Cartel Tycoon Review: A Promising Crime Sim

Hatem Amer
Hatem Amer
8 Min Read
Cartel Tycoon Review
6 Above Average
Review Overview

So after playing and reviewing Airport CEO, I went down a rabbit hole of simulation games. I forgot just how chill and fun this genre could be at times. So, I took my entire backlog out and spent more time than I care to admit revisiting old favorites. But, I needed something new too. Something to give me some hope that this genre didn’t die in the 2000s. So here comes Cartel Tycoon, an early-access crime simulator with all the elements from the good classics and some more. In this Cartel Tycoon review, I take a look at the game and whether it is able to fill the void that is good old-school-style tycoon game shortage.

Cartel Tycoon Review: What Is A Crime Sim?

Cartel Tycoon- available on steam– is an interesting mix of games and elements. You take control over the illicit operations of a gang across different cities and try to make the most money you possibly can. The game is all about resource management. The things you’ll be doing include building farms and labs, growing your own “vegetables”, exporting illegal goods, and even putting up fronts to launder your ill-earned money.

The game gives of vibes of Tropico, City:Skylines, and Eidos’ 1998 Gangsters. As your operations grow you’ll have to fight off other gangs, watch out for treason, and not get too noticed by authorities. The game has no lack of mechanics. So buckle up as I try to unfold as much as I can in this Cartel Tycoon review.

Gameplay: A Delightfully Guided Experience

Tycoon-style games are notoriously difficult to understand. Tens of different menus, complex mechanics on top of other complex mechanics, and delayed pay off usually makes dipping into this type of games a challenge. However, Cartel Tycoon’s solution is elegant.

The game smartly teaches you how to play through well-written dialogues and enjoyable narratives

The game’s story mode offers a narrative for you to follow that starts out as more of a tutorial. While there are restrictions placed on you at first, the focus of getting the tasks done doesn’t make it feel like you are being spoon-fed. You work up your way creating farms and warehouses and slowly you are guided to more and more complicated tasks. Soon enough you will be laundering money, diversifying your commodities, and gathering comrades through the game’s lieutenant system. The game revolves around getting dirty money and laundering it so you can make more dirty money to clean.

Lieutenants are the big thugs in your group that you can use to do more actions. Every lieutenant has different abilities and is able to carry out different tasks. They are important for your strategy, but are by no means indispensable.

And of course, your “main” character is a lieutenant. And if you get shot down by police or another gang, your legacy lives on in another of your lieutenants. This continuity is the final link between the personal involvement and the omnipotent position you are classically given in a simulation game.

What’s To Enjoy About Cartel Tycoon

Besides a perfectly paced tutorial and a fresh take on an old genre, Cartel Tycoon has a lot of great ideas. The game’s strongest suit is immersion. Everything from neat storytelling to polished visuals makes this game’s “world” easy to get sucked into. Betrayals, assassinations, police stings, and rival gangs scheming are part of this compelling environment.

The artstyle of this game is one of its stronger points

Moreover, the game’s mechanics are at just the right level of complexity in my opinion. The game does not offer extremely realistic details about how to run a cartel (thank god) but it never claimed it does. What it does offer is fun gameplay and mechanics deep enough and interconnected enough that the game can be challenging hours into a play through.

The little details thrown here and there are what brings the whole experience together. Bribing corrupt city officials and priests, crisis-managing unexpected betrayals, and orchestrating assassinations muddy the line between personal involvement and omnipotence. It is easy to find yourself creating your own narrative even in the game’s sandbox mode.

What’s To Watch Out For In Cartel Tycoon

Unfortunately, Cartel Tycoon does not manage its end-game phase very well. The more operations you oversee, the more the game slows down. Soon enough, you will find yourself more worried about micromanaging every little thing and that hogs the game down tremendously.

After making my first shipment, I made the mistake of forgetting to cancel the order my Lieutenant was issued. This meant I had to wait 2 more minutes for this exact same moment.

Lieutenants can only take a single order at a time, and they have to finish what they’re doing before taking another. This includes when they’re delivering goods a city or two away. I had to always be looking around to see if my lieutenants were idling around only to miss another lieutenant taking another task automatically.

Simply put, the first dollar you make requires the same level of attention as the last one. And when your cartel grows, this small frustration eventually overtakes your entire experience.


It’s important to note that this Cartel Tycoon review is of the game in early access, so the developers have yet to improve a lot.

Yet even as it is right now, Cartel Tycoon is a very fun game with a lot of fantastic elements and ideas. Fantastic art and detailed gameplay make this game stand out as a decently immersive experience.

However, the later stages of the game coupled with some weirdly missing options limit the potential of Cartel Tycoon. If I were to oversee a massive drug empire, I’d like to be able to automate some of it even if it is at the cost of the risk inherent to the job.

Cartel Tycoon is a great game if you are looking for a new simulation game to enjoy over the weekend. If you are looking for a game that you can play for weeks on end, however, you should look elsewhere.

This review is based on the PC version of Cartel Tycoon. The key was provided by tinyBuild

Cartel Tycoon Review
Review Overview
Above Average 6
Overall Score 6
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