Written by  :  David Ledgard (65)
Written on  :  Feb 09, 2005
Platform  :  Amiga
Rating  :  4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars4.5 Stars

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Great resource management and historical game

The Good

Stock Market Trading, Shares, Take Overs, History, Train Types

Review: Railroad Tycoon, or Railway Tycoon as we should really call it in Britain was Microprose's first blockbuster game. They had been around for about 10 Years before it came out, and to quote Michael Caine 'Not a lot of people know that'. I've played this game so many times I know nearly all the Engines in the start up password quiz by heart. They seem to have started designing it as a glorified computer train set, with track, moving engines, rolling stock, and signals. Then half way through they decided to add a resource management feature as well. It has a complicated 'No Collision Operation' option, which you can turn off for a 10% penalty on your score, which I do, as I find it very tiresome and irritating. Basically this involves putting dozens of signal boxes along your track, which means you can't build branch lines exactly where you would like, and that your trains are for ever waiting. In this game time IS money, so delay costs.

There are four continents you can play on: Eastern USA (begins 1830), Western USA (begins 1866), England (begins 1828), and Europe (begins 1900). Each continent has 11 possible resources that can be shipped between Stations, for which you get payment on arrival. Revenues reduce with time taken, and game year i.e. Railroads become less and less profitable over the years. But new trains come out regularly that increase speed, and the number of carriages each train can have. Resources vary according to continent, some are in every continent, others only in one, and some can be taken to resource specific Factories to be converted into another resource that can be shipped on, for more profit. In you have a lot of a resource, but no Factory to send it to, you can buy one usually, if a site can be found by one of your Stations, Textile Mills are the most difficult as they have to be built by hills for water-power. It will cost a lot of money, you may have to borrow some, but once built, you get a share of the profits from the Factory, plus money for taking raw materials there, and processed stuff away, or to Cities and Ports. The more stuff you send Cities the faster they grow. Be aware the Factory may change to another product, which you might already have on your line, or go bankrupt and disappear if you don't give it enough business. Priority Shipments come along from time to time, they make you a lot of money, but mean you have to re-route your network to get them.

My favourite continent is Eastern USA, as you start at the beginning of Railroad history, with really slow Engines. The Steam Train had just been invented in England, and thanks to a common language the technology quickly reached America. The Hudson-Erie Canal had just been opened (in 1825) linking the Factories of New York to the resources of the Great Lakes region. Niagara Falls previously prevented ships going beyond the first Lake, Ontario. This threatened Baltimore another Atlantic Port with competition, as it's hinterland included the Ohio River, close to the Great Lakes. A canal was impractical so they decided to try the new fangled Steam Engine Technology, to haul Coal, Grain, and Lumber from the Interior to the Port, for processing or onward shipment. They also discovered that Mail and Passengers could be shipped both ways for a profit, remember this is a time when immigrants were heading West, and roads were of very poor quality. Also manufactured goods could be shipped back to the less developed interior.

The main gripe with this game option is that you can't load a historically accurate map, instead getting a different computer generated map each time. So although the larger Cities are generally in the East, you find some mega cities, that aren't even on the coast, and Cities like New York look like Villages. I have lost count of the times I tried to make New York into a City, economically difficult, as you have to buy a very expensive bridge to link it to another City, and if it is too small it won't accept most goods. I tried to build the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but never got beyond Harpers Ferry, Hagerstown, and the Cumberland Gap, as it got so annoying, shipping stuff from Stations even though they demanded it, which also clogged up my line. The rivers on the Map have landing facilities which is good, because you can dispose of Grain and Coal, even if you don't have Steel Mills, Food Processing Plants, and Ports, this also applies to the Western American continent.

