In what was probably the most convoluted process to experience an Early Access game, I had to go through one-time passwords, installation of 90s-like launchers and give three pints of my blood to access Cartel Tycoon Early Access.

The paranoid person in me started to wonder if it was all worth the effort and whether this launcher was malware, the FBI now have my redundant details, or it was some early April Fool’s gimmick. Fortunately, this is a tinyBuild release, so I have trust in them.

I’m writing this all while still installing the game, and quite frankly, it’s pissed me off a little – which is incredibly rare, considering the circumstances. All these extra security measures for an indie title seems surplus. It has better be good, considering it was only a 1.3GB install.

Cartel Tycoon Early Access Review

Thank the sicarios, it was worth jumping through all those hoops. Immediate impressions were that of the Tropico series; a fantastic South American soundtrack, lush landscapes and beautifully presented.

It’s not all about looks (ask my wife) and I soon hit my first hurdle: how do I play this? There are a lot of Early Access titles like Hammerting, that have the help pointers when you need them, but don’t help with learning the mechanics. That’s for the school of hard knocks.

Cartel Tycoon - Good 'ol Felix
Fix it, Felix. Source: Steam

The premise starts simple: get revenge on an ex-business partner, then before long, you get the taste of domination and muscling in to take over neighbouring cities. You begin with your Capo and a couple of minions to do your bidding, and slowly but surely, they rank up with new skills but want a higher wage.

For the first hour or so, I’d run out of money – not entirely understanding how to directly launder money (you have to get the lieutenants to deliver directly to a laundering business such as a casino or bank). When you run out of money, in true cartel style, your crew off you and someone else takes the crown.

Sole Trader

For the first two or three times I had died, I had the option to continue or restart. Each time I restarted as I had no money, but by the time I was getting the hang of it, I promoted a lieutenant to become Capo and found out I got a cash injection to start with. Bona!

You can take direct control of your Capo, who doesn’t command a wage, it’s best to leave them in your base, residing as the mayor; otherwise, you’ll be attacked and potentially lose your territory. So, you get your team to run dirty money to your base to clean it so you can invest in more staff, buildings, roads, bribes and your empire.

You initially have access to farms and warehouses to grow opium to distribute at the local airport, but you can also buy supplies from the local villages and receive cannabis leaves, coca for cocaine and so on. Still, you’ll need the labs to make this sort of product, and that comes from research.

Back to your base and you can build a limited number of buildings. Immediately you’ll need a business to launder money (and perhaps increase your loyalty) and a research centre to level up your buildings – there are three tiers.

The Import/Export Business

The airport is key to your success in Cartel Tycoon but has limited storage, so you need to ensure you have sufficient warehouses and a steady supply of gear, but mindful that anything over the storage capacity will be lost. Later on in Cartel Tycoon, you can set up networks for your income, including a port, but the airport is essential.

You can’t sit back in the game as you’re continually paying wages and the costs of running these businesses, so you need to make clean money quick. One way to do this is through production, another can be through kidnappings and robberies, at the risk of the old bill on your case.

Cartel Tycoon - Territory
Gaining territory. Source: Steam

Like the GTA series, if you get up to no good such as attack other gangs’ hideouts or conduct business in territories other than your own, your raise your wanted level and what happens is if you go over your storage capacity, the feds will shut it down, and you have to repurchase it after a specific period.

If you already have a crew member there, they’ll get in a shootout and likely get killed, or if they kill the cops, you’re in bigger trouble. The worst scenario I encountered in Cartel Tycoon was having my city shutdown and the airport. Without an income, my Capo was killed, and I had to promote two more in quick succession to take back control.

Fingers In All The Pies

Cartel Tycoon, by Moon Moose (official site link), is almost an endless game as the more power you acquire, the greater your needs become. You will be able to select neighbouring towns and befriend the mayor with a bribe, carrying out tasks like eradicating rival gangs or improving your loyalty.

Loyalty can come from investing in the local communities, but essentially, you buy it through events in your name through the building you purchase – the casino, charities and a funfair. Loyalty in Cartel Tycoon drops quite quickly though so you need to acquire more cities and build said buildings to improve your status further.

Cartel Tycoon - Hierarchy
Hierachy. Source: Steam

Ignoring the time it took to install Cartel Tycoon, I more than made up for that in playtime and was up to the early hours of the morning playing this. It’s incredibly addictive, and there’s no end in sight, so time can be dismissed. What did annoy me was there wasn’t an exit button or UI menu to leave the game. After a few keyboard presses, holding down ESC for a while exited out and saved the game, but it wasn’t working at first.

The overall presentation in Cartel Tycoon was excellent and navigating the play area was smooth, zooming in on the action and building intuitive roads and networks was excellent, as was the upbeat soundtrack, but after playing for so long, I often listened to my own music.

Cartel Tycoon is a throwback to those classic games like Sim City, etc. except the presentation has moved forward. Visuals aren’t everything in a game like this, but it certainly helped. If it weren’t for all the games out at the moment, I’d be playing this more, but it takes up too much of my time. Definitely one to add to your list if you like a good strategy and always thought yourself as the next El Chappo. Or is that El Chapstick?

Cartel Tycoon will be available in 2021, but you can download a demo in the meantime.

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