I used to play the various 18xx games a lot back in college, when time was cheap, good games comparatively few, and good short games even less common than that. The first one I played was 1830, which was a big departure from the games I played predominantly before that (Civilization, Diplomacy, Star Fleet Battles, and Avalon Hill wargames like Squad Leader, Third Reich, MBT, and Arab-Israeli Wars). But it caught on right away – shorter than Civilization, with less downtime and fewer problems with kingmaking and destabilization with poor and/or vindictive play, it still had a lot of depth and was engrossing.
The Achillies heel of 18xx, though, is replayability – they all eventually play out. There is little randomness not introduced by the players, and after a certain number of plays you figure out that no, starting the CP on the first turn really is not a good idea, the C&A should sell for $320, and so on. So the hunt was on for more 18xx titles – 1853 and 1829 at first, but then slowly more were published, including 1835, 2038, 1870, 1856, and the many gamekits. 1856 was easily the best of the 1830-style games – the rest played through even quicker than 1830, or, like 1839 (now known as 1841 I think), were basically unplayable at all.
Today, with so much pressure from great, substantive, but hugely playable games like Taj Mahal or Amun-Re or Puerto Rico or Goa, the days of big 18xx games seem to be past. Fortunately, 1825 fills a very nice niche as a middle ground between the big, old-style 18xx games and the German game revolution. 1825 can be played, with rules explanation, in under 2.5 hours by 3-4 people. It manages to convey a lot of the tactical depth of 1830 in a smaller package. And it is a more even, euro-style game that relies on consistantly making a lot of good, meaningful, smaller decisions rather than having a couple big, major win/lose type events surrounded by filler (for example, it could be argued that in 1830, the game is about owning two companies and getting each of them a permanent train, with the rest being somewhat peripheral).
Even though the 1829 branch of the 18xx family (including 1825, 1829, and 1853) has a reputation for being for the “engineers” (i.e., route-builders), as opposed to 1830’s (including 1856 and 1870) “financiers” (share manipulators), 1825 strikes me as a much truer investment game. Each turn you have to take stock of each of the companies, figure out which ones have the best prospects, and invest your money wisely – dumping the losers and buying the winners. In 1830, by contrast, minority shareholders can get stuck personally paying a company’s unpaid bills if the president bails out, so once people figure out how dangerous it is to own stock in a company whose president also runs some other company, the game seems much more about running your railway, getting the right permanent trains, and so on – stuff 1825 is also still good at. While I used to love 1830, today 1825 seems the more solid fundamental game. Plus, 1825 can be played and enjoyed even if you only play occasionally, because it has the lowest rules overhead and is the most intuitive as tactics don’t revolve so much around funky train-swapping that you couldn’t possibly figure out without playing a few times.
As a final bonus, 1825 does a great job of solving the variability problem with a bunch of expansion kits that you can use to change the company, train, and track mix, or lengthen the game into something a bit meatier.
All in all, 1825 is more successful for me than similar “heavyweight” euros like Power Grid or Age of Steam. Maybe it’s just my long history with 18xx games, although perhaps the true fans of 1830 and 1870 will never be converts. But it has a lot of good stuff for the eurogamer looking for something heavier, so check it out if you get a chance.