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Transport Tycoon Tips

When a Transport Tycoon hard game begins (or Open TTD) ... early survival tips

Some subjective observations: feel free to disagree!

The start of a new game is a critical determinant of future success or bankruptcy, especially when you are playing at the "hard level" and don't use cheats or tweaks to help you.  Here are a few tips to help you avoid being closed down and sold off at the end of your third year.  
  • Always use the same colour scheme in every game.  It makes it much easier to see which vehicles are yours and which are enemies.  I always use red for extra visibility.
  • Start with the game paused (press F1) so you can have a good detailed scout around the map.  Look for "matching" industries that are near each other (e.g. farm/factory, coal mine/power station).  Early in the game the trains are slow and you don't have much money: you can't build monster networks when you are getting your company off the ground.
  • Do not start with passenger routes.  Towns are too small to be profitable at this stage.  I don't bother with buses, even at this early poor stage.  Yes, you can improve your popularity with the town, but profits are small.  On the other hand, if you build an early station because you know the city will be a big one later, you may opt to buy a bus to start improving your ratings.  But don't make the bus go far: two bus stops in the same town will do nicely.  Building long roads between towns is expensive and ultimately a waste of money if you only use trains later (as I do).  You don't get any money back by demolishing roads: in fact it costs you money.
  • Start with coal: ignore mines less than 120 tons/month.  Do not bother with trucks.  Your first purchase should be a coal train (about 5 carriages maximum to avoid long loading times) travelling about 20 squares maximum.  Do not  try to travel across half the country.  The train will take forever, your payment will be small because it's so slow and your loading times will be horrible because your ratings are so low (because the train is taking 6 months to do one trip).
  • Wood is the next best investment.  Try to find forests that are close to each other: if they are close enough, a station dropped between them can draw from both forests.  Increase the catchment area of the station with a truck depot and a bus station if necessary so both forests are in range.
  • Do not try to overcapitalise!  At hard level your maximum loan for about 10 years is $200,000.  By the time you can borrow $300,000 you should not need to: you should have paid off your debt and be up to about $1,000,000.  You can afford two good trains and a modest set of tracks with your initial $200,000 stake.  Make sure they are profitable: that's why scouting is so important.  You are relying on these first two trains to generate enough profit to fund your next investments.
  • Keep an eye on subsidies being offered, but remember they only last one year and the industries/towns they support may be small and not worth the time and money.  Only take up subsidies if they fit in with your existing plans and finances.
  • Did you know you can peek at competitors' stations just as you can your own?  Click the STATIONS button and hold it down.  You can select any player and see a list of their stations and what is waiting at each of them.  This way you can see if an enemy has found a productive industry that you can poach from.  Naturally, you should check your own station list regularly to see all is well: large stockpiles of waiting goods indicates either you need to increase your services to that station or something is wrong with your trains that needs fixing (trains are stuck in a loop, a UFO has destroyed track, your signals are wrong etc)
  • Be patient!  Your first two trains will s-l-o-w-l-y generate profit.  Do not keep building track and vehicles every time you get $500 in the bank.  If you fall into the red too often, you will be closed down.  Keep a handy "minimum balance" (about $3000) so you stay in the black.
  • Do not attempt extensive land levelling or tunnel building at this stage (unless it's unavoidable).  These are very expensive habits.  Make the train climb hills and go around the long way.  Later, when you can afford it, you can improve the tracks.  There's nothing worse than saving 2 years to earn $40,000 for a tunnel, and then have the industry halve its output and become useless, forcing you to rip up track, sell the train and destroy your very expensive tunnel!
  • Do not persevere with trains that are serving unprofitable industries.  If you are serving a forest that halves its production, sell the train and use the money somewhere more profitable.  You may want to leave the track there for a couple of years in case the industry returns to better production.  It does not happen as often as you'd want!  If, a couple of years later, the failing industry has not improved, either recycle the track as a part of a different service or demolish it and get some of your money back.
  • Early trains are not very reliable.  Put in depots at regular intervals, and reduce the trains' servicing interval from 150 days to 120 days or so.  Always have a depot near the station where the loading happens: that's where the train will spend most of its time and it should not have to travel far to get a tune-up.
  • Monitor your trains closely in the early days.  Trains with too many carriages may take too long to load and their payments will be low.  Sometimes a shorter train can be more profitable than a longer one because it fills quicker, runs faster (because it is pulling less mass), delivers sooner and gets better payment for delivering "fresh" goods.  Keep in mind that the more carriages you add to a train, the longer it will take to fill, the slower it will go and more it will break down.  Keep trains short.  Add to them slowly as the power of the trains increases.

