Railroad Empire is as dull as it is archaic
A few years ago, text-based Facebook games, with play consisting of merely clicking buttons next to static images, were common place. Since then, however, games on the platform have evolved drastically to contain vibrant art and more involved gameplay. Railroad Empire is not such a title. Centered around creating a business of interconnected railways, this game of technological, railroad evolution is a step backwards with a bland design and a cumbersome interface.
Given a map of the United States or Canada, you are tasked with building a network of train stations across one of the respective countries. Given several hundred thousand dollars to begin with, it is fairly easy to get started, but the presentation is absolutely overwhelming and akin to something more like Microsoft Excel rather than a social game. Presented with a Google Map of a country, covered in a web of potential train stations, it becomes an information overload as the first screen you see is littered with check boxes, drop lists, data fields, buttons, and other superfluous bits of information that you will have no clue what to do with.
Learning what to do is possible, but not in a good way. It’s easy to pick up because the concept is so basic. The general idea is to purchase a railway, then purchase another one near by so that trade can commence between these two cities. Given a spreadsheet-style chart, each city supplies certain goods (such as mail, food, or people) and demands others. The objective is to plot out routes in which supply and demand are met so that income can be generated. Unfortunately, that is about the extent of play, as this mechanic then becomes cyclical.
With the funds earned, you primarily only expand your railway holdings further, plotting out which cities what train stops at, every few hours, for trading. Along with this, there are conceptual rewards in buying new train engines for more expedited locomotion, but such consists of nothing more than a static photograph. Additionally, you will need to research your way through the ages of locomotive technology, starting with the steam engine, by spending slowly recharging resource points and general cash. It’s also worth noting that this area is nothing but text and each task takes several hours to complete.
There’s not much in the way of social mechanics either. Aside from the occasional wall posting, the only other feature of note is the ability to invite and appoint friends to business positions (e.g. chief operation officer) for reduced costs to things like maintenance or research. There are also some gifts to give, that are more text, that consist of Board of Directors points (used for purchasing premium game elements) and trains.
Of course, it will be a wonder if you even dive deep enough into Railroad Empire to discover any of this. Fact of the matter is that the game is absolutely no fun at all and the first experience is mostly just clicking around to figure things out. The tutorial is of little help and a huge turn-off in general as each slide of it is a mass of essay-like text that covers half the screen. Between this and the busy, uninspired presentation, most players are likely to leave the game within the first few minutes of play. Even the second or two it takes to load different pages and menu items wears patience down very quickly.
There is simply nothing to grab you in Railroad Empire. That isn’t to say the concept of building up a railway business is a bad idea. Just look at the game Ticket to Ride. Here though, the app isn’t presented in any sort of game-like manner. All it comes down to is clicking around a Google Map, making money every couple of hours, and “upgrading” your train because the icon you clicked on said it was an upgrade. The whole thing is just boring to look at and even more boring to play.