Tropico is, I think, one of the better sim-type games I’ve seen. A blend between Junta, Colonization and The Sims, it’s astonishingly versatile, powerful and detailed; when playing it I find myself grouching things like ‘why can’t I see a chart of recent deaths by cause?’ and ‘why isn’t there an aggregate crop-conditions overlay?’, but then I go and play a more conventional strategy-sim, weep piteously and run back to my fiddly little island. For every one of your population, which will number in the hundreds for most games, Tropico tracks political views, entertainment preferences, how much food they have in the larder, how pretty their surroundings are and a few dozen other variables. It tracks the influence of individual rainclouds, soil quality and elevation on crop conditions. It is, in short, a beautiful game.
One of the nice things about Tropico’s level of detail (and the number of tools it has to map that detail) is that you can play games with any of a great number of aims. Jacqueline tends to build beautiful island paradises full of blissfully happy citizens. I prefer gedankenexperiments like ‘is it possible to get a powerful economy and high happiness while totally alienating the religious faction?’ and ‘Can high liberty be achieved despite an enormous army?’ The game designers seem to have a similar attitude, as an awful lot of the standard scenarios are things like ‘can you build a strong tourism industry and a strong mining industry?’
Recently, I had an idea: disallow immigration, start with 30 citizens (the minimum) and see how a small, isolated population turns out. I was expecting inbreeding, and I got it.
Family values are pretty Catholic in Tropico. There is no extra-marital pregnancy and no divorce, although widows can and often do remarry (to say nothing of the arbitrary gender-requirements on most jobs). On the whole, a wife takes her husband’s name and the children take that name from their mother (so that if you change a woman’s surname after marriage, that will be the surname of her children) but I’ve seen all sorts of wacky behaviour that suggests that these last may not be universal rules. In particular, when a widow with children remarries her children may take their stepfather’s name, or not; and I’ve seen at least one woman who didn’t take her husband’s name. Whether this is intentional or buggy I don’t know.
I set the game to Immigrants Out, which would prevent any casual immigrants screwing up my nation’s precious bodily fluids. I resolved to import skilled immigrants only when totally necessary, and to label their surnames according to their profession for easy bloodline identification. In practise, this meant I had to import one teacher and a steady trickle of doctors and clergymen; for the most part these immigrants realised what the locals were up to and kept well out of the gene-pool. (Clergymen in Tropico, however Catholic they may be, are not usually this abstinent).
To stay in office for the long period needed to get breeding going (and to keep emigration down) I had to keep people happy. I got my whole population into little blue houses early on, knocked out a clinic, pub, church and high school and did my best to keep them staffed. The church was mostly there so that I could churn out Contraception Ban, compounded by an obstetrics speciality in my clinic. I wanted as much breeding as possible.
Early on the USA started making belligerent noises; I had to make my precious workforce stretch to a diplomatic ministry in order to avoid an invasion. A more pressing crisis was economic: I had only one worker in my dock and one in my teamster’s office, and both were in their early sixties. I kind of overreached on industry – without immigrants growth was basically impossible for a few decades, and a lot of farms became vacant.
When I started out I had a population of thirty, the minimum allowed. Three of those were retirees and could be relied upon not to interfere with the gene-pool; beyond that there were twelve surnames on the island. Four of these – Hogfucker, Moonshine, Deliverance and Windsor – were each held by one unmarried man, and I expected these would be the first to go. (Three of them did, but the Deliverance family managed to blossom into a respectably-sized clan). Five more – Tractor, Bogey, Bindertwine, Sankey and Cletus – had no male children at the start of the game and were off to a disadvantage. Of the remaining three, Bumfuck seemed the clear favourite over Hapsburg and Sartre, with three male children. At the start I just recorded the number of males under thirteen in each family, as an indicator of future fertility; later I recorded raw numbers. I really should have gone the whole hog and drawn family trees.
Games start in 1950. By 1971, I thought the Cletus family would dominate the island; with eight members, they shared the highest population with the Bumfucks, and they were growing faster. However, with such tiny populations growth isn’t smooth, and the Bumfucks quickly got their second wind and outbred them like crazy. By 2007 the Cletus family had dropped to fourth in size, surpassed by the Hapsburg and Deliverance families; these were the only families remaining on the island, with the exception of a single aged spinster of the Sankey clan. The Bogey and Tractor families emigrated or died very early on, and the Bindertwines had no surviving male issue.
The Sartre family was kind of cursed, however. They never had a second son; in 1963 their first son married the imported schoolteacher, Jackie Scholastic, and promptly died without issue. Jackie Sartre kept on in the school until I fired her in ’73, and she lived out the last of her days as a barmaid. Old man Sartre, bitter about the inevitable demise of his name, repeatedly ran for office against me; but even in the industry crisis of the ‘seventies he couldn’t penetrate the heavily clan-driven politics of Tropico, with the populous Bumfuck and Cletus families firmly in my camp.
My first confirmed case of incest came in ’91, when Uvaldo Bumfuck, patriarch of the Bumfuck clan, married his daughter Constanza. Tropico really didn’t know how to understand this; it thought that Constanza was her own mother and that her older sisters were her children. Uvaldo then had the temerity to make successive election attempts against me from the late ‘nineties on, but by this point my popularity was so high that he didn’t even manage to get Constanza’s vote. Now I’m sure that uncles and cousins were marrying like crazy long before this; the Bumfuck and Cletus clans were utterly intermarried. I just didn’t have much way of determining this without drawing family trees.
By the end of the game, forty-three of a population of seventy-nine had the surname Bumfuck. The second-largest Hapsburg family only had thirteen members. I also had an enormous treasury and very good happiness; the former was due to very low expenditures (after 1970 or so I built virtually nothing except beautifying stuff), the latter being down to everybody living in little blue houses, plus a constant stream of cheap tax cuts.
It was slow and laborious. Tropico doesn’t expect you to pay very much attention to bloodlines; at the most you’re expected to keep an eye on the nuclear family, and even that is less important than overall social trends and key individuals. As such, most of the data-gathering was done slowly by hand. This was probably part of what made it so fun. My OCD tendencies need to be given free rein every now and again.