  • All payments for goods decline with every day it takes to load and deliver. Yes, loading time is included in delivery calculations. If it takes 2 months to fill your train with passengers, don't expect premium prices for delivering them! : Look at the game's "payment schedule" graph.  Some goods decline in value faster than others.  Coal, for example, does not suffer as much from slow delivery as, say, passengers and food (because coal does not go off, whereas food does). Think of it this way: would you pay more for fruit that has been rotting in a long train for 3 months or would you rather get it fresh in a short train?
  • Eventually you can afford to buy your third train.  Again, don't aim for for huge, complicated systems.  Keep it small and simple.  The huge networks can wait until you can afford it.
  • Monitor your stations again!
  • If you have 3 profitable trains running reliably, your income will start to improve.  Slowly start paying off your debt.  Just a bit at a time.  You are wasting about $7000 on interest each year and that is a big proportion of your bank balance at this stage.  Tip: if you are saving up for a train, don't leave the money accumulating in your bank account.  Pay off part of your debt and when you have paid off enough to buy the train, borrow it back again.  For a short while, you will have reduced your interest payments.  You can save about $1000 a year this way.
  • To increase city sizes you can (1) provide passenger services, (2) supply food (in the arctic scenario), (3) build roads.
  • Tip: sometimes you might later want to demolish a section of road to block an enemy's truck route.  If the enemy or the town builds the road, you can't demolish it.  But!  If you add just one square of your own road to the ends of existing roads you can demolish that square later.  If you find an enemy truck route, you can demolish your square of road and block their access.  The enemies never rebuild destroyed road or build routes around damaged road.  hehehehehe!
  • Keep an eye out for competitors nosing around your main industries.  Ruthlessly drive them off it they start poaching from your industries.  If you see them building competing stations and laying tracks, plonk down diagonal tracks in their way.  Every time you block their building, they will remove track and try again.  Keep blocking them every time they retreat.  Try to block so close to their station that they can't get any track to it.  Wait and they will soon disappear.  Remove the blocking tracks when all is quiet again.
  • Use the "Towns" button to see a list of towns on the map.  Look for the biggest ones.  Tip: rename them to remind yourself that you have plans for them later!  Drop a five-square station as close to the big buildings as possible even if you don't intend to provide passenger services yet.  Do not emulate the robot players who put little stations way out on the outskirts of the town.  If you put the stations in now, you won't find yourself crowded out later when you actually want to put a station in a big city.  Lay enough track to get you out of town: there's no use having a beautifully placed station with no way to get track to it because the city has grown and locked it in!
  • Remove enemy trucks by accidentally routing your train track over their busy roads.  It's not your fault if your train hits their trucks is it?
  • If enemy trucks pass over any other player's railway lines, you can build a truck depot, buy a coal truck (don't give it orders) and manoeuvre the truck using the "reverse" and "stop" buttons to park it just on the other side of a rail crossing.  The enemy trucks will be blocked by your truck and sit on the railway track - until a train comes! It's even nicer when an opponent destroys its own trucks!

  • If you couldn't even care about trying to appear fair, you can destroy annoying enemy trains.  Build a train depot at the end of their station, build the cheapest train you can, wait for the enemy train to arrive at the station, set your train in motion and click the "ignore signals" button.  Boom!  Mind you, this is expensive (e.g. $40,000 for a tiny diesel loco).  Only use it if the anticipated profits are worth the cost.
  • If you can help it, do not build stations right against an object or industry so the other end of the station is blocked (like this).
     

Try to put the station two squares away so you can convert the station to "RORO" (roll on, roll off) later.  In other words, trains enter the station from one end and depart from the other.  You need two squares to fit in the signals and tracks on the exit side, like this:



  • By the time your debt is fully paid off, your finances should be rosy.  Now is the time to start thinking about big, long rail networks.  It is also the time to be serving towns with passengers and mail.  Towns will now be big enough to be accepting goods so you can collect goods from factories and delivering them back to towns.
  • Congratulations.  You are now in the stable phase of gameplay and you'll be up to your first million dollars soon.  Unfortunately, the game play suffers from here on because profits become ridiculously high and it's impossible to go bankrupt.  At this point, you will be aiming to develop the most pleasing, effective and efficient rail networks you can, while driving the competitors out of business.  If you have one outstanding major competitor with some nice routes, consider buying him out.  It's an easy way to build your network and simultaneously remove competition.  I find it quite pleasant to repair their hideous track construction and snigger at their stupid AI.

Begun: Jan 8, 2001
Last changed April 14, 2005