1825, Unit One

Designed by Francis Tresham.
Published by Hartland Trefoil.
Reviewed by Stuart Dagger.

2-5 players
2-3 hours

1825 review, take three: Takes one and two were devoted to the game that I received just before Christmas, a game where the bank had been reduced to the point where straightforward play resulted in its exhaustion before the brown tiles appeared. This certainly gave you a short game, but it also gave you an unsatisfactory one and I said so - the first time with some passion; the second time more calmly. Since the reviews were hostile, I sent copies to Francis so that he could have the opportunity to refute the criticisms. The cross words in the first only succeeded in making him think that I had taken leave of my senses, but when he saw the more detailed analysis that I put in an accompanying letter with the second, he realised that the figure that I was quoting for the bank was not the one that he remembered. So he checked the parts list that had been used to make up the early games and discovered that they had been going out with too large a pile of company credits and too small a pile of personal money. Somehow the two figures had been transposed. If you find that your copy of the game is like mine in having a bank of only 2,600, write to Hartland, quoting the game number on the side of the box, and they will put the matter right.

1825 is 1829 Mark 2, but chopped up into smaller pieces so as to allow a shorter game more likely to appeal to occasional players and beginners. This Unit is the first of three, each of which can be played on its own in under three hours. If you want a longer game, or one for more players, you can put two, or even all three, of the units together, and if you want a more complicated one, you can add in extension kits.

The map for this unit covers the area from the south coast up as far as the line through Wolverhampton, Leicester and Norwich and from the east coast across to the line through Cardiff. According to Francis, this is the South East of England, a pronouncement that will come as something of a shock to the inhabitants of Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Wolverhampton, Leicester and Norwich. An even bigger one awaits those of Preston, York and Darlington when they discover that the area north of the Mersey-Humber line has been relabelled the Midlands. A flat-capped, flat-vowelled, shotgun-toting posse, headed by me, will be en route to Leighton Buzzard as soon as Unit Two hits the shops. The scale of the map is the same as that used in 1829, but some of the hexes have been modified. For example, London now always has six stations and the LNWR has been given a second home base at Wolverton. All of these map modifications are improvements. Both the LNWR and GWR now have guaranteed access to London, which is how it should be and how it wasn't in 1829. The old nonsense about strangling the LSWR at birth by means of a hostile tile lay on its exit hex from London has also been cleverly put to rest.

The rules are "1829 with refinements", with the refinements again intended to improve the realism and to cut out some of the silliness that used to go on over tile laying. The most important of the changes concerns the movement of share prices: shares that are paying poor dividends relative to their price stagnate and those that are paying very good ones go up the table in multiple jumps. I think that this type of rule improves 18xx games a lot, particularly those with 1829/1853 style stock markets, and have done ever since I introduced it as a house rule into our 1829 games almost twenty years ago. It gives the ego a gratifying little polish when the rest of the world decides that you were right all along! For the rest, survey parties are now optional, track laying and promoting adopts the "if you can't reach it, you can't place it" approach and it becomes possible to use stations belonging to other companies as termini for your company's routes. I regard all these rule changes as either neutral or improvements, with the possible exception of the last one, on which I have mixed feelings. The new rule is the one that all the other published 18xx games use, but I have never regarded "everyone else does it" as a particularly good reason for doing anything. However, it is just a game mechanic and the game works either way.

It would be remarkable if a game aimed at as many targets as this one is were to succeed in hitting all of them equally well and 1825 doesn't. Once you have restored the bank to its intended level, I would agree with Mike Siggins' assessment that, as a game for beginners and occasional players, 1825 is a "qualified major success". It will be a much easier game to teach than are the others in the series; its shorter length is a definite plus for these groups; and the fact that it is much less cutthroat than 1830 or 1856 make it a game that beginners can play with more experienced players without the likelihood that they will be smeared across the walls and put off 18xx for life. The reservations I have concern the recommended number of players, the rule for ending the game and the fact that you may find that there is a shortage of plain track tiles. The box says that the game is for 2-5 players. I would not recommend that you played it with five. 1825, like 1829 and 1853, is a game where you need to have a company to run if you are not to come away with the impression that you spent most of the game watching other people have fun. By the time the fifth company is floated in 1825 the game will be more than half over. You should, therefore, regard this as a game for 2-4 players, and when you play it with four, the owners of the Canterbury & Whitstable and Liverpool & Manchester private companies need to bear in mind that shares make money through a combination of dividends and capital gains. The private companies don't make capital gains and so are less valuable than they might appear. Treat these two as short term investments and sell them back to the bank sooner rather than later so that you can take the directorship in either the LSWR or the GER.

The rule for ending the game allows a player to finish the game by cashing out in a share dealing round. This will knock a couple of operating rounds off the length of the game and, while I regard Francis's intended figure for the bank size as adequate, it doesn't have much to spare and this lopping is liable to put things back on the wrong side. I suggest that you knock this type of premature finish on the head by adopting the alternative game end rule that is used in 1830. This is given in the variant below. Finally, there is the question of the supply of track tiles. Different groups will have different styles when it comes to track development and that makes it difficult for the designer to know how much to include. His final decision will be made as much on economic grounds as anything else and on this occasion, as with the bank, Francis has cut things fine. If you find that the supply of plain track tiles is insufficient, either borrow some from another 18xx game or stick the ones from 1825 in a colour photocopier and make some extra. The shortage of track tiles is not, in my view, a game mechanic. Shortage of station tiles is a different matter. There I think that a good case can be made for the claim that the economic activity of an area means that it can only support a certain number of railway stations.

I also think that 1825 will work well in its bigger version, whether as the first two units or as all three. 1829 is a good game and the changes that have been made to turn it into 1825 will give it a fillip.

`Single Unit' 1825 will get a more mixed reaction as a game for experienced players. It is a sub 3-hour game and it plays well with three players. Both of these are new and welcome developments for the 18xx series. However, I think that many will find it a little too tame and I think that it could have been made sharper without departing from the basic concept. I do not advocate giving it a kick in the direction of 1830. 1830 buffs who relish the company dumping and share trashing that goes on in that game will probably dislike 1825. Let them. When you have a series of games, it is better that they should have a wide variety of flavours and the 1830 end of the range is already well stocked. What I am referring to is the fact that in 1825 the decisions on when to pay out and when not are a bit too straightforward. It would be more interesting if they were harder. This is particularly so for the directors of the LNWR and GWR who won't go far wrong if they adopt a strategy of "Buy a new train as soon as you have a route lined up for it and pay out every time". The variant that I am about to suggest attempts to achieve this sharpening. Its heart is rule 3) which was suggested to me by Steve Jones.

Variant Rules For 1825

These changes do not lengthen the game beyond the time stated on the box. By the time you have five companies up and running, the amount that they are generating per operating round will be over 1000 and so the extra money in the bank only adds a couple of operating rounds to the game. They won't, in all probability, see much significant track development, but having them there will mean that the companies that are paying well at the end will give their shareholders an extra boost and thereby give a director a better reason for withholding dividends at some point in order to be able to pay out more later. The earlier rusting of the 2-trains will make life more interesting for the directors of the LNWR and the GWR and will benefit track development by bringing in the brown tiles sooner. My first game with these modifications was a 2-player game and involved a certain amount of rule explaining to my opponent who had played 18xx many times before but was new to 1825. The game lasted two and a half hours.

The Game Cabinet - editor@gamecabinet.com - Ken Tidwell