Tropico 4 Guide: Tips and Strategy

As a veteran El Presidente of countless Tropican islands I thought I might do a Tropico 4 strategy guide to share some of my Tropico tactics. I’ve actually just been playing through Tropico 4: Modern Times so I’ll cover some of the new elements in that as well. To be honest the core game hasn’t really changed that much since the original in terms of winning strategies so most of this guide should work for any of the Tropico games.

In the beginning

The first thing to do with any game of Tropico is to set up your avatar. Do you want to be a communist revolutionary intent on bringing a decent standard of living to the oppressed or perhaps you’re a silky smooth singer looking to create a tourist haven of epic proportions?

The older Tropico games used to make you choose your background, route to power and then two positive traits and two flaws, which was a cool trade-off. In Tropico 4 you’ll find you can avoid picking any flaws at all. You still have to pick a background and your rise to power but now you pick three traits and they are all positive to varying degrees.

Choosing a Background

In terms of Background I think Professor is the best. In order to have a successful island paradise you can’t do without educated people. You need them for the army, various government buildings, power stations and industries. As a Professor you’ll get +20 respect from the Intellectuals but more importantly education and skill training will be 50% faster.

A lot of the other options have drawbacks attached. Pop Singer is good if you want a tourist island, Self-Made Man is good for industry and Silver Spoon combines the two but at the cost of Communist respect. Farmer gives you a 50% boost to farms with a slight hit in the shape of a -10 hit with the Intellectuals. If you need maximum cash in a hurry then Booze Baron works well.

Rise to Power

For Rise to Power you can go for Capitalist for industry and US relation boosts or Communist for farming and USSR relation boosts. The best by far if you want to have a tourist trade is Hotel Corporate Buyout. If you don’t choose that then Capitalist Election is probably the next best.


When it comes to traits you can pick three and what you choose will depend on what you’ve already picked and the individual mission you’re undertaking. I’d recommend Administrator, Charismatic, Diplomatic, Entrepreneurial, Financial Genius, Hard-Working, Scholarly and Well-Travelled. You’ll want to pick the same ones again to build up the potential bonuses.

Scoping Out Resources

When it comes to the individual levels you’ll start each new game with a new island map. Begin by conducting a thorough survey. Seriously, pause the game and then check what resources you have. It’s a real pain if you later find out that you’ve built an apartment building on top of a gold deposit or a farm on an oil field. The quickest and easiest way to do this is to just select the building (gold mine or coffee farm) and then check where the good spots are on the map, the greener the better.  You can use the Overlays above the mini map to do this too and it is something you should refer back to as you go to quickly identify any major problem areas.

Once you have done this you can start to plan your island. The type of economy you build will depend on your personal tastes and on the mission you have to complete. You can go for crops, industry or tourism as your main focus or you can blend them.

You should check for good tourist spots at the start too because you want to keep them well segregated from your industry and farms and….your Tropicans!

Housing and Food

The fastest route to an unhappy population, rising crime and violent rebellion is homelessness and hunger. You absolutely have to provide enough food for your population. Always start by placing a couple of food farms and at least one fishing wharf. The good thing is that you can sell any surplus food you produce. You can import food as well, but you have to get your economy on track first. You can build a marketplace (or supermarket in Modern Times) and allow imports to avoid starvation but you might find it quite costly at the start.

You’ll inevitably see shacks popping up as your homeless population look for shelter. These shacks aren’t just an eye sore they are also a major source of crime. Keep an eye on your housing stock as your population grows. When you have enough housing to cater for your whole population (which will be a running battle) you should consider making your bottom tier tenements free so that even the unemployed homeless have a basic option that will discourage them from building a shack.

If your Tropico 4 housing stock includes a lot of tenements make sure that you upgrade them to have air conditioning when you get power because it seriously improves the living standards for tenants.

Stay in the Black

You can actually spend up to $10,000 into the red but if you go into debt it will harm your relationship with foreign powers which is very damaging. You can easily get stuck in a negative feedback loop. If you treat $5k as zero you should avoid problems but this isn’t always possible early on. Watch out that your export cash doesn’t all get splurged on imports or you may struggle to get out of debt.

Useful Edicts

There are loads of useful edicts in Tropico 4 and the Modern Times expansion adds even more. In any standard game you should build your Ministry early and hire a Minister of Foreign Affairs so you can enact edicts with foreign powers and go for USSR Development Aid for a 50% discount on tenements and apartment buildings. A little later when you want to build a power station enact the USA Development Aid edict for a 50% discount on power plants and airports. These two edicts will save you a fortune.

As your economy grows you can save Food for the People as a happiness booster when you need it. You’ll also want to enact the Literacy Program to encourage some more skilled workers. Everyone likes Social Security and Police Sensitivity Training has no negative side effects either.

There are a host of edicts that will encourage tourism, if you’re going for a tourist economy and you have the cash then they are all worth doing. Most of the other edicts have particular political implications so whether you use them or not will depend on your aims. I usually enact the National Day, Anti-Litter Ordnance and Pollution Standards.

Sometimes Free Housing is a good idea, especially if you have a lot of empty housing stock and homeless people who can’t afford to move in. The Papal Visit option in the US Foreign Affairs edicts is great for appeasing the religious faction and there’s no downside to it apart from the cost. The last one worth using periodically is the Amnesty for rebels.


Everyone knows that builders are a lazy bunch and in Tropico 4 this unfortunate truth can be a real pain. You’ll often find that you’ve put out multiple buildings and you’ve got money to spend but your builders can’t keep up. Now each building only has a set number of slots for builders to work on it so building another construction office won’t speed up individual building projects, but if you have multiple buildings waiting to be erected at once then it will help. I usually have at least a couple of construction offices. You can also set priorities for buildings so always hit high priority for the ones you want completed first.

