The game follows the protagonist, El Presidente, as he works towards restoring the power that he lost in the Caribbean.
Tropico 4 plays much like the other games in the Tropico series. As the absolute dictator, your job is to build up a small island presence into big productive metropolis while lining your own pockets in the process. This is done through a combination of the wise spending of money and passing of prudent policy.
When building up the island from scratch, a tech tree must be followed before many buildings can be built. For instance high school is needed to train skilled workers in order to have the ability to build more advanced buildings like the power plant, which is needed to build buildings that require power.
A healthy money supply is needed in order to fund these projects. Money can be gained through a number of ways. The most common is through exporting of natural resources. Farms, mines, and lumber mills need all be built as well as a sturdy infrastructure of roads and a dock before a steady supply of money can be obtained. Money can also be raised from the tourism industry after building a way for tourists to get to your island and building attractions for them to spend thier money on. Other then that, you can tax your constituents or get handouts from the world powers. This is generally accomplished through edicts.
Edicts are easy to enact trade offs that cover any number of social, political, and financial problems. Every edict has a positive and a negative affect to help balance out your economy. If you are rolling in dough but the people are unhappy you can enact the Social Security edict and start to pay for your people's retirement. If you are running out of money and can spare a little civil unrest you can enact the Nuclear Testing edict and get paid from a super power while sacrificing your environment.
If you do to much to make people get people upset then they will begin to work towards your removal from office, either politically or militarily. As El Presidente you are subject to regular elections. It is game over if you get voted out of office or if your palace gets over run. There are multiple ways to make sure only you have any say in the islands future.
The most direct way is to simply keep your people happy enough for them to continue to vote for you in elections. Clicking on civilians allows you to see what problems people are having so that you can work to keep them happy. Not all civilians think the same and they all are a part of different factions depending on whats important to them. People in the religious faction want churches and low crime. Environmentalists want low pollution levels, and capitalists want low taxes.
When that fails you can always keep a well armed force by your side to help fight any rebel armies that might form. Some edicts can be passed like the Secret Police which will even allow for the military to squash opposition before it starts, while decreasing freedom and happiness.