spring Sumo, the general games magazine, raised the question of the games of the
'90s (the sort of thing I thought was restricted to Sunday supplements, but all
editors get desperate). Well, the intervening months have produced an
incontestable answer: the 18XX series of railway games. Three months ago, when I
promised Stephen that I would write an explanation of the 18XX games, I had
played all four-and-a-half published versions of the game, plus one unpublished
one. I was aware of a couple more private variants. Since then three more
versions have appeared in the shops, I have played all of them, at least four
more are promised and Stuart Dagger of Sumo tells me of a rich crop of
semi-professional versions. There are more new 18XX games than Beatles releases.
Railway Rivals, these are not merely an identical game system applied to
different maps. Each version involves substantial changes in the rules, but the
basic mechanism remains the same. Players buy and sell shares in railways; the
railways build track, run trains and pay dividends at the behest of the player
who owns most shares in each one. The popularity of the games is a tribute to
the playability, originality and adaptability of the system devised by Frances
Tresham for 1829 and refined by Avalon Hill for 1830.
about the development of British railways, was published in 1981 (at least
that's the earliest copyright date on any of my versions) by Hartland Trefoil.
There are two games, North and South, but the system is identical (it is also, I
am told, simple but not necessarily wise, to play using both boards shoved
together). It is out of print. Avalon Hill produced 1830, designed by Tresham,
which covers the north-east corner of the US (and a sliver of Canada) in 1986.1
think this is the definitive version of the game. Indeed, it is my favourite ftf
game. It is 1830 that I will describe in detail. Please note that the rules
differ between the various 1 8xx games, I shall run briefly through the
differences in other versions below, then finish a roundup of all other versions
I know of and reviews of the ones I have played.
1830 board is divided into two parts: the map (divided into hexes) and the share
chart (divided into squares). It comes with 78 share certificates: one each in
the six private railways, nine each in the eight quoted companies and sets of
yellow, green and brown hexagonal track tiles.
turn in the game is divided into two parts: share dealing and railway operation.
The first share dealing round is distinct (a) because the six private, unquoted
companies, must be sold first, and (b) because no quoted company has yet been
floated, which limits share sales. Players start with roughly $2,400 divided
between them (six players = $400 each, four players = $600 each etc.) There are
two types of railway: minors and quoted companies. The six minors are sold off
at the start of the first round usually for the reserved price but there can be
auctions for the better ones. They are priced $20, $40, $70, $110, $170 and $220
(you don't have to be a Mensa member to begin to see a pattern here,. as there
is in all the numbers in the game), they pay dividends of $5, $10, $15, $20, $25
and $30 a turn. But the more expensive ones have powers, control over hexes, the
right to lay tiles, share options or even shares in quoted companies.
are eight quoted companies. There are nine share certificates in each: eight
representing 10% holdings and the president's certificate representing 20% and
worth double the market price (though strictly speaking it is never sold, only
passed on when the existing president ceases to be the biggest share holder).
The first person to buy into a major company must buy the president's
certificate, setting the par price of the company as he (or she) does so:
minimum $67, maximum $100. (NB in a six player game players have $400 - if they
haven't bought a minor - but six shares cost a minimum of $402, fiendish.) Once
six shares have been sold the company receives 10 x par price in starting
capital to operate with. After that just about the only way a company can
augment its treasury is by retaining earnings during the operating round which
starves share holders of cash and depresses the share price. Company money does
not count towards victory. It is useful because the company president does not
want to have to buy trains out of his (her) own pocket (a sure way to lose the
game and, worse, draw a big laugh from other players) and because the more money
a company has, the more the president can loot.
in hand at the end and the value of the share portfolio determine the winner.
The share grid is worth studying. Prices rise as you move up or right. Price
rises are not proportionally the same. Launch at $67 and you'll face a series of
small rises before you get to the biggest (percentage) leaps in the mid-1OOs.
go up (right on the share table) in price whenever the company pays a dividend
or (upwards on the share table) when it is fully held at the end of a share
dealing round. Share prices go down (left) when the company fails to pay a
dividend in an operating round and down (downwards) for every single share sold.
(One act of vandalism which invariably appeals to a group of players just
discovering the game is to sell the same share in a company in turn drilling the
price through the floor. Veterans only do it when the victim is doing very well
and, more important, is not in a position to retaliate. This encourages players
to pay dividends early on and push a company's price right into the area where
the share chart narrows, limiting the up and down movement of shares.) Players
may, generally, own a maximum of 60 per cent of a company. They may only buy one
certificate in each round of market dealing but they may sell up to 50%, however
once a player has sold a share in a company he may not buy into it again in that
share dealing phase.
dealing ends when everyone has passed in turn. The player to the left of the
last player to buy or sell a share knows that he (or she) will go first next
time. This is crucial knowledge, it gives you time to pillage a company before
dumping it on a player to your left. (General rule: you need a very good reason
to hold two or more shares in a company you do not control; if you only hold one
the president cannot pass the presidents certificate to you).
operating round starts with payment of private company income. Then the floated
quoted companies operate in share-price order (most valuable first, another
consideration which can provoke nasty little flurries of price-wrecking share
selling at the end of share-dealing.) The company is operated by the president.
