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Overview
1825 Unit 2 is another entry in the seemingly endless 18xx family. It was designed by Francis Tresham, the originator of 18xx, and creator of other cool games such as Civilization. Although it's Unit 2 of the 1825 system, it's a standalone title and can be played with 2 - 4 players right out of the box. You don't need any rules or components from Unit 1. The playing time is a refreshingly brief 2 - 3 hours.


you can tell this is a train game from the box cover

What sets 1825 Unit 2 apart from most other 18xx games is that it's expandable / modular. The board size and number of companies can be doubled or tripled by adding Units 1 and / or 3, and there are numerous smaller expansions that introduce extra trains, tiles, money, and companies to either Unit 2 or to the system as a whole.

The other distinguishing feature of 1825 is its simplicity. The focus of the game is on track laying and railway operations, with the stock portion consisting of some fairly subtle portfolio management, rather than 1830 style corporate raiding. The stock market is linear, and has no ledges or zones per se. You're never forced to remain president of a company, you can't go bankrupt, and the only restriction on stock holding is the certificate limit. Combined with its short playing time, the gentle stock rules make Unit 2 a good introductory game for first time 18xx players (though it would help to have a veteran explain some of the less intuitive rules.

I haven't played much of Unit 2, but I will forge ahead and review it anyway, since no-one else has. Old hands, feel free to point out errors.

Bits
The flimsy but attractive box is stuffed full of components that I suspect Tresham has assembled at his kitchen table. Everything comes already bagged, which is great. All of the tiles and cards are grouped together with rubber bands which is not so great. If you're a collector holding on to an in-shrink copy of this you're going to have to bust it open at some point before the rubber bands ruin everything.


the aforementioned components

In this unit you get:

* series rulebook
The series rulebook is an unillustrated A5 booklet with a cardboard cover. It contains charts and tables showing player money, certificate limits, etc, for various combinations of the 3 units. It doesn't cover combinations where expansion kits are added, so you may have to (for example) guess how much money to add to the bank when playing with expansions. Learning the game from this rulebook is hard. It's quite terse, and the lack of diagrams or reminders is going to be tough for 18xx novices who aren't familiar with tile promotion, legal routes etc. Many rule restrictions are implied by omission rather than spelled out, so 18xx veterans may also have trouble trying to figure out how this game differs from the others in the genre. In any case I recommend consulting the 18xx rules difference page before reading the rulebook.

* Unit 2 specific rules
Unit 2's additional rules describe the 6 trains and grey tiles. As you would expect, the 6 trains are available after all of the 5 trains are sold, and grey tiles promote russet (brown) tiles. As you might not expect, the 6 trains don't rust the 3s.

* board
This is a small (A4 size, 6 x 7 hexes) board depicting the Midlands area around Liverpool, that is very attractive and professional looking. It's not hard mounted like a Mayfair 18xx board, but it's very sturdy and appealing. You won't need to put this under perspex, and the shiny coating looks like it may even resist minor spills. The north and south board edges have some partial hexes on them to allow Units 1 and 3 to be added. I really liked the colours, design, and appearance of the board, though I would have liked the yellow OO cities to be coloured white for consistency's sake. The board is almost all playable hexes, and as a result there's no space for any charts or tables on the board. Terrain costs are not marked on the board, but are found in the rulebook.


the entire board, 6 x 7 hexes

* stock market chart
1825 has a linear stock market, but presented as three rows. This is printed on a piece of thin card, and it's fine for the task. The par values of each public company are preprinted on the chart, which is helpful. The market in Unit 2 goes up to £500, so when playing a multi-unit game you should use this market rather than the one printed on the Unit 3 board.

* tiles
The tiles are pre-cut, and seem to be from different print runs. Some of the greens are much darker than the others, and some of the yellows are pale while others have a deeper hue. Looking at the reverse of the tiles, they look like they're made of cereal box card. They're not as good as the AH, Mayfair, or Deep Thought tiles, but they're good enough to play with. The Unit 2 tile mix is very interesting, in that there are almost no brown junction tiles, and most of the green cities are #12s. Also notable by its absence is #57, the yellow one-spot city on straight track. The restrictiveness of the included tiles make Unit 2 a game of shorting, blocking, and tempo -- almost an abstract. If you want to play a more conventional 18xx game, you'll definitely want to get 1825 Extension Kit K1: Supplementary Tiles.

