The communists are complaining about the lack of low income housing, while capitalists are unhappy that your island lacks any real industry. You'd like to keep them all happy - especially with an election coming up - but you've been a bit short on funds ever since the rebels attacked your papaya farms. What's the leader of a small Caribbean island to do?
Tropico opens on a mythical Caribbean Island in 1950. You've just come to power and are now in charge of Tropico's destiny. You'll need to choose the course your island will follow - an agrarian workers' paradise, a tourist haven, an industrial powerhouse,... - and steer it in this direction. However, there are many factions on your island and no matter which course you choose, some will be happy with your choice while other swill be left fuming. Ignore the disenfranchised elements for too long and you could have a revolution on your hands.
At the start of a game of Tropico, you must select the leader you represent and how you came to power. This is an important decision, because it will affect the tone of your game. For example, if you are a student radical and a womanizer, you'll score big points with the Soviet Union and the communists on your island, but lose popularity with the female population. Tropico supplies its leaders with a large variety of possible traits (both good and bad) and backgrounds, allowing for a wide variety of leader personalities.
Once the game begins, you will need to begin to build your island's economy and make choices about the direction you will take. You have a large selection of buildings that you can build and each will have different positive and negative effects with your island's various factions. A good portion of Tropico is spent trying to both keep your economy going and keeping your people happy.
You'll also be able to exert some control over your population via the use of edicts. These are proclamations that have an effect on your entire island. For example, you can please your religious faction by extending an invitation to the pope to visit, bolster tourism through an anti-litter campaign, or appease your intellectual faction through a literacy program. You also have the option of issuing covert edicts such as padding your Swiss bank account with inflated building permit fees and ordering the assassination of the leader of a faction that has been giving you too much trouble.
Your people like to have some choice in their future, so they will generally ask for elections every eight years. You can grant these elections and run the risk of being voted out of office, or decline and anger your population. Of course, you could always put the fix on and guarantee that you come out ahead in the next 'free' election...
Your goal in Tropico is to remain in power for fifty years and retire with a nice fat Swiss bank account. The higher your popularity and the better off you island at the end of these fifty years, the higher your score.