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Subject: A Review: 4 Players, Phase 1, 18EZ rss

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Thom Barchet
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Preface:
Let me begin this by calling it a review/session report. It is important to combine the two for this game, as so many details of the review are dependent on the specifics of the session. Also, I must confess that I have played 18xx before (1830, 1825, 1829 Mainline, 18EU, 2038) so I am familiar with the mechanics of the games. I brought 18EZ to our weekly gaming group to see if I could get some new 18xx players. I had no intention of jumping right into Phase 3, but I sort of hoped I could get a Phase 2 game going. Our game group is affiliated with MIT, and since the semester had just begun, there were loads of new players there. 18EZ was shelved until later in the night. Once it hit the table, it was quite late, so I asked if anyone there would like to try out 18EZ. I explained that this game is a sort of teaching tool for a more advanced version of the game, as well as a whole host of other games. I explained what 18xx was, and said that Phase 1 will really only provide a tiny taste of what the game is about. I warned them that they may leave the game feeling unsatisfied, and that it was my goal, so that maybe next week we can play Phase 2 devil.

Mini Session Report:
For those unfamiliar with 18EZ, Phase 1 includes the dealing out of one railway per player, and each player operating that railway until one player has gotten a 5 Train and $1000. I started the game, operating the Greenville railroad, telling as we went about tile placement rules and the overall goal of making money. I told them, "you play tiles, buy trains, and collect money." That's it. I thought that the players would get bored (18xxer's note: this will feel elementary to you), but everyone seemed to enjoy the tile playing and collecting of money...it sure beats Monopoly. I'm not sure if playing corporation marker tokens is part of Phase 1, but we played with the tokens to introduce more strategy. This is definitely the way to go. If your new players can handle it, do it. It will save you the trouble of explaining them in Phase 2. Throughout the game, each person comes to realize different aspects of the game. I'm not sure if it is in the design, but due to the incredible balance of the map, when one player makes a smart move, the other players can learn from it and be able to do the same/similar strategy on their turn. This keeps a player that might've missed something from being buried. The game continued with each person making 'discoveries' (this is my style for teaching a game) that keep them interested in playing. Finally, the player to my left met the end conditions and won the game. All of the players wanted (or at least seemed willing) to play Phase 2 some other day. Mission accomplished (you might say, "Phase 1: Complete").

Overall Review for 18xxer:
18EZ is aimed at non-18xx players. I found Phase 1 incredibly boring, and prior to playing it with newbies, I thought it was a bit of overkill on the EZ. After playing, I found that it does provide the necessary framework to get new players on the ground, but if you are capable of teaching another 18xx game, by all means, do that. I like 18EZ because I'm not the best game teacher, and by breaking it up into smaller portions, I can stumble a little in my rules explanations without frustrating the whole group.

Overall Review for Non-18xxer:
This game is EZ. You can pick it up, read the rules, and play it without needing an advanced degree. If you want to try 18xx but don't know how, give 18EZ a shot. You'll be able to learn it in no time, and you can teach your friends with ease. Before you know it, you may have an 18xx group of your own.

Specific Review of the Game:
18EZ is available through the publisher (Andrew/Clay Games nodice.net) for $45. What does this get you? All of the trains, certificates, charters, and tiles come as what appears to be laminated cardstock. They are glossy, but I don't think it detracts too much from the game...it's a matter of preference. The game board and stock market board are mounted onto a standard backing material and the playing side is laminated. One minor issue with the boards is that the edges are not held together with anything. Solution: book binding tape around them will repair the game, should anything come apart...not a big deal. You also get a supply of money from the Andrew/Clay Bank for use with your game. The money is optional (you can buy the game without money for $42) and poker chips work much better, but if you don't have any poker chips the money is sufficient. It takes a little while to break in, but afterward it is fine. Is the game worth the $42/$45...yes, it is. As far as 18xx goes, this game is a pretty average game in terms of components. Until I saw the tiles from 1829 Mainline, I would've said these tiles are better than Tresham's tiles.
The rules are pretty well written, other than the fact that the rules were designed to be gone through in order (this has been fixed by the publishers by posting the rules on BGG). The board is completely abstract, with no relation to any real time/place (I suppose it technically is some time in the 1800s). If you're looking for nice artwork, look someplace else. That's not what this game is about. The board is clean, concise, and not confusing. That's what the game is about. There are nice places to stack the trains right on the board, and the amount of information that is provided to the player on the board is excellent. There are color coded charts that will indicate when tiles become available, when trains are scrapped, how many trains to use for each phase, etc. This game is a basic 18xx game. Would I play it...sure. Would I rather play a meatier 18xx game...yes. Is is a good way to get new players to play 18xx...definitely.
I think this game did exactly what it set out to do. I would recommend it to anybody that wants to learn 18xx. If you have a game group that doesn't have any 18xx games and you want to start playing them, get a copy. What's the worst that could happen?
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Thom Barchet
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ze_stom wrote:
If I buy this, will it just teach me how to play other 18xx games, or is this a game in its own right? Can I buy this with the expectation that I can play it more than three times (once per level) and then put it away forever?

You will be able to play it more than three times. It is a tool to learn the system, but you can always count on it to be a game. I especially like how easy it is to teach...you can always bust it out with new players and hit the ground running. It might be tedious playing Phase 1, but if you start the game early enough, you can get a Phase 2 game in as well.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that the customer support has been incredible. These guys are working so hard it's really incredible. My copy was missing one tile, and when I let Drew know, he responded as though he personally insulted me and needed to apologize for it. The replacement came really fast, and that sort of service is something that goes a long way with me.
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Only 6 months until the next round.
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Solarinus wrote:
These guys are working so hard it's really incredible.

"That guy" may be more appropriate. I am now a one-man operation. soblue I appreciate the kind words, though.
 
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