Kaelin Consulting

Mark W. Kaelin

I have over 25 years of experience in the electronic publishing industry. I was an editor for CBS Interactive for eleven years, where I was responsible for acquiring, editing, and writing technical content for daily publication on CBS Interactive properties TechRepublic.com and ZDNet.com. My duties included the recruitment and development of contributing talent. Prior to CBS Interactive, I was an editor with ProQuest for 12 years, where I developed, designed, edited, and maintained an array of university and business school supplemental curricula products. Before ProQuest, I was a public accountant for five years, specializing in tax preparation and in compilation and review engagements. In addition, I have performed independent consulting services over the last 30 years for various business clients.

What does it take to be a railroad tycoon anyway?

Originally published in February 2000

Name: Railroad Tycoon II – Gold Edition
Genre: Strategy
Format: PC on CD-ROM
Developer: PopTop Software, Inc.
Publisher: Gathering of Developers, Inc.
Multiplayer: Yes
Requires: 133 MHz Pentium CPU, Windows 95/98 or NT 4.0, 64MB RAM, 220 MB hard disk space, 4X CD-ROM, 800 X 600 video card, sound card, 28.8 Kbps modem.
Recommended: 1024 X 768 video card.
Retail Price: $49.99
Street Price: $39.99

I must admit, I have a definite passion for computer strategy games. For my money, the genre engages the mind and feeds the soul like no other. A well-designed strategy game requires the player to contemplate tactics and plan their next move even when they are not actually in front of the computer screen. Finding that one perfect strategy can become an obsession that infiltrates your normal everyday activity like an addictive drug. Come to think of it, addiction is probably the best description of the effect a well-designed strategy game has on a player.

Unfortunately, for the most part, strategy games have been inaccessible to anyone but the core gamer because of their complexity, their subject matter and because of the commitment these games require in terms of time and effort. With Railroad Tycoon II – Gold Edition, however, much of those seemingly inaccessible hurdles have been circumvented. The concept of a railroad tycoon is familiar to almost everyone with the possible exception of the very young. Indeed, it may be argued that the economic concept of supply and demand, central to the railroad tycoon premise, is easily understood by anyone who has ever received an income, even if that income is only an allowance. This baseline of understanding makes Railroad Tycoon II readily accessible to young and old alike, and its excellent design makes the game extraordinarily playable.

The Premise

The premise of Railroad Tycoon II seems simple enough: build a railroad, make money, and become rich and powerful. But the simplicity of the premise is devilishly and delightfully deceiving. Playing the game you will quickly realize that building a railroad that makes money and in turn makes you rich is much easier said than done. Depending on the scenario, players will have to decide what route their railroad will take, which cargo to transport, which destinations will yield the greatest returns, what to build at each station, and which equipment to buy. And these are just the decisions to make before a single train leaves the station.

The user interface in Railroad Tycoon II is elegant and visually stunning. Simple mouse clicks and click and drag operations will have you laying track in no time. Although this ease of use does have a downside. Because it is so easy to get carried away by the ease of laying track, an undisciplined player may find themselves financially strapped. Players must pay special attention to the information provided while performing building functions lest they run out of capital. Lack of capital is a definite tycoon-wannabe no-no.

The scenarios provided in the Gold Edition include not only the scenarios from the original release of Railroad Tycoon II but also scenarios from the 2nd Century expansion pack. In addition, there are twelve new, never-before released, scenarios. The scenarios range from the relatively sublime to the downright impossible. The packaged scenarios encompass the breadth of European and North American railroad development from the early industrial age to the near future. Whether its establishing a connection between Chicago and New York City or completing the transcontinental railroad, players will be challenged with a plethora of logistics decisions.

The economic model that determines how much capital is available and how much capital can be generated by proper railroad management is elegantly straightforward, yet subtly complex and magnificently confounding. Determining which region needs what resources and how best to get them there is a never-ending challenge. This is one of those wonderful strategy games that many can play, but few can master.

The production values for Railroad Tycoon II are tremendous. The user interface is elegant, and the graphics beautifully rendered. As you move across the landscape, sheep bah, cows moo, and industrial production grinds on. The sound of steam engines moving from town-to-town, blowing their whistles and clanging their bells, fills your head with images of nostalgia from a bygone era.

When it comes to music in a strategy game, my personal preference is to turn it off. But not in this game. The music for Railroad Tycoon II is a perfectly appropriate acoustic blues sound track. The music rides in the background, enhancing the game experience and not detracting from what is happening on the screen. This is a rare and welcome combination in any computer game, and a lesson I wish other game developers would take to heart.

During the past year computer and console video games have increasingly been blamed for violence in our society, most specifically teenage violence. I never subscribed to this notion, but have tried to be sensitive to those parents who are legitimately concerned about the impact violence has on their children. Railroad Tycoon II contains no violence, unless you count new reports that one of your trains has been robbed by the James Gang. The game is appropriately rated for everyone by the ESRB system. If you are a parent looking for a good non-violent computer game, I submit that this is it.

Bottom line

When you spend much of your time reviewing and previewing computer games, you tend to get a little jaded. Most of the games you play barely register in your conscious mind and you sort of muddle through. But every once in a great while a game comes along that manages to grab your attention. Railroad Tycoon II – Gold Edition has certainly done just that. You may have noticed the word “elegant” used several times in this review?  That is because “elegant” is the best overall description I can give for this game. If you have never played a strategy game, this is an excellent game to introduce you to the genre. If you have played strategy games before, this game is a must.