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The term Banana Republic was coined to describe the country of Honduras at the turn of the 20th century. The country was dominated by the interests of several fruit companies engaged in the export of bananas from that country.

“Bananas” is also the scenario of the campaign game in Tropico 3.

Tropico 3 is a city builder. It is set in the Caribbean, where you play a ruler of a single island nation named Tropico. Like any good game of its genre, it builds nicely on the theme with tropical landscapes, buildings, and society. It also came about at the height of popularity of the genre, and tends to get the mechanics of the game right as well. The micromanagement is limited and the presentation is clear.

What sets this particular city builder apart, however, is how it integrates the theme with the game mechanics. In a modern city simulator, who are you playing as that you are allowed to build housing, roads, stores, industry, etc? Well, in Tropico, you are a populist dictator who micromanages whatever he wants to, proving random bits of the economy for free (food, healthcare), collecting from other bits of the economy in taxes, allowing the “citizens” to maintain their own individual economies, plus grafting a little off the top for your own personal account. Add to that some more historical themes, such as balancing your relationships with the Cold War superpowers and the political hot potatoes of socialism versus crony capitalism, and you have something can sit along side some of the more serious historical games in my list.

Not to imply there is anything being realistically simulated here. It’s still the same house-of-cards system, where you gradually build up an economy by layering more complex buildings and cycles on the simple. You need to balance ramping up the cost to match your income, and prevent mismatches that might cause a collapse. The additional factor in Tropico is that there are various political factions, with which the citizens align. Keeping the factions happy is necessary come election time so that you can get voted in for another term.

Tropico 3  (year developed) is really an re-implimentation of the original Tropico. Tropico 2 was a pirate-themed game, a path that was abandoned. Incidentally, both Tropico 4 and 5 are also incremental upgrades to Tropico 3. I had to start with one, and Tropico 3 seemed to be the right place. At some point, I’ll have to return and compare versions.

The “Bananas” game begins in 1950 when you take over the presidency of the island from a strongman who has “retired” under unstated but seemingly suspicious circumstances. Historically, this corresponds with the departure of dictator Tiburcio Carías in 1949 and his replacement via (a somewhat rigged) election by fellow National Party of Honduras (PNH) member Juan Manuel Gálvez. After his election, Gálvez departed from his predecessors policy, emphasizing education and giving more leeway to the  political opposition.

The scenario begins with the initial building of several banana plantations, for the purpose of exporting via an American fruit company, Fruitas Ltd. Some of this mirrors the longer history of Honduras (banana export under the control of large fruit concerns predated the period by at least half a century), while some of the events in the game a remarkably similar to the Gálvez administration.

During the scenario, I am offered a significant infusion of development money in exchange for a long-term contract freezing Banana prices. This is remarkably similar to the 25-year contract Gálvez signed with the the United Fruit Company at the beginning of his term.

I found myself investing in schools and housing, much like my historical counter-part, as well as raising wages. One of the triggered events involves a push for a minimum wages (to which I acceded), which was apparently the doing of one of the fruit conglomerate rivals to my partner, Fruitas Ltd. I don’t know what facts this might be based on, if any, but it certainly sounds plausible. The scenario also had a lot of focus on immigration issues, a focus of Honduran politics (although mostly in decades preceding the timeline of this scenario). In the first half of the century, labor for the plantations was imported from elsewhere in the Caribbean. This was countered by restrictive immigration policies immediately preceding the Second World War.

islandbytropico

The Caribbean as re-imagined by Tropico. I’ve completed the “Bananas” scenario, and am ready to move on.

In reality, Gálvez was overthrown by his own vice-President in 1954 following . In game, I managed to avoid having to face either re-election or extra-democratic removal before I achieved victory. The first scenario was very easy, but moving forward turns out to be considerably harder. In attempting a second scenario, I have twice found myself invaded and deposed by the United States before I could complete my objective… a situation that occurred a half a dozen times in the history of Honduras.

On-line reviews of Tropico do refer to the difficulty of the game. Some indications are that Tropico 4 eased up on some the difficulty levels. I’d probably enjoy a slightly more casual game. I may have to try the other versions.

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