Like most games bearing his name, Sid Meier’s Railroads! is wonderfully simple to learn, but extraordinarily difficult to master. There’s no canned storyline to follow, just seven scenarios that plant you in Germany, France, Great Britain, or different regions of the United States, and start you off with a single terminal in a random town. Hover over it, and icons representing the goods supplied and demanded by the local populace appear, helping you connect neighboring towns for travel and mail delivery, send rails out to annexes for food and fossil fuels, and buy up local industries like automobile plants and paper mills to expand your influence.
For all the complexity of business, most time is spent laying track and defining routes for your growing fleet of engines to traverse in pursuit of random delivery quests and the highest payouts. The elegant interface grants easy access to everything, from profitability and maintenance reports to market prices on materials and the effects of efficiency-boosting patents. There are, however, some maddening artificial limits, like the requirement that you manually connect every last inch of your track in one vast contiguous web.
Long-time supporters of the genre will be sorely disappointed if they expect a sequel to Railroad Tycoon 3. All the corporate raiding aspects have been whittled to a nub, and while setting down rails means simply clicking and dragging across surprisingly small maps, you too often wind up at the mercy of some dreadfully poor path-finding issues that send trains into commerce-killing deadlocks despite the obvious presence of alternate routes mere pixels away. Crash bugs and obvious money-generating exploits likewise mar an otherwise engaging multiplayer experience, while odd graphics glitches such as flickering foliage disrupt the admirably detailed presentation. Hopefully a patch will fix these issues.
Despite its irritating bugs and AI fumbling, Railroads! still manages to be enormously addictive, deep, and endlessly replayable. If you give yourself enough time to accommodate its quirks, you’ll find the hours tick by with disturbing speed, even if you’ll occasionally wonder why you put up with the amateurish anomalies.