Cartel Tycoon – Survival Mode without Dying

This guide shows you how to beat survival mode without dying. That’s how it should be anyway – why else would it be called survival mode?!

How Survival Mode Works and Why This Guide

In survival mode, you have to get enough legal money to pay off demands from a guy called Paniflo Ramos – a corrupt police chief. Demands increase over time so you constantly have to increase the amount of dirty money you are making and the laundering capacities. If you cannot meet a demand, Ramos will kill your capo and it’s game over.

Well, technically it’s not game over. You can keep playing by making one of your cartel members the new capo. Demands will also be reset to the lowest level. If you ask me this is no challenge at all and should not be called survival mode but “try again p*ssy mode”

The real challenge is to survive with the starting capo, that’s why I’ve written this guide. It’s based on Version 1.0 and will most likely not be updated for future versions. After 100+ hours in the game, beating survival mode without dying was pretty much the last challenge left for me. So I’m done with the game for now, but hoping for future DLCs.


In general a good knowledge of the game mechanics and the ability to micro-manage product and money flow are expected.

My approach is based on selecting a certain capo with certain traits. We also need a certain starting region. You have to keep starting new games until you finally spawn a map with the regions mentioned below.

  • Starting Capo: Wilfredo Arias
  • Capo Traits: Deliver, Green-fingered, Cannabis Cultivator, Access to Dryer I, Access to Farm III
  • Starting Region: Cerro Tacarina
  • Neutral Regions: Soledoso (must have), Molino (nice to have)
  • Buildings you need to have unlocked: Modern Residency

Mechanic of Demands

The first demand always triggers once you have exported your first drugs. I recommend holding back as long as possible to stall demands. Use the time to build up a production chain, and research the stuff you need. You can’t stall forever, the first demand will always be triggered on 22.04.1988.

Once you pay, you get a bit of downtime (amount is random, usually between 7 and 9 days) before the next demand comes in.

List of demands:

The $1,000,000 demand repeats infinitely until you win the game by conquering enough regions. You need to own 7/10 regions.

I recommend always calculating the amount you can launder per day and comparing it to the table above. This way you can easily see if you will meet the demand or if you need to build more stuff to bring in more money. Also, keep in mind additional stuff that might drain legal money like paying cartel members or upkeep for buildings.

General Strategy

Phase 1: You will start making money with cocaine

Wilfredo has access to Dryer I, so you can immediately research Dryer II. Wilfredo also has access to Farm III. This combination allows for cocaine production since there is already a Lab III in Cerro Tacarina that you can conquer. Step by step you are going to build two cocaine production chains. You will then boost production and money laundering buildings by strategically placing a modern residency.

Phase 2: You will start making more money with dried cannabis

After taking over Soledoso by completing the mayor quest you will build a cannabis production chain and an airport to export it.

Phase 3: You will begin to make even more money with meth

After taking over Molino you will build a meth production chain (3 chemical plants are already there for you to conquer) and an airport for export.

That’s the strategy in a nutshell. If you don’t want to spoiler yourself then I suggest to stop reading now, take the strategy as a base and have fun figuring the rest out yourself.

For all those who want more info, I have a step-by-step guide (literally noted down everything I did, why I did it and when I did it) coming up, after some more general hints.

Loyalty, Terror and Law Enforcement

Terror: Avoid the third star. Once the DEA gets triggered things always went south for me, they just cause too much damage to your production chain and interrupt your money flow which leads to not being able to pay the demands. If you need to increase terror, like because you need to conquer stuff for a quest, make sure to have enough loyalty and a mayor with a favor ready to lower terror just before it reaches star 3.

Star 1 and 2 are not that bad. The police (star 1) will not trigger if you do not have suspicious buildings. Make sure this is the case before raising terror. The feds (star 2) will just block a road. If you’re lucky they block an unimportant area, if not you can simply bribe them for $2k legal money (the amount needed to bribe increases each time, so be mindful).

Loyalty: Do not spend legal money on loyalty by sponsoring stuff via buildings (for example charity tournaments in the casino). You need every dollar of legal money to pay the demands, especially in the beginning. If you need loyalty, conquer one of the villages and buy their stuff with DIRTY money. Pay the highest price for the most loyalty, buy drugs and export them.

Rivaling Gangs

Talk to them as often as possible to make them friendly. There are enough problems already, so no need to fight with other gangs. To win survival mode you need to take over 7 of the 10 regions, having other gang leaders’ loyalty at maximum makes this an easy task.

Your Cartel Members

You can’t be too picky with the guys and girls you recruit. In the beginning, you pretty much have to take what the game throws at you. Keep a close eye on your crew, especially if you have people that get disloyal all the time (for example if terror is not on their desired level). I lost more than one playthrough by members going rogue. One of them blew up a bank that I had just built for precious $50k of legal money, another time the rogue action triggered the third star and DEA kicked my ass. Saying it again, keep a close eye on your crew, and be sure they are loyal. Raising upkeep by a few dollars is much cheaper than losing a bank.

Great members to recruit:

Since you will make most of your money with cocaine, anybody who has benefits for cocaine is a great hire. Get a coca cultivator like Jorge Ortiz, a coca dealer like Dulce Vega (rivaling gang capo), and most importantly someone who can MAKE A DEAL on coca. You will export a lot of coca, so the price will drop massively.

Someone like Gena Vargas can easily double the price for a certain amount of units by making a deal.

The characters the game throws at you are random, so you need a bit of luck here – but the strategy works even without recruiting special cartel members. I pretty much beat the game before I got really powerful characters like Gena.

Also, keep in mind that you need someone with robbery trait (for Tensaca mayor quest) and kidnapping (for Foscani mayor quest) if you plan on conquering those regions.

Screenshots: Cocaine Production

Area 1:

Shows first coca production chain:

  • 4x Farm III
  • 2x Warehouse I
  • 1x Dryer I
  • 1x Lab III (was next to pier, since this is a late game screenshot I already demolished it and build a new one closer)

Area 2:

Shows second coca production chain:

  • 4x Farm III
  • 2x Warehouse I
  • 1x Dryer I
  • 1x Lab II

Area 3:

Shows placement of Modern Residency. It covers and boosts all money laundering buildings and the entire coca production

Anything not included in 1, 2 or 3 was built slowly over time once I had enough money.

Screenshots: Cannabis Production

Late game screenshot, I don’t have early game ones unfortunately.

The production started with just the buildings that were already pre-built and then conquered:

  • Plantation II
  • Dryer I
  • Warehouse I

All the additional stuff you can see in the screenshot was added over time once I had enough money.

Dried cannabis is packaged inside coffee (later avocados) and exported via an aiport (orange arrows).

The purple arrow shows the setup for opium. It’s bought in the village with dirty money (to increase loyalty) packaged in the workshop (with avocados) and then also exported via the airport.

Avacodos come from a plantation near Molino, it was already built, just needed to be conquered (it’s set to chicken initially, just switch it to avocados, soil is perfect). One avacado plantation III is enough to serve three Workshop III.

Screenshots: Meth Production

Late game screenshot, I don’t have early game ones unfortunately.

The production started with the buildings that were already pre-built and then conquered:

  • 1x Chemical Plant II
  • 2x Chemical Plant I
  • 1x Lab II (needed to be built)
  • 1x Warehouse I (needed to be built)

All the additional stuff you can see in the screenshot was added over time once I had enough money.

Meth is exported via the airport (needed to be built).

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