The Western American continent has some interest, as you get twice as much for West-East Trade, and half for North-South (until the building of a Transcontinental Railroad when the rates equal), making route design more important and tricky, you also have to bridge the rocky mountain chain. The game doesn't also double track tunnels which is a real a pain, I would happily pay double for them). It is set in the time when the U.S. Government is trying to link the Mississippi/Great Lakes to the Pacific by Rail, the first company to do it gets a $1,000,000 bonus, but your so rich by then you don't need it. It would have been good if they could have it so you could start building from the East, and West, joining in the middle, as historically happened with Chinese being shipped over to build the Western Line, and for one Company the last track pin linking the two lines being made of Gold. You get to build through towns like Dodge City and Junction City.

England is OK, but there are just too many big cities, and resources scattered everywhere. Much easier to connect everything using the Infernal Combustion Engine, this is the weakness of Railways they are good at bulk transport, and connecting Big Cities and Resource Sites, but hopeless at linking lots of little sites together. Today only about 7% of freight goes by Rail, so people who think it is the answer to Pollution and Congestion are dreaming, although it can help a bit, but requires massive subsidies. You do however get a good variety of stuff arriving in your Ports in this option.

I don't like the European Continent at all, you have farms which provide Nitrates and Wool, meaning you have to find the City to take both resources simultaneously or routing becomes a Nightmare, and I don't like shoveling poo, even of the computer variety. Also Arms, the last commodity in a 3 stage production chain, can only be disposed of at Ports, and Forts which are in out of the way places, which usually means an extra Station.

Stations collect resources, they come in three sizes with increasing cost, and their hinterlands can not overlap. You can build improvements in them like Hotels and Restaurants to generate extra income, but have a maintenance, and will not make much if you don't have enough traffic. Improvements like Post Offices, Cold Stores, Goods Sheds, and Livestock Pens prevent potential traffic disappearing before you trains arrive, you still lose money because they are waiting though. Engine Shops allow new trains to be built and maintained, which reduces Train Maintenance costs, which increase over time, sometimes it is a good idea to retire an Engine and replace it with a new one, or better model.

Track is built from one Station to another, select the route carefully, as curves and hills slow Trains and reduce revenue. You also have to pay for most land, the price depending on type, Woods are free, Farms cheap, and Cities expensive. Track can be single or double, single is cheaper to build and maintain but slower for more than one train, it depends on you finances and traffic quantity and type which you choose. Bridges can be built over rivers, single track ones are cheap, but only allow one Train past at a time, the others having to wait, also they might get washed out which screws up your schedule, may means you lose a Train, and delays all the others until it is repaired. Double Track Bridges are expensive, but much faster and safer, in later years technology makes them cheaper. You can also build over Ocean squares by using permanently secured ships, I seldom bother with this as it seems unrealistic.

There is a Financial side to the game which is most enjoyable. You start of with 500,000 shares that you sold to local investors at $1 each, giving you $500,000 starting capital, you have also borrowed one $500,000 bond from the bank, for which to pay an annual interest rate, until you decide to pay it back. Bonds charge less interest than overdrafts so if you run up a big debt, it's good to use them. The interest varies depending on the economic climate (Boom, Prosperity, Normal, Recession, and Panic), how many bonds you already have, and how many times you have declared bankruptcy, once the rate reaches a certain amount you can't borrow anymore. Basically the more debt you have, the more you pay. Beware of bonds if you have too many you interest payments will exceed you earning, and your company will go bust. When the economic climate improves, you can refinance bonds at a cost of $10,000 brokerage fee, which will reduce the interest charged. Don't buy bonds unless you have something good to spend the money on, like adding a new City to your line, or buying your own shares to prevent the company getting taken over. If the interest becomes too bad you can declare bankruptcy, this halves your debt but you can't build new track until you have repaid the other half of the debt. I don't like doing this, as it means your original shareholders lose everything, the shares going to your creditors, but sometimes it is better than the company going out of business all together. Also you will lose all your own company shares, which means another Railroad can buy them and take you over, once taken over you're out of the game. You can turn this option off, but I find it fun. You can also take over other Railroads, take their money, repay their debts, order them to build lines, or connect your Line to theirs. If you don't manage them well they can go out of business. The number you can take over depends on difficulty, the higher the difficulty the more you can manage, also the more likely you are to be taken over, and the lower your revenues. There are a lot of useful reports that help you financially manage your company, plus history and efficiency reports, and a history of your share price.

