Plum Loco!

Dust off your anoraks! Sharpen your pencils! The trains have come to your PC!

Just kidding , folks. Although "Railroad Tycoon II" boasts a historically-accurate line-up and simulation of the workhorses of the Industrial Revolution, the game is to trainspotters pretty much what bicycles are to fish.

The original "Railroad Tycoon was designed by the near-legendary Sid Meier - he of "Civilization" (an empire-building 'god game' (you play god with people)), "Silent Service" (a submarine simulation/strategy game) and "Gettysburg!" (an American Civil War strategy game).

As with the original, "Railroad Tycoon II, designed and programmed by Phil Steinmeyer, plonks you in the hot seat as chairman of a fledgling rail transport company.

Starting with nothing but largely-borrowed money (no trains, no tracks, no stations - no nothing!), you help to connect the burgeoning cities of your choice, keeping them supplied with the finer things in life - food, clothes, mail, that kind of thing.

Through scenarios and campaigns, you can move through wartime London, Europe in the Fifties or America in the not-too-distant future. The primary challenge of the expansion pack, "The Second Century", for example, is to convert your steam-based empire to electrification.

You begin in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Stephenson has designed and built his "Rocket" and this is the only engine available to you for the time being. As the years go by, other, (usually) better locos will come 'online' (pardon the pun ).

Various projects arise requiring sound business acumen and, sometimes, a stomach of steel. In the words of the manual's introduction, "it is your job to be better, faster and just plain smarter than your competitors".

To help you do this, there is the stock market, where canny or downright unscrupulous trading can make your fortune or grind your rivals into the ground.

Or drive you to the wall and out on your ear! As in all businesses, you MUST appease your shareholders.

There are no set 'rules for success and both the scenario and campaign modes reset differently each time you play them afresh, making for almost unlimited replayability. As with most (if not all) of Sid Meier's works, the game is superbly researched and the manual includes an appendix sufficently comprehensive to sate the closet anorak fetishists.

Finally, it is not a game to play on your lunch hour or when boss isn't looking. To me, it's an immersive, addictive game which requires a lot of thought skill, patience and all those other non-Quake-type qualities.