Premature Evaluation: Mashinky

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Premature Evaluation is the weekly column in which we explore the wilds of early access. This week, Fraser’s filling the British countryside with railroads and smoke in train tycoon sim, Mashinky.

Disaster! I’d barely begun my first foray into Mashinky’s magical world of locomotives when my very first attempt to manage a whopping two whole trains — carriages and all — ended in calamity and death. And also fire. My brand new steam engine had just left the depot near Leicester and was beginning its journey to Kirkcaldy when it rather unexpectedly collided with the only other train in the world. All that was left was a smoking, smouldering wreck. That’s what signals are for, I realised too late.

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Mashinky’s brief tutorial ends after you set up your first passenger line, before the need for signals even arises, so I was a wee bit unprepared for catastrophe. Signals have haunted me ever since. They’re everywhere. Crossings and junctions and one-way systems — they all need signals. And when you’re not sure exactly how they work… well that can be a problem.

After such an inauspicious beginning, I started on a new random map, hoping for better fortune. An hour later and that map was in the bucket too. I’d plonked down a neat ring that hit several towns, and with only two passenger trains on the go, things were going smoothly. But then I started getting quests tasking me with delivering manufacturing materials, requiring new trains and stations. While running a passenger train company is a relatively simple task, connecting towns by rail and letting the trains do the rest dabbling in manufacturing is considerably more involved.

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Wood can be picked up from stations near forests, then that wood can be delivered to a sawmill to create lumber. Resources like lumber and coal can then be dropped off at a variety of factories that finally transform them into tokens — that’s what you’re doing this for. Tokens are spent on trains, carriages, station extensions and investing in new technological eras. The system sits somewhere in between a resource management board game and the gathering and refinement cycle from an RTS. Unlike something like Age of Empires, however, the challenge isn’t in hunting down resources and funding expansion; it’s in setting up a rail network that allows trains to make their pickups and deliveries without obstructions or delays.

As more trains left the depot and joined their pals in circling my infinite transport network, I lost control. There were jams at every station, trains going in the wrong direction, stops being missed and routes falling apart. Even when I added new lines so multiple trains could use a station, barely anything moved. 140 passengers spent a week trapped between two towns. Thank god I didn’t give out refunds.

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I could feel the ghost of the Fat Controller hovering over me, judging. “You need to whip those trains into shape, Fraser, like a real capitalist.” Then I remembered he bricked a train up inside a tunnel, alive, just to teach it a lesson. Screw that guy. But I did need to do better than this. I’d give it one last attempt, I decided. For the trains.

It was 7am when I finally stumbled out of my study, my eyes red and my head full of trains. A quick browse of a Steam guide for signals made all the difference and attempt number three got its hooks in me deep. Once I had a one-way system set up, everything started to fall into place. With the trains actually running, I could start to delve into the minutiae, fine-tuning routes, obsessing over details.

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Constant tweaking is at the pedantic heart of Mashinky. At 3am I upgraded all the carriages in 10 of my trains, increasing their capacity. At 4am I realised that the trains were running slow, unable to handle the increased weight of the new carriages, inspiring another shopping spree. An hour later and I was deep in junction territory. Even once I’d technically finished the game, completing the early access quests and the three eras, I continued to muck around, rebuilding, renovating and terraforming. It’s perfecting rather than problem solving — getting from A to B is a doddle but making sure that the rail network runs like a ballet is what necessitates late night obsessions and lost sleep.

The three currently available eras introduce new trains and carriages, but they also litter the map with more resources. The advent of the diesel era, for instance, adds oil and refineries to the map, which all require new routes and stations and probably trains. Growth is constant, then, with the game always pushing expansion, but that progress never comes at the expense of the early stuff. Coal and wood never stop being relevant, as even later factories need them to create their products. So nothing becomes superfluous, but that also creates another wrinkle: every new route has to be connected to the old rail network, and all those new trains transporting oil and steel have to compete with all the old trains. Once the modern and future eras are added, I’m not sure if this will continue though. I can’t see a future for coal in an age where maglev trains are all the rage.

