Microprose's Railroad Tycoon and Artdink's Railroad Empire take you back to the beginnings of railroading in North America, England, or continental Europe.
Microprose's Railroad Tycoon is a richly detailed simulation, which will be anything but a surprise to those who have followed designer Sid Meier's career. (He also created the popular F-15 and F-19 jet fighter simulations.) By contrast, Artdink's Railroad Empire is a simpler, play-against-the-clock game which stresses quick response over the complexities of a true simulation. Tycoon is by far the richer of the two games, but some players, particularly younger people, may find Empire simpler to play (although the manual is confusing and very brief).
Railroad Tycoon is all about building and running a big railroad business. You start the game as president of a small company, but you have money from investors and are operating in a region completely empty of rails and trains. In other words, you have free rein, but failure is as easy as success.
The game comes with four different scenarios. The first starts you in the northeastern U.S. in 1830, and the second in the western states in 1866. In the third you find yourself in 1828 England, while the fourth places you in tum-of-the-century Europe. In each scenario you use the same techniques, but the strategy in each is wholly different.
Actually, there are several other scenarios as well. For any game, you can adjust the difficulty and reality levels. The four difficulty levels range from "investor" to "tycoon," with tycoon giving you the toughest opponents. At three of these levels, you can toggle reality factors: no-collision versus dispatcher operation, friendly versus cut-throat competition, and basic versus complex economy. With the no-collision option, trains won't collide with each other; the dispatcher option forces you to control trains according to proper signals. Friendly competition won't try to buy your stock or start rate wars in attempts to take you over. Basic economies make all loads valuable at most stations, whereas complex economies force you to match available loads to the specific demand at different locations.
Any one of these options provides considerable variation in the game. When used together (along with the world maps, which are different every time you start a new game), they result in a varied, extremely challenging, and realistic simulation.
Railroad Tycoon is played from pull-down menus or shortcut keystrokes, and the interface is easy to use and logical. Using these menus, you can tailor the game to your liking via a number of options, as well as control stations, trains, loads, and various investments. You can obtain reports on income, balance sheets, a stock market graph, a list of accomplishments, and even an animated history of your (and your competitors') train lines. From the Action menu, you can call your stock broker (to buy and sell stock), conduct land surveys (to help lay track), and even change the name of your company.
The two menus used most often, however, are Display and Build. Four displays are available: Regional, Area, Local, and Detail. The regional display offers a strategic map, with all rail lines depicted to scale (i.e., small) across the entire area in which you've chosen to play. The local display reveals an area about the size of the state of New York, and is particularly useful for plotting strategy - you can see all the concentrations of supplies and demands, and the population densities (all of which tend to increase as the game progresses). The close-up view in the detail display reveals landmarks, stations, industries, mines, the moving trains, and so forth.
If Railroad Tycoon didn't do anything else, it would still be a great simulation of a train set. You can construct all kinds of tracks and trains; build tunnels and various kinds of bridges; watch trains slow as they climb a mountain; prevent crashes at the last minute; and change cars, engines, and loads at will. Then you can sit back and watch your microcosmic world go into motion like clockwork.
From the Build menu, you purchase new trains and design all of your various track patterns within and between the centers of population and industry. You may choose many options, all of which have realistic and varying effects on your income or expenses: upgrading bridges; increasing a station's usefulness by adding such things as maintenance shops, livestock pens, and hotels; and establishing a specific industry in the area to make a line more profitable. There are many, many more options, but this brief description will give you an idea of the lavish realism in Railroad Tycoon.
During your first few games (each of which can take ten or more hours, if you do well), stay in the novice mode and look for population densities. Build track between the closest, well-populated cities to start earning good money quickly. When new engines become available (as history allows), upgrade your railroad for greater speed. And remember that, unlike passengers and mail, heavy shipments like coal do not become any more profitable if you deliver them quickly or from a great distance. Also, don't be afraid to sell bonds to raise cash - you don't want competing railroads to take over the best locations.
Tycoon seems destined to become another best-seller for Microprose. It is well balanced; easy to learn and control; achieves fascinating depth, complexity, and realism; and takes computer simulations another step toward the ultimate goal of generating a playing field as varied, unpredictable, alive, and exciting as the real thing. Microprose is located at 180 Lakefront Drive, Hunt Valley, MD 21030. Tycoon requires 512K minimum memory (640K with VGA); CGA, EGA, MCGA, VGA, or Tandy 16-color graphics; and a color monitor. A mouse is optional.
Download Railroad Tycoon
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP