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Rails: Minsk Must Have Its Mustard

Every May Day weekend here in the UK, Network Rail, the company that owns the railway infrastructure, rotate all their track 180 degrees to promote even wear. Travellers caught up in the ensuing chaos are forced to use slow, crowded, substitute transportation misleadingly called ‘replacement buses’. It’s a miserable business. Which is why I prefer to stay home and do my train travel through fine freeware like Rails.

Rails is Eurorails in .exe form. You get rich or go broke by freighting cargoes around a map on lines you’ve constructed yourself. Routing these lines wisely is half the game. With tracks over rivers and mountains, and into cities, costing a small fortune, it pays to think hard before committing to major network extensions.

Train upgrades, sharp AI opponents, and a rather wonderful events system (individual rivers can flood, winter storms can close mountains passes) thicken the stew, but it’s the marvellous map generator that has kept the game installed on my system for so long. Turn down the handmade American and European venues and Bret Mulvey’s clever code will cook up a landmass – with attendant commodity net – every bit as interesting and credible as anything you’ll find in commercial strategy offerings. Lovely stuff. Pretty friendly too, though be sure to read the page of instructions and tick the automatic trackbuilding box before laying your first sleeper.

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Tim Stone

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