1831 is an 18xx variant set on a game map extending from Canada south to Virgina, and from Maine west to Michigan, so it is comparable in that respect to the extent of the railroad game 1830 originally published by Avalon Hill and republished by Mayfair in 2011. The 1831 game, however, is far larger in scope than 1830. Carl Burger, its designer, hand made all 2,665 components ready for play in each of his original 32 copies. Each game includes 30 company mats, 88 trains, 486 track tiles, 1200 station and yard tokens made of 3/8 inch painted wood, over 400 share certificates, and a board that is 2' x 3' with over 500 hexes. The colorful map depicts major mountain ranges and rivers in their correct locations, including the Ohio River, which is so noticably lacking in the 1830 game. State boundaries are also shown, although they have no impact on the game. There is $40,000 in money, with each bill being quite distinctive in color from the rest. They contain pictures of a large number of train engines, and include a very useful $3 bill. The rulebook is 17 pages, some of which consist mostly of charts.
A wonderful feature of 1831 is that it easily accomodates a large number of players. Four or less players have 16 corporations available for play, 5-6 players use 22 corporations, 7-8 use 26, and over 9 use all 30 corporations. Not every company will necessarily be involved in play in each of these groups, but it does give players a chance to be involved with a greater variety of railroads than they typically have in 18xx games, particularly 1830, which only has 8 companies (or 9 with the addition of the Reading). Although a game with any number of players from 3 to 10 is interesting and challenging, the designer observed that 5 players made for a particularly exciting game. His observation was that it took six to eight hours for four experienced players to finish a game, but perhaps 12 to 14 hours if they were inexperienced. He had known 8 players to complete a game in 8.5 hours.
The thirty railroad companies represented include all but the CPR from the eight major companies used in 1830. The Reading takes the place of the CPR with the other "1830" ones (PRR, NYC, B&O, C&O, Erie, B&M, NYNH&H), all of which in 1831 have a 10% share for the president's share. In a 3 or 4 player game, there are a total of 16 companies available for play. Aside from the above-mentioned eight there are the Nickel Plate; Bessemer & Lake Erie; Delaware & Hudson; the Delaware, Lackawana & Western; the Long Island; and the Lehigh Valley -- all of which have 20% president's shares. The last two companies of this first group, the Grand Trunk Western and the Maine Central, each have 25% president's shares, plus one other 25% share of preferred stock. Of the above 16 companies, the Bessemer & Lake Erie, the Delaware & Hudson, and the Lehigh Valley are only able to run freight trains; the rest can run a mix of passenger and freight trains.
With 5 or 6 players the following six companies are added: - New York City & Hudson River (20% president's share, passenger only) - Bangor & Aroostook (25% pres.) - Pere Marquette (25% pres.) - Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo (30% pres.) - East Broad Top (30% pres., freight only) - Pittsburgh, Shawmut & Northern (50% pres., freight only).
With 7 or 8 players add four more companies: - Central of New Jersey (20% pres.) - New York, Ontario & Western (25% pres.) - Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh (30% pres.) - Detroit, Toledo & Ironton (30% pres.).
With 9 or more players add the last four companies: - Rutland (25% pres.) - Lehigh & New England (30% pres., freight only) - Western Maryland (30% pres.) - Chesapeake & Pennsylvania (50% pres., freight only).
(The designer has enthusiastically observed that players may decide to vary the game by changing the mix of companies in each group.)
When 3 or 4 persons play, the certificate holding limit is 20. This drops by 2 for each additional group of 1 or 2 players. All players always start with $800. The winner is the player with the highest value of cash plus all personal stocks and bonds. The game ends when the bank is out of cash.
50% of each company's shares are preferred stock including the president's share, which varies in value from 10% up to 50%. Common stock (in 10% certificates) is not available until all preferred shares have been sold. If the company becomes part of a railroad System due to a merger, common stock certificates worth 5% will be used. Also, when a company is subject to a hostile takeover, the common stock certificates may become bonds.
