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1856 is Mayfair Games' version of the critically acclaimed 18XX railroad game system for Upper Canada, including the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence River, and the Toronto to Detroit area to southern Ontario. Players use their initial money to capitalize railroad companies, which can in turn build track, buy locomotives, and generate income. Players may engage in corporate raiding, stock manipulation, and insider trading to take advantage of their opponents and win the day. Special play features include the ability of every player to open and operate a rail company, with the government providing loans to help and the ability to cut small towns from your route. Deluxe components include warp-resistant board, plastic sorting tray, high quality playing pieces and contemporary currency.
Of the 18xx games readily available, this is the best. Of course, to like it, you have to like the 18xx type games, that is, really long corporation development stock market games. I didn't think I'd like it, but I do. After 6 plays, this is one of my favorites. I really recommend anyone into strategic gaming to play this one if you get the opportunity, or at least check out one of the many websites devoted to this genre of games. You might find yourself pleasantly suprised, as I did.
This game is very similar to 1870 with a few interesting twists to represent the British fascination with socialism.
The strategy to winning this game is stock accumulation just like in 1870 but going bankrupt doesn't necessarily end the game because you can fold a failing company into the Canadian Government Railroad.
One thing that I did not like was that some railroads were much more valuable than others and there was definitely a predefined starting order for the corporations that is usually followed by experienced players.
The game play lasts about 12-15 hours and is agonizing to play through unless you are in the running to win. Other games end rather quickly once a winner emerges, but this game goes on forever until the bank is broken.
This game is kind of fun, but isn't as great as everyone has raved (elsewhere) about it. There are some cool dynamics in play as you race to connect certain cities first....
But as you play a while you begin to notice subtle flaws that detract from the game. There are very strict rules about when you can or can not scrap engines (why can't I scrap an engine whenever I want?) The actual placement of the tiles is almost always a no brainer except for a few critical decisions. Much of the game is just watching it unfold without participating in it greatly, because you know what you have to do over the next few turns way in advance.
The winner seemed to come to largely to the luck of how the engines (deterministically) played out... in other words the luck of whoever went first determined a lot of the game. That weakens it considerably.
On a brighter note, the currency is fun to play with, it is fun to build up track and railway empires, but it is not an awesome game by any stretch of the imagination.