So, the first thing you need to know about this game is that this is in fact the original Railroad Tycoon, it's just been renamed and updated to play on modern OS such as Vista and Windows 7 (see other reviews about compatibility with newer). There's a version of RT1 on Steam that DOES NOT play on modern OS. But don't buy it if you're not working on an antique; you don't need it.
As for the "RAM-filled" crashing glitch, definitely dowload the patch mentioned in other reviews, but before that turn off autosave. It saves every minute for some god-awful reason, which pushes you towards the ram limit quickly. With that turned off, I've played for six + hours without a hitch (though I also downloaded the player-made patch, so I can't tell which did the trick, if not both).
As to gameplay, as another reviewer said, there are about 15 maps, each with scenarios that take about an hour. However, you can play them on three different difficulty levels, with 0 to 3 AI players, and each has gold, silver, and bronze victory conditions, so there are quite a few permutations available to keep you interested. You can also randomize the town locations, but even without that, each time you play a map, the msc resources (lumber mills, cattle pastures, grain farms, etc) randomly generate their locations.
The most fun part about this game for me is efficiency of transport. You can have up to four tracks per station, upgrade engines, stations, and towns to make them faster and with higher return values, and also buy properties in the towns for extra income. This diversification of investments is more important when you're playing against AI---basically, you can own a piece of your competetor's pie! (Or they'll fight you for yours....)
The game is one of Sid Meyer's best from back in the day, and it balances well the ability to play as a sandbox builder vs a super-competitve crazy land. (Part of the point of the game from the competitve pov is clearly to make 900 foot high roman-arched bridges over your competetors' tracks.) If you play it like that, it's downright zany. Truly, early Sid Meyer. But it's also got great mechanics and logic, as per par for SM games.
The graphics are also super cute, which I particularly like. They stand the test of time.
A couple of tips to players: There's a feature that lets you go-to cities (bottom left of control panel), which is really helpful for maps that center around places you've never lived/been. (Like various parts of Europe, in my case.) Too, you can press + or - to increase or decrease the elevation of your tracks. There's no other way to get a tunnel when it wants to auto-build you a bridge. Also, holding the mouse wheel allows you to swivel the map, which you can't do in RT2.
If you're wondering wether to get RT1 or 2, I like both, but for different reasons. I think RT1 is a better game, though I remember playing RT2 way more as a kid. RT1 is more about building and logistics, whereas I'd say RT2 is more about making money. It's also a way harder game. The graphics in RT2 use the Tropico engine, which is actually rather frustrating for that game. The camera also doesn't swivel; you get four fixed viewpoints. I could never find a satisfying map angel in RT2, and I don't know about you, but that just drives me absoutely nuts.
All in all, a very solid game, a favorite oldie, and definitely worth the tiny price. It's one of my top favorites of all time, right up there with Roller Coaster Tycoon. Go ahead and buy it!
LONG STORY SHORT:
+ Very logical gameplay
+ Cute graphics
+ Short scenario play so you can have fun but still go outside and live your life
+ Multiple scenario difficulty options
+ Some randomization of every map
+ Town Randomization available on any map
+ 0 - 3 AI players
+ Kids can play but adults will be challenged too
+ Historic events and engine progression is sort of in the background but a lot of fun for people who are buffs/nerds of that variety :)
+ Need some initial fussing with it to keep it from crashing
+ Game starts to freeze on my computer when I get close to having the entire map networked (I'm on a laptop though)
+ If you're connecting existing tracks, make sure the arrow cursors are green, not yellow. You will get better at it, but initially you will lay track to nowhere that you can't delete because your trains are running over it and you will curse SO MUCH.
+ Can't upgrade all train engines at once
+ Only about 15 maps; can't recall if there's a fully randomized map option.
+ There's human multiplayer on this game but I'm not sure how to make it work these days; haven't tried to use it