Cartel Tycoon

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Cartel Tycoon: San Rafaela DLC (Steam) – Review

I can’t say I’ve ever felt compelled to pursue a life of crime, especially not running a massive drug empire, but Cartel Tycoon, by tinyBuild, made this wildly unethical life quite entrancing. The aforementioned title published by MoonMoose released in 2022 and has you overseeing the daily running of your totally legitimate business enterprise. Micro-managing in this real-time strategy survival/business sim takes the typical role of map overlord over the little people and amps it up.

This is not a sim about innocent everyday admin work, instead, dealings happen with trades of a different kind, territory wars, and the ultimate goal of being the kingpin of the land. The latest DLC: San Rafaela just hit the market, with brand new challenges and goals, encounters with new allies and foes, the introduction of ferry routes, and most importantly, a new map to take over.

San Rafaela is a coastal city with a pristine waterside view and is surely a wonderful tourist destination, but this paradise is not all that it’s cracked up to be, for under the surface lurks the gritty crime world. Before we begin, please know I do not in the slightest endorse any of these activities in real life, however, I will take every opportunity for a pun. That’s the most heinous activity I am willing to commit.

Cartel Tycoon is inspired by the 80’s narcotics scene in Latin America, and it does it well. From the opening graphic-novelesque cutscene of story mode, I was ready to take on this new and incredibly questionable life. For those who haven’t played the base game, here’s a quick recap. You play as a “Capo” otherwise known as a drug lord. Your role is to orchestrate the trade routes, the running of “farms”, managing both dirty and clean money, and co-ordinating land wars. On top of this, maintaining relationships with allies, corrupting mayors, and keeping the heat off from law enforcement. I had never played the base game until now, so for those just getting into it, fear not, while there’s a lot to learn to be the ultimate boss, there’s a great tutorial to get you acquainted.

A play-by-play walkthrough got me up to speed quickly, with the main Capo instructing me to perform a series of tasks to get familiar. Tutorials come in the form of a trusty handbook, a small clip showing how to proceed, and a list of objectives. Before long, I was managing farms, distribution, money, gang wars, and taking over land to grow both “plants” and my territories. Being a Capo is incredibly overwhelming at the start, but once I got into the swing of things, everything ran like a well-oiled machine. Manage your supply well though, because once law enforcement and rival gangs come into the fold, taking your attention away from distribution, you run the risk of a logistical nightmare. Basically, the more you expand, the more power you have, and the harder the crime life gets.

Like the base game, San Rafaela follows the same basic principle though the locales are a lot less desert-based, instead, opting for more coastal regions. The map comes with a brand new story, with another series of surprisingly likable crime-lords, somehow keeping pretty dark content enough on the light side. The mix-up on the typical city-management genre is way more interesting, especially since it’s high stakes and a high chance for the inevitable downfall of your empire.

San Rafaela is a more expansive map, taking a decent chunk of time to take over, it’s not really a casual game, but rather, a chaotic and often fast-paced sprint. Luckily, as I was still in the early stages of being a tycoon, I often took a few moments to pause the game to remind myself of the next steps. To speed up menial tasks there are various levels of fast-forwarding to get through commutes and production.

However, San Rafaelo is a map set on hard difficulty and with minimal experience in the base game, I struggled. I understood the general mechanics I picked up during the tutorial, however, the difficulty upped the ante massively. In my first attempt at the DLC, my empire fell within an hour. The expected campaign time of 10-15 hours and the fight for survival is rough. San Rafaelo doesn’t break away massively from the base game content, acting more as a new, more challenging scenario rather than a fresh take. For those up for a challenge, San Rafaelo has got the stuff for you. Be prepared to struggle.

Despite the dodgy dealings I was involved in during my time in San Rafaelo, I was blown away by how visually pleasant the view was. With crisp, comic-like character portraits, art, and a detailed UI, it looked surprisingly bright and polished.

The 12 regions to take over had a variety of land types, including anything from fertile farmlands to desert-like zones and built-up cities. My only qualm with the UI is the research tree which seems to have hundreds of branches, luckily, a search bar can be used to narrow down exactly what I needed to research, and the detailed in-game manual helped to remind me when I was baffled about my next steps. I wouldn’t say it was a complete change from base game maps, but coupled with the new characters and story, it made for a welcome trip.

Music has a slightly tropical feel, like being on a vacation in some Latin American getaway. Not quite the right kind of getaway, but it looked as if it could be nice – if you can look past the crime. It reminded me of the Latin-inspired narco films, especially down to the incredibly well voice-acted script and a very fitting story. Between the visuals, music, and story, Cartel Tycoon, alongside San Rafaelo, captures this point in time exactly as we imagine it. Not only were the voice-acting performances great, but the game itself performed well too. I had no notable performance issues and my whole supply network seemed to chug along just fine.

Cartel Tycoon was an unexpected joy for me. While I in no way endorse nor desire to be a crime lord or engage in drug trafficking, I found a strange joy in being a powerful kingpin. The DLC, San Rafaela was a pleasant change from the often desert regions for something that felt more akin to a holiday, albeit a working one, while it doesn’t stray far away from the base game, it makes the work a lot harder. The devs at tinyBuild have done a great job of taking something gritty and making it into something clean, at least in the sense of being a polished game, not so much what we do in it. While this may not be an ethical empire, it’s an enticing one nonetheless, at least in a virtual world.

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The Good

  • Intriguing story and world
  • Gameplay is clever and a great take on “city-builders”
  • Audio and visuals perfectly capture the 80’s d. trade influence

The Bad

  • Hard learning curve from the base game to the DLC
  • Takes a while to build up momentum
  • Can be overwhelming the amount of responsibilities at a time

Written by: Yasmin Noble


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