Many times we divide 18xx games into 2 types: engineering and stock markets. From this title on I will add 3rd type: historical.
1883 is the first 18xx issued by the publishing house Aleph Game Studio from Italy. We waited impatiently for it, because it was supposed to have unique mechanisms, which are rather known from euro or war games. In addition, we were interested in the author – Manlio Manzini, who had his share in the well-rated 1841. Because a multitude of unusual solutions could scare less experienced players, we decided to try this game with Marcin for 2 people. How did it work out?
At the beginning it is worth to mention the element with which the new player will have to face – rulebook. The rulebook is unfortunately poorly written and although I have already read a dozen of them in my “18xx career”, I have had several doubts few times. Definitely its transparency is the weakest element of this game. And this is the more problematic, that we have few solutions in 1883 that we will not meet in other 18xx games.
In general, I like the look of the game and the map. The best element are cards, with nice colors and matte cover. Unfortunately, there are a few bugs that bother you a bit. The stock market has no arrows, so you have to remember from the instructions that the price is rising up or falling down if the marker can not be moved to the side. The field for concessions has errors. In addition, the company logos are very artistic (probably historical), but illegible. Shares on which company names are provided are also not helpful, whereas the instructions use abbreviations. For a person who speaks Italian, it probably will not be a problem, but we sometimes had doubts about which company it is. The same problem is also related to finding individual cities on the board – it is a pity that the hex number has not been added to the city’s name in rules. This would greatly facilitate the game. You also have to get used to the fact that the company’s markers completely obscure the field on the stock exchange, which means we do not see at first glance which company should operate first. As you can see, a lot of these problems appear in the next game 18xx (eg the last edition of 1830) I doubt that it could be significantly improved in the future (in any game published by company not mainly focused on 18xx games).
What do we find in 1883?
Bidding and SR
- Bidding for private companies is standard, their special abilities are quite interesting. I played with companies that had an anchor marker, which allows them to increase their income from the route. The only objection I have here is that the abilities of these companies are not printed on the back of the cards, which makes it easy to forget about them. This is not the first 18xx which have this issue. Unfortunately, probably not the last one. In addition, it is unclear whether the company whose shares the player has received with the private company gets the money when it’s start. Only for FBV I found information (but only in the box with an example …) that yes – this company at the start gets extra money for 10% of shares. But what about the FSF company? We played that the FSF did not get the money and I had to buy more shares. But for now, I think we played badly
- During your move in SR, you can instead of buying shares, buy a ‘Political support’ card or a concession for one of your companies (paying with the company’s money). The ‘Political support’ cards serve two purposes: to protect against the effects of ‘Event cards’ and to participate in profit from the concession.
Concession, on the other hand, is an agreement between a railway company and the government to make a connection between certain cities. The purchase of such a concession is not expensive, and the profit is worthwhile. The problem is that the rules describe that the company must be able to trace the route exactly as written in the concession, which in my opinion is unfeasible when the first location is outside area. If we do not make a connection in time, our company loses the concession and, in addition, must pay a fine. In our game I managed to buy the first license and it was a good cash injection for my company. Unfortunately, afterwards, we gave up this element for a simple reason – finding locations that are part of a concession on a built-in board is unfeasible. For the future you will need to prepare small tags, eg C1-1 to mark the first city for 1 connection etc. It is a pity that no concessions were made in the form of playing cards, it would look like tickets from Ticket to Ride 🙂
- Companies starts to operate at 20% in players hands, which gives you a lot of possibilities. But you have to be careful not to lose your own company quickly. There is also a second catch here, one of the private companies immediately gives the president’s certificate, but … the company has no money, so you have to buy more shares anyway (as I mentioned, I have more and more doubts here). Along with this mechanism, company also have the option of selling the company’s own shares to Bank Pool, which gives interesting gameplay options. Because in 1883 the company may be closed, I used it to shut down the company for which I have not seen the future.
