Tropico 4 AAR – Last Isla St. Clara Part 1

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I love playing Tropico 4. The easy salsa music contrasted with sharp, cynical political caricatures makes it a great way for me to kick back and have fun. I’ve managed to play the campaign from start to finish already, but today I wanted to share some of my enjoyment of the game in an AAR. Playing the game end to end forced me to solve problems sometimes with significant handicaps. The great thing about Tropico is how open-ended it is. There are often many ways to solve a particular problem. Today, I’m going to have some fun playing around and see how things go in the first mission of the campaign.

The scenario introduction.

The scenario introduction.

I begin by selecting my avatar. I choose a custom one. I purchased the Apocalypse DLC so I have access to some extra traits that don’t come with the base game. Of course I have to dress up in the hazmat suit. It’s a given. Nothing says, “I’m a petty third world dictator” like running around with a gas mask on. Before the player can get down to the business of gaming he needs to do more than pick out an avatar. The player also needs to select a background, rise to power, and three traits.

My background is that of Booze Baron which gives me double the prices for selling rum. However it comes at a cost – I lose 5% respect from the religious faction. My path to power is Elected as a Capitalist. This gives me bonuses to liberty, production, relations with the US and a bonus to the Capitalist faction. For the three traits I pick Patriot (which gives me a bonus with the Nationalist faction and native-born Tropicans), Scholarly (which gives me a bonus for worker training speed), and Survivalist (an add-on from the DLC which helps my citizens consume less food and gives me a bonus with the Environmentalist faction).

Rockin' the suit and creating my background.

Rockin’ the suit and creating my background.

With that the game begins.

January 1950

Although the game comes with a tutorial even after you start playing the regular campaign periodically hints will pop up to help you along. Usually they’re good advice, but the game is open-ended enough that you don’t always need to take that advice. Here I am being shown what is in effect the game’s translation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: Food, religion, health care, homes, fun. If you prioritize your spending along those lines you’ll rarely go wrong. Tropico is also an economic simulator in addition to being a political sim. Wise investment can create a robust and growing economy. Poor investment will put you in a spiral of bankruptcy from which your small island nation cannot recover. Notably absent in that list of priorities is jobs. However, we’ll get to that.

I click OK to dismiss the advice and intend to pause the game. Here is where I get my first look at the resources on the island. This is an important first step as it will show me what crops I can grow (both for food supply and export revenue), the mineral wealth of the island, and the various resources I can tap to either sell as raw materials or manufacture as value-added products. But as I click the OK button a new pop-up appears advising me to build two farms. In fact, that move is pretty much ingrained in me and I had forgotten it was the first step in the first campaign game.


Checking out the suitability of growing corn to feed my population.

Typically I build two farms dedicated to food right off the bat. Normally an island will grow due to natural expansion of Tropicans making more Tropicans. Immigration also takes place – as the economy expands and wages increase people from all over the world will flock to my island paradise.

But creating a surplus of food isn’t the only step. We’ll also want to look at some cash crops for export to generate some income. A quick look around tells me that in the immediate vicinity corn (for food) and sugar (for export) are both well suited for planting. Creating a farm close to the inner area has pros and cons, but I typically like to have farms reasonably close at hand and worry about expanding them outside the immediate area later. Population density can be an issue in the game, but I can typically mitigate its side effects through other means.

I’ve just instructed my Tropicans to build two corn farms and two sugar plantations. This has cramped my budget considerably. In the later parts of the game I typically started with a budget of $20,000. This time I have half that and the game may have other expectations for me. I start the game and see what’s next.

Let's add a pinch of sugar.

Let’s add a pinch of sugar.

By March of 1950 the first farm is built and two farmers are happily tilling the soil. A quick check of my economy screen tells me that there are 11 unemployed Tropicans. A farm can employ up to six farmers, so some quick math tells me that when all construction is complete I’ll still have 13 job openings. That’s OK. I’d rather have a slight worker shortage than heavy unemployment.

In May of 1950 I have completed the first task and have two farms. Penultimo, my ever faithful assistant, reminds me that people can’t eat the crops of sugar, tobacco, or coffee. He also advises me to have one food-producing farm for every 50 people on my island. Excellent advice.

Right after that two things happen. First, a freighter approaches. I will bring immigrants and some imported goods. Second, a critical message appears from the Capitalists who advise me to export 500 units of tobacco. This is excellent advice as tobacco is a good cash crop for the economy. I’m way ahead of him having already created to sugar farms. His advice, however, will hold until I can get some more cash. The $4000 I had left over is paying wages and upkeep on the island and I want to keep it until I get my next round of payments. The superpowers (US and USSR) will pay me foreign aid each January. Early in the game it’s a lifesaver. I won’t have any exported cash crops for about a year so I’m going to hold on to my cash until more arrives. Then I’ll create the tobacco farms.

The calendar rolls over to June of 1950 and we get money from heaven. Literally a priest representing the Religious faction appears and asks me to build a church and hire four priests. He gives me $10,000 to make it happen. Churches only cost $6,000 but the extra will allow me to hire a foreign expert with a high school education (I have no schools on my island yet) to start that process. I can probably also manage to get a tobacco farm with some of the cash which will get me started on my other quest.

As I check the island conditions I have plenty of space for healthy tobacco crops but it’s a bit out of town. For now I spend $500 to hire a priest and keep the rest of the cash for later in the game.


Hiring an expert from a foreign land to help shepherd my flocks.

