Railroad Tycoon (Third Review)

Title           Railroad Tycoon (Third Review)
Game Type       Management Sim
Publisher       Microprose
Players         1
HD Installable  Yes, game MUST be in root of your HD
Compatibility   A500 and up with 1 meg
Submission      david.ledgard@netbreeze.co.uk

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. 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 command 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, making route design more
important and tricky, you also have to bridge the rocky mountain chain. 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

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
shovelling 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

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 stockmarket
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.

Category list.

Alphabetical list.