Format: Amiga Genre: Business simulation Released: 1990 Developer: MicroProse
Railroad Tycoon was one of the few games my Dad bought during his occasional dalliances with home computing. I remember him coming home with it and thinking, “Pffft, a game about building railways? Jeeeez, my Dad is SOOOOOOO sad!” (I was a sulky teenager at the time.) Then lo and behold, a few weeks later guess who was hooked on expanding his fledgling railway network…
I damn well made sure my friends didn’t find out what I was doing though. I mean, just look at the front cover – this has to be one of the geekiest games ever created. But if you delve a little deeper you’ll find a solid and perfectly balanced strategy game – classic Sid Meier (he of Civilization fame). The graphics are pretty damn awful, even for the time, but once you get past the ugly exterior it’s easy to get hooked on manipulating your tiny trains.
The meat of the game centres around connecting towns and industries and micromanaging cargo. One town might produce iron and another might produce coal – take them both to a steel factory and you can produce steel, which in turn can be used to make canned goods or be exported… If it sounds complicated that’s because it is, and once you’ve connected five or six towns, micromanaging all of the various cargoes carried by each of the trains becomes a real headache. But somehow fun at the same time.
There are all sorts of strategic decisions to be made. Do I make my trains longer to maximise profit but at the same time reduce their speed? Is it worth the expense of new tracks and trains to connect to a nearby stockyard, or will the profits be too slim to make it worth it? Do I lay single track, which is cheaper, or double track, which allows my trains to move faster? It all adds up to an extremely complex but compelling game experience, even if (like me) you have absolutely no interest in trains whatsoever.
Both my Dad and I were totally hooked on this game at one point, but in the end it all got a bit too samey. The best bit is at the start, when you’re rapidly expanding your network, but once you get past a certain size, managing all of your trains becomes a bit of a nightmare, and you find yourself repeating the same actions again and again. Having said all that, the game impressed me enough to buy Railroad Tycoon II for the Dreamcast… although I kept that pretty quiet from my friends too.
(By the way, the little bell noise that signals when a train has arrived at a station used to drive me mad – have a listen in the video above to see what I mean. When your rail network got to a certain size the bell would sound almost constantly – it was almost like having tinnitus.)