1830: Railways & Robber Barons — the 2011 Mayfair Reprint
Twenty-five years after it was first released by Avalon Hill, we have finally received a second printing of the genre defining train game 1830: Railways & Robber Barons by Mayfair Games. Mayfair has done an excellent job of bringing modern eurogame design to the 1986 classic created by Francis Tresham.
The game includes a newly designed 2 sided mapboard. One side is designed for playing the classic game and the other side provides all the options for playing any of the 6 variants also provided. There’s also new stock charters, stock certificates, train cards and tokens for tracking stock prices and station placement. You’ll also get a fat stack of monopoly style cash.
There’s also a rather elaborate rewrite of the rules with many options to help players who are new to the world of 18XX as well as 6 variants that can add some additional variation to the game for experienced players.
Game Play Summary
1830 is a game about becoming the richest player. The game ends when either the bank runs out of money ($12,000) or when a player goes bankrupt. At this point, all players add up their accumulated cash and calculates the value of all of their stock holdings. It’s even possible, (though unlikely), for the bankrupted player to win! The game is played in a series of alternating Stock and Operating rounds.
The game begins with an auction of 6 private companies. These private companies provide some valuable revenue early in the game and can be sold to public corporations to get even more cash into players’ hands while giving the corporation some special privileges.
During the Stock rounds, players simply buy and sell stocks. You can buy one share per turn, but may sell as many as you wish. Sold stocks cause the stock price to fall (1 space per share!). Bought stocks will add to your portfolio and (hopefully) provide revenue during the operating rounds. Players can start one of eight new corporations by buying the initial president shares of stock. Each corporation is represented by 10 shares. Once six shares are bought the corporation “floats”, receives its operating capital and may run during the operating round. If all 10 shares are sold, the stock value automatically rises at the end of the stock round. The president is always the person who holds the most shares of a corporation and this can change as stocks are bought and sold. Corporations can be stolen by buying more stock than the current president, or a sitting president can dump a corporation on another player by selling their holdings! Players can (and often will) be the president of more than one corporation. The president gets to make all of the operating decisions for the corporation but also accepts all of the risks. Player money and corporation money is always kept separate.
During the Operating rounds, four basic actions are carried out for each operating corporation. Corporations may lay one track tile (or upgrade an existing track tile) in order to create more profitable train runs. They may place a station token in an empty city space. They must declare a train run and calculate revenues if they have a legal run. A train run must contain at least 2 stops and include one of their station tokens. The value of the run is the sum value of each stop, as marked on the board. A corporation may own and operate more than one train and may operate with each train for even more revenue as long as the runs don’t overlap. Once the revenue is determined, the president decides whether to payout the revenues to the stockholders as dividends or to withhold the revenue and add it to the operating capital of the corporation. If dividends are paid, stock holding players get 10% of the revenue per share they hold and the stock value increases (moves right) one space. If revenue is withheld, all revenue is paid to the corporation treasury but the stock value goes down (moves left). The last action in the operating round is to buy trains into the corporation. Corporations are required to own a train at the end of their operating round if they have a legal run open to them. Trains can be bought from the bank or from other corporations. When bought from the bank, they are bought at face value. When bought from other corporations, they can be bought for any amount greater than or equal to $1.
The Train Rush
1830 earns much of its volatile nature from the sale of trains. At the start of the game, only #2 trains are available for sale. Each train may run to 2 stops. Once the #2 trains are sold out, #3 trains become available which can run to three stops. #3 trains are followed by #4, #5, #6 and finally D (for Diesel) trains. Diesels may run an unlimited number of stops and can generate spectacular revenues late in the game; $500 or more compared to the paltry $30 that a single 2 train might turn out early in the game. When new train types are bought, a new phase of the game begins which changes various options in the operating round. The most profound of these changes is making earlier trains obsolete. When the first 4 train is bought, all 2 trains are immediately removed from the game. This can leave corporations with no trains on their turn, requiring that they buy a newer, more expensive train. The #6 train rusts all #3 trains and the purchase of the first Diesel rusts all #4 trains. It is quite shocking to see how quickly a healthy corporation can be stripped of its trains. #2 trains might sometimes only run once or twice or even not at all! If a corporation finds itself forced to purchase a train and doesn’t have sufficient funds to do so, it falls on the president to make up the difference from his own personal cash. If he doesn’t have sufficient cash, he’ll be forced to sell stock to come up with the difference. If he still can’t afford the train, he is declared bankrupt and the game ends immediately. It’s not uncommon for games of 1830 to end in this manner. My goal when playing many of my first games of 18XX was to not go bankrupt – I wasn’t always successful!
Base Game vs Classic Game
The rules are provided in 2 sections. The first section provides all of the Base rules for running the stock and operating rounds. The auction of the private companies is streamlined into a simple assignment of private companies to each player for a set cost. This will make it much simpler for newer players to get started with the standard sequence of stock and operating rounds without the risk of making poorly informed decisions during the private auction. I really like this option as an introduction for new players. The often intricate decisions that need to be made while private companies are auctioned can be quite baffling to inexperienced players (they were to me) and bad decisions can lead to a poor position before the game even begins.
The base game also removes the risk of bankruptcy. Instead of a player going bankrupt when a train purchase is required, the company and the president must contribute as much money as they can. Then the excess owed is loaned from the bank and must be made up during the operating rounds by paying out revenues to the bank until the loan is paid back. I’m not such a fan of this change but I think it may prove useful to allow new players to complete a full game of 1830 and see the full “end game” experience.