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Until then, I’ll be living it up with my steam engines and my diesel locomotives. My current project is a massive central terminal, a new source for my river of trains. I want something that better joins up my three main routes, but mostly it’s because I saw a screenshot of an incredibly elaborate, six-platform station and I must own one. The low cost of tracks and stations means that there’s no real restriction to experimenting or just throwing money at making your railway look pretty. Demolishing and rebuilding an entire route barely puts a dent in an end-game bank account.

All of this leaves little time to just sit back and admire the train porn. Hitting spacebar seamlessly switches the view between the board game-style construction mode and a realistic but largely impractical mode. The former is easy to parse and not without some minimalist style, and it’s where you’ll inevitably end up spending 90 percent of your time, but Mashinky’s realistic mode is where you’ll probably wish you were spending your time. Actually seeing your smoke-churning behemoths cutting through the bucolic British countryside with their cargo in tow feels like a reward for the sweaty work of getting them on the move.

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It took me a surprisingly long time to realise that Mashinky is currently missing what some might consider one of the genre’s fundamentals: competition. Unlike Railroad Tycoon, Locomotion or even Ticket to Ride, Mashinky doesn’t pit players against adversaries. There are no other companies taking up space or competing for passengers or resources. Unexpectedly, I don’t miss it. The game could do with some more challenges and objectives — some procedural ones would be especially welcome — but pitting transport bosses against each other could run the risk of diluting the sense of freedom and experimentation that it’s fostered so far. If other companies do get thrown into the mix eventually, my hope is that they will mostly be abstract: invisible opponents doing their own thing on their own map, where victory is measured by individual successes rather than your ability to screw over opponents and get in the way of their expansion.

I’ve lost a passport, had coffee spilt on me and ended a relationship on a train, so I don’t have many romantic notions about them, but Mashinky has seduced me. It’s already shaping up to be a promising successor to Railroad Tycoon, and it’s been ages since I caused any crashes.

Mashinky is out now on Steam and the Humble Store for £18.99/$24.99/€22.99.

27 Comments

  1. pookie101 says:

    “I’ve lost a passport, had coffee spilt on me and ended a relationship on a train”

    If that was during one single trip that’s a story to share

    • Catchcart says:

      “Darling, we’re approaching the Austro-Hungarian border. Do you have our passports ready?”

      “Oh gosh, Julie, I seem to have lost yours. This is darn unfortunate!”

      “Oh Brendan, how could you!?” *throws coffee* “I knew I should have married Barbary, like Mama told me to.” *cries into handkerchief*

      “Oh bally heck, Julie, that was a bit much. We are through and I’m off to see the Arch Duke by myself.” *picks up cane, dusts off coffee grinds, walks away whistling*

  2. Premium User Badge

    SminkyBazzA says:

    The game was under development for about 7 years before it went onto Steam, and there have been regular content updates ever since. I’ve spent a lot of time playing Open Transport Tycoon, and this is shaping up to be a fantastic alternative. As a bonus you can go into a camera mode on any train or carriage, and it’s on the roadmap to let you drive – toot toot!

  3. Arathorn says:

    This looks very much like a modern Transport Tycoon with a 3D view mode (although it tries to direct your playing more with the tokens and all). An interesting take and I will certainly try it at some point.

    I don’t mind the lack of AI competition, in fact I wouldn’t even want one, I always play Open TTD without because the stupid idiots keep getting in my way. Infrastructure just isn’t something that works in a free market very well.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Try telling that to the Americans. They think nationalisation is dirty rusky talk, and will brand you with a hammer and sickle for all eternity.

  4. Chaz says:

    It’s been on my Steam wishlist for a while, but I’m just waiting for it to get a bit more fleshed out before I decide on a purchase.

