The aim of Railroad Tycoon is to win.
Winning is achieved by having the most Victory Points.
The game comprises of 2-6 players choosing a colour and getting a big handful of little plastic trains, minus one to go on the scoring track. The large game board features a map of North America (expansions of the game feature other continents) with the main cities marked and overlaid by a hexagonal grid. Each city is one of five colours and contains a set amount of random coloured cubes.
In turns, each player must build tracks (hexagonal tiles that fit the grid, the cost of which is determined by the terrain), upgrade their engines and transport these cubes to cities of matching colour. Play is restricted to only one of these things at a time. Money is acquired by taking out shares. There is no limit to this but each share has a monetary penalty at the end of every round (three turns to a round) and a Victory Point penalty at the end of the game.
Victory points are acquired predominantly by transporting cubes to their matching cities along track you have built (you can use a section of an opponent’s track but they get the points for their bit). Cubes can only move the number of cities equal to the engine size. Players start at size 1.
Each player has a secret goal which can add extra points if achieved at game end. There are also shown goals (such as be the first player to take a cube from city X to city Y) and other cards that can be chosen instead of performing an action.
The game ends with the prerequisite number of cities have had all their cubes removed (the round is played to its conclusion). Goal achievements are added, share penalties are removed. The person in the lead (and with the least amount of shares in the case of a tie) is the winner.