1856: Railroading in Upper Canada from 1856 (1995)
Designer: Bill Dixon
Publisher: Mayfair Games
Time: 300 minutes +
I must say that at first I was a little bit hesitant to play 1856 since it is said to take over 6 hours and if you don't like a game after 15 minutes, 6 hours can seem like forever. I am happy to say that I am glad I played that first time and every time since.
There is a lot of detail to go through here, lots of specifics that change throughout the game so I will keep it simple. Mainly, you operate a train company. There is one specific thing though that sets it apart from most other games: The goal is not to have your company do well, but for you to do well. In 1856 you are separate from your company (or companies) and you need to run them successfully in order to end up with the most cash. That's the overview, now a few more details.
At the start, you must buy a private company. There are six in total and there is an auction for each one. The cheapest one is $20 and only gives you $5 per operating round, while the more expensive ones can give you up to $20 per operating round and other benefits. Once a 3-train is sold (meaning a train that can visit 3 cities), the private companies can be sold to public companies, which are the train companies that you operate and are the key focus of the game.
After that quick auction, each person choses a public company to open. There are 13 companies in total and all are the same. The only difference is their location on the board. To start a company you set the initial stock price and buy 2 shares of the company (the president certificate). This money goes from your personal stash to the companies treasury. Thus it will also be the amount of money that it has to start up. In the first operating round it will need to buy a train.
Each turn consists of buying and/or selling shares and then a set number of operating rounds. As the game goes on, there are more and more operating rounds per turn, going up to 3 once the first four train is sold. The operating rounds consist of the following actions:
Step 0: Private companies pay out
Step 0: Private companies may be bought/sold between players and companies
Step 0: Take loans
Step 1: Lay track (optional)
Step 2: Place station marker (optional)
Step 3: Operate
Step 4: Pay interest on loans
Step 5: Pay dividends or withhold
Step 6: Adjust share price
Step 7: purchase train (optional)
Step 8: Pay loans
The Step 0's can be done at any time during your turn, while the others are done in their specific order. The player with the highest share price gets to go first and performs all the steps above and then the play continues in share price order.
There are many other rules to remember, but I will not list them all here. One thing to note is that when you run your trains, the main way to earn money, you must start from a city that is in your reach. Meaning that you cannot be blocked off by another players tokens, which are placed in cities as blockers. You also cannot use the same track twice, but you can use the same city twice. So you must decide where you are going based on what track is available to you. Once track is placed, it can be used by any player.
For the loans, you take them any time on your turn, with a max of one per turn and a total of six outstanding loans at one time. Also, the interest must be payed on each turn, including the turn you take the loan. Your company must also pay the interest, but if your company is out of cash, the individual can cover it.
Laying track and laying markers is optional and may not always be beneficial. Initially, you must ensure to reach your destination location. This is a location that each company has that is needed before receiving the cash from the sale of the sixth share. Otherwise, the money is held in escrow and only received once the destination is reach.
Once you operate, you can decide to either pay dividends or withhold. If you withhold, your companies share price is reduced by one square and the cash goes all into the treasury of the company. If you pay dividends, each shareholder receives 1/10 of the operating amount, this goes to the individuals and also causes your share price to rise by one square. Individual money and company money must be kept separate, since individuals buy shares and start companies, while companies buy trains and pay to lay track.
You may then also purchase new trains. One important thing to note is that old trains become obsolete as new ones are sold and thus are removed from the game, so you must ensure you will always have a train to operate. You can also have more then one train, with a limit based on the availability of trains.
As the game progresses, the Canadian Government Railway comes to life and these shares are exchanged 2 for 1 to any bankrupt company.
This is by far not a complete rundown of the rules, but just the basics. There is a lot more to it and specific rules that will guide the game. However, the game is pretty open and you can build track and operate pretty freely. Other players actions are the real issue, since they will greatly effect you.
This is where the game gets really interesting, the strategy. This is a real player versus player game, no solitaire play here, since everything you do effects other players, since they can use your track, fight for strong share prices, pay dividends to each other, etc. At first, the instructions and length of the game may scare people off, which it did in my group as well, but after one play, people tend to want to play again. There are a lot of decisions to make and each time the game is different, quite different. The length even changes, with a game lasting as little as 2 hours and going to over 5 hours. Depending on the end game trigger, which can be the bank running out of money (longer games) or a company going out of business (shorter game).
