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By: Paul Meekin
When I saw Kalypso Media’s city-building game, “Tropico 5” had a ‘liberty’ rating, I knew I was in good hands.
See, for years I’ve been playing games like Sim City, Cities: Skylines, Reigns, and even Shadow President in search of a title that spoke to both city planning and government. Most games only bring half the equation. Sim City assumed a certain type of government, and instead challenged you to grow your city based on logistics, not ideology. Reigns let you govern how you wanted, but lacked cohesion regarding how your empire would unfold based on your policies.
So it was with delight I saw Tropico 5 offered Socialism, Capitalism, and Libertarianism. The ability to charge for healthcare, allow citizens to purchase firearms without a permit, and allows you to draft a constitution for your country as you see fit, and modify it along the way.
Thus: the genre is city-building, but the subject of Tropico 5 is the politics of economics.
You start a game by creating your El Presidente. I made mine based on Dave Rubin, a liberty minded podcaster who isn’t opposed to changing his mind and taking good ideas when he hears them.
Once created, you’re dropped into a birds-eye view of your hovel of a city. There’s some houses, a couple of plantations, roads, and not much else. Your first long-term goal is to grow your economy – and public support, to the point where you can rebel against royal rule and declare independence.
To do this you need to keep your people happy and employed. As a pseudo communist country, you set the ‘budget’ for various businesses and housing, and it’s a balance. If a housing budget is too high, your workers ploughing the fields won’t be able to afford it. If you pay your workers too much, the fields won’t turn a profit. Balance is the key, because homelessness and strife will lead to a poor approval rating and possible rebellion.
But while you work to that goal, ‘The Crown’ will make requests of you; demanding you export a certain type of fruit or enact a certain kind of policy. If you don’t they’ll yank you out of power.
So then you’ll need to consider geography; a location that’s fertile for cotton may not suit itself to bananas, for example. Also making sure the areas surrounding your plantations and businesses have housing and entertainment options, or else citizens won’t want to go there, is a concern as well.
This is all wonderfully complicated, and that’s part of the fun. Tropico 5 is a game with a goal, but also a toy. You can play with it. Try out new ideas, provide social security, farming subsidies, or simply let everyone hang out to dry while you pad your personal coffers.
For example, lets dive deep into that ‘Liberty’ rating. It works like this; the closer your citizens are to government infrastructure; especially police stations and military guard towers and barracks, the lower the ‘liberty’ rating goes. Lower liberty breeds resentment, and ultimately rebellion. So, in the name of liberty, you can either cut down on the military presence (opening yourself up to invasion), or institute policies that increase liberty. For example gun rights. But gun rights increase crime.
So it’s a balance that really does illustrate how tricky ideology can be. Every action has a reaction. Complete liberty means a poorly trained citizen militia and a lack of government resources. Totalarianism means complete security at the expense of the occasional citizen uprising; and you might just want to rig those upcoming elections too.
Eventually you research new buildings and ideologies, declare independence, and you’re on your own as you move through time from World War II, to the Cold War, to modern times; with new buildings and industries coming along the way as you march into the uncertain future.
I’m also…uncertain how this game would play for the casual player. There is a heavy micro-management element at play here, from hiring managers for each of your businesses, to utilizing charts and graphs to figure out what your city needs, and whom in it you should banish…or bribe…or have killed.
It’s also not perfect, politically. Even if you’re a full Libertarian nation, you still control funding for businesses. Additionally as you grow, traffic congestion becomes a big problem, and can get frustrating if you’re not big into games like this.
When Polygon reviewed the game they gave it low marks based on its low-brow, occasionally sexist, backwards humor; claiming it missed an opportunity. I say the humor is the point. The point is that government is almost by definition corrupt and insular, and the people advising El Presidente would likely be this way. In fact, when you research socialism your advisor will warn you gravely; stating he and his very rich friends are worried about what would happen to their…he means the people’s wallets.
Ultimately, Tropico 5 is a celebration of and damnation of all things government. What you can do for your people. What you can take from them. That what’s best for them sometimes isn’t what they want, and that sometimes it is. I had the most success in Tropico 5 by providing food to the poor, having a blustering textile and Cigar export business, and cutting taxes every time things got a little hairy.
Oh and I made every citizen pay for their own damn healthcare.
Based on this, on Libertarian Republic Rating System on a scale of Karl Marx to Ron Paul, Tropico 5 gets, well, a Dave Rubin. It’s open minded, classically liberal as it were. There are many ways to have a thriving society, but like Rubin, it seems the best way is a mix of everything, and a positive attitude.
Libertarians, this is the game for us.