A fun thing is when you build into some Cities they offer to buy 10,000 new company shares at the current price, this means you get a pile of money to help finance the expansion, but it's a bit of a gamble as they don't offer that often so you may over stretch yourself, and once the share price exceeds a certain amount they don't buy at all, which I find stupid, surely they could just buy less. Also your share price will be depressed, and you will not own these new shares, so it may mean a competitor can once again try to take you over. Once you hold 50% of the stock you can't be taken over, but the price goes up each time you buy a block of shares, and down when you sell. If shares perform badly over a long period the Shareholders will vote you out of office, and find a new RR President, thus ending the game. When this happens you are shown a funny scene of the President operating one of those up/down hand operated track inspection cars, leaving the Station in his Top Hat.

Rate Wars also occur, this is when two rival companies build track into the same City. The town council votes depending on how much trade each line brings. During the War your revenue for that Station is halved, for two years after you Win (if you Win) it's Doubled! The loser can never build there again.

The game has a number of problems which really got my goat. Say you ship Coal to a Station which can convert it to Steel, this same Station can also take Steel and convert it to Manufactured Goods BUT you can't take Coal, and end up with Manufactured Goods, you have to take it somewhere else, ridiculous!!! This also applies to Factories piling up goods which the same City demands. 100% conversion isn't very realistic either, and you should require Coal AND Iron to make steel. Also Ports provide goods, and you can earn money, shipping stuff from one Port to another, even though it is also available there, surely it would just be shipped direct. The core problem is that every City has an infinite demand for any commodity once it has a Port, Factory, or enough Village/City Blocks. This also applies to Passengers, everyone wants to get on the first train no matter where it's going, and at the first stop they all get off again. They should have several types of Passenger, Local, Regional, and Intercontinental. Of course limited demand would be difficult to simulate and manage, but well worth it, perhaps Railroad Tycoon II does this, I haven't tried it yet.

Also you should be able to buy double track tunnel, as otherwise I find you always have to build over Hills, as only one train can use a tunnel at a time, the others have to wait. It would be OK if you had to wait a bit for the technology to become available. Quadruple track would also be good, so you could have fast lines for Passenger Engines, and slow lines for Freight Engines, without either having to wait due to different speeds. If you have two Cities I tend to have two trains, one starting in each simultaneously, carrying the same goods - what would be good is if they were always half apart, but what happens is that one gets overloaded, and the other follows just behind virtually empty, as the other train has picking up everything, meaning you don't get the benefit of speedy pickup and fast delivery.

Another problem is that if you build your Station in the centre of a City, you tend to get a resource field on the edge, only half of which you can cover. A better way would be to have each Station collect specific resources, so you could have one Passenger/Mail/Factory Station, and another close overlapping Coal/Lumber/Grain Station which could pick up everything in one Train.

They should have more than 3 competing Railroads, 8 or 10 in total would be about right. As what happens is one becomes super big and takes all the Cities, cutting off large areas to competition as Railroads, can't cross over competitors tracks. This would make for more interesting stock-market competition, and more Rate Wars.

To conclude this was one of my favourite games, I have now played it to death. The trouble is once you get beyond two main Stations it gets very annoying for the above reasons, so I usually give up as I get so frustrated by the inaccuracies.

The Bad

Big Cities not in East is Eastern USA Scenario, no Historically accurate Maps, can’t double convert goods i.e. coal->steel->goods when steel works and factory in city radius, should have commodities only stations so overlapping stations can center on resources, should have radius 4 station by building mass transit in Terminal, and should have double track tunnels at twice the cost.

The Bottom Line

Lots of game play. A classic. Helped make Microprose's name.