Preferred stock always gets paid a dividend (if dividends are paid out), but common stock sets the market price and rises faster in value. When common stocks or bonds are sold into the bank pool, the company or system involved may buy back its own shares (up to a 25% limit) and hold them as assets. Sometimes government intervention rules apply, which prevents profit taking--the buying and then selling of initial offerings in the same stock round for a profit.
All the preferred stock in the initial offering must be sold in order for a company to operate. There are no private companies as in 1830, nor minor companies as in 1835. Companies whose stock value falls low enough may be closed out and cease to exist, only to resurrect again on the next stock round as a new company available for purchase. On the other hand, some stocks may rise high enough to split.
Operating rounds include eleven phases: 1-Restore "Used" trains, 2-Lay track and buy tokens, 3-Buy trains, 4-(Receivership), 5-Establish track rights, 6-Run trains, 7-Dispose of Dividends, 8-Move stock marker token, 9-Mergers and takeovers, 10-Collect bond revenues, and 11-(Pay debt). There may be one, two, or four operating rounds between stock rounds.
Companies go into receivership when they are required to purchase a train and cannot afford one. Trains purchased from another corporation are "used" and won't run until restored. Otherwise, new trains are bought and available "before" revenue runs occur. Trains include the normal range of "2" to "6" trains, plus others: "7", "9", "12", and "15". The amount of each type available varies depending on the number of players in the game, but each train is specifically designated to be either a freight train, a passenger train, or a mixed train. "2" trains don't become retired until "5" trains are bought; "6" trains are retired when "15" trains are bought. "7" trains and higher are permanent.
Companies may pay other corporations for the right to use their track for the current turn's revenue runs. This is called "establishing track rights." Laying one's own track costs $10 for open terrain, $50 for rivers, and $90 for mountains. When track is upgraded for the first time it becomes double track and two trains can run over the same route.
Companies may each take over one or two other companies in the course of a game. A merger or takeover results in considerable financial benefit to the company that initiates it. There are four types of takeovers: friendly mergers, hostile takeover of a company not in receivership, hostile takeover of a company in receivership, and a hostile takeover for bonds. The president of a company undergoing a hostile takeover can steal half of its cash.
Players must not only pay for their track, yards and stations, but they must buy the correct trains to match their mix of stations and yards. For the first half of the game, it is possible to buy mixed trains for runs including both yards and stations. However, as the game progresses passenger trains diminish in number, mixed trains eventually disappear, and freight trains become more numerous and more valuable. Moroever, as the game moves forward in time, the cost of building yards and stations goes up even as their revenues increase, so players may often resort to the less costly expedient of establishing track rights with other companies. Players are challenged to build companies with lucrative routes and then perhaps to strengthen them via mergers or hostile takeovers so that their mix of stations and freight yards will be viable in the later stages of the game. However, these mergers and takeovers which are good for the corporations result in a watering down of the common stock that cuts into player profits.
Presidents of companies may decide to pay dividends only to preferred stock holders and not to holders of common stock. Stock value goes down, of course, for everyone involved in those companies, but the recipients of dividends may still be well content since financially they would have an edge over their opponents who owned only common stock.
The blend of the traditional 18xx features with a more realistic stock market, corporate mergers and takeovers, plus different payouts for passenger and freight trains makes 1831 a very interesting and entertaining game. 1831 is a game with many strategic possibilities, yet the mechanics of play are not as complex as the size of the game might suggest. Everyone who can ought to give it a try to experience the ultimate in a railroad board game.
1831 is copyright 1996 by the late Carl Burger of Troy, NY. The designer was a railroad game player who owned some forty 18xx games. It was hoped that Winsome games would be commercially publishing 1831, but since the untimely death of Carl Burger in December of 1999 it is uncertain what the fate of this game will be. Let us hope that someday it will be produced for a larger market.
[Portions of this review have appeared in the multi-player gaming publication "Blut und Eisen," issue #44, published in August 1999 by Tom Butcher.]