Indietail – Cartel Tycoon

I have a soft spot for management-type games like Tropico, Banished, Timberborn, and the like, mostly because of the whole premise of unsolvable problems. You start small, build up your tribe, your city, your colony, etc. slowly and as you move on, you’ll encounter problems that need fixing. Resources need to be delivered more efficiently. Supply is low, and demand is high. Sometimes, you need more power to fuel your economy or you’re missing the tools completely.

In Cartel Tycoon, you have to deal with other… problems… It’s not completely reinventing the wheel, in my opinion, but due to its setting and the way it works, it does bring some interesting points and mechanics into the mix, leading to a unique yet fun experience for casuals and veteran-management-sim players alike!

Developer: Moon Moose
Publisher: tinyBuild
Genre: Indie, Strategy, Simulation, Management, Tycoon, RTS (?), Survival
Release Date: July 26th, 2022
Reviewed on: PC
Available on: PC
Copy was provided by the publisher.

Cartel Tycoon is a business-management-sim inspired by the ’80s and ’90s Narco Trade where you play as a succession of drug lords. You build up your operation slowly, expand and conquer, fight off rival gangs, evade the authorities, and as you earn people’s loyalty and develop more complicated production chains, you’ll strive to overcome the doomed fate of a power-hungry drug lord!

The whole idea of a narco-trade-inspired business-sim seems quite novel – the idea of forming a legacy even more so. It makes business personal – as your “tata” probably would say. It adds a lot of flair and drama into the mix as well thanks to the way the story works in the different game modes. For a management game, I was impressed at how well-written the story is.

In the tutorial, for instance, you step into the role of “Romero”, a young man proving himself to his father, and you take over the business with the help of your right hand. Romero is quick-witted and well-educated, even if he didn’t exactly “study abroad” when he went to study abroad. Still, I found him quirky in a way even when he’s probably not supposed to be quirky.

Other stories and scenarios offer you a wide mix of experiences, from dealing with corrupt cops to trying to “conquer” all the territories while keeping your trade somewhat on the low side of things.

The core gameplay, however, is fairly standard, maybe even a bit clunky.

You build up basic chains consisting of farms that deliver their goods to a warehouse. Those warehouses then need to be within the radius of a “transport company” which then delivers “the goods” to airports, checkpoints, and piers. The money you earn through that, however, is “dirty money” that then needs to be laundered. As you expand your business, you may research technologies using “legal money”, erect buildings in cities to launder money more efficiently or improve your reputation.

As time goes on, you conquer other areas to be able to build there which requires you to complete a series of quests and gang fights. You may also consider building up advanced supply chains that produce other drugs (such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, etc.) that then need to be packed up in “legal containers” such as vegetables to then be shipped out across the border.

This in itself really cracks me up btw. Imagine buying some eggplant and finding weed inside. Hey, free seasoning!

What I meant by “clunky” is that it’s easy to lose track of all your different areas and production chains. Especially once your “business” expands, it gets overwhelming fast unless you really know what you’re doing… which may take a while.

As you build up your business, the “policia” and the “federales” will catch wind of it, naturally. They have a nose for drugs, after all. Keeping a lot of money or wares in a warehouse becomes risky and you’ll need to deal with it by transporting it away or laundering money more quickly.

This, however, requires a lot of attention to detail and even if you slip up and one of your warehouses or farms gets blocked off by the cops, you can still get it back by buying it out or by asking the mayor in the region for a “favour”. This makes some situations a bit easy, though pricey. It stings a little when the police block off a road or take away your wares… but you can get it back quite easily.

On top of managing your different areas, you also have to level up, promote and command your lieutenants. These are practically your underlings or henchmen. There are a lot of events involved with these, leading to quests where you need to make choices that will affect their loyalty to you. More importantly, though, lieutenants come with different traits that can help you out in the story.

What I found a bit upsetting about this system, is that you may need one lieutenant with the “robbery” trait in a scenario and if you’re unlucky, that trait won’t get unlocked until much later in their skill tree. The level-up system, however, isn’t explained too well. The same goes for other mechanics in the game… This leads to a lot of issues, in my opinion, where it’s not incredibly clear to you what you can and what you can’t do/affect.

In the same vein, I found a lot of the building to be fairly limited. In a way, Cartel Tycoon reminded me of Tropico but there aren’t that many buildings available to you, in my opinion, which is partially due to the “tier” system in the game – which is a very slight nitpick. Also, you cannot prioritize one task over another and there is this bug in the game where the police may seize one of your buildings but your people still deliver wares and dirty money to it… but since the building is seized, the police just takes the money and wares… Honestly, a bit funny! It’s a feature!

Alas, I frankly hate the fact that you can’t just queue up a lot of research. Research doesn’t take long to complete but the fact that opening up the research menu pauses time makes it so that you need to start research, click away, wait for it to complete in a few seconds, and then you click back into the research screen for new research… It’s tedious. Just let me do my thing, please.

On a side note, you need a “tinyBuild” account to get access to your game. I’m not a fan of launchers within launchers or games that launch a launcher that then launches the game… but I reckon that that’s a publisher choice and not a developer design choice, so I figured I’d just mention it without really giving it much weight in my judgement over the game.

Anyway, if you’re into management games and if you can look past some flaws in its design, Cartel Tycoon is definitely a great pick-up! Some of the flaws can get quite frustrating though, like the lack of a research queue or the lack of priorities but considering that it has been developed by a five-headed studio, I’m quite happy with the time I had in the game and I believe that it may be a good pick-up once a few more patches address some of its flaws.

After all, even with its clunkiness and limitations, I really enjoyed Cartel Tycoon primarily because of how much it reminded me of Tropico and how some of the mechanics, especially around notoriety and your reputation affected your gameplay. It’s honestly been a while since something scratched THAT itch… and it was good to get it scratched. The art style, music and, frankly, the characters really add to the game’s charm as well, making it a bit easier to overlook some of the flaws that hopefully will get ironed out soon!

And I say that I hope that they get ironed out soon since the lack of explanation and some of the more obtuse elements can really hurt your experience. Sometimes, shit just hits the fan but I wasn’t exactly sure why… so, maybe more information would be better there for the player experience, especially when one isn’t ready to spend hours learning by trial and error.

This post was first published on Indiecator by Dan Indiecator aka MagiWasTaken. If you like what you see here and want to see more, you can check me out on Twitch and YouTube as well.

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