Inspired by real-world events, Cartel Tycoon takes you a fictionalized 1980s Colombia, where you get to find out exactly how difficult being budding drug entrepreneur can be. You start with a single would-be drug lord who grows his small-time marijuana operation into a highly profitable business by gradually expanding, paying off the cops, and trying your best to stay off law enforcement’s radar.
Watching the grass grow in Cartel Tycoon
There’s a considerable amount of trial and error when it comes to building a drug empire. I had to restart the demo three times before I finally got the hang of things. In the time I spent watching my business crumble, I learned a handful of valuable lessons.
- No matter how little money your operation makes, the police will always want a piece.
- Growing and smuggling drugs requires a ton of micromanagement.
- Never, try to go legit by producing vegetables. At least not at the start.
At its heart, Cartel Tycoon is about streamlining and balancing production and distribution. In order to have a functional pot business, you need farms, a storage warehouse, a lab to dry out the weed, a packaging facility, and a dreadfully inefficient plane to smuggle your illicit goods. When the money starts rolling in, you need to automate the money laundering process.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, it turns out that that this version of Colombia is populated by robots, because they won’t stop producing until you hit the off button. So, if there’s a hiccup somewhere in the supply chain (your farms are producing more than you can refine, it takes too long for your trucks to get to the airstrip, you can’t export fast enough, etc.), then things get backed up. You can’t set your buildings to slow down or instruct your supply trucks to distribute supplies evenly across your warehouses, so you have to find the perfect balance as you expand your business.
While you do so, the police will be keeping a close watch for overstuffed buildings to raid and shut down. Oftentimes, maintaining a sense of balance means using your soon-to-be kingpin to carry supplies and money from one location to another to keep buildings from overfilling. Then there’s the local police and the government’s special forces, both of which ask for extremely high payoffs and don’t believe in installment plans from your petty pot business.
Handle things right, and you can graduate to harder drugs such as cocaine, which will get you the funds to battle rival cartels, take over neighboring regions, and further grow your business. Play things wrong, and the police will shut down buildings, or federal forces will come in and confiscate them. In one extreme incident, a police raid blew up several of my buildings. That’s when I learned that refusing to pay off the cops was not an option.
A family business
You gain additional lieutenants as the game progresses, and they each bring certain different benefits. For example, one character enabled access to research upgrade options while adding extra trucks to my facilities. Your lieutenants can also be ordered to go out and wrestle control of buildings from rival cartels until you have a monopoly.
I guess you can say that building sims are my drug, because I was hooked on the demo — as infuriating as it could be. Things get pretty crazy as your notoriety increases, including sudden city lockdowns and confiscation of legal goods at airports, seaports, and border checkpoints. Every confiscated item increases your notoriety a little more until it’s almost impossible to make money. So, as I found out the hard way, you have to pace yourself or else things can quickly fall apart.
Judging by the demo, the game will do everything it can to make your life of crime difficult. For instance, bailing one of my lieutenants out of jail caused my funds to run out just as rent was due on all my facilities. That led to “bankruptcy,” which meant that the head of my organization saw an early retirement from life. Fortunately, the game didn’t end. I just had to promote one of my other lieutenants as the new head of the family. So, as long as you have people who can take over, you can keep the drug supply going. Just try not to let the cops blow everything up.
Cartel Tycoon is expected to release on Steam later this year.