-twisting traits. For instance, if you come from a moneyed background, you'll have an advantage in industry. If you're a radical student, the communists will be predisposed to support you. If you're Lou Bega--this is actually one of your starting options--you'll wow them with your nightclub acts.
Armed with your distinctive set of traits and your new bank account, you drop buildings onto the island: housing, farms, cattle ranches, churches, medical clinics, pubs, police stations, bauxite mines, fishing wharves, and cigar factories. Later on, there are power plants, casinos, cathedrals, and TV stations. And there are always the little landscaping touches, such as flower beds, trees, fountains, and the occasional statue to remind everyone who's in charge. Tropico is dazzling and can also be a little confusing in the breadth of things you can build.
Similarly, you can choose from a wide array of edicts, which are like the ordinances in SimCity 3000 or like spells in a fantasy-themed strategy game. You can arrest someone and bribe him or her, burn books to appease the church and keep the intellectuals in line, or make overtures to the United States for foreign aid. It's entirely possible to play without using the edicts, but they offer a touch of direct interaction for hands-on players. Similarly, you can influence most individual buildings if you're so inclined--you can set salaries, raise rents, or decide what your state-run TV station will broadcast.
The bottom line is, of course, the bottom line; you won't last long without setting up some sort of profitable scheme, which generally means selling cash crops or manufactured goods or attracting tourists (which is the functional equivalent to letting a bunch of extras from RollerCoaster Tycoon onto your island to spend their money). But in the end, your success primarily depends upon your people. This is where Tropico truly rises above the level of any other city-building sim. You might be the presidente, but there are a hundred or more folks who drive the action on the island. For instance, to make money from rum, you just drop a sugar farm and a rum distillery. Your construction crews show up and erect the actual structures. Then immigrants or citizens are hired as farmers and factory workers. The farmers plant sugar cane, which grows over the course of the year and is eventually harvested. Teamsters pick up the sugar and carry it to the distillery, where the factory workers convert it into rum. Then the teamsters carry it to the docks, where the dockworkers load it onto freighters. Only then do you finally get paid.
All the while, the people responsible for moving your goods along this chain are also going about their business of sleeping, worshipping, getting checkups at the clinic, buying food from the market, and paying occasional visits to the cabaret. When amenities aren't available, they're unhappy and less likely to support you. Different people have different priorities. Some people are concerned with crime, others with liberty. Some just want a nice house or a high-paying job. If they get upset enough, they'll vote against you in elections, publicly protest, flee to join the rebels, or maybe even take part in an uprising against your palace. In Tropico, money ultimately takes a backseat to people.