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Videogame: Railroad Tycoon

Railroad Tycoon is a series of games simulating the operation of railroads/railways. The original game was created by Sid Meier at MicroProse and released in 1990. Two sequels were created by other developers in 1998 and 2003 respectively, before Meier returned for a fourth installment Sid Meier's Railroads in 2006.

The original Tycoon game and the one that helped to popularize the Business Sim genre. The game was very well received when it first appeared in 1990 since it captured some of the real life challenge and competition of running a large rail company. It was also a classic example of being better than it sounded, drawing in players who weren't the slightest bit interested in trains, or the stock market, or 19th century history.

Tropes present in this series:

  • Anachronism Stew: A minor but still noticeable case in Tycoon 2. While train cars will change appearance through different eras, the world map does not, and thus a meat packing plant or a steel mill will look the same in 1855 as in 2055. Additionally, managers are not confined to specific eras, so in the 1800s you could potentially hire a manager that gives discounts on diesel or electrical expenses, things that do not even exist yet.
  • An Entrepreneur Is You: Start with 1,000,000 units of your local money, an empty region of a country, and cities demanding goods. Goal: Provide the best service, make money, defeat rivals.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 1 halfway to Class 2 in Tycoon 2. No, really. Twenty Minutes into the Future, the Strait of Gibralter is damned and a power plant that uses geothermal energy is built in Spain while the drained Mediterranean Sea becomes free land for European development. However, protesters and activists bomb the plant, and the resulting eruption of greenhouse gases causes world sea levels to rise rapidly. In the chaos, North America descends into anarchy, Africa becomes an island and a haven for displaced civilians, the Mediterranean re-fills as Europe is flooded out, and Antarctica melts and is settled.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The AI in Tycoon 2 is generally competent, but sometimes they start their company between two mediocre cities in mountainous terrain with track so convoluted that their trains can do no better than crawl. This, naturally, leads to a stunted and minimally profitable railway that you can easily outcompete.
  • Awesome, but Impractical:
    • The MagLev in Tycoon 2 is rated as having a top speed of 280 miles per hour, but it costs a boatload of money to buy and maintain and performs very badly on grades. It's pretty much only useful on high-value passenger runs between large cities on flat ground.
    • In the same game, any industry that requires Steel. Steel is only produced from a steel mill, and need coal and iron to do so, two resources you will never find close together near a major town, and thus the cost of the two or three trains needed to produce and move the Steel around will likely outweigh the profits you make doing so. In later missions some industries switch to Aluminum for their production, and the only industries that still accept Steel are Tool and Die Factories and Automobile Factories, the latter of which needs another resource, Tires, to produce cargo, and Tires in turn need Rubber. Good luck finding any profitable and practical route with all these factories and resources in close proximity.
    • In three you can build suspension bridges across really long distances such as the Great Lakes or construct tunnels through the entire length of a mountain chain.
  • Beyond the Impossible: In Tycoon 2, pushing up the throttle on trains, especially if they're older engines and/or have poor reliability, can result in the chance of it having a breakdown going over 100%. Somehow though this does not mean they instantly break down, they keep running.
  • Bland-Name Product: A few trains in the third game appear with names changed from their real-life counterparts. The AMD 103 Genesis becomes "USA 103" and the SD90MAC becomes "NA-90D". The "unofficial" 1.06 patch includes the proper names for these 2 locomotives as part of its changes.
    • And then some are entirely made up, like the MagLev in Railroad Tycoon 2.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: Tycoon 2 introduces the People Against Humanity (PAH) in the Second Century expansion, protestors against the development of the dammed Mediterranean and the development of the Geocore plant. They eventually bomb the plant, the resulting global warming causing a Class 1/2 Apocalypse How.
  • Boring, but Practical:
    • Want to climb that wall of mountains to get at the mines you see just out of your reach? In Tycoon 2, the 3-Truck Shay has a horrible top speed but is one of the best steep-grade haulers in the game (definitely the best among steam engines) and is rather cheap to boot.
    • In the same game, industry investments. For a few thousand bucks, capping at a million for the really profitable industries, you get a cut of the profits if that industry supplies any trains. The more trains supplied, the more money made. Production facilities like mines and farms can earn you tens of thousands a year for an initial investment of only a few thousand to buy them, if you happen to be running trains to them over and over.
  • Cap: 30,000,000 money units in the original game.
  • Captain Ersatz: Second Century in Tycoon 2 includes a mission where you're contacted by a small Redmond software company called "Macrosponge" who want a connection for their workers. Depending on your success in the mission, the ending message of congratulations will comment that their CEO gives you a few thousand shares as thanks, but the narration snarks "like those will be worthy anything".
  • Cattle Baron: The player can build (in the original game) or buy (in Tycoon 2) local industries to make two sets of money. In 3, both are possible.
