I think most people my age played Drug Wars on their TI-83 calculators in high school in study hall. If you ever wanted a game to capture that feeling of being a drug lord, Cartel Tycoon is all about building a drug empire. Do you have what it takes to push your product under the authority’s noses and fight off rival gangs? Or will you be captured by authorities, or killed by a rival gang? It may have ‘tycoon’ in the name, but Cartel Tycoon isn’t your normal management game.
Cartel Tycoon is a business simulation and management game where you play as an up and coming drug kingpin in early 1990’s fictionalized Latin America. The goal is to grow your business while avoiding rival gangs, the authorities, and even the US Government. The drug business isn’t as easy as setting prices and raking in money, though—it’s about making management decisions, building an infrastructure, and recruiting the lieutenants that can get business done while snuffing out your enemies. Choose your lieutenants well, because if you die, they might be the ones taking over your entire operation.
Cartel Tycoon is mostly about maximizing profits through planning, infrastructure, and clever use of your lieutenant and their specializations. You start with farms to grow the product—which ranges from opioids to cannabis—but once they’re grown, you have to find a way to sell and store them. Offloading your merchandise can create some problems, especially when the authorities start sniffing around. You can use clever means to conceal it—like putting your drugs in innocuous products—or bypass the authorities by taking over airports and seaports outside of their gaze.
In Cartel Tycoon it’s also important to get in good with the local governments, especially if you want to expand to other regions. Of course, you’ll have to defeat any local cartel before you can claim their territory. There isn’t really combat in Cartel Tycoon, but war is inevitable. If you lose a contested smuggling port, for instance, it can destroy your business. But if you send in your lieutenants without the sufficient power to beat your rivals, they’ll be murdered—and not just murdered–likely dismembered and left as an example. Cartel Tycoon is a surprisingly bleak take on life and inevitable death in the criminal drug trade.
Cartel Tycoon is an Early Access game, but even so, it’s sleek and visually polished. There are two different ways to play: there’s a compelling story that shows you the ropes of the drug trade, and eases you into the life of a kingpin. There’s also a sandbox mode, which I found unforgiving—my first two empires fell within the first week. But with persistence—and a little luck—I was able eke out my corner of the Latin American drug trade. While extremely visually polished, Cartel Tycoon is going to be receiving balance updates, new buildings, an expanded story mode, before its full release later this year.
I wasn’t expecting to be so impressed with Cartel Tycoon as I am. While not a 4X game, it mixes a bit of ruthless expansion into the management genre, and that’s extremely compelling. I’m excited to see how Cartel Tycoon shapes up through Early Access.
Cartel Tycoon is available tomorrow on Steam Early Access
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