Cartel Tycoon can best be described as a well-flushed out economy simulatory controlled by drug lords (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Cartel Tycoon review: Putting new spin on crime sim genre

Cartel Tycoon is a survival business sim inspired by the 80's narco trade, developed by Moon Moose and published by tinyBuild. The game will allow players to build, trade, smuggle, and assassinate their way to the top to become the best cartel boss on the island.

Given the sim-like mechanics, it offers a robust real-time strategy approach as well. Everything from the placement of certain buildings to managing logistics will significantly impact gameplay and the game's outcome.


Cartel Tycoon: Pablo Escobar experience

Cartel Tycoon can best be described as a well-flushed-out economy simulatory controlled by drug lords. Users take center stage and oversee the development of their empire. If Breaking Bad or Narcos were a game, this would be it.


I must say that the time I spent playing the title was amazing. Despite no voiceovers, the written text brings to life larger-than-life characters and gives gamers purpose in this simulation.

Some informative banter (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

The banter between players and other characters in-game is somewhat memorable. However, what takes the cake is how each lieutenant is unique and distinct from the other.

They each have their own set of skills and abilities. Some thrive in chaos, while others are more neutral.

Speaking of being neutral, the Loyataly and Terror levels representations are probably the most exciting aspects of the game. Learning how to strike a balance will ensure more extended playtime and stability.

The last thing users will want is to have special forces take out the "Capo."


Moving to the more hands-on aspect of the title, understanding how to manage and place buildings will significantly impact the gameplay. For instance, randomly placing farms and plantations will not suffice. The growth rate depends on the soil quality, which in turn will affect production.


Learning to use tools such as "Soil Quality Layers" will have to become the norm almost immediately. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Flawlessly being able to set up a production chain alongside a distribution network and automating it will be the real challenge.

The greener, the better (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Thankfully, in-game tutorials provide most of the information gamers need to get started. That being said, a bit of experimentation and self-searching will be required to grasp more advanced aspects of Cartel Tycoon.


On the topic of "searching," research will play a major role in helping players run their empires. As someone who enjoys maxing out technology and improvements, the in-game research tree filled my heart with absolute joy.

Technology for every occasion (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Here, users can improve not just building chains and logistics but even their lieutenants. Probably the best part about the research tree is that none of it gets restricted behind a dedicated choice.


There is no 'this' or 'that.' As long as the money is available, gamers are free to choose whatever they want.

Indiana Jones would approve (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Another intriguing aspect is the unique buildings scattered throughout the map. Players can interact with Prisons, Military Bases, Guerilla Camps, and Indigenous Territories to undertake missions and trade for goods. This provides a lot of side-questing and additional activities during gameplay.


First impressions and gameplay

I'll be honest, upon booting up the game, I did the first tutorial and said to myself:

"This is too easy. Let's try the sandbox mode."

Well, as it turns out, the title is more complex and dynamic than first shown. Cartel Tycoon has a lot to learn, and the learning curve is not exactly flat.

Simply understanding how to use residences and micro-manage the flow of Dirty Money is a task in itself. I often found myself automating the process and ended up with zero cash reserves to pay off the workers in Farms, Warehouses, and Workshops.

The Golden radius (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

At first, I thought perhaps my "products" were of poor quality and no one wanted to buy them. Instead, it turned out that all the dirty money was pushed into buildings in the city.


The AI seems to take pride in sending all the money to be cleaned as soon as possible.

In fact, even when the Residence was down to its last $1,000 in Dirty Money, the AI decided that sending it to the Salsa Club was the best decision. The workers stopped working without the money to pay off the upkeep of the buildings within the radius of the Residence.

This, in turn, caused my entire production chain to grind to a halt.

Salsa is more important than paying bills (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

That being said, I wish there was a system in place to cap the amount of Dirty money that can be sent to be cleaned by each building. Since generating cash flow early in the game is tedious, this would help with micromanagement.


The only option is to disconnect the Residence from the building and use a Lituementa to transfer funds manually. However, once you reach mid-game, this problem all but disappears.

With cash flowing like the rivers of Babylon, the automation process goes off without a hitch.

"No officer, there's no Opium here." (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Coming to the sale of "products" in-game, the ability to select the type of resources and containers each outlet can sell is a life-saver. The last thing anyone wants is to move opium through another city and have the terror meter rise.


While bribes can be used to take the heat off, it's not a viable long-term solution. Furthermore, since multiple types of production chains can be created around one Residence, selecting the type of goods sent to ports or Aerodromes can make a lot of difference.

I learned this the hard way after I had sent a ton of vegetables (which take forever to grow) to the Seaport rather than a Workshop.

Lieutenants reporting for duty! (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Going away from the game's building aspect, there's lots more to see and do. One of my favorite things was to hire lieutenants and rush rival gangs to take over their operations.


I soon realized that diplomacy and planning were the better options. There are some things that money and brute force can't solve.

Considering everything, the developers have done a fine job creating Cartel Tycoon. Although, at its core, it's a business sim, it does have a lot of city-building vibes to it.

Running a cartel is tough (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Between micromanaging the transfers of Dirty Money into my "cleaning" business and bribing the police to call off the blockade, I found joy in carefully placing down infrastructure. Although there are only four types of buildings, the Materials and Production chains have many variants to them.


In a footnote, to my surprise, the in-game soundtrack is also beautifully done. Speaking of beauty, the ability to zoom right into the map lets players get close-up and personal with their sprawling empire.



Cartel Tycoon, provided by tinyBuild, was played on the system with the following configuration:

  • CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
  • GPU: RTX 3070 8GB
  • RAM: 32 GB

Personally, the game worked like a charm. There was zero lag and visible stutter even when switching between the title and other applications.

In conclusion

Although there are a few "impurities" with the product, the overall batch is pretty solid. The business aspect of the game is outstanding, and users are free to adopt a playstyle they see fit.

Want to grow your empire peacefully? Sure, that's possible. Want to recruit lieutenants and capture provinces? Sure, why not?

That being said, a few mechanics need fine adjustments. At times, the Workshops stop receiving raw materials for no reason, Terror levels increase unexpectedly, and Lieutenants get greedy even while doing nothing.

However, these minor issues are not game-breaking and are easily fixable.

Everything has a price... (Image via tinyBuild/Cartel Tycoon)

Nevertheless, learning how to manage finances tactfully and the police will take a bit of trial and error. However, after a few hours, things fall into place naturally.


Once the basics of supply and demand are mastered, expanding to new territories and taking them over will be a breeze.

Given how unique a take this is for a business sim, I eagerly look forward to what else the developers have in store for Cartel Tycoon. Now, if you're going to excuse me, I have to go talk to the Mayor about a "friendly" takeover.

Cartel Tycoon

Cartel Tycoon rating by Sportskeeda (Image via Sportskeeda)

Reviewed on: PC (Review code provided by tinyBuild)


Platform: Windows PC

Developer: Moon Moose

Publisher: tinyBuild

Release: July 25, 2022

Edited by
Ravi Iyer
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