The Economy Takes Care of Itself
Tropico 5 doesn’t do a good job of explaining how your economy works, even in the tutorial. After a few play-throughs, I hope to fix that for you. The first part that Tropico 5 should explain is that your economy takes care of itself, sort of. Everything your island produces, but doesn’t use, gets shipped out at regular prices. What are the regular prices, you ask?
The trade screen has your answer. If you do nothing, send no ships, make no contracts, you will sell your bananas for $800 per 1,000 units shipped from your docks. You will find this under “Default Price.” Unfortunately, there is no index of prices for goods that you do not have a contract available for, so you will need to keep an eye out for good deals. For instance, Gold, Tobacco, and Cocoa are all great early game exports even if you don’t have a contract. Uranium, Oil and Bauxite will become much more useful in the late game, so don’t exploit them too early.
Build an Extra Dock
One of the best exploits of the game can be buying cheap and selling high. Sounds obvious enough, but with Tropico, you will need the contracts to pull this off. Two solid ways to gain lots of contracts early on in the game will be buying the “platinum” deal from Oaksworth and Buying a lighthouse. I don’t suggest both, but at least one. If you do both, you should be able to exploit what you can see in the screenshot above. The regular shipping price for bananas is $800 with no contract, but the Pirates are offering to sell them to you for $640. The smugglers are wanting to buy bananas for $1080.
You’ll need a second dock so that you have two ships for this. All you have to do is have one ship bring the cheap bananas in and the next ship bring them right back out again in order to make a sweet $440 per 1,000 profit. This isn’t the best way to make money, but it’s a solid way to set up your shipping contracts while you work on building support for your regime. You could build several docks and assign multiple ships to import and export this deal. The only downside to dealing with the cheap prices from the pirates is losing reputation with the Crown. If you can make it to independence quickly, that won’t be much of a concern. Also, using an import/export strategy can cause your cash total to bounce up and down unexpectedly. You’ll make plenty of money, but it might be used to pay for an import shipment right when you need it.
Just Produce, the Ships Will Ship
An easy way to look at the economy in Tropico is to produce whatever you want your economy to produce. Build several Cocoa or Tobacco plantations early on in the game and let them ship out each time a boat shows up. It’s unlikely you can fill and entire trade ship in the colonial era, so the only reason to build extra docks is to have extra ships for trade routes. Once you’ve gotten your main export under control, you can spend more time focusing on your islands happiness and housing situations.
For a more detailed look at building your economy, check out my tutorial video below!