Oh, and it 'tis, it 'tis a bureaucratic thing to be the pirate king.
Fans of 007 can tell you immediately that Mr. Bond's boss is called "M." And while James dashes of to exotic locales, beds pliable blondes and blows up an oil refinery, M. stays in the office, shifts his flabby gut behind an oak desk and fills in the forms to get Her Majesty's government to pay for Bond's vodka tab.
For every NASCAR hero, there's someone behind the scenes who has to worry about the fuel bill. Following every rock star's entourage is an overworked manager desperately trying to convince the parents of a pregnant 16 year-old not to sue. And behind every pirate, from Blackbeard to Long John Silver, there was someone who made sure the crew got enough food and rum and had a place to sleep.
Welcome to Tropico 2: Pirate Cove, the latest from G.O.D. and the strangest concept for a pirate game I have ever seen. Well, it almost makes sense: this is a game where you're not just a regular sea-dog, you get to be the Pirate King! Yaaaaahhrrrr!
However, it turns out the duties of the pirate king are fairly onerous and distinctly lacking in adventure. Instead of plundering the high seas, you send other pirates to loot and ransack, while you stay back at the pirate base and make sure there's enough wenches for them when they return.
Pirate Cove is a city-building game first and foremost; it just happens to be pirate flavored. Imagine Sim City, only instead of your little sims worrying about jobs and electricity, they'd prefer some more rum and hookers. Wrap your mind around that one, and you'll know exactly what to expect on this tropical island.
As a city builder, it's not bad. There are quite a number of different sorts of buildings you'll need to get your pirate economy running smoothly. You can build farms to plant and harvest 5 different crops, from corn to tobacco. Iron mines, smelters, smithies and foundries will be necessary to equip your pirate minions with the latest in 18th century weapons. Breweries and distilleries will ensure they stay drunk. And to keep the men happy, you'll need brothels, dives, casinos, animal fighting pits and other sordid amusements. Heck, you can even build hat shops to make fancy pirate hats.
Of course, you'll need some non-pirates to make all these operations work. By raiding ships and settlements, you'll obtain prisoners to press into labor in your pirate town. Does that make this the first sim-slavery game? Don't ask difficult questions, matey. To keep your sla... er... prisoners in line, you'll need guard towers, torture chambers, gallows and the like, not to mention a stockade. The balance of a successful pirate town lies in keeping the prisoners cowed and orderly while still allowing the pirates to run amok.
But that's just the poor prisoners. Wealthy captives are free to roam the town and spend their money until you decide to ransom them back to their families.
Tropico 2's graphics are pretty good. It's entirely 2D, but the spites are detailed and you can pull back to see your island, or zoom in until you can read the sign over the brothel and watch the courtesan in front unfurl her parasol.
The sound is a little better with character comments in three languages, depending on their country of origin. Music is lively and well done; Disney-esque sea shanties set the mood, alternated by island tunes with a calypso flair. Like the graphics, it's good, simple, cartoony fun.
Unfortunately, this pirate ship also has a couple leaks in the hull. For example, when you build a road, you can only remove it with the road removal tool if you begin at the end of a road. So once you connect a road in a square, like a city block, there is no way to ever get rid of it, ever. And you can lose those carousing ships full of happy pirates even if they are fully crewed and equipped. This can be a devastating blow, especially early on, and leads to many restart-from-last-saves for what is an entirely random roll of the dice you do not see or have any control over. Also, I think that waify boatswain might have scurvy.
Now, city-building games can be great entertainment and can absorb countless hours, but nothing will make you realize that you've spent your life laying streets and calculating the price of cigars like a bunch of rowdy pirates making fun of you. You spend all your time building the ships, stocking them with rations and ammo and then the pirates go off plundering, ransacking and having fun without you. While they're drinking rum shaken, not stirred, you're stuck with the bill and don't even get to watch them pillage and plunder.
Tropico 2: Pirate Cove is a decent city-building game, but nothing more. It gets a couple of bonus points for having pirates, but it could have also just as easily been about building a luxury resort, a gold rush town or a summer camp.
I have played many city-building games over the years, but this one almost suffers because of its pirate theme, showing you by glaring contrast all the raucous fun that you're missing. There's a reason why people buy NBA Street instead of NBA Accountant. Tropico 2 is still fun, but should this trend in pirate gaming continue, we'll soon be seeing games like Barnacle Scraper Deluxe and Sail Mending Xtreme.