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Sid Meier’s Railroads mobile review - time, as a mechanic

Our Sid Meier’s Railroads mobile review explores how a game that’s more than 15 years old can feel fresher than ever thanks to a slick port.

Sid Meier's Railroads review -- a train with smoke billowing out the top powers through a miniature town past a railway bridge and under it.

Our Verdict

Sid Meier’s Railroads comes to mobile in fine fashion, reminding us all that old stuff is still ace. One of the chillest simulation games is a perfect fit for a portable, offering hours in a trainset playground.

Sid Meier’s Railroads came out in 2006. That’s the same year Nintendo announced the DS Lite, released the Wii, and Sony brought us the PS3. It’s also the year Jack Dorcy founded Twitter and poor Pluto lost its status as a planet. It’s also the year I turned eight years old.

What I’m trying to say is – we’ve all gotten old, and games are far further in our rearview mirror than we realise. This is a good thing; after all, there are more old things than new things, and there always will be. So, as time moves forward, we just have more stuff. But that stuff has gotten old with us, too.

So, old stuff needs to be made new again. And that’s what Feral Interactive has done with Sid Meier’s Railroads. After a lovely 2012 port to MacOS, the excellent porthouse is bringing this assumedly fiddly train sim to our fingertips. And the result is excellent.

There are two types of simulation games in my mind – ones where things can go wrong and ones where things can’t go wrong. In a game of Sid Meier’s Civilization VI, you can make a mistake, and unless you revert to an old save, you’ve got to live with it. This type of simulation game can induce stress at making mistakes, and joy in forcing your enemy into a mistake.

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The other sort is the type that Sid Meier’s Railroads is: relaxing. You start a game on one of the many maps – from different US regions, the UK, spots of mainland Europe, and other, more complex inventions – have a random location to build tracks from, and start building your freight empire.

You have to build all new tracks on tracks you already own, so you need to plan your network. Connect your starting location with the nearest farm or mine, depending on what the location’s industry needs, or start transporting passengers from city to city, and you can start making money.

The more money you make, the further you can build. As this network expands you run into obstacles – trains can’t use the same spot of track on harder modes, so you need parallel tracks, for example. Meanwhile, up to three other players are trying to do the same thing as you, so some sneakily placed track can force you to go over it, raising the price of construction.

Sid Meier's Railroads mobile review -- screenshot showing various train tracks flying over each other in a spiderweb across green plains between miniature towns and cities.

Alongside all of this are various other real-time systems. As time moves forward, your net worth increases. You have ten stocks to buy or sell, as does every other player. Managing your stocks to defend from other players, while buying up their stock to set yourself up for a merger or liquidation, should be in the back of your mind throughout.

There are also patents, little bonuses like quicker speed on inclines, which give you a boost until they become public a little while later. All this doesn’t even bring in the different trains that get invented as time moves forward, which naturally increase in speed and bring other benefits, nor the building and owning of industries in cities, upgrading of terminals, and a bunch of objectives per scenario.

If this all sounds like a lot, it just isn’t. While all these different systems interact with each other, Sid Meier’s Railroads is one of the most relaxing simulation games out there. You’re just playing with your little train set, managing different systems, and watching numbers going up as time ticks forward.

Sid Meier's Railroads review -- a load of cows on sandy ground getting into trucks behind a train track.

There’s not all that much depth in Railroads once you get your head around it. I can’t see this being a game I sink thousands of hours into à la Civilization VI. That’s okay, of course, but don’t expect something that’ll take over your life. After around 30 hours with the game, any challenge is pretty easily surmountable for me.

That doesn’t stop it from being fun, however, especially as a little distraction while watching TV – building tracks and watching your network grow into a mammoth spiderweb is lovely. Plus, games are relatively quick, and you don’t always have to be focused on them. Sometimes you just have to wait to accrue some more money.

Just because it’s a perfect fit for mobile doesn’t mean Feral didn’t have its work cut out trying to bring it over. Dragging together tracks and fiddling around with different systems is an easy thing to do with a mouse, less so with stubby fingers.

Sid Meier's Railroads review - a whirlpool-esque collection of islands in a menu screen showing different routes of trains across the location's cities and towns.

So, Feral has streamlined the experience. Any alert or route tracking or any other information you need is rarely more than a few taps away. Building new tracks is generally speedy, and, once connected, building depots and setting a route is slick. Everything feels zippy to use.

This speed also applies to load times and performance. On my base model iPad (10th gen), Railroads loads incredibly quickly, and I didn’t have a hitch exploring the map even at the end of the game with dozens of routes and tracks all over the place. It works really well.

Well, most of the time it does. I had a couple of crashes, completely quitting me out of the game – though the countless autosaves meant I didn’t lose any progress. It’s also sometimes fiddly to build new tracks exactly how you want to, especially later in the game when everything is busier.

Sid Meier's Railroads mobile review -- a train going over water on a large black bridge with smoke billowing out its top.

For example, if you have multiple parallel tracks creating different platforms in a city, clicking on the dead end of one requires some zooming and tilting to get it to react properly. Half the time it just thinks I want to connect a diversion to the main track, which is a little annoying – doubly so on a smaller screen.

This is a tiny hurdle, however, and getting over it is simple. For the most part, Feral translated this fiddly train playset to touch screens well. There are also cloud saves so you don’t have to worry about losing any progress. It really is an ace little package.

As all life is like a train ride, so time thunders blissful towards death and old stuff gets made new again as we all get older. So too, then, is memory like a train: you can see it getting smaller as it pulls away. Lucky for us, this one has come back again, this time with a new coat of paint.

For more Sid stuff, check out our Civilization VI tier list and Civilization 6 secret societies guide to stay up to speed.