- private, bid at the beginning of the game. In addition to the last of them, you can sell them to the railway company after the first train 3, with one exception for FRV, which can be sold earlier, but at the maximum for the purchase price
- ordinary companies, among which we will find FMMSF and FMV, which after the first train 5 can be merged together
- CCFR company, whose shares at the beginning of the game can not be bought and players manage it alternately. Since each player has only 10%, dividend payments are not big, but this company is interesting for other reasons:
- has trains allocated by the bank for free, receiving a permanent train at the end of the phase where all players controled it
- it can build more tracks than other companies and it is basically free, which makes it an ideal supporting company for other player companies
- and probably the funniest thing – instead of paying dividends to all shareholders, current president can steal all income! T results in the fact that he loses his 10% share, but if this company can’t help his other companies, this is not a bad idea … I definitely like this rule, and in our game Marcin used it
- SARSA (bus company) – a very interesting idea. A company that basically works in a different way from railway companies and does not block in any way.Unfortunately, the rules for SARSA are also not precise in my opinion. There is written that the income is calculated only for hexes bordering on the hex that the SARSA marker is, but we also counted the hex on which the marker was. With this company, once again we felt that something is missing in the box. There are no markers for mountains and hills, and it’s important because SARSA pays the building cost for its marker, even if the hex has already been built (and paid for by another company)
Tracks like tracks, a game about trains so they must be;) But here we have a line built by the government, which allows us to make transit connections. The idea is interesting and we will have to take a closer look, because for now we have the impression that in many cases it is still more profitable to run routes on ordinary tracks. This is due to the fact that using the state route we have to bear the double cost of joining it (in other words, the city from which we start the connection “takes” us 2 instead of 1 from the train’s range). Maybe at the end of the game it will be more usefull, when intermediate stations will be blocked by other companies, and only using the government route will allow to skip them? The second thing is that at some point in the game we had the impression that there is no need to expand the tracks on the board. However, it seems to me that it was because we knew that we would not play until the end. Starting with trains 5 and further, I think that such lack of builded tracks would translate into untapped power of trains.
Also nothing new in 18xx games but here we have several companies that have two starting stations at the beginning. An interesting solution that greatly increases the capabilities of these companies.
In 1883, we have 9 types of trains. 4 of them are basic trains, which sooner or later will be eliminated from the game, 4 of them are permanent trains and we have one special type – 2G. The letter G comes from the word “gravity”. Generally, it’s hard to call it a train, because it did not have its own locomotive, so it can only move using the laws of physics. For this reason, in order to be able to bring profits, it must start from the station located higher, to the lower station. And because such a ride is dangerous, we have probably the first 18xx game where we use the dice. We have 70% chance that the ride will be effective and profitable, 20% would be without profit and 10% that 2G train has been destroyed. Fortunately, 2G costs only 20L (ordinary train 2 costs 100L), so in my opinion it is a nice diversion and an interesting historical element. However, when setting the route, the problem that I mentioned before appears again – on the built-in tiles you can not see where the mountain was, where the hill, and where the plain. We dealt with it using my daughter’s Lego blocks;)
At the end, the most controversial element of this game – the event cards. The most important observation is that you can easily remove them from the game and the balance will not change. I personally have mixed feelings about them, because I have the first impression that the negative effects of these events can deepen the differences between better players/companies and worse ones. Unfortunately, to the detriment of the worse. On the other hand, this is another interesting historical aspect for me. What disturbs me the most in the randomness of these events is the fact that we do not know what and when it will happen. The only way to protect yourself against some of these events is to buy ‘Political support’ cards (for each of your companies, for each OR), which obviously exacerbates differences between players. In our game there were at least twice the situation, where we drew a card that causes the company to make only half of the profit. We both had three companies, but due to the fact that Marcin had more cash, he could save all his companies by this loss, while I could save only one.
I wonder if it would not be a good solution (if we want to play with these cards) to draw, for example, 2-3 cards 1-2 rounds before, so that everyone can prepare in advance. Because a strike (there is such a card) in real life is often or even always predictable. I think that this solution would improve the balance of this element.
To be honest, at the very beginning of our game I had the impression that I do not know what it is all about, and whether it makes sense at all. Surprisingly, after a while that first impression that this game will be a failure dissapear and it was nice play. And I’m not just talking about bombing the board, but about the fact that everything started to mesh and make sense. 2G trains were a nice addition and a chance for additional income. The possibility of controlling for a while CCFR allowed to use it indirectly for my own purposes. Seeing that one of my companies has no chance of success, I could close it without any problems. Finally, I founded a bus company and started to carry passengers in the mountainous regions of Italy. Because I like the historical aspect in 18xx games, all these elements began to make a great game as a whole. What’s the most interesting, I’m not able to give exactly what I liked, it just played nice. The problem with this title, however, is that you have to get through the beginning to enjoy it. In my opinion there are 4 problems here that I think you can deal with quickly:
- unclear instructions (unnecessary repetitions and other bugs) – here I am counting on Aleph Game Studio that they will publish a revised version of the rules
- no markers for mountains / hills
- no markers for cities from concessions (and from F hexes)
- too big ‘Event cards’ randomness
Despite these disadvantages, I encourage you to play.