FRANCIS TRESHAM: A GAMING LIFE
by Kevin Whitmore
On October 23, 2019 Francis Tresham passed. While many others had a personal relationship with this famed designer, I merely knew his games. But what games! Mr. Tresham’s designs were very influential. Francis Tresham did not release a large count of different game titles, but the games and designers influenced by him are innumerable. It seems fitting to pay tribute to a true giant of our boardgaming hobby. Let’s take a bit of a tour through his published designs.
Initially, and mainly through his tenure of designing games, he published his designs through his own firm, Hartland Trefoil, later Tresham Games. In 1974, Francis Tresham released the seminal game of what became an entire genre known as 18xx. 1829 is a very long game, requiring many hours to play through to completion.
Then in 1980, another monumentally important game was released: Civilization, another extremely long game to play. These two designs were widely accepted. Modern readers might need to be reminded that long games were a feature in this era. In 1981, Avalon Hill republished Civilization (and Civ has been republished many other game companies ever since). Also in 1981, Hartland Trefoil published the 1829 Northern Board.
In 1984, Spanish Main saw its first release with a second edition coming out in 1990. This game saw less acceptance than Civilization or 18xx games but both versions featured a significant “make a map” mechanism. Spanish Main attempted this mechanism with hexagonal tiles. Making a legal move with so many tile sides proved somewhat problematic. Later designers re-approached this mechanism using four-sided tiles which proved to be easier to handle and quite popular (as in Carcassonne [Summer 2001 Gamers Alliance Report] etc.).
In 1986, Avalon Hill published an American version of 1829, 1830: The Game of Railroads and Robber Barons. 1830 took the 1829 system from England and brought it to the eastern USA. In a further refinement, the stock market system in the game was developed to introduce a two-dimensional element. (In 1829 the stock market element of the game was on a linear scale. In 1830 the addition of an up-down along with a left-right potential movement brought more volatility to a RR stock’s value.)
In 1989, Francis Tresham released a game that by all reports had been under development for years, 1853. 1853 returned to the linear stock market, and changed the setting to India. A new start system of Contract Bids was introduced. Two different gauges of rail were also introduced. It was heralded as “A GAME FOR ENGINEERS who have had enough of the Financiers!”
In 1990, an officially licensed game in the 18xx series was released called 1835. 1835, set the 18xx system in Germany, and the author officially credited Francis Tresham as a co-author.
In 1995, Francis Tresham turned his attentions back to 1829. What followed were several “units and extensions” in a series of connected games released from 1995 through 2010. 1825 was the new title, and it zoomed in on the entire British rail system, bringing many more railway companies and a finer detail than 1829. It also excised the game mechanism “survey parties” (an abstract movement mechanism where a counter had to be moved on the map board prior to establishing a RR station. The Survey Party mechanism has only ever appeared in 1829.)
In 2004 many gamers were very excited by the release of a new game by Francis Tresham. This time, instead of publishing through his own firm, Mr. Tresham went with Phalanx Games as his publisher. Revolution: The Dutch Revolt 1568 – 1648 received quite a bit of buzz. Unfortunately, support for the game stalled when it became clear that this newest game was actually rather complex. Further, gamers’ appetite for longer games by 2004 was much reduced. While some hobbyists enjoyed this mental challenge, it proved too daunting for wide acceptance.
In 2005, Francis Tresham turned his attention back to his 18xx system. But rather than port the system to a new locale, he returned to his most favored locale, Britain, and instead brought forward a major variant from his past rules sets for the 18xx universe. The result was 1829 ~ MAINLINE.
In 2011, a new game from Francis Tresham was anticipated. Leisure Games had posted on June 4th of that year: “Francis Tresham has planned to release his new game, ‘Judge in Circuit’ here at UK Games Expo but due to printing problems, the release has been pushed back a week or two.” The game was to be a significant departure from previous designs as, in that game, players are Crooks (!) and compete to get into a specified number of prisons, by being arrested and sentenced by the circuit judge!” Sadly that “week or two” delay turned into years and to date, The Judge in Circuit has not been published.
In 2015, Mega Civilization was released. This was a super-sized version of Civilization, and they gave design credit to Mr. Tresham. In truth, Mega Civilization owes even more to the Avalon Hill expansion to Civilization: Advanced Civilization.
The influence of Civilization by Francis Tresham is notable. Civilization, as designed by Francis Tresham (and featured in the Spring 2018 Gamers Alliance Report) remains in print through Gibsons Games to this day. Further, video game designer Sid Meier was influenced by Mr. Tresham’s game of Civilization. The computer games named Civilization are numerous. In fact, apparently due to intellectual property disputes around the computer games, Francis Tresham eventually sold Hartland Trefoil. Francis Tresham simply formed Tresham Games to continue publishing his designs.
1829 also casts a long shadow. While the 18xx system has been further refined and redefined by other authors, Mr. Tresham’s original work enabled everything that followed. The count of 18xx type games is now in the dozens, and more additions to the family continue to be released.
I never had the privilege to meet Mr. Tresham. I only knew him through his games. He made my life richer, and he advanced the board gaming hobby. He will be missed, but never forgotten. – – – – – – – – – Kevin Whitmore
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