December of 1950 finds my church built. A high school-educated person has filled the role of priest, so in hiring another that gives me two. I’m half-way to fulfilling my quest requirement of four priests.

January of 1951 arrives and the US has given me $5500 in foreign aid. The Soviet Union gives me $5700. Those levels can change over time depending on relations with each country.

Some much needed foreign aid money arrives.

Some much needed foreign aid money arrives.

But now I need to look around at the level of satisfaction with each political faction. This is the first game so I shouldn’t have any curve balls, but one never knows. In Tropico, as in life, being proactive can save you some headaches. It’s easier to make a faction that’s lukewarm happier than it is to change one which is greatly dissatisfied.

So far the Capitalists are unhappy that there is no police force, the Intellectuals are unhappy there is no high school, and the Loyalists are unhappy there is no museum dedicated to my childhood. None of those things surprises me, and none requires immediate attention. In another several years I will face re-election and helping meet the demands of each faction will ensure my re-election. But for now those needs can wait. I need to build some roads and plant some tobacco.
So I expand my road network to get the outlying sugar farm able to get products to the pier in an efficient manner and I expand the road up one hill where two tobacco farms are to be built.

My political support at the moment.

My political support at the moment.

I also take a quick look at my economy again (it’s now February 1951). I’ve turned the 11 person unemployment situation around and now have 13 open job positions. This is how to run an economy!

In March of 1951 a ship arrives carrying the priest I hired and 11 new immigrants seeking a better life on my island. That will go a long way toward filling the 13 open job positions. It departs in April with no exports. Crops take time to grow. Maybe it’s time for me to look for another source of revenue.

I pull up the natural resource overlay and look for all minerals.

Whoa, yes, the map can be view from 360 degrees so don’t let that disorient you. I have the fortune to have an iron deposit right next to my sugar farm, with another deposit not far from my tobacco farms and gold (!) further along. Excellent. I create a mine over the iron deposit. This will probably destroy some sugar crops but the farmer will replant and survive. The Environmentalists will also not like it, but I have ways of pleasing them, too, so I’m not worried.

The natural resources. You can just see a bit of an iron deposit behind the mineral overlay box in the upper right of the image. Another in the middle of the image, and some gold to the left.

The natural resources. You can just see a bit of an iron deposit behind the mineral overlay box in the upper right of the image. Another in the middle of the image, and some gold to the left.

I let the game run for a moment then pause again. I see I have three of four priests hired. Another must have come with the last boat in addition to the foreign expert I hired. Now is the time to hire one more. As you hire foreign experts their cost goes up, so care has to be taken not to go overboard. However, in this case meeting the objective will move the scenario along and probably prompt more quests, so this is a good move. I have the cash to do so and make it happen.

I am just contemplating my next move – a clinic – when Penultimo appears and complains of being ill. Yup. Right on schedule I need to get the health of my residents in good hands. This is a good move.

Poor baby isn't feeling well.

Poor baby isn’t feeling well.

It’s August of 1951 and I order the clinic built. But I also do one more thing: I set the clinic’s focus on obstetrics. This will give each woman who visits the clinic a 50% chance of getting pregnant. This is an excellent policy to keep the native Tropicans a chance to boost the population. There are pros and cons to immigration, but for now I’d like to encourage as many natives to make happy families as possible.

September of 1951 arrives and with it so does another freighter carrying that foreign expert to fill the last open position of priest. With that quest completed another opens. Generalissimo Santana appears and challenges me to a fishing competition. He believes I cannot export 500 fish and will give my Swiss Bank account $25,000 if I can. This shouldn’t be difficult. Just build a fishing wharf and watch the pesos roll in. I accept.

A friendly wager.

A friendly wager.

Ah, a quick check of the island’s conditions tells me that this challenge is a bit trickier. Yes, I have some fishing near my existing infrastructure, but the best fishing is on the other side of the island where no one lives. I can either create the fishing wharf near my town where the fishing isn’t the best or I can create it on the other side of the island, build a road to it, and hope someone wants to live way out in the country. The final option is to ignore the challenge for now until my city expands. No choice is best but I’m guessing that building a road out to the other side of the island will also help if I decide (or am given a quest) to bring in some tourists. So I go for that option.

Looking to place my fishing wharf. Yes, I know it belongs on the shore and not the middle of the sea.

Looking to place my fishing wharf. Yes, I know it belongs on the shore and not the middle of the sea.

But as I place the wharf I see my treasury balance go into the negative. The wharf costs $3000 and I only have about $1800 on hand. While I can spend up to $10,000 in deficit, foreign relations deteriorate. This is actually worse than it sounds because my foreign aid will be lowered, I may face reduced export demand or an embargo. I might even get invaded by one of the superpowers if relations get bad enough. So I cancel the wharf for now, but the damage has been done. Foreign relations have deteriorated slightly due to my deficit spending. It’s OK, this won’t be a killer, but obviously I’d rather avoid it. Sometimes these things can’t be helped but this was unnecessary and I should have checked my treasury before making the move.

Just as I was checking to see how things were going on at my health clinic the Communist lobbyist shows up and tells me I need to raise the health care level. He’s right. But a doctor just took a job there so it should begin to improve shortly.

Improving the health of my Tropicans is a top priority.

Improving the health of my Tropicans is a top priority.

With that I will close this first part of my AAR. Check back soon for Part 2 I face more challenges to stuff money into my Swiss bank account and finally get to see what kind of cash crop all those sugar plantations yield.

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