Railway builder/strategy games appear some of the most boring games known to man, but for anyone who has put in the hours needed to learn all the systems, they will all tell you what a truly enjoyable balance of creativity, strategy and economics they can provide.
Sadly several of the classics of the genre no longer work on modern systems without modification so they will be excluded, such as my first foray into the genre Railroad Tycoon II, as a teen I played that game for hundreds of hours. Still, today I recall my time spent fondly.
The genre itself is in contraction, with only one serious modern entry on this list, I hope the success of Railway Empire will spur on the return/remaster of other games from the genre such as Railroad Tycoon.
Without further delay, let’s begin our countdown of the top 3 Railroad management games.!
3) Railroad Pioneer.
Railroad Pioneer is the oldest of the three and the closest to Railroad Tycoon II ascetically, and while for those of us with fond memories of Railroad Tycoon that is a good thing, even the most ardent fan of the franchise will admit they were far from the prettiest games even back when originally released.
While the selection of trains and goods is not as large as the rest of this list, it offers some nice mechanics such as training requiring time to be constructed, providing the ability to upgrade individual train models and finally the exploration/fog of war system, giving a true “frontier” feel to the title, something no other game on this list offers.
I find the low-quality models/textures and dated UI deal-breakers, as good as it is mechanically I just can’t get into it.
Railroad Pioneer feels very much like a game from 2003, and after playing newer titles in the genre, I have become used to the quality of life features they provide, I feel if the title received a remaster it would do very well, as it does offer additional layers of strategy and danger found nowhere else in the genre.
Railroad Pioneer is a very solid game for those seeking some nostalgia, or on a low budget, but I would not recommend it in 2020.
2) Sid Meiers Railroad.
Sid Meier’s Railroad is my favourite game in the genre, with easy to pick up gameplay, variable difficulty levels, a wide selection of trains and goods, a decent selection of maps, and fairly aggressive AI, each time you start up a game, you are sure to have a good time… mostly.
Sid Meier’s Railroad launched at a time when the 32-bit era was dying.
Yet, 32-bit still was the norm for titles released in that era (2006-2007), the limit of 2GB memory hurts its badly, I have never seen a game crash as often as Sid Meier’s Railroad, I usually have to reload autosaves 3-4 times per game.
Admittedly there is a modification you can perform to allow it 4GB ram, but for many, that modifying files with a hex editor is a daunting prospect and an average gamer may not feel comfortable messing with their files that way.
I would love to see a re-release of Sid Meier’s Railroad and upgrade to 64bit client, I wouldn’t even worry about a graphical overhaul, as graphically it’s aged very well, and I never find myself distracted by the 13+-year-old graphics.
Its one of the few game si have purchased multiple times, DVD copy, a long lost DRM free copy from a now-closed vendor and finally my Steam copy which I play to this day.
1) Railway Empire.
Railway Empire is the best game on this list. It suffers very few crashes, is consistently updated, still receives new free and paid DLC, works on all modern systems, looks stunning, and offers a level of complexity that older Railway Tycoon games could only dream of.
However that complexity is a two-edged sword, I love it and feel any serious railway enthusiasts would enjoy playing with signals, warehousing, and track routing, but for a new player to the genre, it looks daunting and honestly dull.
The default setting should be the more traditional railroad tycoon system of routing, with a clear option to enable the realistic mode for those of us who wish a deeper and more authentic experience, as a new or young player may it difficult to perfectly plan out their railways, leading to constant bankruptcies and failed objectives.
It suffers from lacking an easier to access tutorial outside of the campaign mode, as jumping into a scenario blind, a new player would feel lost at best, disheartened at worst.
Graphically, Railway Empire offers a massive amount of very diverse locations, from the green hills of England to the burning deserts of the America West, each locale looks fantastic and provides its own set of goods and challenges that suit the era and location, being ankle to experience your train journey in first person is a real treat.
I often find myself just enjoying the scenery as I trundle along!
So much to do!
Mechanically, there is a lot to do, from hiring agents to spy and sabotage your rivals, to recruiting a strong and compatible team of staff to keep each train running smoothly.
Research and the maintenance buildings are a great addition to the genre, with maintenance sheds and supply depots adding a nice immersion factor to the game, steam trains need water and fuel to keep going, and If you forget to put a supply depot on a line, your train will grind to a crawl and your service and reputation with the towns along the route will suffer, if the supply problems persist too long, you may find yourself responsibly for a shrinking town or industry.
The investment side of the game is far more impressive than older games in the genre, with multiple investment opportunities such as a basic stock market for goods and commodities, as well as the ability to own rural business such as farms, mills and mines.
Railway Empire is currently the Railway themed game I am putting hours into, and I will admit it is the best the genre has to offer, but for me, it falls short of being the charming all-consuming experience Sid Meiers Railroad was.
Whichever game you choose to fulfil your railway tycoon experience you will get tremendous value for money, they are games I come back to again and again due to their challenge and simplistic charm, who didn’t dream of driving a train as a child?