Sometimes, you just have to go back to the roots of a popular franchise to see where it started. The original Tropico is no longer available as a solo purchase for download, but rather comes bundled with it’s expansion and the second game in the series. Tropico 2 will likely merit a separate entry, just because it’s the one game in the series that deviates most from the formula of the rest.
Tropico (along with its expansion pack, Paradise Island) holds up remarkably well almost 15 years later. It’s a city builder on a small scale – even very large islands seldom reach populations over 500. Which is good, because you have to make sure that every resident has a job and a home, as well as access to health care, religion, entertainment, and education.
The base game shipped with only a handful of scenarios – none of which were ranked below Moderate difficulty. However, the real gem was the ability to play randomly generated islands, where you decided how much randomization you wanted, and how difficult you wanted things to be. Paradise Island added a bunch more scenarios, and a lot of tourism options that you can use in the original scenarios as well as in the custom game mode.
It’s not the prettiest game nowadays, but since strategy games hold up mainly on interesting play, that can be forgiven. If you’re used to the later Tropico games, some things might feel weird at first and take time to get used to. Roads are completely optional in Tropico – your people will traipse all over the land with nary a complaint. Which is good, because trying to create a transportation infrastructure will drain your bank account dry in no time.
If you’ve never played any of the Tropico games, but you like city builders & economic simulation games, you could do worse than to spend $7 and start at the beginning. The version I own – purchased at GoG.com for a similar price – runs just fine on Windows 8.1.