Review by Steve Thomas
1849 (Sicily) is the latest 18xx offering to come from Chris Lawson, the indefatigable producer of such gamekits as 1841, 1876, and 1899, reviewed earlier in these pages. Indeed, 1849 has seen production before; I reviewed it here some years ago as 1850. The designer, Federico Vellani, has spent the intervening years modifying the design to overcome the worst faults of that deeply flawed design. (He has also spent much time working on producing and providing for a family, which may go some way towards explaining the delay.) This is version 4 of the game.

The first thing to notice is that the physical presentation of the game exceeds Chris' earlier efforts, and that's saying something. In its most expensive form all you have to do is cut out components, mount the map, and stick the very attractive self-adhesive logos on to wooden cylinders, and if these are done neatly the result is actually better than some production games. But what of the game itself?

The biggest of several flaws in the earlier design was the start, which was sufficiently unbalanced that in most games one could predict the relative ordering of the players as soon as the bidding was over. In this version the sealed bribe phase has been replaced by an 1830-style auction of private companies. Once these companies have been sold, the major corporations are available in a random order; only the President's share need be sold to release the next corporation. Corporations are funded as shares are sold and, as in 1851, there is a financial step at the end of each Operating Turn where corporations may buy and sell their own shares.

The unbalanced start positions of the various major corporations has been moderated by making the better-placed ones pay more for their tokens, and the worst corporation, the Lilibeo starting in Marsala in the far West, has been further enhanced by having Marsala and the nearby Trapani pre-built to grey. Higher par prices are now available only in later phases, and the result is a more nearly balanced game.

The rest of the game hasn't changed much from the version I reviewed as 1850. The map is mostly covered in mountains, and narrow-gauge track is available to reduce the costs involved. Unusually for most 18xx games, upgrading track in difficult terrain costs money. The trains are mostly suffixed -H, to indicate that their range is measured in hexes, not stops. For most trains, narrow gauge hexes count double; there are some which count broad gauge double and narrow gauge normally.

The game is a fairly small one, by 18xx standards, taking about three hours to finish for reasonably alert, experienced players. There are two scenarios, with five and six major corporations in play. The smaller scenario is recommended when there are three players, and the larger one when there are five. For four players, the extra corporation can be used to make the game a little longer. For extra complexity there is also an "Electric Dreams" variant, adding electric trains (like Diesels, but they only run on broad gauge track) and bonds.

For all the improvements to play balance, I'm still far from convinced that this is a well-balanced game. The Lilibeo is still a liability unless it can connect into Palermo, and it is very easy for the company which starts in Palermo to block access. The two cheap narrow-gauge trains which become available after the first 16H train mean that (usually) the unfortunate owner of the company forced to buy the 16H won't finish high up the order. In most games it seems to be a real struggle to avoid bankruptcy and it always seems right to try to dump early corporations if you can. Maybe I'm missing something, though, for amongst the Italians 1849 is regarded as the 18xx game of choice.

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Last Updated 8th April 2000