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'Tropico' takes you into the mind of a dictator

A nation-building game in which the action is confined to islands, "Tropico 3" installs the player as dictator of a fictional Caribbean country.

The game is not unlike this year's "Dawn of Discovery" for the Wii, though it is more involved and more informative.

Players can choose from several prefabricated leaders, such as Fidel Castro, Che Guevara or Augusto Pinochet, or create their own from scratch.

Each has several personality traits. Some are positive: A hardworking leader boosts all production, for example. Others are negative: A womanizer will find it tough to impress the religious community or educated women.

Leaders all have two of each kind of trait, along with a personal background and method for taking the presidency; these aspects influence their effectiveness and how certain groups will react to them.

Whatever their traits, a leader would do well to keep the people happy, providing jobs, food, spiritual fulfillment, housing and education.

Unhappy people might protest or revolt, though the threat or use of force is a possible response; secret police and a strong military presence can keep the citizens in line at the cost of liberty.

It can be easier simply to improve conditions and relations with the various interest groups of Tropico. A detailed almanac keeps track of many important factors, such as the condition of the people and what they want, foreign relations, the status of services and the overall economy.

The main thrust of the game, whatever the player's style, is to build a strong economic engine based on crop and mineral exports, tourism and fees. Foreign aid and trade deals also can contribute to the national treasury, as can contracts with corporate interests that may or may not seem beneficial a few years down the line. And of course, a savvy dictator squirrels some money away into a Swiss bank account.

The player also can issue edicts, usually for a price. There are several kinds. Social edicts include such decrees as banning alcohol, allowing gay marriage and banning contraception. With Foreign Policy, players may curry favor from the United States or the U.S.S.R. (the game can run from the 1950s up to 2000).

Economic and Domestic Policy edicts are also available, provided the player has met the conditions for using them.

The game can be played in a Campaign mode, which offers a chain of scenarios on predetermined islands. There's also a Sandbox mode, in which players are free to adjust the conditions of their island to their liking; and Challenges, special scenarios created and uploaded by players.

REVIEW

"Tropico 3"

PUBLISHER: Kalypso Media

SYSTEM: PC, also for Microsoft Xbox 360

PRICE: $39.99 ($49.99 for Xbox 360)

AGE RATING: Teen

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