Railroad Tycoon Setting Up: After the opening credits have ended, select your geographic location; each offers tests of your skill with perhaps Europe containing the most economic complexities. Next select Tycoon level for the greatest challenge and fun. Then choose a complex economy and cutthroat competition. Last you must decide whether or not you enjoy playing traffic cop. Railroad Tycoons have divided into two camps: purists who think Dispatcher Operation is actually entertaining, and those of us who believe life is too short for worrying about train collisions. This column will unabashedly favor the later bias. (However, for those of you who have never tried Dispatcher Operation it is well worth one or two sessions. There's a theory advocating that Dispatcher Operation was the inspiration for Lemmings.) Copy Protection Blues and PICTs.: I absolutely object to being punished for buying a game. I find copy protection schemes annoying, inconvenient, and insulting: I don't steal software and don't give copies to friends. When I'm on the road with my Powerbook I never carry manuals and am infuriated when presented with a "check such-and-such stupid code on page twenty-eight before the game you purchased graciously allows itself to be played." That said, there is a fairly easy work-around for Railroad Tycoon's protection: using ResEdit and a paint application, copy the train PICTs out of the RT Open Data file, create new PICTs with the train names emblazoned across their boilers, and paste your new PICTs back into RT Open Data. Now when asked for an engine's name you'll be able to read it right on the screen. Your First Line: Your first terminal is important: find a level area between two cities and lay a straight, short line between the two. It is more important to make the line short than to link two huge cities: simply find one large city and an adjacent serviceable city, make sure your elevation remains flat, and try to build a track no longer than twelve squares. You'll depend on this section of track for speed throughout the game. Named trains are extremely valuable: use this short, fast section to make speed records and to quickly build revenue. Profit vs. Service: Since the game so cruelly imposes a 32 train and station limit, a player must maximize his or her resources: some players prefer a line which services every available cargo and others go for cash, ignoring the less profitable cargoes. Either method is exciting and challenging, though money is the most quantifiable measure of success in the game. Profit: Building revenue depends on passengers and mail. Find large cities and always build terminals - which help to promote growth - and make sure to pick up each and every passenger. Almost every station's restaurant will pay for itself in four to six years, after which you'll be pulling in direct profits for a negligible increase in maintenance. Post offices are even more lucrative, and hotels, while slow to appreciate, do also bring in profits. A profitable train line will undoubtedly focus on passenger and mail revenues. Company Stock: Another way to increase net worth and stock profits, while leaving cash flow unaffected, is to buy your own stock. In all conditions it serves a player to do so: buying one's own stock defends against hostile takeovers and almost always pays off with profits. It also serves as a bit of a war chest if a player can afford to sell his or her own stock in times of need. Net Worth: Profits and net worth will increase for each industry a player builds. When a railroad becomes prosperous and is no longer struggling to stake out territory, players can promote growth in cities by building industries. Each industry becomes a static bonus to your net worth and also (for those players concentrating on service) affords more cargo opportunities. Priority Shipments: The annual cost of maintaining an engine runs from $8,000 to $18,000: the bonus from one timely delivery of a priority shipment can run as high as $500,000. Do the math - making priority shipments a priority will more than justify the cost of a train devoted entirely to such tasks. In fact, depending on the bonus, building a new, direct track may be justified as well. Speed and Signal Towers: Learn the designations of trains. Use the limited, express, through, and local classifications to build a fast line. Signal towers will substantially increase speeds as well. Focusing on passengers and mail will decrease overall loading times and will allow trains to run faster. Bulk freight will slow an entire line down: depending on the profits from such cargo, a player may wish to build parallel lines to accommodate slower cargoes. Double tracking is also vital, despite the harsh maintenance costs. Ultimately speed will determine how profitable a railroad is, how well it delivers priority shipments, and how effectively a player makes use out of the 32 stations and trains the game imposes on your railroad. Service and Complex Cargoes: Making sure a city receives the cargo it will buy significantly promotes growth. It is not enough to build an exclusive passenger line. Build short adjunctive lines from