Preview - 1830: Railroads & Robber Barons (DOS, 1995)

The rise of railroad power in the last century inspires a lot of romantic imagery to some . . . but the REAL story, as most rail enthusiasts will tell you, is one of greed and manipulation, of the powerful railroad barons competing for greater wealth and influence as they built themselves into an unstoppable force in the New Commerce toward the old west . . . Thousands of miles of steel were strung through the wilderness at the cost of nearly as many human lives. The rail-barons didn't care much for the state of human existence, or what it would take to cut a few miles of stone out of a mountain . . . all they cared about is laying the track, and using the power of their transport empire to hold the reigns of commerce – and government.

Okay . . . they were, in fact, AWFUL people, to a man . . . but Nazis were horrid, too – and THEY make for good computer games. Morality aside (as it must be), the cutthroat world of the rail barons makes for excellent strategy, and 1830, a classic boardgame published in the U.S. by Avalon Hill, is one of the greatest games in a popular genre.

Renowned for it's astonishing game-balance and pure strategy (no random dice-rolls of any sort), 1830 was printed first in England, created by the designers of the original Civilization boardgame. In America, it was the principal inspiration for Railroad Tycoon – one of the more addictive computer strategy games ever. Now, 1830 itself is finally coming to the computer, thanks to the efforts of Avalon Hill and Simtex. Similarities between 1830 and Railroad Tycoon are bound to be sought out by reviewers – but the original, when it finally graces your CRT, should in many ways make Railroad Tycoon look like a weak product by comparison.

Unlike Railroad Tycoon, 1830 is a game of finance as much as a game of empire building. The focus is on stock manipulation of opponent companies, company takeovers, and the like . . . all of this in ADDITON to the normal tactics of grabbing ground, breaking through other rail lines and monopolizing regional trade.

1830 will be a direct and uncompromising translation of the original boardgame – and like its paper predecessor, will involve no random factors whatsoever. It will support both solitaire play against the AI and multiplayer competition, via direct modem, network, or by electronic mail. Due to the many options available each turn, some minor rule changes will apply in email mode to keep the game's entertainment potential at premium.

The AI should offer quite a challenge, too – one of the biggest problems faced by the programmers was how to teach the computer how to choose optimum routes. With the thousands of thousands of options available, it was something like creating a master chess routine from the ground up, and tackling the ancient "Traveling Salesman" problem that has stumped mathematicians for years.

A great game to start with, and a lot of work – elements that promise to create a GREAT final package, in 1830.