David G. Cox Esq.
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1856


The Game of Railroad Building in Upper Canada
For Two to Six Players
Designed by Bill Dixon
Published by Mayfair Games (1992)


I have some experience playing 18XX games since the late 1980’s, but I am not at all skilful and would rate my ability as barely adequate.

I have played 1829 North, 1829 South, 1829 Mainline, 1830, 1856, 1860, 1861 and 1870, but, to the best of my memory, I have never actually won a game. I may have come second once or twice.

But luckily, lack of skill at playing a game has never stopped me writing a review in the past and it’s not going to stop me now.

1856 is set in Upper Canada from that very same year. The map is set between the lakes of Huron, Erie and Ontario


An Overview of the 18XX-style Game (for gamers unfamiliar with the genre)

The 18XX-style game typically takes a minimum of six hours to play. There is a heavy emphasis on mathematics and spatial relationships – it is a good idea to have a calculator to assist in the playing of the game.

There are two different aspects to the game. Players buy shares in railroad companies. The person with the most shares in a company will be the director and will make decisions regarding company actions (laying track and running trains). The directorship can change during the game. The person with the most money at the end of the game will be the winner – buying the shares that pay a good dividend and have a high share value at the end of the game is the road to victory.

The other aspect of the game is laying track and running trains. The director of each company puts down tracks to allow trains to run between cities – each city has a value that is used to determine the value of each train’s journey. Director’s run the trains, trying to make the most valuable routes. They can also pay to place other stations that will allow them to make more valuable routes in the future and perhaps block other players. The director also decides whether to pay a dividend to the shareholders (an action that increases the share value) OR to withhold the dividend, putting it into the company coffers to allow for purchasing new trains, but this will decrease the share value.

A single player can be the director of more than one railroad and this can lead to benefits and different railroads build track that will benefit both lines. It also allows trains to be sold between companies. As the game progresses some trains will rust and need to be replaced.

1856 actually has rules for a ‘Short Game’ that eliminates the stock market from the game. This would make 1856 an excellent choice for people interested in getting started in the 18XX phenomena.


Specific Details of 1856 (for experienced gamers)

I found 1856 to be a fairly ‘gentle’ game. There are eleven different railroads on the board (12 if you include the Canadian Government Railroad which takes over railroads which become insolvent). There are also lots and lots of cities/stations on the map.

A company can start as soon as it has enough capital to buy a train. If you start the company at $100 a share you only need two shares to be purchased and you can afford to buy a ‘2’ train. As other shares are purchased the value of the newly bought shares goes into the company funds.

Because there are so many stations on the board it is unlikely that there will be as much blocking of tracks as occurs in the other games I have played in this series. There is some blocking but it seems that it is usually fairly easy to upgrade existing track to make it around the block points.

Train upgrades seem to occur fairly frequently and so the older trains become obsolete quite quickly – it is very important to keep an eye on each company to see how much capital it has in reserve, especially if you think it’s trains are about to rust and the director could sell out leaving you as the new director, having to pay for new trains from your own pocket.

With their being eleven different lines and, in the early stages of the game, the ease with which lines can be started it is virtually automatic that the older trains will rust earlier than you would expect in the other games.


The Final Word

I like 1856. It doesn’t seem to have the tension of some of the other games but I don’t see that as a problem – six hours of tension is not necessarily a good thing. The lack of tension is probably a result of there being a lot less blocking than I have seen in other games. My personal favourite continues to be 1861, but 1856 can make a nice change of pace.


arrrh "Dead Men Tell No Tales!"



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H-B-G
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Nice review, although I don't recall 1856 being particularly gentle, but that's probably a group thing.

I think you are wrong in one point

da pyrate wrote:

A company can start as soon as it has enough capital to buy a train. If you start the company at $100 a share you only need two shares to be purchased and you can afford to buy a ‘2’ train. As other shares are purchased the value of the newly bought shares goes into the company funds.


A company can and must start when it has issued a number of shares equal to the number of the currently available new train, so if the currently available train is 2 it starts when 2 shares have been issued, if the new train is a 3, it can't start until it has issued 3 shares. The price of those shares is irrelevant.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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DaveD wrote:
Nice review, although I don't recall 1856 being particularly gentle, but that's probably a group thing.

I think you are wrong in one point

da pyrate wrote:

A company can start as soon as it has enough capital to buy a train. If you start the company at $100 a share you only need two shares to be purchased and you can afford to buy a ‘2’ train. As other shares are purchased the value of the newly bought shares goes into the company funds.


