Here are some general hints and tips. Feel free to add your own.
Should I spend (real) money?
It is entirely possible to play Transport Empire without spending a single cent of real money. It takes longer, but it can be done. If you do decide to spend real currency, then the ONLY items to buy are the Decapod train and Premium class carriages (on sale offer). Nothing else is really worth it from a cost/benefit perspective.
When you first start playing, you can buy Decapods for half price (US$8.50) and you can buy as many as you want. Occasionally you will receive another offer to buy them at this price - roughly once a month.
You will also receive a free Decapod on your 30th day of playing. This is the only free Decapod you will receive, at least in the first 90 days. After 90 days the free items cycles back to the start, so you will get another free Decapod on day 120.
- Premium carriages
Premium carriages carry more cargo and collect more money from passenger transportations and require less resources per unit of cargo. Like many other premium class vehicles, premium carriages do not require repairs. Combined with Decapod locomotive, they bring the best efficiency and faster resource raise.
Ocassionally (about, once or twice per month) there is a sale offer to purchase carriages at a discount. Just for 100 Gold units you will receive at least one premium class carriage in a pack of three carriages. There are known cases when pack consist of three premium carriages.
Although, premium carriages are sold for in-game gold, you can buy some gold at a discount offer (x1.5, x2 or -30% drop) and then wait until carriage sell.
The biggest obstacle to progress - particularly at the higher levels - is raising the silver you need to unlock territory. As an example, to open the Level 35 city of Giantfort costs 18.5 million silver.
In version 2.0 several options exist for earning silver, including Residential Districts, Shopping Arcades, and Silver Mines.
Silver Mines - This is probably one of the best ways to earn silver. A train with a Special Carriage can earn 21,000 silver per car at a level 4 silver mine. An Armored Special Carriage can earn 42,000 silver per car at a level 4 silver mine. Thus a Decapod or an upgraded Ashford can earn 63,000 silver with three Special Carriages per level 4 run or 126,000 silver with three Armored Special Carriages. A level 4 run takes 24 hours but this can be shortened by upgrading the track and using faster trains. For instance a Ridding Locomotive can transport either 42,000 silver via Special Carriage or 84,000 silver via Armored Special Carriage on level 3 track in 12 hours 35 minutes.
The fastest way to earn silver is to use Gladstone locomotive with Heat Controller upgrade (or any other locomotive with same speed or faster) to transport silver from Silver mine with fully upgraded track (by 30 %, payed by Gold). This combination allows to have urgent contract below 1:30:00 and thus can be sped by coal instantly. The net profit is 4680 silver per contract and 20 silver per spent unit of coal (sped up coal included). Be aware that by using this combination the silver mine will be depleted very fast, level 5 mine (with infinite resources) is recommended. Other altenative is plethora of engineers.
Residential Districts- This method uses passenger steamships or trains with General Carriages or Sleeping Cars. An upgraded Mogul Locomotive becomes useful for carrying General Carriages between cities, being able to carry three carriages, earning 9,000 silver at a level 4 run over 7-10 hours depending on the level of upgraded track. A Fulton Passenger Steamship can earn 4,000 Silver and a Skibladner Passenger Steamship can earn 5,600 silver at a level 4 run.
Shopping Arcades- Cities can produce silver by converting goods at a Shopping Arcade. A lengthy level 4 contract will earn 11,700 silver over 11 hours. Try to build one or two Shopping Arcades per city. Sacrificing a district in a city to build a Stock Market can increase a Shopping Arcade's output to 12,870 silver in just under 10 hours.
The fastest regular way to earn silver is via a (Level 2) First Class Passenger service between 2 cities. (You can also earn large amounts via Encounters, Quests and LevelLevel-ups, but these are not always immediately achievable).
A Level 2 service can be sped up with coal. (Higher levels require gold to speed up, making them impractical.) Hence the basic technique is mining as much coal as you can, and spending it on sped up passenger services.
The most effective means of earning silver is a Decapod train with 3 sleeping cars. This will earn 4500 silver at the cost of 144 coal (99 coal to start and 45 to speed up). Sleeping Cars can only be bought with gold (180 each) so saving up for three of these should be one of your first priorities.
Obtaining three sleeping cars will take some time (total of 540 gold), but even before that, a Decapod with 3 general carriages can be operated for 130 coal (85 to start and 45 to speed up) and it earns 2250 silver.
Gold is the most important resource in the game, and the hardest to obtain. The primary method of obtaining gold (other than buying it with real currency) is via encounters. You will also earn 10 gold every time you go up in a level.
