Funny thing happened the other day, one of my gaming friends said that Railroad Tycoon and Age of Empires III were all consagrated Ameritrash games. As soon as I heard that, I almost faint as I do not consider any of these games AT at all.
I know we can all agree that games like Doom, Arkham Horror, Shadows over Camelot (to name a few), are consagrated examples of AT games.
There's some fuzziness involved in categorizing games, but I'll give you my 2 cents as to why I don't believe any of those games are AT; hopefully I'll get some replies and we'll make this an open discussion about it.
First, let's talk about Railroad Tycoon and why it's not an AT. RT is a game in which you try to build a train line, compete with your friends for the best connection to towns and try to make as much outcome as possible with as little debt as possible.
The defining feature ofAT is theme, the theme here is building a train line, which is one that doesn't strike me as the coolest or fanciest one out there, but props for trying. Anyway when you play the game you're not playing the role of a tycoon, you don't even have to suffer many of the obstacles they had when lying down the tracks.
There's no confrontation against rivals or locals, you don't have to bribe anyone for their terrain, you aren't even allowed to pay your debts. Don't worry for the labor that you're hiring, not even if they are asian, italians, blacks or inmates; not even a mention is made to the different plagues and deseases that killed so many workers during these constructions.
The feeling I got after playing this game a couple of times, was that I was racing through a map trying to place tracks faster than my opponents. In no way, shape or form did I feel like the tycoon that I was promised by the title.
It goes without saying that there's little randomness, no roleplaying, no direct confrontation, no fantastic setting, but those are circumstantial objections.
The defining property for me, is did this game made me feel like a railroad tycoon? No, it's a macro look at the issue, with a racing mechanich and a heavy dose of economics thrown in, but without the gritty details that challenged the carrers of these tycoons in real life.
The second game is Age of Empires III, a game which puts you in the place of a european power trying to colonize the biggest part of America and the Caribbean. The game has been touted by many as a Puerto Rico like game in it's mechanichs, so you have an idea of where this is heading.
The game provides you with options for obtaining different kinds of tradesmen, ships, trading goods and other things so you can go to the new world, in hopes of gaining control of vast territories and producing goods.
First of all, there's tons of options to make your head dizzy, but you're not either playing the king of your country nor a merchant. You're simply trying to produce cubes and gain control of territories through the populace.
Combat is so simple and ineffective, that seems like an afterthought. Ships are all the same, pirates are unheard of, there's no natives to win over or kill when you get there, contraband is also out of the picture, as well as dimishing native populace due to the illness filthy europeans bring along and many of the professions you can get seem like a waste of time or energy.
The game seemed repetitive and too long for what it is. There's no real development of character, the seasons are ignored and the passing of time was forgotten.
Had this game given me the chance to be a king, i'd have to fight the other powers in the new world, as well as strengthening my naval supremacy to make sure I'd receive the gold and silver that was been extracted from my colonies. The army would have to be more dependable in my colonies meanwhile I'm trying to populate these new world and keep it under my rule.
Had I been a merchant, I'd have to pay taxes to my king in return for protection of my ships as well as having to finance pirates seizing the biggest ships. I'd also need to have contacts in Africa, for securing slaves necessary to carry out the big construction work in the new world.
What this game offers me in the end, is not the chance to live like if I had colonize the new world, but it rather takes me through a revisionist approach in which sending the most people and planting crops would secure my position in America and the Caribbean.
The many fractions, islands and territories that played a part of history are all concocted in huge slices of land, that never were. But most importantly, Europe didn't conquer America for it's crops but for it's gold and riches. Farms were initially develop for the colonies, many times relying on essential products from Europe and it wasn't after America was colonized that the big and serious farming complexes were developed and so the exporting of crops was still a few years away.
However, my biggest complaint I have is that the game does not follow a developing time line, which unables me to grow and madure as a colonizing power, providing only a sterile field in which to play.
It is after playing both games and experiencing them, that I can say I didn't feel I was playing a role or fulfilling a mission or quest, I was simply playing along for the sake of the mechanichs and not for the sake of the theme. Thus, I don't consider any of these games worthy of the AT distinction.