Blackwater Station : 1881 Review

Stuart Dagger
August 1997

1881 is about the tram companies of Berlin and the arrival in the city of the S-Bahn. It was designed by Michael Mette and published by him under licence from Hartland Trefoil. It was a very small limited edition --- David Reed reckons about 30 copies --- and I have not heard of any plans to make it more generally available. David gives 1990 as the year of publication. This surprises me slightly, because that was the year 1835 was published and 1835 is clearly an influence on 1881. However, in the copy I have seen there were two sets of rules, with the first set undated and the revised set dated February 1992 and so David's date can't be far out. Apart from the somewhat flimsy share certificates, which would have Blackwater's Station Master wrinkling his nose and heading for his design files, the production is top notch. This is the labour of love type of limited edition, not the run-up-in-a-hurry on the office photocopier variety.

The 1835 influences are the stockmarket, which is straight 1835, and the emergence in mid-game of a high earning company with more than the usual number of shares (one @ 10% and 18 @ 5% in this case). There are also features recognisable as having come from 1853: small stations don't count towards a tram's station limit; the city fathers pay bonuses to companies that establish tram connections between the new outlying suburbs and the city centre; and there is a start-up mechanism which, though not the same as that in 1853, has a similar effect of allowing the players to decide which are to be the starting companies, with the rest following once these have been sold. The game also follows 1853 in having no private companies and four phases (yellow, green, brown and grey).

The novel features are mainly to do with the S-Bahn. This is a train company and so not in direct competition for routes with the tram companies, though its presence and activities will affect what they can do. It has a reserved set of station sites and comes into the city centre from several points and along pre-assigned routes. The first share sold is the 10% managing director's share and the company floats once 30% of the company has been sold. At this point it receives 25% of its capital and can start building. All the other shares in the company are 5% shares and three of them, spaced equally throughout the stack, are further director's shares. A player buying one of these is given another 25% of the company capital and also starts building, but from some other point on the skeleton network. As the various sections join up, the company comes together to form a more financially efficient unit, but the lesser directors still retain a say in how the company is to be run. I know of nothing like this in any other 18xx game and, in this setting at least, it is an idea that works. Another idea that was new in this game, but this time one that has been repeated in later ones, is that of companies owning shares. The economic logic of the scenario linits it to tram companies being able to buy shares in the S-Bahn, but it is both a significant tactical resource in the game and an interesting innovation for 18xx.

Stuart Dagger, August 1997

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Last Updated 4th September 1997