It is conceivable (though I've never seen it, even in a two player game) that
the same player can be president of all eight railways. If so, the rest can just
sit and watch (and kibitz). It is not unknown for a player to spend the game
managing his or her portfolio, never run a railway and win. This is difficult
(a) because there is a limit on how many share certificates players can own and
since a president's certificate represents two shares, ceteris paribus, a
fully-held president earns more than a non-president and (b) because if you
don't own a railway you can't steal from it.
start by laying track. They can lay anywhere provided they can run a train into
the hex from one of their home stations and they can afford the lay (if its in
mountains or across water). Laying track, and building stations, provides huge
scope for blocking other players or for co-operating with them. There can be a
lot of diplomacy in the game (cemented by cross-shareholdings). Then they run
trains, totalling the value of each station visited and either retaining the
money for the company or dividing it
by 10 and paying it out according to shareholdings. Then the company may buy
are the engine of the game. There are (stand by Mensa members!) six two-station
trains (at $80), five 3-trains (at $180), four 4-trains (at $300), three
5-trains (at $450), two 6-trains (at $600) and any number of unlimited diesels
at $1100 (usually). The trains represent progress, they power the game through
the stations of history and propel the players to bankruptcy. The player who
controls the tempo usually wins.
the first 3-train is bought, for example, companies may start laying the more
complex green tiles. (Brown tiles are more complex and more lucrative still).
These can be used to put junctions in track or to upgrade cities, increasing the
numbers of routes in and out and the value of the station (typically from $20 to
$30). The game shifts from one dealing round followed by one operating round to
one dealing round followed by two operating rounds and, crucially, company
presidents can sell private companies to public companies for up to twice face
value (a.k.a. looting).
time a new type of train appears, something changes in the game. Most
importantly, 4trains make 2-trains obsolete, 6-trains make 3-trains obsolete,
diesel8 make 4-trains obsolete. Once the last four train is sold there is a
scramble to buy five and six trains. These are the relatively cheap permanent
trains and their are only five of them between eight companies (and if a company
has track it must own a train). It is possible for the game to settle into
stasis at either when the penultimate 4-train has been sold or after the last
6-train has been bought. Nevertheless, the worst thing that can happen is to be
president of a company that only has 4 trains is that someone else buys the
first diesel. If the company doesn't have $1,100 (and if it had had $800 it
would have bought the special discount first diesel on its last turn) then the
president must find the balance from hand, selling shares (within certain
limits) if necessary. If a president cannot raise the cash he (or she) is
bankrupt and the game ends (allegedly Richard Wein, famously the best 1830
player in Britain has gone bankrupt and still won - because he made sure he held
shares he could not sell). Otherwise the game ends when the bank runs dry.
are important differences between 1829 and '30. First, the companies must be
launched in a fixed sequence and for a fixed price. Second, you have a surveyor
counter which must arrive in a hex the turn before you build in it - and if
someone else's engineer sits on yours he can't build the track. (in 1830 anyone
can launch any company at any time if they can afford the president's
certificate). All nine shares in a company must be sold before the next can be
started, so players become deeply reluctant to buy the last certificate.
Furthermore the early, high-priced companies are much stronger and will yield
much better returns, the winner is generally a player who controls a
disproportionate number of shares in the first three companies. The northern map
is generally preferred. (A) because the LNWR, the first company out, can lay
track from Crewe to Liverpool or Manchester then buzz its surveyor down to
Swindon and prevent the GWR ever laying track,. Also some of the earlier
companies (like the GWR) can lay track which guarantees that later companies
which start from London can never create a route. If you play 1829 South make an
agreement to behave before you start. This game is out of print.
was followed by Tresham's 1853, set in India, and subtitled (in a reference to
1830) a game for engineers who've had enough of financiers." Like 1829,1853
places the emphasis on game of track laying rather than stock market
manipulation. It is still possible to do deeply unpleasant things to opponents
but usually only on the map board and not on the share chart. (Players of a more
constructive disposition can happily get on with building track and running a
financially sound railway.) Tresham has devised an opening bid system which
loosens this up a bit. There two types of track (narrow gauge and standard
gauge) and two different types of train (for the different tracks). There are
also two different types of run (passenger and mail) and incentives for players
to build into certain hexes as well as limits on where they can build.