* tile promotion chart
Unit 2 has a bunch of unusual tile promotions. There are a huge proportion of double village / whistlestop tiles in this game, but unlike pretty much every other 18xx, they can be promoted to two-spot green cities. You can't rely on your track laying instincts from other games here, so you might want to give each player a copy of the chart.

* private company certs
Again, no surprises here. The only unusual thing about the privates is that they have no special powers, so their role in the game is limited to differentiating the opening, and providing a timing element of when to hold or sell them. Privates in 1825 can only be sold to the bank, not to public companies.


the cards and certificates

* train cards
These are pretty standard, except that they don't include any of the phase / rusting information that is commonly seen in newer titles. This isn't a big deal, since only the 2s rust in vanilla 1825.

* public company certs and tokens
The certs are small cards of decent quality, and it looks like they have historical colours. The tokens are cheap plastic discs, as you would find in a low quality snakes and ladders set. Unfortunately, several of the companies have similar colours, and few of them match the colour of their tokens. This is compounded by a lack of token labels, so there's no way to associate company names and tokens at a glance. For example, the NER (green cert) is represented by plain pink tokens.

Also, if you use the minors from 1825 Extension Kit K5: Minor Companies for Unit 2, there are duplicate tokens in the game, as both the LNWR and the Furness minor have black discs. Happily, the Unit 2 charters on BGG also include correctly coloured token labels for both the publics and the expansion minors, and these can be printed on sticker paper or just glued on to the tokens.


what it looks like with all the expansions rolled in

* round marker
This is a white token that is used to mark the current OR or the SR. This would be really great if there were a round track to put it on, but this is only included with Units 1 and 3.

* paper money
Two types are provided, player money and company credit. The money is split into two types to keep player and company money separate, but this is only because no charters are provided in the box, rather than for any game reason. You can and should just replace these collectively with about £6000 worth of poker chips, and print out the Unit 2 charters from BGG.

* priority dealer card
18xx-speak for the start player marker. I prefer the dealer button from a poker chip set, with its beer-resistant powers.

To summarise, the components are playable but of below average quality, and you don't get:
- an insert
- anywhere to put the round marker
- token labels
- company charters

Having said that, it was really no trouble to just print out the missing bits and get playing -- much less hassle than cutting out a gamekit. Don't let the components stop you playing 1825.

Gameplay
The flow of play in 1825 is a little bit different to the other 18xx titles I've played. The game opens with each player being dealt a private company at random (representing a railroad too small to simulate operationally), after which any leftover privates are sold off at face value using the fixed price method familiar to anyone who's played Modern Art. After this public company certs are sold off (again at face value), in descending price order.

I didn't particularly like this approach to the private companies, as the initial distribution added randomness to an otherwise deterministic game, and the player with lowest revenue was compelled to buy whatever was offered in order to avoid the other player(s) passing and making money. The initial luck the draw can determine which private companies each player will own, and thus how much cash on hand each player has, and therefore which public company shares they will buy. (You pretty much always want to buy shares in the first offered public company, the LNWR). The net result was that the privates felt like a combinatorial set of start packets a la 1835, some balanced, some not.

While we're on the topic, the private companies also seem like a bit of a missed trick in the game proper. In other 18xx games the privates often have special powers (e.g. lay a tile or token on a desirable hex for free), which gives them a differing value / desirability for each player, as well as providing a rare opportunity to include a bit of theme and history. In 1825, the privates work more like an bond issue, and the only decision point is when to hold and when to sell them to the bank for face minus thirty pounds. This isn't a much of a decision: you sell when you can buy another cert with a large enough revenue to amortise your thirty pound loss over the rest of the game and make a profit.

After the initial certificates have been distributed, the game falls into a cycle of one share round (in which shares are bought and sold), followed by a set of 1-3 operating rounds (in which public companies lay track, run trains, and dispose of revenue). Share rounds and operating rounds follow each other until the bank is empty, at which point the game ends. There's no bankruptcy end condition in 1825.


a game in progress

The stock round here is of the sell-buy-sell variety. Selling doesn't trash stock prices, so this isn't as nasty as it sounds. The Unit 2 stock market is all about tempo and portfolio optimisation, so sell-buy-sell works really well here. It's hard to know when to sell, since you can't loot and dump a company, and even if a company is left trainless the bank will rehabilitate it for you. I haven't played it enough to figure out the answer, but I suspect it's worth selling if it looks like the company is going to withhold, then buying back in after it gets a new train. In 1825 share prices recover very quickly from losses, so its often desirable to hold shares that are paying out dividends rather than shares that are high on the stock market but withholding. The stock market seems pretty dead at first blush, but I think it's actually pretty subtle and fiendish. There should be a lot of replay value here.

