Tropico 6

Tropico 6

Written by Dave Gamble on 3/29/2019 for PC  
More On: Tropico 6

Everyone is held accountable by someone, and most are held accountable by many. One would think that the person in the role of dictator and sole arbiter of justice for an entire nation would have free rein with which to reign, but I’m here to tell you that the precise opposite is true, at least with regards to my experience with Tropico 6. Originally released way back in 2001, the underlying nature of the game has remained relatively consistent while the complexities facing the player have grown considerably. Still, despite the massively increased breadth and depth of the many disparate items end events that can lead to a messy end for El Presidente, the subtle humor and dictatorial flamboyance continue to keep it lighthearted.

A bareboned description of Tropico 6 would say that it is centered around the growth, development, and management of a small tropical island with a mixed demographic of citizens/subjects comprised of diametrically opposed societal demands. In other words, not even a dictator can please every faction, every time.

Every potentate is either the master or the victim of contemporaneous societal frictions, disrupting and/or enabling events and technologies, and, as often as not, dumb luck. In Tropico 6, you are offered the opportunity to test your survival skills, and make no mistake: the goal of Tropico is simply to survive, in four different eras, each more difficult and complicated than the last. Starting with the Colonial era, there is only one superpower to contend with which, while not specifically named so, is the British Empire. They can be quite demanding, but if kept more or less happy, you can count on receiving aid if/when your economy fails. This is followed by the WWI era of the early 20th century. This introduces more complexity in both infrastructure and societal demands. Yes, you build better roads and bridges and can dig tunnels through the mountains that previously segregated your island, but you also have to deal with more factions with competing interests and more societal problems such as alcoholism and church/state separation. From there you graduate to the Cold War, and thence onto the modern era, and we all know how complicated that is.

Fortunately, you also gain more industrial, transportation, entertainment, educational, and other opportunities to grow both your island nation and its inhabitants. No matter how broad your reach, though, you will always be faced with win/lose demands from competing interests, and will often have to deal with lose/lose situations as well. You can just forget about win/win - that never happens. Sometimes it just has to be enough to know that you did what you thought was right for the country, and sit back and enjoy the verdant countryside and complacent climate if forced into an early retirement. Unless, of course, your edicts and self-written constitution are more on the self-serving side of the continuum. As the single, lone ruler working long hours and dealing with ulcer-inducing stress, you deserve a little more compensation than the average citizen, although it would be bad optics to vote yourself a raise; what’s the harm in a small, secret, and well deserved Swiss bank account to squirrel away some rainy day, run away funds if the populace every decided to take matters into their own hands? With your hands on every single lever of government, it’s pretty easy to hide a little (or a lot, really) wealth away in a slush fund. Hey, all the cool despots are doing it, right?

If this is starting to sound bit too complex, well, that’s because it is! Fortunately, there are a goodly number of ways to play. There is a tutorial to start with, which encompasses just about everything you will need to know to fail at your first mission, there are missions that force you into specific situations and set goals to achieve, and there is a sandbox mode that allows you to choose pretty much every aspect of your beginning state. Having failed the first mission twice, I personally opted to spend most of my time in Sandbox mode, which had the salient benefit of allowing the choice of era, starting funds, sundry levels of difficulty (I learned quickly to set ‘Disasters’ to rare or none to reduce personal stress and chair-raging), and the nature of my island or archipelago.

A few of the islands looked to be utterly useless given their almost entirely inhospitable terrain, but that was only due to my resistance to having my burgeoning supported almost entirely by piracy. That resistance was weakened by the abject failure that resulted from attempting to survive as a purely agrarian society. Another quick path to defeat was choosing to approve every demand by one political faction (let’s call it Socialism) while declining all opposing (let’s go with Capitalism) demands. The inverse also proved to be a one way street to Deposedville. Apparently a successful society is dependent on balancing both philosophies rather than favoring one at the cost of the other. Who could have seen that coming?

My most successful Colonial Era tenure was based on acceding to every Royal “request” for a favorable trade route. As my job depended heavily on my tenure being extended by the Crown, very little personal choice was possible. This was, of course, no accident - the Crown knew that I could not decline their demands, and it was only a matter of time before I was forced to build a dungeon and stamp out the portions of my populace that rebelled against the reduced liberty and strong-arm tactics of the far away aristocracy. I also took it as a personal affront when commanded to find a rebellious citizen and toss him into the dungeon - the very dungeon that they insisted I build. Considering that Assassinate was another choice, I suppose it could have been worse. In any event, my refusal to follow those orders signalled the end of my term, and thus the end of the game. Whether I was allowed to live out my remaining years in peace was not stated, so I assume the worst. Advancing to the more complex modern eras did not go even that well. There was certainly a cost to be paid for complying with the autocratic desires of a distant colonial monarchy, but I’m here to tell you that it was far more difficult to wend a path between the two opposing superpowers found in the more modern eras. It was like tip-toeing through a political minefield, with the end results being pretty much what you would expect: abject failure.

