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Lifewire / Rebecca Isaacs
Tropico 6 sets a new standard for city simulators. With a great storyline, a faithful sidekick, and unexpected twists and turns, Tropico 6 is easily one of the best city-building games of the past year.
I was not expecting such an interesting game cutscene. A person in a military uniform sits by a fan, tweeting over a glass of liquor: time to get back to work. And, after he’s stepped up to a podium and finished a great speech, the crowd cheers. From there, the introductory cutscene gets crazier, finally culminating with the shameless theft of the Statue of Liberty, which gets dumped in a Caribbean-like harbor, half-submerged.
This is the fabulous introductory cutscene to Tropico 6, released in 2019 by Kalypso Media and Limbik Entertainment. Admittedly, I’ve never played any of the previous Tropico games, which were developed in part with Haemimont Games instead of Limbik Entertainment. However, this introduction definitely raised my eyebrows—and my intrigue for this game. I spent 20 hours (and counting) trying out everything the game has to offer. Read on to see how it compares to others on our list of the best city-building games.
The game begins with your oldest—and most loyal—assistant, Penultimo, beginning to show you the ropes through a tutorial. It is imperative that you partake in this tutorial, as there are many, many moving parts to running an archipelago dictatorship. Similar to other city simulators I’ve played, this gives you a preface to the various scenario experiences.
What’s great about Tropico 6 is that you’re playing these scenarios to replay history. Instead of just lobbing some objectives at you, Tropico 6 replays various points in your nation’s history, from building prisons in which you use convict labor to bolster your revenue, to issuing edicts such as Prohibition which forces your workers to be more productive—and threatens to turn them into rebels.
Your first introductory scenario involves your break from colonialism to create your own nation. It’s here that your first test comes into play: to keep yourself in power while keeping outside governments at bay. Your goals are simple, but it’s effective at both dipping your toes and ensuring that you’re invested in the game. After all, independence from colonialism means that you can build a dictatorship.
After all, independence from colonialism means that you can build a dictatorship.
Once you complete the introductory scenario, six more scenarios pop up, each documenting a different time in Tropico’s history. You’ll have to complete three scenarios before the next set pops up. It’s a fun way to keep a player invested in the game as these scenarios progress. They all usually come with certain objectives—so far, in the 20 hours I’ve spent testing out Tropico 6, I’ve transformed into a communist dictatorship, raided and spied on the Allied Powers, and built up an economy fit for a king.
In the 20 hours I’ve spent testing out Tropico 6, I’ve transformed into a communist dictatorship, raided and spied on the Allied Powers, and built up an economy fit for a king.
At first, I was admittedly a little leery and my morals made me question whether I would enjoy this game. While being a ruthless dictator that would arrest people or “arrange accidents” for them sounded intriguing, I wondered how much of the game would involve nation or city-building simulation and how much would involve human rights policies.
As it turns out, there’s a lot more to Tropico 6 than simple nation-building. Like many city simulators, you’re in charge of education, commerce, and taxes. This isn’t just a city-builder—it’s more of a nation builder, and you’ll have to contend with foreign powers. Let their approval rating shift too low and you could have to deal with some serious consequences.
This isn’t just a city-builder—it’s more of a nation builder, and you’ll have to contend with foreign powers.
On the flip side, build it up enough and you’ll be able to form alliances which can be beneficial when you start running a financial deficit. You can also blame various powers in your election speeches which can shape foreign policy. And yes, it’s very easy to ensure your re-election, and your trusty sidekick Penultimo will help you adjust the ballots to ensure your victory over your opponent. If you’re feeling really disgruntled that someone had the audacity to run against you, don’t worry. You can also arrest, institutionalize, or “arrange an accident” for him after the election.
You’ll also have to face off against edicts which can help make or break your economy, at the cost of faction standing. For example, if you issue a wealth tax, the capitalist faction will become enraged, while the communist faction will approve of spreading the wealth. While creating structured commerce is easy, it’s the factions coupled with approval ratings that can really cause your nation to crash and burn.
Because you’ll improve and shift into different eras as you progress through the game, expect additional factions with additional demands. It can be a bit of a learning curve, but it’s also what makes the gameplay really fun and exciting. After all, when you have dual faction demands, you’ll have to choose: do you brainwash the children at the children’s museum with capitalist ideologies, or do you build the hospital for the communists? Either way, you’ll bolster one faction’s standing at the cost of another.
After all, when you have dual faction demands, you’ll have to choose: do you brainwash the children at the children’s museum with capitalist ideologies, or do you build the hospital for the communists?
Tropico 6 isn’t going to have the graphics of other major games on the market, simply because it’s a city simulator that focuses on nation building and commerce rather than people. It doesn’t detract from the gameplay. On the contrary—thanks to inspiration from various Caribbean dictatorships, the game thrives on color. It’s not the fanciest by any means, but the vibrant colors coupled with fun, catchy Cuban-inspired music, helps make gameplay a more immersive and entertaining experience.
My biggest issue with Tropico 6 isn’t gameplay which can fluctuate in terms of difficulty or that it steers you toward being a ruthless dictator. Even though there are other, more expensive games on the market, $50 for a city simulator seems like a bit much. You do get a lot of playtime out of the game, especially since I’m sitting on 20 hours of gameplay and have only completed two missions out of the seventeen total. Still, $50 makes me think twice about purchasing a game, though, especially when its two content packs: Spitter and the Llama of Wall Street, also cost extra.
It’s really hard to compare Tropico 6 to other city simulators just because the game feels so unique and authentic on a market that is overrun with a plethora of city-building games. It makes sense to compare it to the most recent one I’ve also played, Cities: Skylines (view on Steam).
In terms of price, Cities: Skylines is definitely the cheaper option, at $30 base price, compared to the $50 that you’ll have to drop for Tropico 6. What it makes up for the cheaper price, however, it lacks in missions. Tropico 6 comes with everything that you could possibly want mission-wise, while the base game for Cities: Skylines, only comes with a sandbox experience.
That can be a little frustrating because, for $30, you’d expect more than just a sandbox experience. I’d rather spend the extra $20 for a complete game than just the base. If you want a plain city-builder that allows you to unleash your creativity, then Cities: Skylines is your ideal choice. However, if you like the thrill of missions, then Tropico 6 is your best bet.
A fun tropical nation-building simulator for aspiring dictators.
Tropico 6 is one of the best city-building games of the past year. It has fun, quick gameplay that leaves you scrambling to quell rebel uprisings, placate various factions’ demands, and ensure that all world powers are your best friend. While the game is expensive, it provides hours of morally questionable entertainment.