Sid Meier’s Railroads! for OS X review

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Category: Train simulator
Developer: Firaxis
Mac Publisher: Feral Interactive
System Requirements: OS X 10.6.8, 1.8 GHz processor, 3 GB RAM, 1.5 GB disk space, graphics card with 128 MB of VRAM
Review Computer: 13″ Macbook Pro, 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo, 8 GB RAM
Network Feature: Yes (LAN, Game Ranger, or Apple Game Center)
Processor Compatibility: Intel
Price: $30
Availability: Out now

Sid Meier’s Railroads! is a bottomless toybox, letting you play with trains throughout history in a variety of styles. If you want to reenact the great races between railroad barons throughout history, there are campaigns that let you do just that. If you want to engage in cutthroat battles where you buy out your opponent and absorb their operations, you can do that. Or if you just want to play with trains with no competition at all, you can do that, too.

Sid Meier's Railroads!

The basics: you start with one station in one town. From there you lay track to another town or to a farm or mine that produces resources like coal, oil, cattle, or sheep. These resources can be processed by factories into other products which can be shipped along to make even more money. The trick is that every city has different products it wants, and not every town can process every resource. Most decent-sized cities will want you to transport passengers and mail, which are reliable but not as profitable as say, finished goods (made from lumber or oil), food (made from cattle or grain), or cars (made from coal, processed into steel; a three-step process which takes more time in multiple cities but yields a more profitable product).

Sid Meier's Railroads!

You are, of course, limited by funds. Laying track is expensive, especially if you have to build bridges over rivers or tunnel under mountains and hills. Trains cost money both for the initial purchase and periodic upkeep. You can’t pick up resources or make deliveries unless you build a station. So, the goal is to make the most profitable run in the shortest amount of time so you can lay more track to build your empire.

Once you get multiple trains, you’ll have to manage traffic, laying multiple lines through cities so that trains aren’t left waiting while another uses the track.

Sid Meier's Railroads!

You also have to pay attention to elevation: trains that have to pull multiple cars uphill will move slower than a train going downhill. If a route is longer but moves across flat ground, it might be a better deal in the short run.

The game comes with several campaigns, running from historic periods in the Golden Age of rail travel in the US and Europe, to missions where you have to contend with terrain problems like a world made up entirely of mesa, rivers, or a mountain that divides the players into sections. If you choose to play against opponents (up to three AI or human players over the internet) you can win in one of two ways: fulfill certain victory conditions (which vary based on the era/map you play) before time runs out, or buy them out in a stock battle.

Gain 100% control of an opponent’s stock, and you can either absorb their tracks, trains, and stations into your operation, or simply liquidate them for cash.

Railroads! is ridiculously fun and simple to play. Laying track is a simple point and click operation; if you can’t lay track to a certain area, the game will let you know. To set a train’s route, another button brings up the cities it can reach and the goods they want. If you try to make a route that can’t be completed, the game won’t let you, and if you goof up and create a route that ends up with goods being wasted, it’ll tell you that, too. There’s a lot of financial information to juggle in the game—the maintenance cost of the trains, the profitability of the routes, the net worth of every player—but Railroads!  does a great job of making the information easy to find and follow.

The only problem with the game is that it’s slightly buggy; every so often it would beachball and crash. The autosave function mitigated any lost game play, but it was still annoying. The really good news is that you don’t need bleeding-edge software to run it, either; other than the occasional crashes I mentioned, it ran great on my three year old Macbook, with smooth animations and quick response to scrolling across the map.

I’ve lost a lot of time to playing Sid Meier’s Railroads! and I wouldn’t call myself a fan of trains or real-time strategy games. But the pure resource management part of the game is great fun; you have to analyze the map, control your resources, and get the goods from point A to B as quickly as possible.

Think of it as StarCraft without the Zerg…although some of the other rail barons can be just as vicious.

Appletell Rating:

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