My name's Matthew Bath, and I'm a trainspotter. But with Railroad Tycoon II steaming away on my Mac, the lure of a large, fur-lined anorak, Thermos, cucumber sandwiches that mummy made, chunky specs and crumpled notebook has to take second place to the king of all nerd-'em-ups.
Railroad Tycoon II could well be a sleeper hit of the year. It offers game play akin to SimCity 2000 and Civilization II, but lets you build and maintain a complex railroad that spans both continents and centuries.
Starting off with the first railroads in the UK and US, you lay track, build stations, go loco buying trains, woo passengers, lug goods and play the stock market – in fact, everything but toot your train whistle. As time chugs by, new trains to buy and industries to supply spring up, matching historic developments and events.
Graphically, Railroad Tycoon II is on track for best- looking strategy game of 1999. Fantastically detailed graphics let you zoom down from country to station level, and, even from afar you can see your trains scurry about, complete with trailing smoke.
The play area too benefits from lavish attention to detail – you get to build in scaled maps of most major countries with town names, and developments realistically handled. Even the choo-choos are well designed, with mini-carriages that rumble along after the main engine. Get further into the game, and the entire map is a hive of development, transport and competition.
This isn’t just an overgrown train set, there’s a virtual world in there. Stock-market gambling, mergers, computer and human competitors (you can play over a LAN or over the Internet, but only Mac to Mac). Real-estate purchase and development all add pressure to your business and the small fact you need to deliver a dividend to your shareholders.
Add in a steamy mix of 18 scenarios that take you through the development of the railroad, a cracking map editor and the ability to download thousands of maps from the Internet, and you have a game that could well last longer than a Virgin Trains London-to-Manchester journey.