By Mohammad Abubakr
Every once in a while we all like to move outside of our usual choice of game genres and try something else. I spend most of my time playing MMORPGs and ARTS games but I decided to try out a browser based strategy/simulation game. Developed by Travian Games, Rail Nation is a browser based strategy game aimed at train lovers. Players must run and manage a railway company by carrying out tasks such as upgrading trains, constructing trade routes, and developing their own station.
While the game is advertised as a strategy game, it is not real time, meaning that you simply manage your company and it will run in the background. This is similar to games such as FarmVille where you choose your tasks and let the game carry them out over some time. The same applies in Rail Nation. Actions such as researching new technology or running trade routes can take many hours. You just need to login every few hours to plan and queue your next task.
These kinds of games cannot be played for hours on end, but simply require you to spend a few minutes a day to maximize your production and profit. These games have the ability to get you hooked simply because you do not want to miss out on some profit. Even if it gets very repetitive it can be hard to quit because of all the time you invested into the game. It is just like Animal Crossing: while you don’t play it for hours on end, you pick it up for 10-15 minutes a day, do your daily tasks, and wait until the next day.
When you first begin playing Rail Nation, you must select which server you would like to play on. You would not expect to do so in such a game but it is necessary in Rail Nation due to timed rounds. Servers are not synced, meaning that some servers could be ahead of others in time. This is because Rail Nation is not like your traditional browser strategy/simulation games. Your company does not go on forever.
The avatar creation is simply choosing multiple images that are joined together…
Every 14 days a new era begins on each server. These eras unlock new trains and technology, similar to the era system from Civilization where you progress from the Stone Age all the way to the future era. After six eras, the game moves onto the end game phase where players compete to have the best railway company on their server. Each game round takes 3-4 months to complete after which the server is reset back to the first era. You can play on multiple servers if you would really like to keep yourself busy and increase your chances of being the best on a server.
After selecting your server, a tutorial guides you through beginning and managing your railway company. At times this tutorial did get a bit annoying because it treated you like you knew nothing, but that could be necessary to ensure that there is no confusion. Due to the user interface being designed well, you can get into the game without too many instructions. I was very pleased with the interface in Rail Nation.
On the other hand, the game looked a little dead. The map does not have any life and you only really see your trains moving in between their scheduled locations. Since you are playing online with other players, I would love to see the actions of other players playing out on my screen. This design decision might have been made to avoid too much clutter on the screen. It is not necessary to show all the trains on the server, just animate players’ trains to make the game feel like it is online and not just another single player game. Other elements such as the animals and water could also be animated to give more life to the game. The game is still in beta and I did see options to enable cloud and water animation but they did not do anything. Maybe after the conclusion of the beta the map will begin to look more alive.
Players can customize their own stations to increase their rate of profit.
Once you get past the dead look of the map, you can see many industries available to be profited from. You must construct tracks between these industries and schedule your train engines to transport goods. Different goods require different types of wagons so in the beginning you might be limited on cash and not be able to make use of all the industries. Simply clicking on a train engine lets you schedule routes which generate income. These schedules run in the background and you do not need to be present or even have the game open.
It would be boring to just let the trains run 24/7 and come back in a month with millions of dollars. To address this issue, trains have durability which goes down over time and must be repaired. This mechanic forces players to check in daily to update their schedules in order to keep their train engines in good shape. Different goods change in demand meaning that dedicated players must also check in daily and move around their schedules to maximize profit.
There are many train engines to choose between and they are locked to specific eras. Obviously as time goes by, more advanced engines become available. These engines can be further upgraded by researching add-ons. Researching simply consists of using research points which are gained over time. Even with researching, you must check in daily to keep up as there is a cap on how many unspent points each player may have. There are currently 48 different goods, 36 engines, and 48 kinds of wagons in the game. Couple this with the research options and you get a great game for train lovers.
There are a lot of options when it comes to upgrading your train engines.
While your company may be able to make money with your well-thought train schedules, the developers still need to make some return on their game. Being free to play, optional cash shop purchases are available to make the lives of players easier. This premium currency can be used to purchase upgrades, speed up construction, offer free repairs and many other features letting the game be more autonomous. There is definitely an advantage for paying players over those that play for free, and it can affect the leaderboards. However, for a game like this I do not see many other business options if it wants to remain free to play. Normally I recommend just selling cosmetics, but due to the graphics and design of this game, I do not think that would sell well enough for the game to stay alive. Free players can earn cash shop currency by playing the game, although at a very slow rate.
Using premium currency can make your life easier.
Conclusion: Great (for train enthusiasts)
In conclusion, due to the various options available in Rail Nation, it is a great game for train enthusiasts. I often see the chat talking about different kinds of engines and it goes to show that the people playing this game really love and know trains. There are still a lot of changes that can be made to further polish this game and I hope these issues are addressed prior to official release. I hope to see this game actually feel like you are playing online instead of by yourself.
If you like trains and enjoy strategy/simulation games, I would definitely give this game a go.