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20th Century Limited came about as my own attempt to make a game with the elements and influences of all my favorite rail games. I enjoy many aspects of rail games but I find each of them has something that also bothers me. The first rule of the Horger game design philosophy is that if you have a game you like on a topic, a new game is not really necessary. As I looked at my collection of train games I realized that all of my favorites had great points that I loved and each had flaws that had led me to purchase another game. So I set out to build the perfect train game for me personally. It turns out that it seems to be liked by a few other people as well.
Influence #1 Rail Baron
The first half of Rail Baron is by far my favorite rail game of all time. I love the board, the destination tables, the buying of the historical lines included in the game. Unfortunately, the second half of Rail Baron is not as satisfying an endeavor with the rolling and the moving and the race to home. The build-up is top notch and the back-half has aged poorly. The best part for me is the historical flavor instilled by the Company Cards and their historical placement on the map.
Influence #2 Age of Steam, Steam, Railways of the World
So you may think that the lack of cubes, loans, stocks, and hexes make this a strange leap. But a closer look should reveal the influences the Steam series had on us while working on this game. Early prototypes did indeed include cubes that needed to be moved from point A to point B. But time of play was dragging in at nearly 3 hours. My answer to this was the combining of two unlikely games, Trans America and Railways of the World and the solution took the form of the Regional Rail Cards. The first choice was to do away with the cubes by just forcing you to link up three cities in a region and then it would just be assumed that you were running the required goods between them. So each player had three Regional cards for each region that required an unbroken connection. But that was a lot of cards and balance was very shaky as one player could draw three adjacent cities and the next player could draw the three most spread out of the group (and someone always did just that). So I took a page from the Trans America playbook and treated each of the regions as the whole Trans America map and required each player to cover at least close to the same swath of ground as the other players.
Influence #3 Trans America
I played around with a number of different maps for the game using everything from dot to dot like the crayon rails system, to predetermined routes like Rail Baron or Ticket to Ride, to hexes. But as I began stripping away unnecessary details my map requirements began to become less and less detailed. All I needed was a completely open map where players could weave in and out of each other's paths and have the freedom to connect any two cities on the board. So of course, while were playing a game of Trans America, I though to myself; "self, if only I could find a method of movement like this it would be perfect for my game... come on brain think, find me a method as simple and elegant as this that I can... oh, duh." So the Trans America triangle map was designed and it fit into the game like it belonged there all along. Of course with that map also by necessity came some similarities to the Trans America type of movement.
Influence #4: Empire Builder etc...
I have always liked the freedom allowed by Empire Builder when it comes to creating your routes. You choose point A and point B and you draw a line however you wish to connect them up. It also is a game that has a differentiation in the game depending on the size of the city and the number of routes going into each city.
Influence #5: Ticket to Ride
We love Ticket to Ride and still play it frequently. The simplicity of having places to go and just going there to connect them up is fantastic. You make the route and then you can forget about it and move on and build something else. It always feels like you are expanding and growing. But there is also a dark side to TTR, the block. I wanted to have some player interaction so yes it is possible to do a Ticket to Ride style block of an opponent if you desire. In relation I used the idea behind TTR: Europe's Depots to allow you to pay a price and use another player's rails to complete your own connections.
Influence #6: 18xx
So how does a game like this even remotely stem from the 18xx games? Well in its first form it had much in common with those games. But as it began to shape and draw influences from other faster-playing games the cosmetic changes drew out more and more of the Railroads and Robber Barons pedigree. For a long time there was a stock market component but as the game morphed the need to track actual stocks began to feel more and more unnecessary. That was when the put-down and pick-up track placement & removal system took form. It replaces, in a very simplistic way, the need for stocks. The game assumes you are competent businessman and you can spend your own money to build rails (the rails on the board)and fill needs (Regional Cards) or you can take stock in your creations for a profit and turn over the running of that company to a board (Rail Company Cards). You lose control of your tracks since they are taken from the map but you collect points (stocks and power) that create your fortune.
I am sure there are other influences that I have failed to mention. Maybe I don't see them but you might. I just wanted to show how I came to the choices that I did and although the game plays very differently than these influential games, all games can trace their lineage back to predecessors. Hopefully by choosing good breeding stock, a good game can be created as the offspring.