Operating rounds are pretty standard for an 18xx: lay track, place a token (representing a station / railhead), distribute revenue, buy trains. The distinguishing features here are that the tile promotion chart is unusually permissive, publics can't own privates, 3s are permatrains, and higher payouts lead to multiple jumps on the stock market.

The last two or three sets of ORs can be quite repetitive, as it's hard to find anywhere to lay useful track in the endgame. Once it becomes apparent that the game is going to repeat for a few cycles, the game starts to drag, and you might like to handle the last few ORs collectively on paper.

Conclusion
If you haven't played 18xx before, Unit 2 would be a good place to start. It's quick playing, forgiving, works well at a low player count, and is not insanely difficult to obtain. For a shorter 18xx game (2-3 hours), Unit 2 by itself is ideal, but if you want a longer game or more than four players, you'll want to invest in some other parts of the 1825 system. Three seems like the ideal number, two is quite good, and four would either be too crowded or enjoyably cutthroat depending on your inclinations.

Although it has something of a preset beginning and drags a little at the end, the bulk of Unit 2 is very enjoyable, even for 18xx novices. I'm happy to own a copy of this fine game.

If you're interested, but can't find a copy of Unit 2, or the low quality components are a major turn-off, you might try Steam over Holland. If you want a more complex, thematic, and interactive game, 1856: Railroading in Upper Canada from 1856 is cheap and easily obtainable, but takes about two or three times longer to play.

I recommend Unit 2 to anyone with an interest in 18xx and a bit of patience with the components and unusual mechanisms.
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Jim Cote
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Michael
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Thanks for your review - good work! I quite like 1825. The operational side of this 18xx game is very appealing.

Quote:
The stock market is linear

Actually, the market is not linear: the higher the value, the bigger the differences between the fields.

Quote:
the only restriction on stock holding is the certificate limit.

Remember, that stock under £50 doesn't count against this limit.

Regards,
Michael
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J C Lawrence
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sbszine wrote:
Although it's Unit 2 of the 1825 system, it's a standalone title and can be played with 2 - 4 players right out of the box.


I find Unit 2 the best 2 player game of the set. It is also an excellent 3 player game. I've not tried 4 player.

Quote:
The playing time is a refreshingly brief 2 - 3 hours.


Out playtimes have run near 3 hours, but we're a fractious lot. I know many groups steadily knock of the 1825s in 2 hours.

Quote:
The Unit 2 tile mix is very interesting, in that there are almost no brown junction tiles, and most of the green cities are #12s. Also notable by its absence is #57, the yellow one-spot city on straight track. The restrictiveness of the included tiles make Unit 2 a game of shorting, blocking, and tempo -- almost an abstract.


This seemingly absurdly tight tile mix is common to all the 1825 units and in many ways makes the games for me. The tightness doesn't only extend to the tiles types that aren't present, but also the very short supply of some otherwise common tiles. It drives most 1830-branch 18XX players nuts however. Whaddya mean that there are no #58 (broad curve with a pip) tiles and only two #14 (green X with a double station)? Gah!

1825 games can be easily won and lost on accurate control and prediction of the track tiles. The full track manifests along with the maps may be seen here: http://www.fwtwr.com/18xx/maps_tile_sheets/index.htm He also has a very nice general tile database here: http://www.fwtwr.com/18xx/tiles/index.asp

Quote:
If you want to play a more conventional 18xx game, you'll definitely want to get 1825 Extension Kit K1: Supplementary Tiles.


They are also far more forgiving games with the additional track.

Quote:
* tile promotion chart
Unit 2 has a bunch of unusual tile promotions.


I strongly recommend printing out the tile-upgrade charts that are available here under the various game listings. They are excellent references.