Yes, being a dictator is a hard job, and what it all boils down to is that there is a lot of arcane details to pay attention to. Plantations can wear out the land and become unproductive, jobs you thought were being performed may not be because unemployment is nearly zero and there are insufficient immigrants coming in, or the hourly wage is too low, and before you know it, hordes of people are living in squalorous shacks because there’s not enough housing for them. Meanwhile,  your approval rating is plummeting despite copious food, housing, and entertainment, leaving you perplexed as to what is making them unhappy (have you provided healthcare clinics?) - all of these can be occurring behind the scenes. There are ways to discern these kinds of things, just as there are ways to ensure that the cattle ranch you want to create is actually in a region that provides the required elements, or that coal mine you want to dig isn’t sitting atop a fortune in gold, and they are critical to your ongoing tenure. Most take the form of map overlays that show the viability of plantations, mines, ranches, etc., and it pays to use them regularly to make sure dangerous details don’t crop up without you knowing. There are other charts and tables to tell you how you are doing politically. It’s all quite intuitive, once you get the hang of it.

You can also count on political and religious factions to demand things that they feel are sorely needed. Demands from various factions typically come with a specific thing they want done and the promise of remuneration if it is accomplished within a given timeframe, or a loss of esteem (read: votes) from the demanding faction if declined. Sometimes you will get two factions demanding the same thing, which is a lose/lose scenario because you have to pick a winner, ensuring that at least one goes away unhappy. The most frustrating demands are those that demand you to do something that you have already done. You can either agree to build another fire house, for example, despite already having as many as you need, or lose the support of the demanding faction. That can be the difference between staying in command or being voted out, so the whole deal is rife with downside.

This conundrum assumes that you don’t choose the expedient method of fiddling around with the sanctity of the ballot, or make some adjustments to the constitution. Choosing either or both of those methods of self-preservation comes at a long-term cost which you may not want to incur. In that case, a rousing speech targeted at specific factions and issues can sometimes get you out of hot water, at least for awhile. That’s generally going to happen in the ninth year of your ten year term, but the bounce, if you get one, may not last for the intervening year until the election. You may opt to force an early election, but that too is going to have an influence on future elections. No one said it was going to be easy!

That said, it could be far more complicated. For example, the hardest part of expanding your city in colonial times is getting roads routed to where you want them to go. You can’t go over or through mountains, and bridges are rickety bamboo affairs, at best. More than a handful of times I had to demolish a completed building because I had failed to place it in a road-accessible position. The solution to that was as simple as testing the roads before building the structure, so at least I learned from my mistakes. Such has not always been the case historically. In the modern eras when tunnels and strong bridges are available, it was much easier to get roads to go where I needed them.

Again in a nod towards a wee bit of simplicity, you have no responsibility for building sewers or water lines, or most of the other niggling details that go into building a strong infrastructure. Another example is the ease with which you can determine the viability of a piece of land for use in growing specific crops, raising various animals, or mining for underground resources. You don’t even have to worry about commodity prices, which don’t seem to respond to market volatility, with the exception of favorable export terms for trade routes. The attractive rates that convinced you to create a trade route don’t always extend past the first contract period, which can be dicey, but this too is mitigated by the ease of changing what crop a plantation is raising or which critter a ranch is ranching. All in all, there is a good balance between constant changes and the ability to address them.

Tropico 6 brings a lot to the table. It is pretty to look at, easy to get started with, and offers hours of play time with its generous depth and breadth in multiple categories of human life. There are enough play modes to suit most any type of player and enough permutations to satisfy all but the most eclectic leadership style. The player has the latitude to try on any number of disparate political ideologies and constitutional styles and compare results, and can even shift the demographics as the demands of each era come into play. It can be difficult to manage a broad economy and wildly diverse population without getting bogged down with slogging through micromanagement and digging around for revenue and performance reports, but it is nice to have the ability to directly adjust wages to draw employees to jobs you most want/need to have filled. This level of complexity can initially be hard to keep up with, but that’s the life of a dictator - it’s what you signed up for, after all, Comrade.

Tropico 6 brings a lot to the table. It is pretty to look at, easy to get started with, and offers hours of play time with its generous depth and breadth in multiple categories of human life. There are enough play modes to suit most any type of player and enough permutations to satisfy all but the most eclectic leadership style. The player has the latitude to try on any number of disparate political ideologies and constitutional styles and compare results, and can even shift the demographics as the demands of each era come into play. It can be difficult to manage a broad economy and wildly diverse population without getting bogged down with slogging through micromanagement and digging around for revenue and performance reports, but it is nice to have the ability to directly adjust wages to draw employees to jobs you most want/need to have filled. This level of complexity can initially be hard to keep up with, but that’s the life of a dictator - it’s what you signed up for, after all, Comrade.

Rating: 9 Excellent

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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