Right on track

With Jerusalem's light rail due to open in two years, digging for the the Dan Region's Petah Tikva-to-Bat Yam line to begin this summer, it's a good time to play this greatest-ever railroad building game.

railroad disk 88 (photo credit: )
railroad disk 88
(photo credit: )
Sid Meier's Railroads!, a DVD-ROM in English by Firaxis, distributed by Hed Artzi Multimedia without a Hebrew-language user's manual, requires Windows XP and a 1.4 ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, ages 10 through adult, NIS 200. Rating: ***** With Jerusalem's light rail due to open in two years, digging for the the Dan Region's Petah Tikva-to-Bat Yam line to begin this summer and work on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv high-speed railway proceeding apace, it's a good time to play this greatest-ever railroad building game. Maybe it will even inspire the Transportation and National Infrastructure ministries and the mayors to speed things up. Sid Meier, the brain behind the Civilization empire building video game series and the three Railroad Tycoon strategy games (the first of which appeared 17 years ago and the third of which was reviewed here in 2004), has done it again with this one, which can best be described as "Railroad Tycoon lite." The disk makes it possible for train fanatics (you don't have to be obsessed, but it helps) to plan and construct railways, tunnels and depots and participate in scenarios without the heavy baggage of economics. You observe a budget, set up industries in various towns and cities, establish rail links between them and buy and sell stocks - but you don't have concentrate your efforts on the minutiae of running a railroad and being a ruthless transportation entrepreneur like J. Pierpoint Morgan or Cornelius Vanderbilt. The game begins with the animation of a young man working on his miniature train set that turns into a life-sized rail network as he morphs into an older, distinguished-looking railroad entrepreneur. Begin your career with a five-minute tutorial, which teaches you how to lay your first tracks in pristine territory and set up stations along the rail line. If you choose to run the train inside an 19th-century city such as Baltimore or Washington, the existing buildings just melt away to allow you to lay the track and then reappear alongside it. Just click at one spot and drag the cursor along to the point where you want it to end: When you plan them over bodies of water, bridges automatically sprout above them. There are 15 different fictional and historical scenarios, with the former including imaginary islands or endless flat plains and the latter based in the American Northeast, Northwest and Southwest, as well as France, England and Germany. There are more than 20 types of goods to produce and market and 30 different types of historically accurate trains, from the primitive "firehorses" of the mid-19th century to Japanese-type bullet trains of the 21st; you can design your own logos for them. The minimum age given on the box is three, but this just informs buyers that there is no violence; a preschooler will certainly not be able to play this game, except maybe to toot a horn. There is no Hebrew-language user's manual, so some English proficiency is necessary to understand the instructions, but even those not so fluent will be able to get the hang of it after a while. Enjoy viewing the intricately detailed 3-D scenes and listening to old American classical tunes and train whistles as you proceed from setting up your first line. Natural resources and sites such as farms, grazing land for cattle, oil wells, forests and coal mines provide the momentum for building new railway lines, as goods, mail and people have to be transported from one location to another. Meier's passion for civilization-building shows up in this game as well, since as your transport and industrial empires grow, so do the interconnected cities. The same scenarios can be played alone (single player) against the computer and with even more of a challenge in the multiplayer mode against up to four players on a local area network or the Internet; the multiplayer has extra options, such as map editing. Clickable icons for both modes are simple and intuitive, but the high-quality graphics - with rolling waves in the seas and trees blowing in the wind - demand a very high-powered computer to play it. With so many options, models, scenarios and scenes, Railroads' replay value is very high, and it isn't likely to bore those who may lack the passion for trains but still love micromanagement/simulation games.