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1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties

Reviewed by: Eric Brosius

(LMN+B, Ltd., 2-8 players, ages 12 and up, 4 to 6 hours; £75.00)

1862boxEast Anglia is a region that is a bit of a backwater, known more for farms and fishing villages than for industry. As a result, the history of railway companies in the region is marked with turbulence and distress. Many small companies jostled for advantage with more or less success, and bankruptcies and takeovers were common. 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties, designed by Mike Hutton,combines railway operations with stock market investing. Players start companies that build track and stations, run trains for revenue, and pay dividends to shareholders—or keep the money to buy new trains, track and stations.

1862 belongs to the “18xx” family of games, descendents of the game 1829, which depicted railroading in Central England. It shares some features with other games in the series, but there are also quite a few differences. The game includes a mounted board with a 37-hex map, together with displays to show shares, share prices, and other information. It also includes stock certificates and station tokens for 20 different companies, 28 train cards in various types, train permits, money, and various other informational markers; there’s not much extra air in the box!

1862cards1862 has no luck during play but every game is different as it has a variable setup. Each game, 8 of the 20 companies are randomly selected to be available at the start of the game, 8 others are selected to become available in two waves later on, and 4 are removed from the game entirely. This effectively recreates the scattershot nature of railroading in East Anglia. Each company also randomly receives a “train permit” to operate one type of train—Express, Local or Freight. Express trains run from city to city. They can also serve ports and run off board to London or other parts of England (places that are wealthier than those within the region, so that you often earn more money by running to “some place else” than by limiting your operations to the region depicted on the map.) Local trains serve both cities and the smaller villages that dot the landscape, but cannot run off board or to ports. Freight trains make long runs across the board, stopping only when they reach their destinations, and earn revenue not only based on the end points of their routes, but also based on how far those end points are from each other. Companies build track suited to the trains they can run, so there is natural variety depending on what permits the companies are dealt at the start of the game.

As usual in 18xx games, the trains your companies can buy at the start of the game do not last until the end; they become obsolete as technology advances. 1862 gives you many options to deal with this obsolescence. You can retain earnings instead of paying dividends and use the money to buy new trains. Of course, you, as a shareholder, are the one who fails to receive these dividends. If you are a Director of multiple companies, you can have one merge with or acquire another, combining money, trains and stations (and giving the resulting company permits for more than one type of train, if the two had different permits to begin with.) However, this reduces the number of shares you own, because mergers and acquisitions involve trading shares in 2-for-1 for shares in the surviving company. You can have a single company refinance, issuing more stock to “the market” to raise cash, but this dilutes your ownership on a 2-for-1 basis as well. If you don’t like your company’s future prospects, you can also sell all your stock so you won’t need to deal with the problem—unlike in many 18xx games, the Director has no obligation to assure that the company will prosper—but this means abandoning the work you may have done to build track and stations for it. As a player, you will almost surely have to exercise one or more of these options at some point in the game to keep up with the advance of technology; the trick is to know which ones, and when.

Despite these challenges, 1862 is a game in which you can make a spectacular fortune. So many companies are operating in a small geographic region that track networks and cities can develop rapidly, making for extremely profitable routes once the larger trains are available later in the game. It is not unusual for a company to pay more than £100 a share in dividends, and the stock price can jump multiple spaces at a time when dividends are large, creating a lot of wealth in a hurry. Retaining earnings to pave the way for a late-game bonanza is a feasible winning strategy if you plan it right. This is a great feature of 1862: the game is not always won by the same strategy. I have seen a wide variety of successful approaches, depending on the initial setup and the decisions made by the other players. This makes it hard to predict who will win, even late in the game.

1862pcsThe playing time is listed at 4 to 6 hours. Many games that provide a range of playing times are simply reflecting the fact that some groups play faster than others (experience often shortens playing times.) This isn’t the case for 1862. Short, Normal and Long scenarios are provided to vary the game length, and all are worthwhile games in their own right. The game also has Simple variants (including one designed for players who are new to 18xx that uses only the Express trains.) If you are new to the game, or to the 18xx family, I strongly recommend taking advantage of these options as you gain familiarity.

What do I think of 1862? It is by no means a “gateway game”. I would not suggest it to people who are new to board games unless they have an extraordinary interest in the game and the topic. But the game makes logical sense. Players buy stock, and the companies use the money they raise from stock sales to purchase real operating assets. Track networks are built to connect locations of economic value, and trains run routes from location to location using these networks. It isn’t hard to grasp the fundamental ideas of the game, and a group that sits down to play will make decisions that make sense.

In addition, there’s a lot of play in the game. If you play it once or twice, you realize that there were many decision points at which your best course of action was unclear. What if you had bought stock in your opponent’s profitable company instead of starting a new company of your own? What if your company had retained earnings to buy a new, more powerful train sooner, costing you immediate dividends in exchange for much larger dividends and stock appreciation later? What if you had sold all your stock in that troubled company to raise cash for other ventures instead of working hard to make sure it survived? This game holds up well to repeated play. Most of the people I have introduced to it have asked to play it again. Variety, challenge, and replay value are the things I look for in a game, and 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties delivers all three, making it a top choice for railway gamers.


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