  5. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I can’t see a future for coal in an age where maglev trains are all the rage.

    Um…

    • australopithecus says:

      Um, that’s mainly because they are restricting their nuclear power after Fukishima. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Yeah, if my entire country was one big fault line I’d be thinking about diversification too. Doesn’t stop coal being a shitty horrible fuel that’s on the way out

  6. jsbenjamin says:

    I haven’t tried Mashinky, but the Railway Empire beta has recently eaten a ton of my time – and feels like the Railroad Tycoon successor I’ve been looking for.

  7. FredSaberhagen says:

    Reminds me of A train. Can you build a ski resort?

  8. poliovaccine says:

    You haven’t told me the most important part (or maybe you have but in my skimming for it I’ve skimmed right past), and that is: can I place little buildings and trees and build the town every bit as much as the train tracks? Cus I mean, to me anyway, building the little diorama town is the *actual* point of model trains..!

    • c-Row says:

      Buildings pop up on their own after towns have been supplied with people/mail/stuff for long enough, but various kinds of trees can be placed freely (though not for free IIRC) everywhere. I haven’t had a look at the editor yet, though.

  9. MrEvilGuy says:

    While I’m sure these games have great single player, I yearn for a multiplayer experience like Sid Meyer’s Railroads, which was an absolute blast playing with friends. Only thing I’ve found similar is Offworld Trading Company.

    • Silent_Thunder says:

      OTTD while much more oldschool in both gameplay and graphics, has a very robust multiplayer scene.

    • montfalcon says:

      I stopped by to look for a reference to Sid Meier’s Railroads, which is a still-playable slice of train sim perfection. I still fire it up regularly for some soothing sandbox play, and the graphics have aged into a sort of stylised state, at least for me. I would love something like Railroads with more quests and a decent top-down view.

  10. MajorFordson says:

    How does this compare to Transport Fever? This seems to look nicer, and as much as I like the game Transport Fever has a tyrannical economy model where you need to link up an entire product chain all the way to town, or else it gradually shuts down.

    • Arathorn says:

      Transport Fever has more realistic terrain and tracks that follow the terrain more in nice curves. This seems to be more like Transport Tycoon with a more rigid tile-based world, which you can still see in the prettier 3D mode (at least in the early gameplay video’s I have seen). I think Transport Fever looks better, but Mashinky’s look is making me all nostalgic for Transport Tycoon, so I know I’ll have to try it at some point.

      I don’t know how the economy of Mashinky will work. Transport Fever’s industries aren’t working all that well, I agree, though it is better if you use trucks instead of trains for that.

      • BeardyHat says:

        Transport Fevers ways are mysterious. I’m still learning the game after fifty hours, but even using trucks, my lines seem to eventually get fucked.

        I have tons of bricks that have been moved to the wrong station, but nothing, not trains or trucks, will pick them up and move them to an appropriate place.

        That said, I often like to just sit and watch my trains do their thing. It’s extremely calming.

  11. Someoldguy says:

    I love the sound of this but the pictured trains look disappointingly American for someone who hankers to build European style railways.

    • Kakrafoon says:

      At the moment, Mashinky sports a funny mix of European and Amerrican locomotives.
      There’s a German class 65, a Prussian T3, and two of the diesel locos are definitely inspired by European models.

  12. Doug Exeter says:

    I work for the railroad and these games are always so unrealistic. Where’s the delays from crew refusing to drive the locomotive because they only have 3 packages of bottled instead of 4. I bet they don’t even sabotage their own locomotives so they can get re-crewed mid-trip and cause 12 hour delays. Where’s the multi-car derails from the Engineer watching Netflix instead of signals?

    Developers will never understand the finer points of the industry.

  13. palhanow says:

    How this game compare to Railway Empire? Mashinky seen some arcade for me, with puzzle aspects (WTF?) and looks like very superficial for me.

    This game cannot be classified like a successor of Railroad Tycoon series. I think Railroad Empire can.

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