The best way of getting them to speed up on an individual building project is to find El Presidente and send him to visit the construction site (you can hit Backspace to select him and just right click on the construction site you want him to visit). This can make a real difference and get your builders moving.

It’s also worth noting that you can press the [ or ] key to change the layout or style of some buildings before you place them out.

Imports and Exports

Your balance of goods will ultimately decide whether you win or lose. At the start of each game I’d recommend going to the dock and lowering your maximum imports to $2,000. That will give you a chance to build up some export money though you’ll definitely want to raise it again quite quickly.

The fact you can import goods is great. You can build a furniture factory and just import lumber instead of chopping down your own trees which will anger the environmentalists. In fact it means you are free to import all manner of goodies and build any industry you want. Just make sure you set the building to allow imports and that you’ve got the bank balance to cover it.

Always try and get a Customs Office fairly early to increase the prices of your exports.


Your Tropicans will get around by car so you’ll need to build garages. You’ll want at least one garage for each group of buildings. The traffic will inevitably build up and become gridlocked as you grow. For some reason 4-way intersections are especially bad, you’ll actually find things run more smoothly if you avoid making any of them and build loops instead but it looks weird.

Modern Times introduces a wonderful new transport option to the world of Tropico – a subway system. You can build subway stations anywhere and your Tropicans will happily use them which means – no more traffic problems. Just be careful when you put them out that you keep an eye on the cost, the further apart they are the more expensive they are to build. You should also leave gaps in your busy areas so you can slot the subway stations in when they become available.


Another important Tropico tip to keep things running smoothly involves logistics. You need plenty of Teamsters to pick up your exports and transport them to the dock for sale. They’ll be much faster if they have easy access to a car so they need to be close to garages. I don’t think it really matters where you build them because you can’t tell them where to pick up products from anyway. As long as they are near a garage and you have enough of them to pick up all your goods then you should be fine.

If you have a lot of surplus goods at your factories or mines and they seem to be taking too long to get picked up then you need more teamsters. On some islands (depending on the layout) you should consider building a second dock to help. Ideally you’ll have separate docks in separate bays rather than two in the same one.


Getting your industry up and running can really bring in the cash. You can always sell raw resources but if you use them to manufacture products instead your profit will grow significantly. You will need an educated workforce though, so a high school and college are essential.

It’s worth noting you can also set up imports for some of the manufacturing businesses. So even if you don’t have any tobacco farms you can import it and make cigars for profit. Just bear in mind that your import bill might be high and that you’ll need skilled workers for some of the factories. For this to work you have to turn on imports in the factory.

Most of the industrial buildings have upgrades so always click on the building and take a look. Many of them require electricity so you may not be able to get them when you first put the building out but you should make sure to remember and go back when you have power. The chemical plant is a good industry to start with because it only needs power to run and it improves the quality of your clinics and hospitals.

In Modern Times you’ll be able to get Borehole Mines; the big advantage with them is that even when the resource runs out they’ll still produce a trickle of output.

Military and Propaganda

You need an army to ensure that the rebels don’t overrun you. Make sure your palace is always fully staffed with soldiers (raise the wages if necessary) and build the improvements to increase their job satisfaction. You can build an Armory, Army Base and Guard Post later on. It’s a good idea to have a Guard Post near your power plant to ensure the rebels don’t attack it.

Always build the Childhood Museum and consider building newspapers, radio stations and TV stations to improve your standing with the people (you can target specific factions if you like). You should also build the Mausoleum when you can afford it because the rebels will always attack it first (there’s a fun booby trap option too).

Immigration and Wages

You need a steady supply of immigrants to begin with but when you start to see unemployment and homelessness you need to close the gates. You can only control this with an Immigration Office so get one early.

Wages in Tropico 4 are vital as they determine what your Tropicans can afford. You should keep an eye on average Caribbean pay and see how your wages compare. Increase them when you can to avoid expensive strikes and increase job satisfaction. If you go above the Caribbean average you’ll also boost immigration.

Make sure you keep the same tier structure of unskilled – high school – college workers. You don’t want to increase just one. You can also use better wages to attract people to a specific job you want to fill. Make sure the dock workers and teamsters are always happy because they can effectively freeze your economy if they go on strike.

Religion, Healthcare and Entertainment

You will need entertainment and religion to keep your Tropicans happy. You should get a church fairly early to keep the religious faction off your back. You’ll also want a clinic early on. Both healthcare and religious buildings should keep pace with your growing population just make sure you have a sound economy to support them.

You have a pretty good range of entertainment options to choose from and some of them, like the movie theatres can be set to provide different bonuses. The pub and the childhood museum are a good start but you should wait until you have the money and you’ve already provided food, housing, healthcare, education, and religion before you spend big here.

A Few Final Tropico 4 Tips

  • Get your high school up and running early and buy in staff for it.
  • When you hire ministers make sure they are talented or they might trigger negative events. Always fire them if they do. Good ministers will trigger bonuses for you.
  • Check your Almanac frequently it has all the information you need to plan the right strategy and decide on priorities.
  • Remember to build some beauty in the shape of parks, trees and fountains.
  • Build a weather station so you get warnings about upcoming disasters.
  • In the campaign many of the missions have trigger points. Things will only advance when you complete certain tasks, so sometimes holding off on a specific task can help you build a solid foundation before advancing.
  • You’ll always make more money if you develop your raw resources rather than sell them. Even gold can be made into jewellery so take advantage.

If you’ve got a winning Tropico 4 strategy of your own or you want to share some Tropico 4 tips then post a comment.

About Simon Hill

I'm addicted to gaming and have been since I was a wee boy. Worked in the industry as a tester, designer and producer. I'm now a full time freelance writer and editor.