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Railroad Tycoon 3

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Railroad Tycoon 3, an expansive new strategy game by MacSoft, puts you in the shoes of a fledgling railroad entrepreneur. Your job is to become profitable by laying track, building stations, buying locomotives, and doing whatever you can to add to the bottom line. To succeed, you’ll need a good deal of cunning, business savvy, and foresight. Strategy-game fans won’t want to miss this one.

Laying track can be quite an engineering challenge: Costs will increase if you must grade your track through hilly or mountainous terrain or build bridges over rivers. You also have to match the engine to the track. Certain vehicles may be great for short trips between neighboring cities, but you’ll want to pick a long-haul train for cargo runs between distant points. And if you don’t build enough service buildings and towers along the way, your trains will break down and you’ll lose money and time fixing them.

If you make a simple mistake while laying your track, you can undo it pretty easily. But be sure to pause the game first. If something else pops up on screen before you’re able to undo your mistake—a collision alert, for example—you’ll be stuck with your bad decision, which will then be costly to repair.

Just building a railroad network would be enough to challenge many players. But there’s much more to this deep strategy game. You’ll also have to consider the principles of supply and demand. Building a rail line between points A and B is one step in the process—but what if no one cares? To help you understand the market, Railroad Tycoon 3 offers map overlays that show you which areas offer particular goods and supplies, and which areas need them. Passengers may want to travel from Boston to New York, while a spurt of new population growth may require the transport of more lumber from Manchester, New Hampshire, to Worcester, Massachusetts. Nacogdoches, Texas, has oil, and Fort Worth has oil refineries. In this game, the devil is in the details.

And that’s not all. As a railroad tycoon, you have interests that extend well beyond track and engines. The financial world is your oyster. You can issue stock in your company, pay your shareholders dividends to drive up demand (if your company is profitable, that is), issue bonds to finance your company’s growth, and even attempt mergers with competitors.

You also can use your company’s cash to invest in nonrailroad ventures. Have a line that services a busy hub city? Build a hotel, restaurant, and tavern for weary travelers. If you have the cash, you can acquire or create profitable businesses such as mills, refineries, car manufacturers, and distilleries.

Railroad Tycoon 3 features a series of single-player campaigns that you must complete in order to win—for example, hauling 30 cars’ worth of coffee from Mexico to Texas. Along the way, you’ll periodically receive a newspaper that can help you get a leg up on new technology or learn about new needs your company can serve. The missions get progressively more difficult as you go. And the challenges take on a wider scope. You’ll move from the United States to Europe, to the rest of the world, and then to a short series of futuristic missions—such as building a rail system for the island of California, after seismic activity has broken it away from the mainland.

The game also offers a series of separate challenges for players who want a break from the single-player campaigns. For example, you may have to link the major cities of the British Isles by rail at the dawn of the industrial revolution, or develop a railway system that connects a newly reunified Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. All of the scenarios offer gobs and gobs of added challenge.

If the game’s economic focus sounds more like a chore to you, don’t worry. Railroad Tycoon also offers a Sandbox mode, which lets you focus on building without worrying about the pesky laws of supply and demand or how much money is in your company’s coffers. This mode was perfect for my four-year-old son, an avid train enthusiast, who just wanted to build tracks and watch the diesel engines run. The game also includes an editor that lets you design your own maps.

Railroad Tycoon 3 supports online competition with other Mac players through the GameRanger service. Alas, you won’t be able to compete against Windows players—the PC version relies on DirectPlay, a Windows-only technology.

The game’s graphics are terrific, with beautiful detail in locomotives, cars, and environments. Its 3-D-graphics engine lets you zoom in from a satellite view of the terrain to an up-close look at your locomotives in motion. This is great for situational awareness: you can instantly check on how your lines and your competitors’ lines are doing. (For best results, I recommend using a multibutton mouse with a scroll wheel.)

Sound effects are also top-notch. Each locomotive has a distinctive whistle. And when you zoom in on a particular location and pan around, you’ll hear the sounds of people, livestock, and goods moving about. The music soundtrack is good—especially if you like the bluegrass and country strains traditionally associated with railroading. However, it gets repetitive after a while and is jarringly out of place in non-United States scenarios. Thankfully, you can turn it off.

The game requires a 400MHz or better Mac running OS X 10.2 or later.

The Bottom Line Railroad Tycoon 3 is unquestionably the best of the Tycoon series. I wholeheartedly recommend it to strategy fans.

Build a thriving railroad empire while bankrupting your competition in Railroad Tycoon 3.
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