industrial centers into cities, and build industries to support the development of such resources: e.g., steel mills, factories, etc. It is wise to check whether or not such industries can be built in any given area before building a station. Such checks may determine the exact placements of stations. Food and wine cargoes, while barely profitable, will markedly encourage a city's growth. If one industrial center can service two or more cities it will allow a player to devote the least amount of resources to it. The Competition: Building a profitable railroad is challenge enough, but the game achieves a new level of excitement with J.P. Morgan trying to conquer the same territories. A number of tactics will help defend and attack against the competition but all of them require cash. A large portion of your profits will be consumed in the battles of board rooms and in the war to conquer the world. If an opponent begins to buy your railroad's stock, either buy your own stock to achieve a majority share or reset the game to friendly competition for a few years. Owning your own stock is always recommended. Switching to friendly competition though, while unsportsmanlike, will prevent a hostile takeover - which is the most frustrating way to lose the game by far. (Experience is speaking here.) Rate War Threats & Victories: The fool-proof way to avoid a rate war is to build a track around a threatened station like so: Since competitors can't cross your rails, rate wars are no longer an issue. Occasionally (or often depending on a player's aggressive tendencies) a rate war may be initiated to take over a particular city. The key to winning a rate war is trains. Many trains. Build a station as close as possible to the rate war city (seven squares) and build an engine shop there. Then build as many trains as it takes to absolutely flood the city with your engines - but don't forget to make deliveries from your other cities and also consider building a secondary station nearby to bring in freight cargoes. Also do not forget to double track to the city in conflict. Once the city has been taken and an opponent moves out, these superfluous stations may be destroyed and their trains either scrapped or rerouted. The Stock Market: Making a profit in Railroad Tycoon's stock market is nearly impossible. Competitors tend to buy their own stock when it is low and the broker's 10% prevents any easy, short-term cashing in of stock. To truly make a profit, one must be patient, buy when a railroad is in its infancy and sell when the stock grows. This helps occasionally with cash flow, but doesn't provide much revenue compared to other methods and requires a great deal of time. The real value of the stock market lies in the opportunity to take over other railroads. In the early stages of the game, allow a competitor (you won't have any choice) to prosper. Buy your own stock to prevent any surprises and keep an eye on cash heavy railroads. Then, when you've cash enough to support yourself, make a run on an opponent's stock. Don't mess around: either commit to taking over another railroad or don't bother even calling the broker. Take out as many bonds as it will require to conquer the target railroad - don't worry about interest or debt: they will be taken care of as soon as control is achieved. Buy the competitor's stock as fast as possible, ignore the price, and without fail take it over. When you've achieved ownership, don't bother with trying to make the line profitable: suck it dry for cash. The game will allow a player to take $100,000 from a controlled railroad for as long as it exists, regardless of its actual cash and debt load. A railroad which cost $2,000,000 to takeover can provide $8,000,000 to $12,000,000 dollars from cash raids which more than pays for itself and the bonds necessary to win control. Here lies the way to win the game: seize control of a railroad as soon as possible in the game, bleed it dry for four years, and unload its stock before it goes bankrupt. Your once formidable competitor will drown in debt once you release control and will within two or four years be dissolved - freeing up virgin territories for your line. The windfall cash from the takeover will allow you to buy other railroads or to build so quickly that you'll soon outstrip the competition. Record Keeping: Those bi-annual reports pop up for a reason: learn to use their data. Graph the various revenues your railroad generates and, if a certain type of cargo can't justify itself, discontinue carrying it. Ending each year with more cash than the previous will help your stock to increase and replacing trains will keep maintenance costs down. Watch these balance sheets. Also learn to interpret the efficiency charts. Since the Earth cannot maintain more than 32 trains, try to build the most efficient line possible. Minimize empty travel. Cheating: In a game where cash is everything it seems almost pointless to cheat; nonetheless, to receive $500,000 gratis click in the world view window (so that it becomes active) and type a $ [shift 4]). Now the game becomes an exercise in building the most efficient railroad possible.