The decisions start right away, with the purchase of the private companies, since this will tend to effect which railway company the player will select. This also effects the order of play, since the more you spend on a private company, the less you have for share purchases and will likely cause you to set a lower starting share price. In games with 5 or 6 players, these decisions are huge, since there will likely not be enough 2-trains for everyone and thus, three shares will be needed to start your initial company, since you always need a minimum amount of shares equal to the lowest available train type to start your company.
The train purchases also cause older trains to go obsolete, so you need to make sure you always will have a train to operate, since your train can suddenly be removed from the game. The same goes for the track laying, since the green tiles are only available once the 3-trains are purchased and this may slow you down if all the city tiles you need in yellow have been taken. Tracks are often used to block also, since existing connections can never be removed, if you use track to block someone, they may have no choice but to upgrade that track and thus also help you. As an alternative, you can also chose to build together, but watch out for those tokens, which can block you out of an area you helped build.
You can also benefit from another players success by buying their shares and getting dividends from them. You can even try to takeover another company, but this is tough since players will see it coming and you tend to focus on your own shares first. At the end, all your shares are sold, so a company paying out dividends helps you get cash during the game and pays out big at the end, so focusing on your own company may not always be the best idea.
As the game goes on, you can also chose to open another railway company (or even have two early on) and with the Canadian Government Company (CGC), you can chose to run one or even both into the ground and take control of the CGC. Yet the CGC may not always be created if no one goes bankrupt during that phase.
The choice of paying dividends or withholding is a tough choice during each operating round, especially if others also own some of your shares. The fact that paying dividends gets the player cash and raises the share price versus withholding which gives the company cash and lowers the share price, poses quite a decision. There are good and bad things for both, so you must think ahead and you also do not want to make others rich off your operations. With two companies, you can also use one to help the other and then have one string company and turn one into the CGC, but be careful not to go bankrupt before the CGC is created.
Getting others to buy your shares is also helpful, since the money goes into your company's treasury and thus prevents you from having to withhold operating earnings and keeps your share price rising. Since new shares are always bought at the initial par value of the shares, a company doing well is more likely to be bought by others and thus will continue to rise since it can pay dividends more often. You may want to sell your company's strong points if you are doing well to get some cash for your company. Since you are likely the majority shareholder, you benefit the most from the continuous dividend payments.
There is a lot more to it then listed, but to go through it all would be a little bit long and dull. Above is the basic information and as can be seen, it is quite the strategic game, with all actions having consequences for all the players, either right away or later on, since the tracks will all meet at one point and everyone will run into other players markers and start buying other players shares. There is a lot of math here, you need a banker that can calculate dividend payments (basically multiply by 10%) and this may put off some people since a bad calculation can hurt.
I cannot say enough good things about this game. Sure it is long and the last few operating rounds take forever, especially if you play with diesel trains, but the flow of the game is great and the build up, interaction and calculation is unmatched by most other games. It may seem like a lot at first, but after one round, you see that the main decisions are simply where to lay track, pay dividends or withhold and what to buy / sell in the market. It just takes a while to teach since there are a lot of exceptions and special cases that need to be explained. But well worth it once you have that out of the way.
Rating: (9 / 10)
1. The maximum number of loans a company can have is equal to the number of shares held by players, and not necessarily six. It often is six, as that's the limit for one player's holdings in any one company.
2. With experienced players who don't succumb to "analysis paralysis", the game can be played in four hours. Using poker chips or a computer to track finances speeds things up.
3. Station markers are used primarily to ensure your access to a city, and to provide more flexibility on runs. Blocking other players is secondary (although it can be important as well).
4. It's important to note that the requirements for starting a company depends on the train that's currently available for purchase. The size of the train available when the company gets its first chance to operate determines whether it's allowed to do so. It can happen in the first operating round that a company starting low ($65) may need to have three shares purchased to operate, as all the 2-trains have been purchased before its turn.
5. Upgrading track is an option that can be done instead of laying track, provided that the appropriate color tile is available (based on what trains have been purchased).
Thanks, the loan rule I had forgot about, should keep that in mind next time we play. And I agree, although there are a lot of rules, the game plays smoothly often even with new players, the only problem they have is realizing some rules only after having made a mistake (like starting a new company and then realizing they cannot afford enough shares to get it started).