RAILS ACROSS AMERICA, Strategy First
Who can build the first transcontinental track, you or Cornelius Vanderbilt? The first to connect the coasts will walk away with a lot of prestige, the coin of the realm in this entertaining railroad-magnate simulation.
Set in the Golden Age of rail, from 1870 through the early part of the 20th century, Rails Across America places you in control of a railroad, competing against up to seven human or computer opponents. You lay tracks, purchase trains and balance cargo and passengers in an increasingly complex web of connected cities, aiming to garner as much prestige as possible before reaching the end date you set at the beginning of a game.
The scope of it all is daunting, and the somewhat cumbersome interface offers little help; fortunately, you can hire managers to operate each track. Get them on the job and you can focus on big-picture things -- where to place tracks, when to take and pay back loans, and how to harass your competitors.
The game regularly doles out "Influence Cards" that allow such quasi-unethical tricks as raiding other companies, bullying a local government into allowing more rail lines or engineering the collapse of a competing independent short-line railroad. Use the cards judiciously; too much strong-arming will cause a public outcry, losing you precious prestige.
The game's sound effects may be monotonous and its graphics fairly crude, but it quickly becomes engrossing, anyway.
Bottom line: Rail fans should make some tracks to this.
Details: Win 95 or newer/Win 2000, $40.
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