Originally released in 2006, Sid Meier’s Railroads was the fourth and final installment in the Railroad Tycoon series and set high standards for the ‘Tycoon’ game genre. While Sid Meier may be best 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 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 come to smartphones in a modern, easy-to-play format suitable for its largely older millennial fan base.
Tasked with building a railroad company in various historical and fictional settings, Sid Meier’s Railroads was ahead of its time in the 2000s and still looks incredibly fresh and current today. I played the original on PC as a college student and I’m looking forward to putting my savvy mind to work on this classic’s brilliant economy and mechanics. With that said, here’s my review of Sid Meier’s Railways on Mobile.
Sid Meier’s Railroads Review: Pricing and Supported Devices
While 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 cost Rs. 499 on iOS. The gaming experience is pretty much the same on Android as it is on iOS, although I recommend playing on a tablet or phone with a large screen so you can easily view and read smaller details.
Compatibility in the iOS and Android ecosystems largely depends on your device, but most modern iPhone models and Android smartphones from various manufacturers support the game. Feral Interactive claims that certain devices are blocked from installing the game, but if you manage to install it, you will likely have a good experience running the title. It’s a 1.7GB download on both platforms. I played Sid Meier’s Railroads on an iPad mini (5th generation, 2019) (review) running iPadOS 16.3.
Sid Meier’s Railroad Review: Controls
While the original game relied on mouse and keyboard for controls, the new port for iOS and Android was created for phones with touchscreens. It’s impressive how well this game lends itself to the concept of touch controls in certain respects, particularly track and construction layouts where you’re able to precisely aim and adjust the way you want the track to be placed. Also, zooming in and out is much easier due to pinch-to-zoom. This resolves some of the biggest complaints I had with the original game.
Other aspects of the touch controls feel a little finicky at times, especially when it comes to precisely selecting a specific point on the screen, like a city’s supply and demand statistics or the completion of a road to continue construction. This was usually fixed by zooming in to enlarge the touch zone or get a better view, but this tended to add tedious extra steps to the process.
This all works on the assumption that you’re playing on a tablet with a reasonably large screen. If you’re on a smartphone, it can be a little tricky to read the tiny numbers on the finances and available stocks of various shipments in towns and cities. Zooming in and out generally makes it easier, but there’s enough in a typical game without having to add steps to the process.
Sid Meier’s Railroads Review: Gameplay and Performance
The central premise of Sid Meier’s Railroads centers around establishing and running a railroad company, but there’s much more to it than just building tracks and choosing engines to run those tracks. The game features a complex system based on the demand and supply of various raw materials, finished products, passengers and mail, and the key to success is establishing an efficient network that gets supplies to where they are needed.
Of course, this means understanding the economy of each map and connecting distant suppliers of raw materials such as grain, coal, timber and ore to the towns and cities that have factories to transform them into finished products such as furniture, steel and processed foods. You’ll earn funds for transporting just the raw materials, but the real profits are in making sure the finished products also get 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 place rails around existing ones, but also divides up the goods that can be transported. I eventually found that it made more sense to take shorter routes, carrying passengers and going quickly between three or four locations, rather than longer routes. That said, sometimes you’ll need to travel a long route to get the goods to the right place, especially if one of the scenario’s objectives requires it.
The maps in Sid Meier’s Railroads are an interesting blend of real-world and exaggerated fiction. The real-world maps include various US and European regions, based on the actual growth of the rail industries in these places and how this contributed to the success of these economies at the height of the industrial revolution. It also helps that you’ll find the city names a little familiar, which makes planning and navigating a little easier.
The fictional maps are a bit confusing in this regard, because of their unfamiliar city names. However, they are usually much more challenging because of geography. You’ll find yourself laying trails around mountains or cutting passes to save on the high costs of building bridges or tunnels. Some maps are archipelagoes, which means that trail building often involves expensive bridges across water.
This is all backed up by the fiery and often inciting feedback from AI players, constantly challenging you during bidding wars or if you dare set up a station in a city where they already have a presence. There’s also a streamlined corporate element to all of this; you own stock in your own company, but all players can buy stock in competing companies with the aim of eventually buying out the competition and then merging or liquidating the competitor’s assets. Selling shares can help you raise money quickly for growth and expansion, but it comes with its own risks.
There are several levels of difficulty in Sid Meier’s Railroads, essentially defining the costs and other economic factors that will govern your experience in the game. Alternatively, you can make the routing system easier or harder – this will affect how trains on the same section of track interact with each other. Fortunately, there are no accidents, but trains can be stalled (sometimes indefinitely) if you have too many routes using the same stretch of track and you 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. Feral Interactive’s new version also creates a rather nice simulation setting, which feels surprisingly relevant for a game that’s nearly two decades old. What’s perhaps most impressive is how all of this can now be played back on a portable device such as a smartphone or tablet.
My iPad mini (2019) not only handled the nice, busy visuals, but also managed to keep up with the constant processing and calculations required to keep the economics and scenario-based aspects of the game flowing smoothly. This is an experience comparable to many high-end PC and console games, and feels like a steal, especially if you’re a frequent iOS or Android gamer.