Rail Nation: Newbie Guide (Part 1)
I discovered Rail Nation about a month ago. I had been looking for a competitive strategy game that allowed me to build an empire (of sorts) but didn’t have an enemy who was dedicated to trying to destroy my empire. Rail Nation fitted the bill very well.
The sort of game I have described often boils down to an economic competition. Rail Nation is (obviously) centred around running a railway/railroad company and building tracks, but your trains are just agents towards an underlying goal of economic growth. It has the classic elements of economic MMO strategy games: three different currencies (cash, used for most purchases; research points; and gold, used for premium purchases); guilds/associations that players are encouraged to join; a research tree; buildings that provide better benefits if they are upgraded (which requires cash); gradual depreciation of assets to encourage you to log in regularly (i.e. your trains need servicing every 24 hours or so); and the option to buy advantages by spending real money on extra gold.
I have played a few other MMO games in depth, but some I have given up on because you have to be online as much of the time as possible. Life is too demanding for that. Rail Nation offers timed cash bonuses (one comes every 90 minutes, the other every 6 hours); I was very pleased to discover that Rail Nation has a feature where other members of your association can collect your bonuses for you. No longer do you have to worry that if you oversleep and don’t have time to log on in the morning, you will lose hours’ worth of bonuses.
It does have benefits for those who like to be online. The principal one is competitions. Every 6 hours or so, each city will generate a competition to deliver a specified volume of goods to the city in as short a time as possible. The top four who complete the challenge receive prizes – usually cash and prestige points. The trick is to be online at the moment the competition starts to register for it, with your trains already running the relevant routes; you can pre-register for competitions but it costs 10 gold to do so, and the prize is almost never worth that.
Gameplay: The Beginning
I’m currently playing on two servers: one is running the USA variant of the game, the other is running the Steam Over Europe variant. (There is a 3rd variant – Classic – which uses a fantasy world map). I’ll describe the USA version first since Steam Over Europe is a newer version of the game with added features.
First of all, as a newbie you REALLY want to register for the game on Day One of Era One. Any later and you’ll be struggling to catch up for quite a while, and you’ll miss out on the surprise day 14 login bonus. To find out when the next server start will be, go to the game’s home web page, open the Forum and look for the Serverstarts thread. However, starting late isn’t as bad as it might be in other MMO games because you won’t necessarily lose out if your research is not at the forefront of technology (more on this below).
When you register for a server you’ll be asked which city you want to start in. The game will offer you 100 gold if you start in its recommended city. While 100 gold is worth having, do not take the offer as the recommended city is typically one that’s short of players and the way to win this game is to be based in a city that has as many players as possible. Instead, choose a city that’s close to several other cities – it’ll save you money building tracks between them. If a nearby city has many more players than your start city, you can transfer your HQ to that city once you have built tracks to it.
The USA variant of the game has a competition between two regions, West and East. The Europe variant has a competition between ten regions. In most cases, these competitions won’t affect you as a newbie until quite a while into the game. If you want to keep your options open for later in the game, then choose a start city that’s fairly central on the map.
The basis of the game is that trains deliver goods to cities. Once a city has enough of the goods it has requested (normally known as required goods or RGs), it will grow to the next level and request a slightly different set of goods. The faster your city levels up, the higher in the city rankings it will be.
As a newbie, what matters most is the tension between being asked to deliver the city’s RGs and wanting to deliver other goods, perhaps to other places, that make the most money. Prices offered for goods diminish as the city gets closer to being full of them, so just before a level up the RGs usually provide poor payback. It’s up to you how you deal with that; delivering RGs is always the best strategy long-term (and it makes your association and your fellow city dwellers happy) but if you are desperate for cash for some upgrade or other, you may go for short-term gain instead – or mix and match.
One thing to look out for is the “wait for recalc” messages on the city’s or association’s forum just after a level up. The system recalculates occupancy rates of industries every hour. If the occupancy rate is 0% then there is no waiting time, which means all haulers get a golden hour of massive profits until the next recalculation. But if even one person ships goods for any part of the previous hour (and it’s often a newbie who doesn’t know about recalc), the occupancy rate will be well over 50%. So it’s worth everyone’s while to hold off shipping certain goods until after the recalculation.
As far as strategy goes, it’s a good idea to chain your deliveries (e.g. rather than simply picking up leather and delivering it, pick up grain and deliver it to the cattle farm; pick up cattle and deliver them to the tannery; and then pick up leather and take it to the city). It’s also a good idea to connect track to other cities in order to be eligible for their competitions. (Note that the last track that actually connects to the city costs more than normal track laying – the more city-linking tracks you have laid, the more it costs). And keep an eye out for warehouses – usually far away from all cities, they typically offer higher prices for goods than cities do (though if they are too far away, they’ll be less profitable than making a short run with cheaper goods).
Building upgrade strategy guides can be found scattered around the Internet, but the basic advice is to upgrade your engine house to its maximum level ASAP. A bigger engine house means you can run more trains, which are the mainstay of your income.
About competitions: in the early days of Era 1, you are likely to find it impossible to win them. This is because Rail Nation has a (rather nice) feature to reward dedicated players called a Career Engine. As you play and achieve certain targets, you get Achievement Points and these are used to unlock and upgrade a bonus blue engine, which is always available to you on every server you play on. So if you are in a competition in Era 1 and you’re up against a player with a well-upgraded Career Engine, you have no chance of winning. This is a nuisance in the first few days when the cash from a competition win can really help your finances. However, as the game goes on, the influence of the Career Engine becomes less important.