The “classic” rules section adds the private company auction and the risk of bankruptcy back into the base game. All in all, I think the base game is a worthwhile exercise for players new to 1830 who aren’t afraid to dive into the complexity of the rules. It limits some of the risks while providing a very rich experience that will be instructive for future plays.
The classic, 1986 version of rules are, of course, the preferred way to play the game. The rule book also does a great job of addressing several points of ambiguity that have grown up over the 25 year history. Different groups have read and understood the original rules in a variety of ways and several different variations of the “standard” rules have made their way into how the game is played in different groups. These new rules document all those variations but highlight and recommend the most commonly accepted interpretations.
The 1830 map and tile set offers many interesting decisions for corporation presidents to make. Some of this is a result of the wide open spaces with no real guidelines for what might constitute a profitable train run. Other special hexes can be very limiting. There are several locations that show 2 small towns (commonly known as “double dits”), these can only upgrade to certain yellow tiles and will remain unchanged throughout the game. This has a deep influence on future train routes. A well placed double dit can block other corporations’ access to sections of the map and grant your corporations some very healthy runs. There are also several hexes with 2 major cities marked on them, these are known as Double Os and they will upgrade into very profitable stops for companies. Well placed OO tiles can allow you to control access to these spaces in a way similar to the double dits. There are also a limited number of tiles with a given track configuration. When all of the straight tracks are used, there’s no more straight tracks available unless someone upgrades an existing straight! Some of your best planning can be foiled by a clever tile lay by one of your opponents.
The starter rules provide a simplified version of 1830 to allow new players to explore the intricacies of the operating rounds before concerning themselves with stock market manipulation. You’ll get a chance to lay track and station tokens, generate revenue, buy trains and manage company treasuries. Game phases will change as new trains come out which allows yellow tiles to upgrade into green tiles and green tiles to upgrade into brown tiles. You’ll see the #2 trains rust when #4 trains are bought and you might even experience a bankruptcy!
Playing a game with the starter rules gives each player control of a single corporation, a limited treasury and 2 station tokens (one home station, placed automatically at the start of the game and a second token that can be placed later to provide additional train runs or block other corporations). Players take turns operating their corporations using the same rules as the classic version. All revenues pay out into the corporate treasury and the game is played until the bank runs out of cash. Trains only go up to the #5 train so you’ll see brown tiles become available but won’t see the #3 trains rust (which only happens when #6 trains are bought).
The Starter Game can be taught and played in about 2 hours, significantly faster than the full, classic game. I found it to be very instructive for new players. I know that the first time I played 1830 my brain was awash with all the options available; I was unable to make any decision beyond a gut reaction. And my guts were frequently wrong.
Consider playing the starter game if this is your first foray into the 18XX genre. But understand that the Classic game offers significantly more depth than you’ll encounter here. Don’t let a sour experience deter you from trying the full game. As other’s have noted, the real strategy of 1830 takes place in the careful manipulation of corporate stocks. For experienced players, the operating rounds are frequently played as automatically as a chess master plays the end game of a chess match; they are the natural extension of the decisions made in the stock rounds.
1830 is a classic game for many reasons. When played well, the game is brutally unforgiving; you live and die by your own decisions. With no luck and no hidden information, your losses will haunt you and your victories will grow grander with time. It’s as close to multiplayer chess as I think any game will approach and I consider myself to still be a new player to the genre. The board play is devilish with all the opportunities to block and confound your opponents and the stock market manipulations are doubly so.
The rules seem to be a sticking point for many neophytes and I think this Mayfair reprint does much to provide new players an introduction to the game with minimal growing pains. With three options (Starter, Base and Classic) to begin your adventure, even your mom might get into the action!
It’s fair to note that even in experienced players’ hands, the game might take 4 or more hours to play. If you’re new to the game, set aside at least 7 hours to complete the full “Classic Rules” experience. Order a few pizzas and be happy if you play to completion. The most important lesson I learned at GenCon this year was to remember it’s just a game and remember to have fun. Even going bankrupt can be fun if you can manage to do it in spectacular fashion! In this game, more than many others, fortune favors the bold and as with the Vanderbilts and Garretts and Huntingtons that the theme of this game is founded on; great rewards await those willing to take great risks.
You can speed up your game by at least an hour by ignoring the paper money and buying a cheap set of poker chips to use in lieu of paper money (I got mine at an un-named big box store for $25). Also consider printing out a payout sheet like this one to help with the multiplication when your brain gets muddled (as mine does). Also, also, make sure there’s a calculator and paper and pencils available for those who want them.
I had a major “A-Ha” moment when I first saw a player loot his initial company’s treasury for every penny he could squeeze out of it then sell it down to the president’s share in order to open a new company with $1000 of fresh capital which he then used to reinvigorate the first company. He was unconcerned that other players might steal the first as it was a dog with worthless prospects. But once he had new money which could flow into the old company it became a winner and he was ahead in the race to buy stocks and retain the presidency. Timid play is the fast track to second place. Or more often, second to last place. This is what keeps me coming back to 1830. I hope that this reprint from Mayfair excites you in the same way it has excited all the people that it has drawn into the hobby over the last 25 years.
~ Bob Probst