  • Command And Conquer Economy: Specially averted in the third installment; not only there are other rival companies building their own transport networks as in the previous two, but the game itself implements an alternative method; unpicked goods and materials are gradually moved from their production sites to the places where they are needed, following a supply and demand logic and price curves. Depending on the relative locations it can be inefficient or actually capable to feed the industries on it's own, as the cargo moves slowly inland and even more in mountain terrain but faster via rivers and other bodies of water.
  • Competitive Balance: In 2, this is achieved for all trains via their speed versus the cars they're hauling and their grade performance. Trains get exponentially slower the more cars you attach and the steeper the grade they struggle with, but attaching less cars means less profit. Thus any train can be a Fragile Speedster that moves fast between stations but makes little profit for having only a couple cars, or a Mighty Glacier with a full load and high profits but sluggish speed. Naturally if you plan your routes properly and choose trains suited to the route though, you can still make any train a Lightning Bruiser, moving between stations quickly and still being highly profitable.
  • The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Specifically My Rules Are Not Your Rules; in the original game the AI can build track in ways the player cannot, like several bridges along a river, or up to eight tracks coming out of a station.
    • By the time it gets to Railroad Tycoon 2, things are much more even, though the computer players still seem to be able to afford things that the human player cannot (like stock in the human player's company). And if you buy out an opponent's company, you're going to find yourself wondering how their steam engines managed to run properly for years when none of their stations have roundhouses or water towers, which are vital for steam engines to run smoothly for more than a year.
  • Cool Train: Guess.
    • From Railroad Tycoon 2, for instance:
      • Many of the older classic steam engines, like the 4-4-0 American or the 2-8-0 Consolidation.
      • Several of the late-game electric "bullet train" models, culminating in the futuristic MagLev, rated as having "instant" acceleration and a top speed of 280 miles per hour.
  • Copy Protection
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: You! The player can engage in activities such as running trusts or insider trading, and make shady deals with dubious figures to get a leg up on competitors.
    • Try this in Tycoon 2 - use a majority sharehold of a rival company to elect yourself chairman, sell off or destroy all their trains, railroad and industry investments, then re-elect yourself chairman of your original company and buy out the rival company for a bargain price (again using your majority sharehold to ensure the buy-out goes through) since their stock price will have plummeted as a result of losing all their assets. You'll not only get your rival out of the way but the profit other players would have made off a "normal" merger is reduced to pennies since at the time of the merger the stock price was so low.
    • Here is a route if you're trying to improve your personal net worth. Acquire a 50+1% share of your main company which gives you full ownership and neutralizes the company board of directors. Resign your chairmanship and found a new company which you also control the majority of shares (which doesn't need to have any tangible assets). Re-take the chairmanship of your original company then buy out the new company for maximum share price (if you want you can take out bonds to increase your first company's cash on hand to afford an even higher price per share). Your board of directors will be furious with you for treating the company like an ATM but there is nothing they can do about it since you hold majority ownership. In real life this would result in lawsuits and possibly jail time.
    • A few maps have the objective of being the only railroad in operation, encouraging this sort of play to drive the competition into the ground as ruthlessly as possible.
    • The last few missions of the Second Century campaign in Tycoon 2 have you as this trope in the storyline. Sure the world is flooding, anarchy is rampant, and food is in short supply. That just means a cunning railroad baron can make a killing supplying the people in their time of greatest need! The narrator even says on one such mission "in chaos lies profit".
  • Divided States of America: The flooded United States scenario in the Second Century campaing in Tycoon 2 is somewhere between this and Fallen States of America. Flooding is bad enough that the entire Mississippi valley is gone, along with most of the major cities. The government has collapsed into several successor states, while everything west of Omaha is anarchic wasteland.
  • Disc One Nuke: Several maps include deals to get you early access to higher-tier engines than what will be available by default.
  • Expansion Pack:
    • The Gold and Platinum editions of Railroad Tycoon 2 add the Second Century campaign, a harder second harder campaign, and also adds a bunch of new maps.
    • Railroad Tycoon 3: Coast to Coast adds maps such as Ireland, Spain, Western Russia, Eastern China, and the whole continental USA.
  • Explosive Overclocking: in 2, Pushing a train's throttle setting above 85% (represented by a red zone on the throttle gauge) drastically increases the risk of a breakdown. At 100%, that risk is quadrupled! New trains can handle 100% fine, but don't try to push it with any trains that are over a year or two old.
    • Averted in the original Railroad Tycoon and in 3, where no throttles are present.
