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1837: A Game Review

Spring 1996/Vol 3, no 1

Designed and published by Leonhard Orgler.
Game review: Colin Barnhorst.

The Setting.
1837 is set in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Austria-Hungary consisted of the present territories of Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, southern Poland, and Transylvanian Romania. As reflected in the game, Austria-Hungary also held a portion of northern Italy before Italian unification. Austria-Hungary was a dual monarchy with kings in Austria and Hungary. The Austrian king was also the emperor. In general, Austria ruled the northern territories and Hungary the southern. Bosnia was an Imperial territory. This complex political structure results in a correspondingly complex game design.

The Game Components.
Physically, the game comes in a brown box with dozens of sheets of components, including:

1. Map sections covering all of Austria-Hungary. 2. Private company, coal road, minor company, and stock company certificates, charters and tokens. 3. Yellow, green, and brown track tiles
4. Passenger and Freight train certificates. 5. Money (in Crowns). 6. A stock value chart. 7. An initial offerings chart. 8. Rule book, with graphical tile upgrade chart. 9. Conference Map. 10. A bag of colored plastic tokens.

The components must be cut and mounted before play.

The Rules.
In his rules, Orgler acknowledges the close affinity between the game systems of 1837 and 1835. For readers who have not played 1835, the central theme is the emergence of state railroads from collections of minor roads and nationalized stock companies. 1835 has one such state railroad, the Prussian State Railway. 1837 has three: the Imperial State Railway, the Hungarian Railway, and the Southern Railway. The emergence of the state railways is the central fact with which the players must contend.

In addition to the three state railways, 1837 has seven stock companies, eleven minor companies (all precursors to the state railways), fourteen coal roads, and a collection of private companies. All but the private companies can own trains and lay track. The coal roads can only operate freight trains (called in the English fashion, "Goods Trains"). Each coal road is associated with a mining hex and reserves its owner a share in one of the stock companies. Each coal road must eventually close, activating its owner's reserved share of public company stock. In a similar way, each minor company reserves to its owner shares in the state railways and eventually close. There is a close relationship between these reserved shares and capitalization of the stock companies. The specific game events that lead to the exchanging of shares and the floating of the respective companies are controlled by the sales of the passenger trains.

The initial stock round is set out, like 1835, with a start packet of private and minor company certificates. Rather than players bidding on certificates, the players pass and the certificates are discounted until they find buyers.

The train table is more complex than in most 18xx games, with twelve types of passenger trains (from 2-trains to 5+4-trains) and four types of freight trains (from 1G-trains to 4G-trains). To further keep players on their toes, not all types of railroads are required to own a train or even to own a train at the same point in an operating round.

The conference map is a nice feature, as is the graphical upgrade chart with its miniature tiles. Next to the map, which is very striking, the stock value chart is the most eye-catching. The chart is a grid of hexagons and share value markers can move in all six directions. In general, though, the stock market philosophy is close to 1830, except that the share value tokens are adjusted only one cell per sale, regardless of the number of shares sold in a block.

The tile philosophy is essentially drawn from 1829. 1837 uses the venerable #12 and #13 tiles and upgrades common to 1829 and 1825. As in 1835, there is a great variety of city tile upgrades. It seems that there is a tile and train for every occasion. This writer questions the need for atomizing the tile and train rosters, but the use of these in the game is well integrated.

As the reader will learn from play, 1837 is a complex game. That it plays well is a tribute to Orgler's care in the research and design. This one is a labor of love. 1837 is best played with five or more players. Allow six to eight hours.

In spite of a lot of pre-engineering of mergers and other events which most games leave to player discretion, the game plays smoothly and is not as difficult to learn as the massive set of components suggests.

The price is $37 (natch!). One cannot do better in 18xx gaming for the money. Buy it if it comes your way.

Editor's Note: 1837 is produced by Hans Im Gluck.

Colin Barnhorst has reviewed train games for the TGG in the past and is a well-respected TGA member.


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