Blackwater Station : 1839 Review

Stuart Dagger
August 1997

1839 was designed by Paul Stouthard and Rob van Wijngaarden with the cooperation of Francis Tresham. The small and very limited edition which is all that has so far has been published was produced in 1993 under licence from Hartland Trefoil. The games in this edition went either to friends, who had helped with the production and play testing, or were held back by the designers to show to prospective publishers. Mayfair expressed an interest in publishing the game, but only after they had safely launched the set of Bill Dixon titles. Encouraged by this, the designers did more work on the game, information on which can be found on Rob van Wijngaarden's home page. Mayfair's plans, which never reached the stage of being a commitment, foundered when the company closed its doors with the Bill Dixon series still unfinished. The current position (Summer 1997) is that a Dutch company is seriously interested and if all goes well, it is hoped that the game will finally go public at Essen in 1998.

The aim of the designers was to produce a simple, fast-playing game suitable for newcomers to the 18xx system, with an add-on in the form of very ingenious set of private companies that would turn it into a challenging game for more experienced players. Even in the first edition, which is all that I have seen and played, they succeed remarkably well on both counts and the new ideas that they have for the second edition make it sound even better.

The map is of the Netherlands, with five off-board hexes in Belgium and Germany. There are nine companies, which are launched in three batches of three. The first share to be sold in a company has to be the director's share, but subject to this all the shares in a batch are simultaneously available for sale once the batch has been launched. A new batch comes on stream once all the shares in the previous one have been sold. There are three phases (yellow, green, brown) and four levels of trains. The game contains some new tile designs, but, as part of the move to make the game less confusing to newcomers, the range of tiles is less than you get in most 18xx games. This is because the map has no small towns, a move that not only simplifies the tile mix but which gets round all the awkward questions about which towns and cities count towards a train's station limit and which can be used as termini. A picture of the map can be found on David Reed's web site. The share price chart in the first edition was of the type used in 1829, in which the only movement in share prices is as a result of the payment/withholding of dividends; however, this is to be changed in the second edition.

The private companies, which are the feature that make the game special, are not handled in the usual fashion of being sold off before any of the public company shares can be bought. Instead, they become available at the start of the second share buying round and are then on offer alongside the standard shares. They can not be sold on to public companies in the by now standard 1830 "loot the treasury" fashion, but what most of them do do is give their owner powers which he can vest, on a turn by turn basis, in a company of which he is director. One, for example, enables you to bridge rivers without any of the usual costs; another means that the share price of a company still goes up even when it withholds dividends. These powers are very worth having, but of course to acquire them you have to spend money that you would also like to be spending on shares in the early public companies. It makes for some tight decisions and a very interesting game.

Stuart Dagger, August 1997.

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Last Updated 4th September 1997