Guest Author - James Shea
Tropico 3 is a city management simulator with a twist - the "city" in question is a volatile Banana Republic island, and the player takes the role of a newly-elected "El Presidente".
Tropico 3 can be compared to a lot of other city-management games, like SimCity or the Anno Domini series, in that the basic concept is the same: create a manageable supply train to keep your people happy and the money rolling in. In this case, "keeping people happy" is one of the lynchpins of the gameplay. In addition to the usual woes of education, health care, and happiness, there are also different factions that you have to appease, as well. This includes nationalists, environmentalists, capitalists, communists, and so on. You also have to worry about foreign entities, like the USA and USSR.
The player's avatar - "El Presidente" - is customizable in many different ways, including gender, appearance, background, and traits. These traits are less about roleplaying and more about in-game effects, like differing levels of faction loyalty. Within the game world, your avatar plays a role by increasing productivity and giving speeches. Tropico's economy is generally based around production and export, with money coming in from foreign aid annually. Resource production areas like farms and mines will sell their excess material, or alternately you can build factories to convert resources into far more valuable products. Tourism can also provide a big chunk of income, provided that you've got enough things on the island to draw foreign interest. Generally, it seemed like once you were "settled" and getting a reasonable income, the game wasn't too much trouble.
Keeping the people happy is based on not only general needs like housing, health care, and food, but also on specific factional interests. For example, the religious faction demands churches and cathedrals, while the militarist faction wants army bases. Balancing these desires is part of the game's dynamic, and it doesn't pay to let one faction get especially upset with you. Unhappy citizens can lead to protests, and eventually rebellions (which is why army bases are necessary.Citizens are surprisingly complex, with different desires, political affiliations, skills, and even internal thoughts. Providing schools and colleges is necessary for citizens to fill higher-ranking jobs, but these jobs can also be filled by skilled immigrants (though actively encouraging them may insult the nationalist faction).
The game's complexity may make it seem difficult at first, but in actuality it's pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Most of the economy is automated; it's just about setting things up so you're producing a lot of valuable resources. Keeping people happy is a bit of a challenge, as is contending with island geography; the islands are generally twisty, with relatively few "low" sections that can be built upon. Like some other development games with advancing research, I often ended up with a starting area that was too compacted to be upgraded with the advancements I'd researched later (though there's always the option of demolition and rebuilding).
The game looks pretty nice; most buildings only have one model, so islands tend to look the same in that regard, but the models themselves are nice and definitely show visible upgrades going from low-rent tenements to movie theaters and stadiums. Events in-game are commented on either by the official Tropico radio network (positive) or the rebel underground network (negative), and the comments themselves are pretty entertaining. The Latin music helps reinforce the theme, and it's definitely a very thematic, immersive game. Overall, Tropico 3 is a bit of a challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre, but it shouldn't be passed over - it's fun, witty, and deep at the same time.
We purchased Tropico 3 with our own funds from a gaming store.