I played a five-player game of this most recently and I have a feeling it would have been a little better with four players. Used the standard NE Map.
Unlike other train games with money, there is no need for money as it is just a point system. The game starts with everybody being required to found a railroad company. The board has variable set-up as well, not with the towns (though you could with some) but with the goods delivery locations.
Companies operate from newest to oldest every turn during the track building phase. Player turn-order for the investment phase rotates around the table.
Because of the new to old company founding, you potentially could set yourself up for some big mergers if you are able to get a company vacated before the operating round, which I was able to do in the most recent play, but it was dependent on somebody else leaving the company after I dumped it on him. Unlike in 18XX, getting a company dumped on you is not big deal and you could actually abandon it completely if you want, and which is what happened. Then, during the operating round I was able to allow another company to connect to it to create a merger and a large goods delivery chain, which is satisfying.
The most bothersome part of the game to me is figuring out if a city is connected to another city. As the game moves on there is SO much track all over it gets complicated. The game could do well with a spreadsheet where you just tick off whenever a city is connected to another location so you can just reference the sheet to immediately know what cities/resource centers are connected and which ones are not. Would cut down time trying to figure out what you can still connect to as well.
The goods situation is a very large random element of the game, which can be fun, but also VERY swingy because if the luck of the draw favors somebody, they can exploit that randomness to massive pay-outs. I initially was wondering, what if it had sort of an Age of Steam goods chart where once a good left a location, you know what the next good to replace would be and you could plan it out that way. Might be interesting to try it out.
An interesting aspect is also how investors are served better to have absolutely zero loyalty to ANY company and just dump your stock tokens in whatever looks like it is to be the best operating company the next round. This is where turn order can be an issue. Because it just cycles around, by happenstance you could dump your shares into a company and since they only hold ten, whoever is last in turn order is just S.O.L. This is where I could see an Age of Steam bidding for turn order system used. However, it is enjoyable but... because all the tracks are the same color and the board gets SO busy, to sit there and calculate out all the potential deliveries could be analysis paralysis futility. On the other hand, because of the way the companies operate, newest goes first, you really have NO IDEA what the game-state will be for the older companies because if the three newest companies essentially deliver all the visible goods on the board, then, whatever you considered for a late-running company could be gone and so, investing in an older company is a shot-in-the dark. Here is where I could see the benefit of the AoS first build, first delivery system coming into play to avoid this.
If you noticed, I made reference to possible solutions is adopting the Age of Steam mechanics... so then... maybe one should just play Age of Steam? However, AoS does not have the investment factor of Railroads that I enjoy.
It's an interesting system. One I would be willing to explore more for sure, but, I don't know the odds of that really happening unless I just play around with it solo.
Regardless, I am happy I own it.