A company can and must start when it has issued a number of shares equal to the number of the currently available new train, so if the currently available train is 2 it starts when 2 shares have been issued, if the new train is a 3, it can't start until it has issued 3 shares. The price of those shares is irrelevant.


You are, of course, correct. I appreciate your comment. However, I feel that the price of the shares is relevant in as much as you need to have enough capital to purchase a train.

arrrh


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You're right about the capital aspect of course, I meant irrelevant as far as the rules for starting went.
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John Elbl
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Lack of station blocking is probably due to your group. "O" cities, and other tiles tend to get blocked frequently in my games, with very late game convoluted track drawn up to handle the deisels.

One aspect of this game is loans. There are a few ways to approach them.
1) Don't take them, and if you do pay them back.
2) Loan to the max! Spend all you can now and get multiple trains for larger dividends. Withold divends frequently to stockpile even more cash. Strip the loaned company with your single 'permanent' company and let the stripped companies fall into the CGR.
3) Loan and strip several companies simotaneously. Pick a couple companies with many tokens to be your permanent companies, blocking out key junctures allowing you to control the flow of the board. If executed well, you control 2 healthy companies in addition to the CGR.(Train rush at the right/wrong time can 'kill' you, resulting in bankruptcy... experienced played will rush the trains if they see you doing this.)
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David G. Cox Esq.
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Elf__Man wrote:
Lack of station blocking is probably due to your group. "O" cities, and other tiles tend to get blocked frequently in my games, with very late game convoluted track drawn up to handle the deisels.

One aspect of this game is loans. There are a few ways to approach them.
1) Don't take them, and if you do pay them back.
2) Loan to the max! Spend all you can now and get multiple trains for larger dividends. Withold divends frequently to stockpile even more cash. Strip the loaned company with your single 'permanent' company and let the stripped companies fall into the CGR.
3) Loan and strip several companies simotaneously. Pick a couple companies with many tokens to be your permanent companies, blocking out key junctures allowing you to control the flow of the board. If executed well, you control 2 healthy companies in addition to the CGR.(Train rush at the right/wrong time can 'kill' you, resulting in bankruptcy... experienced played will rush the trains if they see you doing this.)


I was under the impression that my group was normally fairly aggressive angry in their style of play.

Perhaps I am hanging around with the wrong people. arrrh


 
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Richard Young
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Good discussion of a great series (18XX) and a great game - 1856!

The "cutthroat" nature of 1830 is often noted as defensive play (blocking and share value "spiking") figures as largely as building up successful rail lines. Raiding company coffers to line one's own pockets is a routine tactic. One could say that these features are all common to most of the 18XX series but the degree to which this applies can vary.

1856 has all these features but they combine in subtley different ways. Blocking has been discussed and can occur but in general the board is more "open." The different way that the Public Lines are capitalized in the two games is very important and is the single biggest difference influencing your approach to play. Capital can be much tighter in this game so laying the more expensive stations just to be annoying is a decision that takes more consideration - you may need the money more for newer trains.

So too is the approach to the practice of the "dumping" of several shares in a company both to finance a purchase and to spike the share value of the target company (very common in 1830). It costs less to float a company in 1856 but the result is that it will be an undercapitalized railroad (for which loans or withholding can be the only solution unless others invest in your RR) - so anyone who buys shares above the float requirement is simply adding capital to an opponent's rail line (quite different to 1830). However, it may encourage the owner to pay out dividends thus upping the share price and producing extra income to you when he does this. That combined with the easier float requirement makes it less imperative to dump shares to generate quick profit for an expensive startup; besides, if your objective is simply to see the stock value held down simply refusing to invest is almost as effective. This gives you pause to consider any investment in the RRs of others - your motivation may be different here than in 1830. You must weigh the capital injection you are providing against the return you expect to gain. Which approach will generate the better return over the long haul? In 1830 shares tend to change hands rapidly and often. In 1856, investment may be more for the longer term, but picking a winner can be a tricky business.

These same aspects also reduce the tendency to "rape" your rail line for max return on the sale of the Private lines. You will certainly want to sell your private line to your Public line but the motivation to always take out the maximum amount is mitigated by the ever present shortage of disposable capital.

Of course, if your strategy is to plunder your intial startup to the maximum extent possible you will be ignoring everything I've just said; but, unlike 1830 where you are more likely to pursue this line of play, 1856 gives you other "routes to riches" (sorry) which may be just as lucrative. I think this may be why it seems like a kinder, gentler game to some; and, to me, a fascinating alternative to the style of play I was used to in 1830. Bill Dixon did a great job on this game and at the same time captured the theme of the intial railroad development in Canada quite accurately.
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