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Before a new game can begin, the game requires that the player choose one of several dozen fictional tropical islands of various shapes and sizes to simulate. Each island is unique in that it has varying amounts of open plains, forests, mountains, natural resources, and native peoples. The amount of pre-developed land also varies but most of the islands are largely undeveloped when a new simulation begins. Although each scenario has certain objectives and win/lose conditions, the scenario objectives are always optional (each map can be started with the scenario objectives turned off) and the simulation can continue in free form even after successfully completing the initial task.

The game engine itself has a passing similarity to that of SimCity 2000 (SC2K). For example, the island maps are projected isometrically; however, the terrain graphics are more sophisticated and other graphics are of a slightly different style than SC2K. Another engine similarity is the ability to rotate the map 90° at a time, which allows it to be viewed from four different perspectives. There are also three separate zoom levels, ranging from very far out, allowing the entire map to be visible on screen, to very close in, for viewing very specific details of the island.

Each island map has its own initial situation or quagmire that the player can deal with however one sees fit. Of particular note is the scenario where the island's natives have begun growing narcotics and a foreign drug cartel begins operations there as a result. The player can choose to ignore the situation, take a cut of profits or send an agent to shut the operation down. If the player makes an agreement with the drug cartel, one receives a portion of funds deposited in their treasury but receive an unfavorable world opinion. Choosing the last option can, however, result in the assassination of said agent.