I’ve been playing Railroad Tycoon 3 for the past few weeks. I didn’t play the demo of this one (I don’t think there is a Mac demo, although the online mini-game is pretty fun), but bought it on impulse when I saw the Mac version on the store shelf.
So far, I am quite happy with the game. A few things I’ve learned:
I’ve been playing the games on “Easy”, and it’s actually starting to get too easy! I’m not sure if this means I’m good at the game and should move to “Normal”, or if the game is just not challenging enough. I haven’t yet tried “Normal” yet, but I did just complete an entire campaign at “Easy”, winning the gold medal at each scenario, most of them on the first try.
In the game, you play the eponymous part of the railroad tycoon, chairman of a railroad. Usually a scenario requires that the railroad do well, e.g., connect certain cities, or earn a certain profit, or haul certain cargoes, but occasionally you’re required to earn a certain amount of personal profit as well. As head of the railroad, you get paid a salary determined by the (computer-controlled) board, but you can also play the stock market.
Unfortunately, despite eleven years of school on Central Pacific robber-baron properties (two Crocker mansions and Leland Stanford’s horse farm,) I turn out not to be any good at making money at it. I’ve discovered a few tricks, though: First, buying stock will raise the stock price temporarily (it tends to fall back down after a year or two). You can also buy on margin, borrowing against your stock portfolio. So if you buy stock, the stock price goes up, not only increasing your net worth but giving you more you can borrow against to buy more stock, driving the price up even higher.
You can also spend your company’s money to increase your own worth. You can increase the payment of dividends, a chunk of which will end up in your own pocket (assuming you’ve bought stock in your own company). Also, you can use up all the company’s spare cash to buy back stock, driving the price up (again only temporarily). Using a combination of these techniques, I can double or even triple my net worth to achieve a scenario’s goal. I’m never sure if this is taking advantage of a quirk in the game’s mechanics or whether it’s an accurate simulation of a 19th-century railroad chairman, many of whom probably did squander their company’s profits to increase their own purse size.
Sometimes you’re requires to haul cargo to a given destination. One scenario takes place in Japan after the 1964 earthquake. The city of Niigata has been devastated, and you have to rebuild the rail line and transport a certain amount of meat and clothing there. The trick, of course, is that there isn’t much meat and clothing on Japan. For example, you have to haul produce from a farm to a port, trade it for cotton, haul that to a textile mill which produces clothing that you can then haul to Niigata. The problem I ran into is that by the time I had done this, I had plenty of clothing, but Niigata didn’t want it! The price of clothing in Niigata had dropped lower than anywhere else in Japan, and the game won’t let you load an unprofitable train.
Eventually, I realized that I could load a train with clothing, and start it off towards another random city where selling clothing would be profitable. Then, half way there, I could re-route the train to Niigata (cargo still on board), and it would go there and unload the cargo, at a loss. Then I discovered that I could load the same carload of clothing back onto the train, send it out towards another city, and immediately turn it back around and unload it at Niigata again. Each time I did this, it counted towards the number of loads of clothing I was required to haul to Niigata, even though it was the same clothes each time.
This probably was cheating, but I felt justified, since the scenario was making me haul goods to a city that didn’t want them in the first place.
Obviously, the game’s representation of trains is pretty far from realistic—Microsoft Train Simulator it’s not—but what did bug me a little was the portrayal of some of the locomotives. They include a lot of locomotives that weren’t all that commercially viable, but are “cool” in some way or another. The Fairlie, for example, or the DDA40X. Especially in the latter half of the twentieth century, the locomotive selection begins to get spotty. In the U.S., for example, they have the Challenger, Big Boy and Centennial, which were large and powerful but relatively rare, but many common locomotives are missing.
Not only is locomotive selection spotty, but the specs for many are not very prototypical. The big articulateds are given great grade-climbing abilities, when in fact they were designed for level hauling at high speed, and didn’t work nearly as well crossing a mountain. There was an article in Trains a few months ago about this very problem, and how it led to steam’s downfall in the 1950s.
Finally, some of the paint jobs are ugly. Some of the locomotives are painted like the original (the GG1 is a very nice Brunswick Green, in Pennsylvania Railroad livery), but I guess they wanted to avoid that for the more modern lines, especially Union Pacific, who has been busy suing model train manufacturers who use their logo and likeness. The locomotives that were exclusively ever produced for UP have very strange paint schemes in the game. The DDA40X is bright red with white polka-dots. The Big Boy has a big yellow racing stripe, which makes it look really strange. They also make up names for some of the newer locomotives. The “USA 103” is clearly an AMD-103/P40, and the “NA-90D” looks suspiciously like a Dash 9. I don’t pretend to understand why they did this.
I do like, though, that it’s been several weeks now, and I’m still playing it, still enjoying it, and feel like there’s a lot left in the game for me to enjoy. I did buy Myst IV last week, and I have it installed, but I haven’t even launched it yet; Railroad Tycoon 3 is my game of choice for right now.
Overall rating: A