I have had #1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties set up for a few days, waiting for a chance for me to play it. I got that chance this morning. I have decided to write a "Brian's Battery Review" of my first impressions. But, firstly, some disclaimers.
- These are my FIRST IMPRESSIONS. They may change.
- This is my first ever 18xx game.
- I did make a pretty obvious mistake in my first two operating rounds that did give me a pretty good boost. If anything, the game got even better and crunchier after I fixed my mistake, but, I do want to emphasize that I didn't play it "right" the whole way through.
#1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties AKA 18EA is a 18xx game designed by Mike Hutton, and currently published by GMT. In its current iteration it can play from 1-8 in a claimed 120-300 minutes.
I imagine most of you know what 18xx games are, but in case some of you may not know.... 18xx games are a series of heavy, economic, stock manipulation games, mostly set around trains in the 19th century. Typically they focus on alternating stock rounds, and operating rounds. Stock rounds are when stocks are manipulated, companies are formed, etc... and the operating rounds the companies lay tracks, run routes, earn money, buy trains, etc.... You can typically buy stocks in other peoples companies, and make money on them, and perhaps even wreck them if you play well.
Typically 18xx games are very interactive. I imagine that there are things about the solo game in 1862 that do train you for the multiplayer game, but, I really don't think that the solo experience will be very similar to multiplayer at all.
This solo mode basically reduces the experience to a big, messy, and very compelling puzzle, there is not the aspect of being able to dump a company on somebody who didn't want it, or anything like that.
I really expected this to feel a little bit like Spreadsheet: The Game. But, it really did feel like I was running a company. The whole running the trains is pretty abstract, and I worried about that, but, running the trains is not what I am trying to do. I am just creating companies, where my flunkies are running trains. I really am not interested in anything except my bottom line, and if I have to fleece my company to do so... No problem.
They were solid. Nothing hugely noteworthy, but solid and nice. One thing I will note, in the negative, is that it came with paper money. It was the best quality paper money I have ever seen.... But, let us just say that it is abundantly clear to me why most 18xx players prefer to play with poker chips.
There is no question about it, the setup for the solo game is a fiddly mess. Part of the set up includes laying out 54 cards in a splay, and that is a bit of a nuisance.
You get a GMT sized box 3 inches deep and a bunch, but not enough, of baggies. With that you get to distribute 8 punchboards of cardboard pieces, 200ish cards, 15000 pounds worth of paper money, company charters, and etc.... The box is stuffed full when everything is bagged up. The one good thing I will say about the system is that the map and the rulebook don't take up the whole interior footprint of the box. This makes them easy to remove.
Complexity vs Depth ++
This is based on first impressions. But, the rules really aren't that bad. It sure doesn't feel like the 4.54 that BGG puts it at. I would say that they are pretty much on par with a medium heavy to heavy euro game, Maybe on par with something like #Agricola. But, winning this game is a bear. The lowest amount of money that they consider a win, is 9000 pounds. Even with my unintentional cheat, that helped me out the first 2 operating rounds, I ended up with a grand total of 3691 pounds. There appears to be a very large amount of depth to this thing. And, there are people who regularly get 12000 plus..... I am very highly impressed by that. There are also ways to scale the difficulty up or down somewhat.
It is a 18xx game. I have always said that 18xx games are aggresively ugly. After having played this one, I have changed my mind. They clearly value clarity over "pretty," but in a game like this clarity is so so important. And, actually, it feels to me sorta like I imagine a high level "railroad baron" would have in his office. He doesn't have pretty pictures of tracks, he has lines where the tracks go...... I will say, where there are pictures the pictures are pretty nice. I will offer one knock against the cover. It could have been prettier, but, I do find it sorta whimsical.
What does this feel like to play?
It is a very puzzly sort of game to play solo. I often don't like those as well. But, I was very highly impressed by this one. There was enough moving pieces between the OR and the Stock Round that I found it very pleasant to mesh them all together. It generated a very nice amount of brain burn. However, there is an elephant in the room,,,,, this is a "beat your own score" variant. I typcally don't like those nearly as much. However, I didn't find myself resenting it here. There is a clear line, you need at least 9k to consider yourself to have won. And, achieving that level of play seems far out of reach for me at the moment. I don't know, if I got really good at it, maybe I would get "over it." But, I don't see that happening for a long time.
So, this is where I stick my neck out and make predictions:
I think this will easily push #Power Grid out of my next top ten, I plan on making a new one around the end of this year beginning of next. I don't know if I will like 1862 or Power Grid better in terms of the multiplayer experience, but, this is a solid solo entry. And, it does feel like a genuine, meaty, and compelling financial game that plays extremely well solo. I won this game in a BGA GAW. I was really scared about it, I felt like I was taking a big chance, but, I think that that was a choice that will pay divididends. At this point, I would unhesitatingly say that it is easily worth the $60ish price tag that it commands in most places. If you are interested in a solo financial game, I feel like I can highly recomend it, to the extant that my first impression is valid. 9.5/10
It is great, if you are interested in financial solo games, check it out.