A game summary from the designer, David Hecht
1826 is set in France and Belgium and reflects the full period of Franco-Belgian railroading, from the origins to the present day. Both countries developed their railroad systems under close Government supervision and this is reflected in the game. The two major French nationalizations are covered, as are the post-war electrification and the introduction of high-speed rail (the TGV).

1826 is a moderately complex game, designed for experienced players who are looking for something different than the usual round of 1830, 1856 and 1870. Due to the nature of the French political environment, this is not a game for extensive stock market manipulations, nor is it primarily a game of financial management. 1826 is an operationally-centered game in which technology management--getting the right trains on the right companies--is key.

Companies are incrementally funded, and can buy and sell their own stock. Companies start out as five-share companies and can convert to ten-share companies upon reaching their destination. The first four train classes, including the first-generation permanent trains, have a range in hexes (2, 4, 6 or 10) rather than cities: the last two train classes, which are permanent, have a range in cities. There are two merger corporations, one of which may form relatively early (when the green tiles become available) and the other somewhat later (its first opportunity to form is when brown tiles become available).

Review by Steve Thomas
1826 is the latest 18xx game kit to be produced by Chris Lawson. Small numbers of copies of the game has been around for quite a while, awaiting a burst of enthusiasm from its producer, so many readers will have had the opportunity to play it already. However, it is now mass- produced, so it's appropriate to review it properly. The delay does have one advantage: in my previous reviews of 18xx games, I've only played the game a small number of times, but here I have plenty of experience.

The game is played on a map of Belgium and the northern two-thirds of France, divided into hexes as usual. There are 79 hexes on which track can be built, so it's more or less the same size as 1830. In practice, though, more of the map tends to get used and the supply of tiles is correspondingly generous. There are twelve companies in total, though no more than ten of them can be present at any one time, so although it's a little more crowded than 1830 there isn't much in it.

Company finances are essentially those of 1849 or 1851. Companies are paid the current market price as shares are sold from the initial offering or company treasury. There's a financial step at the end of each company's turn in an Operating Round where they can buy and sell their own shares. Shares in the company treasury earn dividends for the corporation, while those for shares in the pool are lost.

In the early stages, companies start off with only five shares, much like the minor companies of 1841. Also much as in 1841, such companies are very restricted in the number of trains they may own. When they build track to their destinations, a hex typically four or so hexes from their home stations, they may convert to ten-share corporations. This allows more capital into the company and allows it to own more trains, at the cost of reducing the owner's equity in the company.

The trains are a curious mixture. The earlier ones travel a limited number of hexes, as in 1849, rather than a limited number of stations, as in most other games. The last of this type is a 10H, which can run very well in the north where cities are close together. The "H" trains give way to E (for Electric) trains and TGVs, which are also electric but which travel much faster. E trains are peculiar things; they act as 2D, 3D, 4D, or 5 trains (the D represents a doubling of the revenue obtained by visiting the specified number of stations) depending on the number of E and TGV trains in service. TGVs act as 3D trains, but they may run on track used by a company's other train.

At first blush, the game looks nice and friendly. When a company is "locomotively challenged", and hasn't got enough money to buy a train, it takes out a loan or loans rather than have its president contribute from hand. These loans must in practice be repaid before the game's end, but this mechanism delays having to pay for the train as well as distributing the pain of this train shortage pro rata amongst the shareholders. It turns out, though, that 1826 is not a game for the faint of heart, and this stems from the nationalisation rules.

Historically, French railways underwent two main phases of nationalisation. Many of the early companies were built at government direction, and as a consequence failed to make money for their owners once the subsidies ran out. Around 1878, several bankrupt companies were merged together to form a state-owned company called the Etat, and more were added in 1909. The Etat managed itself reasonably well for a while, but it and most other railway companies in France went insolvent during the early 1930s as a result of the Depression. As a consequence the SNCF was formed from the wreckage in 1937. The game attempts to simulate this.

When trains become obsolete, trainless companies may be forced to merge into either the Etat or the SNCF, in three waves of nationalisation depending on which train type has just rusted. (The SNCF has two opportunities to form.) A key rule is that it takes at least two companies to be left vulnerable for the merger to occur, and this tends to lead to a certain amount of brinkmanship. The merger normally reduces shareholder equity by a factor of about two, and this does happen immediately, so it's important not to be involved too much. This is the main reason why the change from being a 5-share company to being a 10-share company is so important; 5-share companies cannot usually afford an extra train, and usually don't have the space for one either.

In most 18xx games, the usual early strategic objective is to maximise the price-to-earnings ratio of one's investments. That's true of 1826, too, but it's coloured by the consequences of nationalisation in a big way. Later strategy is more devoted to the usual 18xx concern of maximising absolute earnings by investing in companies with good trains and routes to run them on. As always, knowing when to switch between these two strategies is of considerable importance.

Although this game is a kit, production values are excellent. The map and all the other components except the money are printed in full colour on moderately thick card. The tiles should really be made thicker for comfortable handling, either by being glued to thicker card and laminated on the front, or, better, laminated on both sides. The money is printed in black on coloured paper; naturally, the serial numbers are all different. This just needs to be cut out. The result can look better than some professionally-produced games, though the cutting out of the components can be a little tedious.

1826 is a game where there are real strategic decisions all the way through, giving skill an opportunity to come to the fore. (This may explain why I keep getting trounced.) It takes three to six players, though as usual in 18xx when there are six players finances are uncomfortably tight in the early stages. We seem to spend about six hours over the game, a figure likely to come down when the players are more experienced (well, one can dream). I can recommend it unreservedly. 1826 was designed by David Hecht, with input from an army of playtesters including me, so I'm not entirely unbiased. It is available from Chris Lawson, 7 Cornfields, Yateley, Hants GU46 6YT UK, e-mail chris.lawson@virgin.net

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This page is maintained by Chris Lawson (chris.lawson@virgin.net)
Last Updated 10th August 2001