Quarterlies 2006
TomChick - Features - Comments - 12/26/06

Most Disappointing Game of 2006
Sid Meier's Railroads!


Expectations can kill a game. Sid Meier's Railroads, for instance. I didnít mind a lot of the things that people complained about: that you could ship automobiles in 1860, that the maps were smaller, that it wasn't more like . None of those things bothered me.

What bothered me is that the basic design didn't have any of the grab-me-and-don't-let-go-for-forty-hours mojo that drove Firaxis' last two games, Civilization IV and Pirates (each at the top of my list of favorite games for 2005 and 2004, respectively). Those are tough acts to follow, and Railroads failed completely. What kind of Firaxis game has me getting restless after thirty minutes, with my attention wandering to the things sitting around on my desk? Oh, look, this pencil isnít very sharp. I should sharpen it. Man, look at all this dust.

If anyone can make a compelling easy-to-like railroad game, it should be Firaxis. But something went wrong with Railroads. The game world felt small, inconsequential, irrelevant, and barely interactive. I build tracks, I let the trains run, and occasionally I futz around with numbers or graphs or trying to connect little bits of track with each other. Itís all very abstract and wonky, like a European game CDV or Strategy First might publish. Thereís nothing here that make me want to come back. Multiplayer games feel like a few people calculating numbers and then sitting back to let the leader's advantage inevitably snowball into a victory.

It doesn't help that I've been rediscovering board games this year, and I've seen some eye-openingly elegant examples of how to make things interesting. Which is exactly what Iíve been getting from Firaxis in the past. Railroads has none of this, and makes me worry a bit about the direction the company is taking. How could this game have happened? Why wasnít it canceled, revised, or somehow made better? Or maybe itís just me. Whatever the case, this was the yearís most disappointing game that I played Ė or at least forced myself to play, just to be sure.

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