Definitely the track builders' game. In the original version victory almost
invariably goes to the players with the biggest holdings in the two top-priced
railways, but the GLC club plays an opening variant which limits their advantage
and adds another layer to the game. In this version it is definitely one of the
three best. Retail price is around £ 39.99
was the first non-Tresham version. It is set in Germany. The railways come out
more or less sequentially, as in 1829, although at the start players are given
some choice. Adds six minor companies which are privates that can lay track and
which also serve as share options for the Prussian, the national railway company
that appears halfway through the game. The minors are one reason the game is
always fun to play. Unfortunately it suffers from a lack of Tresham's obsessive
attention the detail. He would never have created a game that was so utterly
unbalanced. The first two companies - the Bavarian and the Saxony (particularly
the Saxony, I've won every time I've controlled it) - as well as the Prussian
are massively stronger than the rest. The other companies also come out to late,
the last two (the Oldenburg and the Mecklenburg) barely get to run before the
bank runs out of money. Also, the minors are badly underpriced at the start.
Costs about £ 39.99
this year by Mayfair. This is glorious capitalist anarchy in Upper Canada. There
are 12 quoted companies and (at the start) you need only buy the president's
certificate to launch. Since companies only receive share capital as they
actually sell shares (and even then with restrictions) it means that companies
are often horribly undercapitalised, especially if you want to buy in private
companies. Don't worry, you can borrow money and if the company cannot repay its
debts you can fold it into the Canadian railway which was, historically,
launched to bail out all the rogues who had floated undercapitalised railway
companies. (Although that doesn't mean either (a) you cannot have a ransacked
railway dumped on you and (b) you cannot go bankrupt - it takes a certain amount
of preplanning to ensure that your company meets the nationalisation
game is currently very popular. My only reservations are that it almost too
loosey-goosey and that where the other games have carefully researched company
insignia and liveries on the share certificates and station markers here they
seem to be modern designs and look like a collection of estate agent signs. £
of Mayfair's recent burst of games. Like David Watts' Iowa map for Railway
Rivals, this spreads out across the flat plains of the mid-west. There are some
interesting twists to the stock market rules, which tend to encourage players to
keep buying shares in the same company and a new wrinkle on the old business of
trying to encourage railways to actually go where they historically did go. I've
played it three times, I like it even though most of the people I played with
did not. Also £ 32.99
in space. Also came out this year. It is based loosely on 1835 (a bad start
really). It is very clever. It plays very well. I don't like it. First, this has
ceased to be a railway game without becoming a sci-fi game. The texture that the
best l8xx games have, allowing players to feel like dodgy entrepreneurs or
pioneering engineers is gone, is replaced by the usual worthless Timjim chrome,
e.g.: each minor company has a different stupid furry space alien to steer its
ships and give them extra powers. Price: £ 40.95
have also produced their own versions. Dave Ward regularly brings his much re-coloured
map of the entire US to the GLC games club for another play test. I have played
that, but from now on we are entering uncharted territory....
saw Steve Jones playing some monster British map at FurryCon once. I saw a
Korean map at the Essen games fair which Stuart Dagger tells me was simply an
1830 variant designed for a German PBM zine (one of three he knows of). Stuart
also told me that Alan Moon (another designer I do not care for: he's
responsible for Elfin Roads, Airlines etc.) has, designed an all-US version
called 1869, but it takes 12 hours to play and no one wants to publish it.
has three more games (at least!) in preparation. A south east US game, 1832,
which, says Stuart, awaits publication when 1854 and 1870 clear the tracks. 1850
- the northern plains which "just about works" and 1869 (Tresham has
to approve all published games so the same date doesn't appear twice) covering
the western US which is still in the early stages as the designer wrestles with
the problems of building in the Rockies.
has been on the verge of publishing 1825 for some time. It is set in Britain and
designed, as Stuart describes it, in modules so you can buy three different maps
and various extensions. I gather Tresham took money for this from salivating
customers at Midcon in 1994 but has become bogged down in fiddly details. (The
fact that he is a perfectionist is one of the strengths of his games, everything
is so beautifully worked out). Some of those who handed over cash at Midcon are
a little peeved. I think they could probably sue the current Con organising
committee. [No they can't - Ed.]
are two Italian versions designed by Federico Vellani and an Austrian one which
are available semi-commercially: i.e. you get an envelope full of coloured cards
and have to cut them out, stick on the PVC etc. yourself. I have played none of
them. The two Italian ones are 1839 (or perhaps 1841) a mammoth game set in
northern Italy and a quickie, 1850, set in Sicily. Vellani, said Stuart, in what
I took to an approving tone, "takes games apart and then puts them back
together.'" Which means, I presume, that he was substantially rewritten the
rules. 1839/41 takes 12 hours, 1850 takes two. I look forward to playing them.
1839 may become 1841 because there is a Dutch version called 1839 which, says
Stuart, Mayfair might publish. Meanwhile Vellani is working on a US game, 1827.
from that there are two regional German versions, 1842 and 1847, designed by
someone called Wolfram Janich and published privately and the 'legendary' Berlin
tramways version, legendary, apparently, because only 30 were made and therefore
almost no-one has played it.
course this article is out of date by now.
from Spring Offensive 40