Review: Sid Meier's Railroads!

A PC game review by Bobulous.

About Sid Meier's Railroads!

Sid Meier's Railroads! is an update to another Sid Meier game, the 1990 game Railroad Tycoon. The aim is to make your fortune by creating railroads that join resources and towns, collecting in-demand goods and delivering them to where they're needed. Sid Meier's Railroads! features 3D graphics, historic scenarios, and online play.

Playing Sid Meier's Railroads!

screenshot: The main screen of Railroads! showing a complex set of tracks at Paris Terminal.

Sid Meier's Railroads! is a lot of fun to play at first. You start off with a home town that sports a new train terminal and a small length of railway track. Then you set about laying rail to join your hometown to other towns, or to places that provide resources that your hometown demands. Perhaps your town has a textile mill, and you spot a sheep farm not far away. Build a railway track that joins your town to the sheep farm, and create a train that carries wool from the farm to the textile mill. Once the textile mill has consumed the wool, it will provide textiles. Then you'll want to lay railway to a nearby town that demands textiles. And so your rail empire begins.

screenshot: The routing screen, showing your rail network, and the towns and resources your line reaches.

Unlike previous games, laying rails is very easy in Railroads! as you simply click where the rail should start (it must always link to your existing rails) and where it should finish, and the game will alter the landscape, build bridges, and construct tunnels for you automatically. Some people may miss the requirement to put in the hard graft manually. Being a lazy so-and-so, I like the automated path-making.

Linking towns to resources and to each other is fun, but I found that the fun can be short-lived. The problem is that Railroads! has a habit of crashing. Badly. Not just crashing back to Windows. Crashing so that the monitor gives off a strange noise and complains about an unknown video mode. What makes these crashes worse is the auto-save feature. Sometimes it saves every minute or two. Other times it just turns itself off, so that a crash can lose you an hour's progress. Very annoying.

My machine does meet the minimum spec, but 512MB of RAM is clearly not enough. The hard disk thrashes wildly as it tries to store and fetch data in and out of virtual memory. The game slows down and pauses while the disk thrashes. Switching from the main screen to a financial report, or to the train routing screen, causes a real slow down if your rail network is large and busy.

Even with the latest version, 1.10, the game still crashes every now and again. And little bugs make it harder to run a profitable service. If you tell a train to wait at a station until its cars are full (of goods or passengers), the train will come to a stop until it is full. Even if you untick the box that says "Wait until full" (if you discover that the town isn't able to offer any more goods at the moment) the train refuses to budge. It just sits and waits for goods that may never arrive. The only way to get the train out of the way then is to scrap it. Which is pretty frustrating.

And when your track becomes very complicated, with signals and interconnects all other the place, trains can get confused to the point where they teleport back and forth repeatedly, taking an indeterminate length of time to reach their destination.

screenshot: A close-up of a 4-6-2 A4 carrying steel to Nottingham.

But even with these flaws, I still enjoy playing Railroads! because it offers a lot of freedom. Even though the maps aren't huge, there are a lot of towns and resources to play with, and you decide which ones are worth your while delivering. You can also compete against a computer player (or an online opponent). If your opponent is delivering valuable resources to a town, you can make a bid to buy the industry in that town that profits from those goods. If your opponent realises his oversight, he'll bid for the industry too, and an auction ensues.

It is fun, but it also seems pretty easy. I haven't finished a single game where I haven't been awarded the highest accolade by the game (usually Prime Minister or US President), even in games where I didn't complete all the objectives in time. Fans of games that really tax you may be disappointed by the ease with which you can rule the rail networks in Railroads!

Evaluating Sid Meier's Railroads!

Sid Meier's Railroads! is a very nice game. The graphics and sounds do create the feel of a model railway come to life, and the economics of meeting supply and demand are quite absorbing. But the bugs and serious crashes may cause a lot of people to simply take the game back to where they bought it and ask for a refund. These flaws mar what is otherwise a very nicely presented game.