The Economic Eight
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Sitting both above and apart from the great mass of games there are a class of games that are known for both their mental challenge and their economic focus. These games share a level of interaction that is higher than that of eurogames, but still tends to be more indirect than that found in many experiential or conflict simulation games. This class of game is known by a variety of terms, but my personal favorite is "economic game".

Thematically they vary greatly, ranging from trains, to buying and selling cars, to using magical power to gain a scepter. What they all share is a focus on turning situational advantage into long-term gains and a level of punishing brutality that can eliminate an individual from a game, or at least make them wish they had been eliminated.

The eight games I list here do not represent the entirety of the field of economic games. What they do represent are some of the best designs and high points in the field, which most every gamer who considers himself to be an "economic gamer" should play and probably have in their collection. Wherever possible, I am going to list some alternatives for a particular game and explain why, exactly I did not choose that game to be one of the Economic Eight.
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1. Board Game: 1856: Railroading in Upper Canada from 1856 [Average Rating:7.50 Overall Rank:870]
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(Alternatives: Other 18XX titles)

1856, by Bill Dixon, is representative of the entire line of 18XX games. It is among the heavier ones with a hefty playing time of 6 hours or more for first time players. It is mathy, complex, and can be a bit overwhelming for new players, yet it is still one of the most riveting board game experiences to be found for those who like economic games.
1856 combines several interlocking systems, with a deep stock market, the management of technological advancement and obsolesence, and the building of profitable routes on the map board. While each aspect of the game is very important, 1856 leans more towards manipulating the stock market then other aspects of the game. Other 18XX games have a greater degree of focus on different parts of the game.

The game itself has a remarkable in its narrative arc, with the early game dominated by railroads struggling to gain a foothold in Upper Canada as they struggle towards profitiability they can take loans from the Canadian Government but must constantly look out for the impending specter of the Canadian Government Railroad. Older trains make way for newer trains and individual companies are forced to relentlessly modernize or be forced into a situation where the company president is forced to buy a new train for the company out of the cash he has on hand. Eventually, as the first six train is bought, the Canadian Government Railroad emerges, and all companies are forced to pay their loans or be swallowed into it.

While 1856 is my personal favorite 18XX at this time, it is not necessarily the best 18XX or even the best introduction (I started with Steam Over Holland, personally.) There are strong proponents for each of the large stable of different available 18XX games, the most popular (and highest rated) of which is 1830: A Game of Railroads and Robber Barons.

Regardless of which 18XX you acquire, every economic gamer owes it to himself (or herself!) to have an 18XX in their collection.
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2. Board Game: Age of Steam [Average Rating:7.69 Overall Rank:116]
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(Alternates: Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the World or Steam)

The brutality of Martin Wallace’s Age of Steam is renowned if a little bit overstated. The game has a relatively simple stucture. Each turn, players bid for order in selecting special action, build track, and then finally deliver cubes on the board to similarly colored cities elsewhere on the board all the while managing the effect of debt on their current position. Yes, it is possible to go bankrupt. It hardly ever happens, though.

The game's huge map variety and the variable cube set-up only add to the game’s appeal, allowing an Age of Steam player to play the game countless times without ever having quite the same experience. This combination of features makes it my favorite game and a member of the Economic Eight.

Both Railroad Tycoon/Railways of the World and Steam are in the same family as Age of Steam and could be used, in a pinch, as a substitute for them. However, I would strongly discourage that. Neither of them possesses the same amount of sharp edges as Age of Steam and lack some of the tension the Age of Steam provides. Yes, they are more approachable. However, this is not necessarily a positive change in general, and is definitely not in the specific case of Age of Steam as a bit of what makes the game great is lost in the process, resulting in games that are not quite as good as the original.
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3. Board Game: Automobile [Average Rating:7.36 Overall Rank:323]
 
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(Alternatives: None)

Martin Wallace's Automobile is a game about managing market demand and the forced obsolescence caused by technological advancement in such a way that you can turn your initial supply of cash into a much larger pile of cash at the end of the game.

Despite this very narrow focus, there are very few games quite like it on the market. The 18XX series also has some focus on managing obsolescence, but the obsolesence is married with a very different focus than 18XX. 18XX games tend to combine their obsolescence management with concerns about operational impact and its effect on a company as a whole; it is harsh and brutal and mismanaging the impact of obsolesence can bankrupt an individual player and push him out of the game. It is less harsh in Automobile, but it still is impactful. In Automobile you can still run with obsolete factories, you just have to find a way to deal with the inefficiencies (represented in loss cubes) that come with running those factories.

Automobile’s distinct set of mechanics and engaging gameplay make a game that definitely deserves to be in the collection of most anyone interested in heavy, meaty economic games.
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4. Board Game: Brass: Lancashire [Average Rating:8.01 Overall Rank:35]
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(Alternates: None.)

