If there is one genre of video game that has a strong, vocal audience for it, that does not get a lot of service, it is that of the city-builder sims. Sim City by Maxis Software used to be the pinnacle of the genre, with Sim City 2000 and Sim City 4 being absolutely fantastic games, However, the ball was completely dropped by the underwhelming...reboot(?) Sim City, plagued by a myriad of server issues (as the now EA/Maxis game was completely online...which totally makes sense when it is a game about building your own cities), tiny, unimpressive maps, horrendous traffic AI (leading to traffic jams literally cities long) and a clunky interface.
This opened the door for other series to step up: Cities XL was alright, Cities: Skylines was a good addition to the genre, delivering a great deal of what longtime fans actually wanted from Sim CIty--let's be honest here, Skylines felt more like Sim City than Sim City did, Anno continues to Anno, but one really established itself now as my go to city building game: Tropico.
Tropico, for the uninitiated, is a city builder game from Calypso which is more like a 'banana republic' builder than just 'city'--while you are still building a city and whatnot, you are also taking care of the rest of the island, including the types of industry/agriculture you are going to be doing plus you have a very simple political system and elections to deal with. This is all wrapped up in a bright, fun, and humour-laced package that works on all levels:
The city building is solid
While you are never building a booming mega-city like you could in the older Sim City titles, the city building in Tropico 5 remains strong; while you will never have the most diverse looking city, you are given clear and different choices on what kinds of buildings to build. Choosing between a 'country house' and 'house' has a real difference, rather than just aesthetics--there is a class/wealth system in the game and what a little islander can afford is dictated by what they earn at their job.
Which is dictated by their education level, which you can affect (in a small way) by building educational buildings like colleges.
What I have always liked about Tropico city building is the fact that you never completely control everything that is going on; you need construction workers, and those construction workers build everything on your island (unless you want to pay double), so you have to prioritize. Plus, if there's one thing to know about Tropicans, it is that they are really much happier if they are building something close to their office.
Do not have enough housing? Shanty-towns of shacks start showing up in clusters...and those Tropicans are not going to like you very much come election time...
Politics, both local and international, matter
As Presidente (because really, mayor is for cities, you are the leader of a banana republic afterall), you have to deal with factions within the population of your country, which will change over time. You are running a democracy? Get ready for elections, and having to worry about keeping Industrialists, Capitalists, Communists, Militarists, Environmentalists etc. happy. Generally this means that you will occasionally get little 'goals' in game to build a building, or export a certain amount of something...do not please enough people? You might lose that election and it becomes game over.
I mean sure, you could rig the election...but then you might have to deal with protests, strikes, or outright rebellion. And you better hope you kept your military happy, or that rebellion could get ugly for your character really fast.
If that is not enough, you will have to deal with the fluctuating international community (depending on the era--axis and allies during the world wars, USSR and USA in the Cold War era, etc.). This also involves executing goals...but if you do too many for one side...you might be facing an invasion...
A decent campaign
The campaign in Tropico 5 is quite enjoyable, especially when compared to most other builders who are very light on story. A tale about a global organization that is secretly ruling the world (sorta) that needs you to do things...intrigue, a murder (?), and all wrapped around showing off the different eras, and giving you what essentially boil down to puzzles in solving how to do what you need to do on islands you have been building on.
This is a personal preference sort of thing--I largely play Tropico in sandbox or just singular missions and the like, but there is definitely something in 5's campaign that has kept me entertained, despite the sometimes jarring changes you need to make to an island you have been building on for a while.
Simple, yet challenging
While there is not a lot of customization possible when it comes to buildings, and you do not have to worry (as much as in other city sims) about roads--again, Tropicans have legs, and can walk to buildings, or things like a water grid (and electricity is very simple), but that does not mean that there is a lot here that you can micromanage. Every non-residential building can have a manager assigned to it, that can adjust how the building works, or even how the workers feel. You can adjust funding to have better results, you can upgrade buildings in certain ways, you can run out of that resource you've been mining...this is all stuff that you pay attention to, while dealing with the politics, the goals, disasters (watch out for volcanoes...they suck), you people, and even your Swiss bank account....
you know...for when you have to bail.
Tropico 5 is not without its faults, sure--the eras are a little jarring (and start to seem like locks on the technology tree more than anything else), there is no customization or real varrience in buildings (so you do get blocks of identical houses), it can have something of a learning curve for new players (especially when it comes to budgeting), and sure, it can be frustrating if those dang Americans show up on your shores with troops because you are getting a little too communist for their liking (that's my oil and uranium!), but these are small quibbles with a game that literally has endless re-playability.
The balance between all the facets of running a little country, the humour (mostly coming through from your 'advisors') and the gameplay all make Tropico 5 worth your time, and it will continue to be a series that I look forward to with every iteration.
And the fact that I am able to play it on my PS4 makes it all the sweeter.