Quote:
* paper money
Two types are provided, player money and company credit. The money is split into two types to keep player and company money separate, but this is only because no charters are provided in the box, rather than for any game reason. You can and should just replace these collectively with about £6000 worth of poker chips, and print out the Unit 2 charters from BGG.


Be careful to remember to keep the corporate cash supply separate from the player supply. The bank breaks on $6K of player money -- and doesn't count any money in company treasuries. I use two different poker chip sets when playing games with differentiated company and player money (1825, 1860 etc).

Quote:
* priority dealer card
18xx-speak for the start player marker. I prefer the dealer button from a poker chip set, with its beer-resistant powers.


Also.

Quote:
Selling doesn't trash stock prices, so this isn't as nasty as it sounds.


Stock selling still reduces stock value, however this usually has little effect as the company value will often simply rise by a multiple on its next dividend, thus recovering all the lost ground.

Even more cleverly it is often worthwhile to withhold dividends in the 1825s. Thus is anathema to players of any of the 1830-branch, but in the 1825s a withhold can often be followed by a dividend which double-jumps to the same stock price it would have had without ever paying, thus making the only penalty the loss of a dividend for the shareholders.

Quote:
The stock market seems pretty dead at first blush, but I think it's actually pretty subtle and fiendish. There should be a lot of replay value here.


Yes. This is true of all the 1825s.
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J C Lawrence
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brauerle wrote:
Actually, the market is not linear: the higher the value, the bigger the differences between the fields.


It is linear as compared to the two dimensional stock markets of the 1830 branch in which stock values are dictated by the row and column of their stock markers.
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Chris Rudram
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clearclaw wrote:

Also.

sbszine wrote:
Selling doesn't trash stock prices, so this isn't as nasty as it sounds.


Stock selling still reduces stock value, however this usually has little effect as the company value will often simply rise by a multiple on its next dividend, thus recovering all the lost ground.



Selling doesn't reduce stock prices in 1825.

(see http://www.maproom.co.uk/18xxcompnsw.htm#S2.%20%20Subsequent... section 2.9).
 
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Odinsday wrote:
Selling doesn't reduce stock prices in 1825.


Damn. I must be confusing it with 1860. Thanks for the catch.
 
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Todd Pytel
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Thanks for the very helpful review! After my recent introduction to 1830, I've been examining the smaller, 2-3 player options out there in the series. Sounds like this one has some strengths, but also some things I'm less keen on (the weird track upgrades and the private company deal in particular). It looks like the kind of game that I'd take if I found a good deal, but not one that I really want to hunt after compared to 1860 or some of the Deep Thought titles.
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Chris Rudram
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I find the private company deal is just a replacement for the random seating order, and works out okay. It's a good deal simpler than 1830 style privates, and thus makes the game easier to learn.

The oddness of upgrades is definitely more confusing than others, especially when you realise that certain tiles just don't exist... which can be a real downer when you realise your best laid plans have gone awry.
 
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George Leach
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sbszine wrote:
This is a small (A4 size, 6 x 7 hexes) board depicting the Midlands area around


Nooo! It's the Northwest, not Midlands, Midlands is down by Birmingham. Liverpool to Manchester is the Northwest.


Just thought you needed to know
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Jugular wrote:
Nooo! It's the Northwest, not Midlands, Midlands is down by Birmingham. Liverpool to Manchester is the Northwest.


Just thought you needed to know

Sweet, I defer to your local knowledge.
 
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Philip Hernandez
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The lack of tile 57 seems to be a deliberate design feature. (In fact, the very number says so.) It did not appear in the original 1829, and in fact was originally coined for 1830. Presumably this is because Britain has been settled much longer and communities were more clustered than in North America during the same period. (Which is why New England gets pretty tangled early on in 1830: a similar lack of running room.)

I'm just guessing, of course.

Phil
 
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Jake Prescott
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As regards rubber bands and shrink copies -
"All of the tiles and cards are grouped together with rubber bands which is not so great. If you're a collector holding on to an in-shrink copy of this you're going to have to bust it open at some point before the rubber bands ruin everything." - As far as I am aware Francis Tresham who assembles his own games does not have facilities to shrink wrap his boxes and certainly my copies of 1825/1829/1829Mainline/1853(1st edition)/Spanish Main etc. were NOT shrink wrapped from new. If you have a shrink wrapped copy it is NOT in the condition it left Francis's garage.
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