Tropico 4 Modern Times: cheeseburger in paradise

, | Game diaries

The Tropico series of city builders has always been one of my favorites. While it lacks the complexity of the Sim City titles or the accurate historical settings of classic Impressions games and Tilted Mill’s Children of the Nile, Tropico boasts a charm all its own. Its lighthearted approach to Cold War era banana republics and its silly personalities and scenarios disguise solid gameplay mechanics.

The recent Modern Times expansion propels Tropico from the Cold War into the War on Terror, exchanging the Communist Party and Che for the Tea Party and Rupert Murdoch. More importantly, it adds twenty six new buildings and ten edicts for would-be dictators to use and abuse on their populace. Today, I’m going to focus on those that change the fundamental basis of the game’s economy, food production and distribution.

After the jump: how you gonna keep ’em down on the biofarm?

The above screenshot is of what’s probably the most important new building in Modern Times, the biofarm. At first, I wasn’t sure if I liked them. They seemed to take up a lot more room than conventional farms, which they replace from 1967 on, but that turned out to be an illusion. While the old farm buildings are much smaller than biofarms, the fields that surround them are extensive and the farmers decide where to plant the crops instead of el Presidente, which can be an annoyance when they pick locations better suited for something else. On biofarms, crops only grow inside the neat circle and the total acreage they consume is therefore both completely predictable and about the same.

When I noticed that biofarms only employ four people instead of six, my opinion of them started to improve. It’s a nice plus since farming is a must on almost every island. Cutting the agricultural workforce by one third frees up hordes of peons to join my secret police and oppress other, less fortunate peons. An added plus is that biofarms never deplete the underlying soil, so their production remains as high as the day they’re built throughout the entire scenario.

Best of all, their production is enormously greater than that of normal farms, though it took me a while to realize this. Check out the food crop biofarm at the upper left of the screenshot–it’s simultaneously growing bananas, papayas, and pineapple in amounts equal to that of three normal farms! The cash crop farm to its right is just producing tobacco and coffee, since conditions there are wrong for sugar, but that’s still twice as lucrative as a conventional farm. The only biofarm that grows just one crop is corn, but it makes three times as much of it as its antecedent.

The double or tripled production of multiple crops combined with a reduced need for labor makes it much easier to establish a healthy economy in the early stages of a Modern Times scenario. I export raw farm products (tobacco, sugar, coffee, and so on) until I earn enough cash to build the holy trinity of starting industry: a cigar factory, a cannery, and a rum distillery. After that, money problems vanish beneath a flood of income as the factories churn out pricey exports. If anything, biofarms make sandbox games too easy. There’s never any reason not to base your economy around their enormous profit potential–3x the output from 2/3 as many workers and roughly the same footprint is an unbeatable boon. The new scenarios, which are tuned around this and other changes to provide a challenge despite the power of the Modern Times add-ons, are much more interesting to play.

Three other new buildings and one edict round out Modern Times’ food-related changes, but they pale in comparison to biofarms. Fish farms (pictured above and available from 1962 on) offer either increased production, a boost to the quality of local restaurants, or extra income depending on the work mode. Organic ranches, which come online in 1968, raise cattle, goats, and llamas in the same facility and are much more effective than their older counterparts, which I almost never built. Supermarkets replace the smaller markets in 1959 but hold more food and serve more people. They can also either increase their customers’ lifespan by selling healthy fare at the cost of some satisfaction or can increase satisfaction by stocking junk food at the cost of worsening health. Finally, the “Fertilize!” edict, which permanently increases crop fertility across the entire map, is available after building the old-school chemical plant.

Though they vary in degree of usefulness, all of the new food-related buildings and the edict are welcome upgrades to Tropico’s economy. Too bad I can’t say that about the next set of changes.

Next time: home, home on the island

Dave Markell’s probably been playing games longer than you’ve been alive. While his preferred genres are turn-based strategy and RPG’s, he’ll gladly demonstrate his incompetence at anything.