Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon

Toot, toot.

Not pictured: Railroads

Seeing Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon coming up on the list brought back memories of getting my hands on Transport Tycoon for the PlayStation: I was wowed by the idea, fired it up, didn't have a damn clue what was going on and quickly abandoned it.

Have I changed as a person since then? Can I competently run a railroad network spanning the country, delivering passengers, mail, livestock and much more besides?


Can I fffffu-no, no - begin at the beginning...

Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon is available to download free of charge and it comes complete with the authentic experience of software copy protection - the kind that needs to be done each time you play, juuuuust in case this time you aren't playing with your legal copy...

Once you get past that minor nuisance, you've got the entire game of Railroad Tycoon to play, and the main menu includes a tutorial option, so you can bet every engine you own on that being the first thing I click on.

Unfortunately for me, nothing appears to be teaching me anything. There's no in game guide to what the menus do, no follow along with a text box to see what you should start with, no friendly characters with helpful hints and tips... I was effectively just dumped into a live game.

What I should have done was opened up the manual and had a look, but you should know me by now. No, what I actually did was click around the map a few times, eventually learning I was in the Eastern USA map, but with no idea what to do in it.

Clicking on the Build menu sounds like it should be a sensible move, so I did so and suddenly I have a train and some carriages and off it goes from Charlottesville to somewhere or something.

Here's the kicker, though: I don't remember finding Charlottesville or Richmond on the world map yet. I have just built and sent a train somewhere, and it already has a bunch of passengers using it, but I literally do not know where it is. And this is the tutorial mode.

I fumbled for a few seconds more before closing DOSBox.

Fun Times

I had to make sure I gave Railroad Tycoon a watch, if not a play. Seeing it played without a dribbling trainwreck of a player at the controls shows that there is actually a game here and it is very obviously about managing a fleet of trains. Not just any old trains, though, but trains that are fit for purpose, containing the right carriages for the jobs and going to and from the right towns and cities in order to get resources, goods and passengers to wherever it is they need to go.

Where do you build first? What kind of station do you put there? Which industry do your focus on delivering things to? Which towns do you link up or avoid?

From the sounds of the video, some of the map is generated each time you play, such that your choices in where to start building your steam engine empire and in which direction to start moving is an important decision, based on what the map itself is giving you in terms of natural resources and the like.

There are four areas of the globe to play with your trains in, meaning yet more ways to get your fix of running the railroads, either as a very specific operator or a just everything on the tracks and hope you don't go over budget operator.

Final Word

But if none of that happens in the tutorial mode, how will it ever make an impression on me to want to continue?

As has been shown time and time again in these posts, I am perfectly willing to call myself all kinds of stupid, and that won't change for Railroad Tycoon. I am all kinds of stupid in not being able to understand this game.

The menus are simple enough to follow. The graphics, while a bit mediocre, certainly do the job they need to do (though some screens are heaped with details). The controls, while twitchy and annoying in their emulation, were just point and click (it's a management simulation, after all).

Nothing there says that Railroad Tycoon will give you a hard time, though I'm sure it can. I assume you're playing against a competing computer controlled tycoon, though if it's just a giant sandbox to just see what you can do, it won't get any complaints from me. I just don't know enough about it because of that bad first experience.

Is it my fault for that bad first experience? Probably, yes. But it has soured me. I know the game was able to develop into a series that more or less stretches into modern times, but I don't really know how or why. That's not to knock the genre, just to say I haven't got a clue what great feats Railroad Tycoon allows players to do.

Will I ever find out firsthand what it allows me to do? Maybe, maybe. Now that I've seen it in action.

But then I think about the twitchy inputs I found myself having, and then I am put off again. But then I remember that one of the maps is of England and Wales, and another is of Europe, and I think "Great, it's not all about the yanks". But then I think I just don't have the time right now...

Should you play Railroad Tycoon? It's legally free, of course you should. Doesn't matter if you love it or hate it, just send the message that allowing gamers to easily play old games is great.

Fun Facts

There is a mini stock market inside the game, allowing you to gamble a little in the hopes of making more cash.

Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, developed by MPS Labs, first released in 1990.
Version played: DOS, 1990, via emulation.
Version watched: DOS, 1990 (Nookrium)