Sid Meier’s Railroads Review: Right on Track
Originally launched in 2006, Sid Meier’s Railroads was the fourth and final installation in the Railroad Tycoon series and set high standards for the ‘Tycoon’ genre of games. Although Sid Meier might be better known for the Civilization series of empire-building simulation games, I consider the Railroad Tycoon series to be his best work, and indeed the game has a bit of a cult following among those who grew up in the golden age of simulation games. Thanks to mobile port specialist Feral Interactive, Sid Meier’s Railroads has made its way to smartphones in a modern, touch-friendly format well suited to its largely older millennial fan base.
Tasked with building a railroad company in various historic and fictional settings, Sid Meier’s Railroads was ahead of its time in the 2000s, and still feels incredibly fresh and current today. I played the original on PC as a college student and have been looking forward to putting my more experienced mind to work on the brilliant economics and mechanics of this classic. With that, here’s my review of Sid Meier’s Railroads on mobile.
Sid Meier’s Railroads review: Price and supported devices
Although Sid Meier’s Railroads is still available for PC via Steam and GOG, its relevance today is because of its recent port to iOS and Android. On Android, the game is available for Rs. 399, while it will set you back by Rs. 499 on iOS. The gameplay experience is largely the same on Android and iOS, although I do recommend playing this on a tablet or a phone with a big screen, to be able to easily view and read smaller details.
Compatibility within the iOS and Android ecosystems depends heavily on your device, but most modern iPhone models and Android smartphones from various manufacturers will support the game. Feral Interactive states that certain devices are blocked from installing the game, but if you are able to install it then you will likely have a good experience running the title. It is a 1.7GB download on both platforms. I played Sid Meier’s Railroads on an iPad mini (5th Gen, 2019) (Review) running iPadOS 16.3.
Sid Meier’s Railroads review: Controls
While the original game relied on a mouse and keyboard for controls, the new port for iOS and Android is created for phones with touchscreens. It’s impressive how well this game lends itself to the concept of touch controls in certain aspects, particularly track layouts and construction where you’re able to point and tweak the way you want the track to be laid with precision. Additionally, zooming in and out is a lot easier because of pinch-to-zoom. This solves some of the biggest complaints I had with the original game.
Other aspects of the touch controls do feel a bit finicky at times, especially when it comes to precisely selecting a particular point on the screen, such as a town’s supply and demand statistics, or a track termination to continue construction. This was usually fixed by zooming in to widen the touch zone or get a better view, but this tended to add tedious extra steps to the process.
All of this functions on the assumption that you’re playing the game on a tablet with a reasonably large screen. If you’re on a smartphone, it might become a bit tricky to read the small numbers around the finances and available stocks of various shipments in towns and cities. Zooming in and out will typically make it easier, but there’s already enough going on in a typical game without having to add steps to the process.
Sid Meier’s Railroads review: Gameplay and performance
The core premise of Sid Meier’s Railroads is centred around establishing and running a railroad company, but there’s a lot more to this than just building tracks and choosing engines to run on those tracks. The game relies on a complex system based on demand and supply of various raw materials, finished goods, passengers, and mail, and the key to success is setting up an efficient network that brings supplies to where they are needed.
This obviously means understanding the economy of each map and connecting outlying suppliers of raw materials such as grain, coal, wood, and ore, to the towns and cities which have factories to turn these into finished products such as furniture, steel, and processed food. You’ll gain funds for transporting just the raw materials, but the real profits are in ensuring that the finished goods, too, make it to where the demand is.
In all of this, you can choose to heat things up by adding competing AI players, which not only forces you to lay tracks around existing ones, but also divides up the goods that can be transported. I eventually found that it made more sense to make shorter routes moving passengers and good quickly between three or four locations, rather than longer ones. That said, you’ll sometimes need to run a long route to get goods to the right place, particularly if one of the scenario objectives demands it.
The maps in Sid Meier’s Railroads are an interesting mix of real-world and over-the-top fiction. Real-world maps include various regions of the US and Europe, based on the actual growth of the railroad industries in these places and how it contributed to the success of these economies in the height of the industrial revolution. It also helps that you’ll find the town and city names a bit familiar, which makes planning and navigation a bit easier.
The fictional maps get a bit confusing in this regard, because of their unfamiliar city names. However, they are usually much more challenging because of the geography. You’ll find yourself laying tracks around mountains or cutting through passes to save on the high costs of building bridges or tunnels. Some maps are archipelagos, which means that track-building usually involves expensive bridges across water.
All of this is backed by the brash and often goading commentary of AI players, constantly challenging you during bidding wars, or if you dare to set up a station in a town where they are already present. There’s also a simplified corporate element to all of this; you own stock in your own company, but all players can purchase stock in competing companies with an eye to eventually buying out the competition, and then either merging or liquidating the assets of the competitor. Selling stocks can help you quickly raise money for growth and expansion, but carries its own risks.
There are varying difficulty levels in Sid Meier’s Railroads, essentially setting the costs and other economic factors that will govern your experience in the game. Alternatively, you can make the routing system easier or more difficult – this will affect how trains on the same stretch of track interact with each other. There are no crashes, fortunately, but trains may get held up (sometimes indefinitely) if you have too many routes using the same stretch of track, and don’t upgrade to double — or triple — parallel tracks.
Sid Meier’s Railroads — along with the entire Railroad Tycoon series — was ahead of its time in the early 2000s. The new port by Feral Interactive creates a fairly enjoyable simulation scenario, too, that feels surprisingly relevant for a game that is close to two decades old. What is perhaps most impressive, is how all of this is now playable on a portable, hand-held device such as a smartphone or tablet.
My iPad mini (2019) handled not only the pleasant and busy visuals, but could also keep up with the constant processing and calculations required to keep the economical and scenario-based aspects of the game flowing smoothly. This is an experience on par with many high-level PC and console games, and feels like a steal, especially if you’re a frequent iOS or Android gamer.