  • Fake Difficulty: Some missions in 2's "Second Century" expansion have the objective for the company to have an average lifetime speed of all trains of a particular speed. The problem is that such scenarios give you access to diesel trains which cannot hope to achieve such speeds regularly, forcing you to instead use electric trains, which generally have higher fuel and maintenance costs as well as needing electric track to run, making them much more expensive and the mission more difficult, all to achieve a relatively pointless and insignificant statistic.
  • Fragile Speedster: Some of the fastest steam engines, such as the No. 999, cannot climb very well. In addition, some similarly fast engines have alarmingly low reliability ratings.
  • Gameplay and Story Integration: While its adherence to historical fact is laughable, occasionally the story rears its head to shake things up, such as wars affecting train route access or cargo available at the time they would be expected to start.
  • Glass Cannon: In many early missions in Tycoon 2, the Iron Duke has speed a good ten miles or more faster than other trains of the time, making it your go-to engine for those missions...unless you're facing a route with steep grade, because the Duke moves like a snail over anything steeper than a gentle incline.
  • Heartwarming Orphan: The kid from the intro of Railroad Tycoon 3.
  • Historical In-Joke/Alternate History: Several historical scenarios have the player as a major driving force behind the events, for instance in the third game the German Second Reich can be based on Prussia, Bavaria or Hannover as the core power, depending on the business choices. A Divided States of America scenario also exits.
  • Idiosyncratic Difficulty Levels: Investor, Financier, Mogul and Tycoon in the original. Changed to a more flexible system for Railroad Tycoon 2 and beyond.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon, and Sid Meier's Railroads.
  • Infinity–1 Sword: That MagLev mentioned above under Awesome, but Impractical? Enter the Brenner — half as much to purchase, less to maintain, lower fuel cost, top speed with a full load of six cars just 20 MPH slower, significantly higher grade performance and better reliability. The drawback compared to the MagLev is slower acceleration. Okay, so your trains take a bit longer to get there and thus you make a bit less money off them, but you'll end up saving a lot more money than you lose since the Brenner's fuel cost is $70,000 a year compared to the MagLev's $305,000.
  • Just Train Wrong: Railroads is full of locomotives missing their tenders.
  • Lighter and Softer: The apparent fourth installment, Sid Meier's Railroads departs from the serious business, hard-simulation approach and has a more toyish and simplified design. Appropiately, it lacks the Tycoon surname and breaks the Numbered Sequels custom.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Big Boy.
  • Luck-Based Mission: Most maps have randomly generated buildings, so it's in your interest to restart missions over and over to see what you could get. One such map, if you're lucky, might give you two populous cities, one with Coal and Iron and the other with a Steel Mill, creating a very lucrative route for you. Or you might end up with a Bakery at one and a Produce Farm at the other.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Three-Truck Shay in 2. It has awful top speed, likely being even slower alone than other trains with full cargo, but its grade performance and speed loss with cars is amazing, making it very slow, but it can easily power over hills and mountains while towing six cars, when most other trains would slow to a crawl.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: A mission in Tycoon 2 has you develop a downtown rail system for Seattle, transporting only passengers of four classifications. The rule patch is that the game treats these special cargo cars as freight instead of passengers for tracking profit, resulting in the managers that give massive profit boosts to passenger travel being useless when otherwise they would have the mission much easier.
  • Railroad Baron: The player, of course, and some real life examples from history such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, Jim Fisk, as well as engineers like Isambard Kingdom Brunel and megalomaniac rail-building world leaders such as Benito Mussolini.
  • Real Time with Pause: You can pause in single-player but not in multiplayer.
  • Refining Resources: The purpose of the industries served by the railroads; converting raw materials into elaborated and more expensive goods, usually with an added value.
  • Shout-Out: In the third game, the newspaper includes occasional references to the island of Tropico. Both games were created by PopTop.
  • Snowclone Title: Oh, Lord, yes. Every single game ending with "Tycoon" can be traced back to this game.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Soft bluegrass pervades the game in all maps, which is weird when you are not in the USA.
  • Third Is 3D: Railroad Tycoon 3 was the first installment of the series in three-dimensional presentation. Tycoon 2 does a good job (for its day) of faking it, though; see the page image above.
  • Units Not to Scale: The trains seem to be a mile tall when compared to the size of the map.
  • We Buy Anything: On easier difficulty levels cities and towns will buy any goods. At higher levels commodities are only demanded if a local industry needs them, and small towns must expand into cities before they will buy passengers, mail, and other goods.
  • Wide Open Sandbox: Most scenarios to a somewhat limited extent, but taken literally in the "Sandbox Mode" of Railroad Tycoon 2. The North America scenario sets you down in the continent and gives you free reign to build the ultimate rail empire however you choose and however long it takes.

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alternative title(s): Railroad Tycoon
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