As an opener, I still have no idea who out there has access to a PC, or indeed how many still object to the occasional computer game review, but here it is anyway. For those of you who have the hardware and find it increasingly difficult to get several people together for a four hour game of 1830, this program will be a required purchase. It is true to the original boardgame in all but minor aspects and supports solitaire and multi-player settings. The artificial intelligence is the best I've seen for a while and offers quite respectable opponents. Best of all, the financial administration and routines are so fast that the entire game can be played to completion in around an hour.
Add to that a whole raft of difficulty settings and options, including the wonderful prospect of random maps, and you have a package that is not only well worth the asking price, but which represents a veritable bargain. As a guide, I played five normal length games to conclusion in the first evening, winning just two. With all due modesty, the computer opponents are rather useful, no doubt enjoying the input from several top level 18xx players, and quite frankly I found them tough to beat. It is also possible to play the game `hot seating' with up to five other humans. Unlike most computer endeavours which are strictly solo, there is some merit in this as the speed benefits are huge, but the temptation to simply get out the board and tiles must still be overwhelmingly strong.
Where the game really scores is in reducing the not inconsiderable administration to milliseconds of processor time. Share prices, rule infringements, cash transactions and optimal routes are automatically calculated with breathtaking speed which allows you to concentrate on laying track and poring over the many graphs and statistics on offer. Vital information such as revenue and share price is constantly available, which is pleasing, though P/E ratios aren't. In fact, the resolution is so fast compared to its manual cousin that the game seems way too short -- something I thought I'd never say about the 18xx system. Fortunately there is an option for extended play that will see some complex networks, diesels and plenty of time to savour a long term strategy (and, oddly, to spot more easily the underlying fudges within the system).
18xx gamer heaven? Well, almost. While Avalon Hill have thrown everything into play flexibility, they have made a major gaffe with the graphics. Incredibly, they are VGA. Not the glorious Super VGA of World at War or Flight Commander 2, but chunky, outdated VGA. Amazing. If there is one specialist area that desperately needs SVGA it is maps, hex grids and, of course, railway tracks. And the map, with its complex track arrangements, cries out for a zoom feature which if there, I couldn't find. I realise all this is mainly down to the developers -- Simtex -- but Avalon Hill must have had the final say. The overall result is not quite what it might have been; with an improved display it could have been an exemplary piece of conversion work.
But graphics apart, 1830 is still a superb piece of software. It permits you to test out all those left field plans and perfect plays, it enables you to quickly get up to speed as a quality player (even I am starting to understand the stock market tactics) and, more to the point, allows you to play exactly when you like and on your own if necessary. As I've said, the game system has its deficiencies, but many would disagree and in most respects 1830 can be considered nothing short of a classic. This program will both enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of the boardgame and represents a highly satisfying diversion in its own right. Highly recommended.
SWD: As you know, I am not particularly fond of computer games. I own a few and play them occasionally, but I continue to feel that games are social things and so much more enjoyable when played in the company of friends. However, I agree with Mike on this one. It is very good indeed, with computer opponents strong enough to keep you on your toes. They collude to a certain extent, but no more than human opponents would in a game where you were regarded as the strongest player at the table. For example, at the start, when the first set of companies are being floated, they will buy shares in each other's companies, but not in yours. You must float your company without help, but this is fair enough. You ought to be on your own at this stage and when it gets to running the companies the computer opponents function independently. The one point on which my experience differs from Mike's concerns the speed at which the program runs. Most of the time it is, as he says, commendably fast, but I find that if the track gets really complicated towards the end of the game the program slows dramatically as each company which still has money to spend carefully sifts through all its options on token placement and network improvement.