Brass, by Martin Wallace, distinguishes itself from other economic games in its unique supply and demand system, the hand management aspect of the game, and the industry tiles "flip" when they meet specific requirements giving player’s a combination of victory points and income. The end result is a board game that is not quite like any other game on the market, providing the depth and replayability that economic gamers expect using mechanics that are either unique or are more typically used in very different sorts of games.

The hidden information aspect of the hand management aspect of Brass is enough to turn some economic gamers off, however, so if this is the case for you than you probably should steer clear of this game. Similarly, Brass can be a bit of a tactical experience. Do to the limitations the card draw puts on where you can build industries; it is possible to end up in a situation where you are unable to complete a particular industrial path as thoroughly as you would like. Effective hand management can alleviate this problem, but it will not completely eliminate it.
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5. Board Game: Chicago Express [Average Rating:7.23 Overall Rank:361]
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(Alternates: Imperial)
Chicago Express, by Harry Wu, is one of the shortest games that can truly be considered to be in the economic game category. Despite its short length it is a deep game, with constant positioning required in order to come out on top, and the smallest decision having incredibly large implications to both the potential length of the game and the eventual winner.

Chicago Express is almost purely stock game, with some route optimization thrown in to actually have something to bid on. Individual companies can be manipulated by anyone who has shares in them, though expanding an individual company is usually advantageous for the individual who owns the most stock in the company. A large part of the game is manipulating the incentives of other players, convincing them to do things through the buying and selling of stock that are advantageous to both of you, but ultimately benefiting you more than it benefits them.

Imperial is of a similar vein, though it has more bells and whistles than Chicago Express, and a considerably longer playing time. Rather than investing in railroads you invest in countries, and use various actions to develop both the economic and military capabilities of these countries, allowing you to reduce the value of other’s investments while improving your own at the same time.
While I think Imperial is a good game, and an interesting experience in general, Chicago Express provides a sleeker, yet equally meaty game that plays in a fraction of the time, and is thus, in my mind, a superior game.
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6. Board Game: Indonesia [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:189]
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(Alternates: None)

Indonesia is an expensive, but not particularly obscure game by Splotter Spellen focused on the economic development of Indonesia. Mechanically it bears some similarities to the 18XX games, while still being its own beast. It is distinguished by auctions for turn order and for merging companies together, a research & development track that results in strikingly different capabilities between players, and an operations round that can border on arduous in its length.

The mergers end up being the most distinguishing feature of the game, and are frequently where the game is won and lost. This is not to say that the other aspects of the game are not important. Turn order, R&D, and the operating rounds can all be of vital importance in determining who wins or loses, it is just in the mergers where the most dramatic shifts in the game happen, as companies change hands and relative cash levels can change dramatically.

Indonesia is in a class by itself, with no real alternatives available, beyond, perhaps one of the numerous 18XX games. It is regularly compared to them, but it is different enough to be worth experiencing on its own.
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7. Board Game: The Scepter of Zavandor [Average Rating:7.01 Overall Rank:849]
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(Alternates: Phoenicia, Power Grid)

The Scepter of Zavandor, by Jens Drögemüller, is an economic snowball game built around capitalizing on interest, disguised as a fantasy game. In it you purchase gemstones of various types that produce magical energy, essentially money, each turn, allowing you to reinvest this money into buying bigger gemstones, giving you even better interest generation, artifacts, providing you with special bonuses, or increasing your knowledge, also providing you with special bonuses. Eventually the game reaches the point where the players are generating a large enough amount of energy that an end game rush on the sentinels, which simply provide large amounts of victory points, occurs.

The game is mostly an upgrade an income optimization game, where you manipulate the turn order in order to provide you discounts while hurting your opponents and try to set yourself up to end the game at the time where you will have more victory points than anyone else.
It is also less directly interactive than many other economic games, but makes up for it by being very fascinating and having a lot of replay potential thanks to different starting abilities, variable artifact arrival times, and the multitude of different paths to victory.

Phoenicia is a very, very similar game in a reduced, leaner form. It is difficult for me to suggest Phoenicia over The Scepter of Zavandor because of the simple fact that I have not played it. Power Grid shares similarities to The Scepter of Zavandor in its heavy focus on turn order timing. The Scepter of Zavandor seems more balanced, however, as it is quite possible to win from both the front and the rear of The Scepter of Zavandor, whereas it is usually quite difficult to win from the front with Power Grid.
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8. Board Game: Genoa [Average Rating:7.12 Overall Rank:503]
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Genoa, by Rudiger Dorn, is a truly open trading game where individual players use the mechanisms of the board to create, for themselves, a market. Pretty much everything is for sale or trade, and the only price set on individual items is what the players are willing to pay for them. The result is, in the right group, a rollicking good time where players constantly haggling with each other to gain a financial edge, turning their small initial amount of cash into a much larger pile of cash by the end of the game (sound familiar? )

Chinatown is described a viable alternative to Genoa but, considering how great a game Genoa is, I am not inclined to try it out.
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