Peter Evett
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After 30 odd years of gaming experience I, like many other game players, would say that the games I have enjoyed playing the most are those in the 18xx game series. Many of you have heard of these games, like 1830 or 1870, but are not familiar with what they are like. The purpose of this article is to introduce people to the basic system that these games share. I do not plan to go into depth on strategy or game comparison, as those topics have been visited in other places here at the geek. Hopefully this introduction will prove helpful and will encourage more players to give these excellent games a try.

Note that I will be using images from 18GA and 18AL, two of the least expensive kit games that provide excellent introductions to the system.

18xx Game System Design


(There is a lot going on in these games...)

The 18xx Railroad Game System challenges players to maximize the return on their stock-investment capital and to most skillfully operate the railroad companies under their control. Players use their initial money to capitalize railroad companies, which can in turn build track, buy locomotives and generate income for the corporate share holders. The player who best invests and reinvests his capital to create the most wealth wins the game.

Stock Rounds


(This is the 18AL stock market, using some homemade token decals and 1/2" furniture plugs)

The game is played in a series of alternating stock and railroad operation rounds. During a stock round players purchase shares in railroad companies and/or sell previously acquired stock. Companies normally have ten shares available; and thus, each share provides its owner with a 10% interest in all company profits. Successful companies generally show increasing share value, while other companies will see their share values decrease. The player with the largest holding in a company takes the Presidency of that company and makes all decisions regarding company actions during the operation rounds.


(You are the President of the W&A -- what will you do to maximize YOUR profits?)

Operation Rounds


(Here is a typical map layout fairly early in a game of 18GA)

During an operating round each existing railroad company will conduct a series of operations. Each company will build track (improving its rail network), establish stations (to control lucrative markets), purchase new railroad engines (to reach more markets), and run its train(s) (to collect the profits from the markets in and near its stations). The income generated by these train runs will either be paid to all corporate share holders (generally increasing share value but leaving the company vulnerable to aging equipment) or reinvested into the company for later expansion (generally decreasing share value but giving the company flexibility in replacing aging equipment). During operating rounds players will receive cash from corporate dividends and may see the value of owned shares increase. That cash, and possibly the returns from the sale of previously owned shares, will then be available to the player to use in the next stock round to acquire more stock.


(A typical early layout in 18AL)

Dastardly Deeds

The beating heart of 18xx games is that company presidents, while currently the largest corporate shareholders, are seeking at all times to maximize their personal profits regardless of the long-term health of the company. On most occasions the interests of the company and the president will coincide, but several times each game they will diverge significantly and lead to actions designed to savage minority share holders. Additionally, players have a limited ability to manipulate prices (through judicious sales and purchases) to benefit themselves or weaken others. These “robber baron” tactics transform the game from a wonderful corporate investment and expansion game into a sublime battle for economic empires.


(Here is the most dastardly of moves in action -- the President has plundered all of the L&N's trains and treasury and is now dumping his stock ownership to force an opponant to salvage the corporation with his personal money. Oh, the humanity!)

Getting Started
Finally I'll make brief recommendations on how to explore these games. I think the games in production are lengthy and complex, and may prove frustrating the first time out -- and the learning curve is pretty high in these games. I would suggest the games shown here (18GA and 18AL) as easily available and relatively easy to learn (and less cutthroat and shorter than other 18xx games). They can be found at http://www.diogenes.sacramento.ca.us/18AL_18GA.html . Also great is 18Scan, which has the terrific production value of Deep Thought games. It can be found at http://www.deepthoughtgames.com/games/ . Your efforts at getting started will be rewarded wtih years of deep and exciting gaming. Good Luck! -- PAE
 
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Michael B
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Great article! I would add 18FL to the list of games that are quicker and better suited for beginners. 1825 Unit 3 is also a good starter game, but it can only be played with 2 players. I was skeptical about it's playability, but I am a believer now.

I am amazed at how the 18xx gaming hobby has continued to grow with 1830 out of print and the other 18xx games available mostly through special order or internet purchasing.

I would agree that is the best game system ever developed. It can be difficult to find local players if you aren't in a large metro area.
 
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Ed Holzman
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Re: So You've Always Wanted to Know What an 18xx Game is Lik
If you are interested in observing a game of 18AL in progress, I am moderating a teaching game in this thread:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/101877

Drop in on us and check it out for even further instruction on the workings of the 18XX game system.
 
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Mark Crane
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Using 1/2" furniture plugs as tokens is a great idea, thank you.
 
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Betty Egan
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Re: So You've Always Wanted to Know What an 18xx Game is Lik
How do the various 18xx games differ? Do you play them individually or combine them? If you have one, do you move on to a more difficult version? If you really like the system are you likely to collect the series or pick a favourite?
 
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J C Lawrence
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Re: So You've Always Wanted to Know What an 18xx Game is Lik
BettyEgan wrote:
How do the various 18xx games differ?


Maps differ, stock market rules differ, private special capabilities different, constraints on stock rounds differ, building limits differ, possible share manipulations differ, stock market rules differ, train patterns differ etc etc etc etc etc. There is a wide range of variations andt they differ in a great many ways, sometimes to the point of unrecogniseability (eg the Holz mountains game, 2038 or Ur 1830).

Quote:
Do you play them individually or combine them?


With very rare exception they are played individually.

Quote:
If you have one, do you move on to a more difficult version?


Often, yes. Or more challenging or interesting in different ways.

Quote:
If you really like the system are you likely to collect the series or pick a favourite?


There really is not a series. They are a genre. At this point there are somewhere around 120 games in the 18XX genre, designed y a very wide range of designers and published in an even wider array of manners.

As for favourites, yes, people tend to have favourites but they tend to also like other games in the genre as well.
 
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Michael B
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JC did a great job of answering your questions. I'll add a few additional comments.

Each game is a standalone game with no requirements to purchase another game to make it playable. There are a few free game kits published where you use the 1830 tiles (18NL and 18FR).

There are only 2 sets of games that can be combined, but they can also be played individually.

- 1825 Unit 1, 1825 Unit 2 and 1825 Unit 3 by Francis Tresham.
- 1856, 1870, 1850 and 1832 by Bill Dixon (combination rules are coming soon, but not yet available).



 
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Peter Evett
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Quote:
How do the various 18xx games differ?

In most cases the game mechanisms are essentially the same, maintaining the general nature of the system described in the main article. The modifications are easily understood once the main system is familiar. The changing map locations provide the most openly different characteristic of each game -- but the track construction and operation system remains (almost always) mostly the same. The key to the quality of each game, then, is the combination of minor changes to the central system that creates a more tasty whole. And taste is key here. Some games are better for beginners, some for different numbers of players, some for those who like to manipulate stock, some are better for track laying engineers, or for combinations of these. Its fun to discover the treats in each new version you play. Most you like (once the 18xx bug has bitten), a few you love, and a few you leave behind. I'll leave it to someone else to design a list or forum entry detailing strengths and weaknesses of each game (perhaps a joint undertaking). -- PAE
 
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