The only way to earn gold via Encounters is to play as many as possible. Check the Encounters page to see which ones earn gold. You WILL lose a lot of silver this way, as the win/loss% for these seems to be only 50%. That's just how it goes.
If you are willing to spend actual money to buy gold, wait for a sale, as they happen about every two weeks or so.
When Wideport becomes available, make sure to open the nearby Colossus immediately and upgrade it as soon as you can. It is one of only two objects that generate gold (and the other isn't available until level 38).
Where are the 4-carriage trains?
When you look at the stats for any given train, it indicates how many carriages it can carry, with a apparent maximum of four. Unfortunately, there are NO four-carriage trains, as least so far.
Which one is the most powerful train?
The most powerful train released is the ridiculously expensive Hurricane (around $55) which is identical to a Decapod except 10% faster. If you really, really, really want to spend that kind of money, get yourself several Decapods instead.
When should I spend gold?
Gold is by far the most difficult resource to obtain. So you should spend it carefully and wisely.
- Never spend gold to speed up a construction. The building or mine will build by itself eventually, and it will probably take you more time to regain the spent gold than it did to just wait for the construction to finish.
- Never spend gold to upgrade a track to the 30% speed boost unless (a) it is a mine you plan to constantly refresh using engineers (a good tactic with level 4 coal mines) or (b) it is a mine you have upgraded to level 5. This is because every time you rebuild the mine you will need to spend even more gold to rebuild the track. (However once you have an infinite mine, it is a very good idea to upgrade the track).
- Never spend gold to speed up a contract. Just don't, no matter how much of a hurry you are in.
- Before level 20, spend all of your gold on Decapods. At level 20, start saving up to buy three Sleeping Cars (180 gold each. See the section above on "Earning Silver" to understand why you need the Sleeping Cars.) Then go back to buying Decapods.
- After you have 3-4 Decapods to ensure good access to the rarer resource mines, consider buying Armored Special Carriages at 120 Gold each. Having a few of these can earn more silver from a silver mine than a Decapod with three Special Carriages. A Decapod with 3 Special Carriages can earn 63,000 silver at a level 4 run. However, a Pacific with 2 Armored Special Carriages can earn 84,000 silver during the same run.
Engineers can be used to replenish a Mine's resources by 10% each, up to 100% of its Maximum. This is especially handy during the early stages of the game when Manager drops are few, or when "saving up" for the required 20 Managers to Exchange for an Expert.
Where should I use Experts?Experts can be used to upgrade a resource (mine, mill, farm, etc.) to infinite quantity (aka Level 5). You can upgrade mines on both land and water this way. The first places to be upgraded should be locations where the resource serves two cities - for example the lumber mill between Cross Hill and Coldport as shown in the image.
Known bug - Sometimes if you upgrade a mine which is partly depleted, the "infinite" upgrade doesn't work. You basically end up with a Level 5 mine that is exactly like a Level 4 mine (that is, it will run down), and you have wasted your ten experts. So for safety, before you upgrade a mine to level 5, rebuild it from scratch as a full mine. This takes longer, but not as long as regaining the ten experts.
Take advantage of the new "Reserve" function
There seems to be no limit in the new "reserve" depot, but they do count as the total number of trains. You can use them to
- meet the number-of-locomotives requirements for buying territories without upgrading your train stations (and doing so inexpensively using Puffing Billy locomotives that you can just leave in Reserve without using).
- meet the requirement for a task or quest (such as number-of-airships tasks without upgrading your airport).
- replace a broken down vehicle.
- toggle different types of ships or airships. For example with two boat slots and three steamshiips, I can have either two cargo ships or one cargo ship and one passenger ship at the dock.
The Reserve function is not yet available in the Windows version, but is available in the Facebook and mobile (iOS/Android) versions.
Some thoughts on Repair and Maintenance
Most vehicles will tear down, and eventually break down unless maintained, with the exception of vehicles that has unlimited reliability (mostly the ones purchased, either with gold or real money).
- Locomotives: Rocket is the only one (save for Puffing Billy, but i believe few people would use it past initial stage) that worth using until breakage happen, before repair. Rocket has 280 reliability, and mostly will go down below 100 before breakage. With cost of maintenance mere 5 cylinder and 5 springs (equivalent to 10 steel), it is more economical to repair (after breakage) than to maintain (preventively, before breakage, will need max 28 steel-equivalent material). All of more advanced locomotives, such as Mogul (repair cost: 10 steel, 3 Links, 3 Valves for a total of 103 steel-equivalent, breakage point around 80 reliability for a gain of 300 reliability points) will be more economical to maintain (380 max reliability needs max 38 steel-equivalent, proportional).