To this day I’m not sure what the hangup is, but while city builders are one of my absolute favorite sub-genres, I have a hard time getting into management games. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed when too many systems are running at once, and of course the general idea is to automate the more general early systems so you can focus on more complicated ones. Some more focused management games I’ve tried, such as Factorio, quickly got overwhelming and lost their shine, but I’ve always had a penchant for the Tycoon games from Frontier Developments. I like seeing the empire build out!

My favorite management game currently is Parkasaurus, which is, as you guessed, a dinosaur theme park management sim in the vein of Jurassic Park. Some of my favorite parts, besides my love of dinosaurs, are the simplicity of the UI, the interaction between systems, and the ease of automation. While Cartel Tycoon hasn’t quite grabbed me the same way, it’s certainly worth your time and money if you want to feel like you’re the star of Narcos.

This is my city!

I should get this out of the way right now – if you’re not comfortable with the gamification of the cartel drug trade, which leads to thousands of narcotics-related deaths each year in North America, I’d stop right where you are. Cartel Tycoon very much glosses over the negative effects of opiates, and once the opium leaves your airport to head to processing, it’s not your responsibility anymore. The many real Mexican cartels are also responsible for sex trafficking thousands of women each year, which is obviously not mentioned in the game either. Like I said earlier, you’re very much getting the Netflix version of the drug trade.  It’s honestly a bit bold for the developers to have even attempted this while being a non-Latino studio, but I’m also in no position to judge the accuracy of the dialogue and culture presented.

In Cartel Tycoon, you’ll take on the role of an up-and-coming young drug lord in a fictional equivalent of late 80s Mexico set to take over your family’s small-time cartel and begin expanding. There are three different scenarios of varying difficulty, and I played through the first which took around 5 hours. There are two additional scenarios at high difficulties that run 15-20 hours each, so if you find yourself enjoying this management sim, it’s certainly a huge bang for your buck. Starting off with a single lieutenant, you’ll work your way through building opium farms, distribution centers, airports, casinos, laundering money, corrupting politicians and of course raising an army.

Don’t stray into enemy turf unprepared, or you’ll pay dearly.

One of the things I mentioned earlier that I look for in these kinds of games is a good UI. After the 1.0 update, I’m thoroughly impressed with Cartel Tycoon‘s user experience. There was only one time in my game I had to search around through menus for a specific option, even with literally dozens of systems to keep up with. Your lieutenants, towns, establishments, residences, villages, outposts, farms, warehouses, and more all have their own individual menus with dozens of options in each, but I have to shout out the great tutorial that perfectly paces the addition of new systems. Before the 1.0 update, I could very much tell this game was not done. I am happy to call the current version very polished. The visuals are pretty nice as well, and the colors of the menus compliment the lush green environments well.

There are also dialogue trees here and there, but the multiple options are really just dressing for “what do you want to do next?” I didn’t find any of the characters I met to be interesting or memorable, despite some excellent voice acting, and I don’t think I could tell you a single person’s name. It also occurred to me that I’d love to play Cartel Tycoon with Spanish VO, as I’m trying to learn the language, but there was no option to do so despite the game being set in South America. This is definitely high on the list of things I’d like to see in the future from Cartel Tycoon.

Dialogue trees are present, but mostly for show. There’s not too much to think about.

One system I didn’t particularly enjoy was the current method of expanding into other cartels’ territories. You send a lieutenant into a city controlled by a rival cartel, and if your lieutenant has a higher power level than the existing turf holders they’ll grind out a very long battle (which you can of course fast forward using the time speedup tools present in every management game). I did not enjoy this feature because it didn’t involve any actual strategy from me to win the turf, just sending in a fighter with a higher number, and then I had to sit for about 4 minutes on the highest speed just watching the bar turn blue.

I claimed some farms and warehouses but was unable to ship the the resulting opium anywhere because I had to complete quests for the mayor before taking control of that territory. I then ended up with a full warehouse, which caused the police to arrive, and I lost the turf.  Then, in order to keep terror down (I’ll get to that in a minute), I had to leave a lieutenant in the city, making them kind of useless, which made them unable to help with the police situation.

What I would like to see is something a tad more involved in place of the current war system where I need to make decisions to influence the outcome, and I’d like for it to be a lot quicker. The other small thing that irked me was the conversion of washing dirty money into clean money and only being able to do specific things with each – this resulted in a lot of me waiting for several minutes for the money to wash while i stared at the screen.

Full Map
Let the battles begin!

Probably my favorite feature in Cartel Tycoon is the loyalty/terror system. The opinion of the citizens can either protect or destroy you, depending on how you are treating the city. If you hold events for them, pay for city improvements with clean money, and generally improve their lives the loyalty meter will increase. They will defend the cartel, keeping the police off your back and giving you leverage over the mayor. If you let the terror build up, however, they’ll encourage the police to raid you more often. This feature made me feel immersed more than any other.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Cartel Tycoon, and I may pop back in when I get a hankering for a management game. There are a lot of systems, perhaps a bit too many, but automation is easy enough and the speed at which they’re introduced to you is manageable. I’d like to see some better written characters in the future as well as Spanish VO, and maybe at some point the darker parts of the real cartel life need to be touched on and addressed. It’s a good time, although certainly not relaxing, but if you feel like you’ll enjoy this management sim you probably will. And hey, if there’s a way to explore your city once you build it up, I will most certainly be back.

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