In 1992, Maxis published A-Train, a railroad management simulation by Artdink, a developer of some renown in Japan but virtually unknown anywhere else. A-Train was the third episode in Artdink's Take the A-Train series, which dates back to 1986. An earlier installment of the series had been internationally published three years prior to Maxis' A-Train by Seika Corp., under the name of Railroad Empire, with little to no public recognition.
In a goal-oriented approach, your task as a railroad tycoon is to build a trans-continental track that connects New York with California in the US scenario, England with Turkey on the (considerably more challenging) Europe map. With transportation service limited to passengers only and scheduling options minimized, creating smoothly running train lines is comparatively easy - just make sure that trains don't collide on the single-track lines. The main focus is on efficient track building using the A-Train, which you control directly. A limited supply of rails and geographical barriers such as rivers with few pre-constructed bridges make careful planning essential. Optional cargo trains help distributing building materials to the station closest to your A-Train. In a unique feature, days pass in an accelerated real-time day/night cycle, with track-building only possible during daylight and changes to train schedules and switches only allowed at night.
Railroad Empire is an older version of ArtDink's underrated A-Train railroad simulation that was published by Maxis in the U.S. Although two years older than its better-known predecessor (no surprises here, given that it was hardly sold outside Japan despite being a huge local success), ArtDink's excellent economics model and weather effects are unmistakable. As in Sid Meier's best-selling Railroad Tycoon, Railroad Empire lets you start your own railroad empire from scratch in either the U.S. or Europe, although the it is much more simplified as there are only two cargo types: passengers and freight. Also unlike A-Train, the game is purely a railroad management game that will appeal more to engineers than to financial wizards: you cannot speculate or buy any real estate properties, and the stock market is nonexistent.
Anyone who delights in constructing continent-spanning tracks and manage dozens of trains in real-time, and don't mind abstract depictions of tracks and trains, will find the game very enjoyable. Those who want more in-depth management options and a chance to speculate in land and stocks along the way should do well to pass this one up and play A-Train, ArtDink's superior update of this forgotten old game.
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