Many of my favourite games are part of the 18xx family, so I decided give them a main category on my webpage, simply because we´re gonna see a lot of them in the future.
The series consists of hundreds of games, some of them very popular, others exist only in a few dozen copies. The first game of the series, developed by Francis Thresham, is 1829. The first big success was 1830, also by Thresham and published by Avalon Hill. Most games have the following in common: Players take the role of investors in railroad companies, the majority shareholder of a given company becomes the president. A single Stock round, where players trade shares, alternates with a number of Operating rounds, where the presidents run the operations of their companies, wich includes track and station building, running trains and buying new ones and paying or withholding the earnings as dividends, wich will influence the stock value. Companies have their own treasury wich is completely seperate from the player´s money. During the course of the game, new, more expensive trains become available, while the old ones are removed. Timing is the key here: Players must forsee, when the trains expire and make sure that there´s always enough money in the company´s treasury to get a new one, otherwise the president has to help out with his private money, wich might even lead to a bancrupcy. They also have to be extremely careful, because presedencies might change throughout the game, depending on the shareholder majority, so you absolutely wanna avoid that you end up being the president of a crappy company. Goal of the game is to be the richest player, wich includes cash and share value.
You can see this as two games in one: an area control game on the map and the economic game during the Stock rounds. The games usually have little to no luck and are extremely unforgiving: Every decision is critical, every mistake will be punished. There´s no catch up mechanism, a wrong decision at the beginning of the game will cost you every chance for victory right away. Although most of the games share the same features, they are often very different. A few rulechanges give you a very different experience. Most of the games are pretty long, between four and eight hours I guess.
Componentwise, there´s a huge range: Modern games from big companies often have excellent components, others are simply print and play quality. Because there seems to be no real copyright for the basic system, a pretty unique market evolved, where many people develope their own 18xx game, produce the stuff at home with scissors and a laminating machine and then sell it at ebay or via BGG. Some companies like Deep Thought or the Golden Spike produce real gems with an outstanding gameplay but ridiculous components at a rate of one copy per week or so, so the prices are sometimes higher than for the most fancy miniature games. Especially here in Europe, starting collecting 18xx is really a expensive passion.
I´m gonna present the games in the order they where released:
This game is board game history: Developed by Fracis Tresham, it started the, in my opinion, best board game system out there. It already has most of the typical 18xx features, however, the financial aspects in the Stock rounds are very limited. I never understood why people talk about 1830 as “leaning toward the financial aspect”. Compared to most modern 18xx games, 1830 doesn´t have a lot of crazy financial features. When I played 1829, it was an eye opener. The game focusses completely on routebuilding, all shares go into one big stack, from which players may only buy the top share. Choices are very limited and there´s zero movement of share values during a stock round. On the other hand, track building has unique ideas: companies have survey parties that can move across the map and that allow tile placement without connections. So, clearly some interesting strategies to explore here. You can find my playthrough here.
1830 is an absolute classic. Published by Avalon Hill, this game made the 18xx system much more popular. It is a nearly perfect game, containing all the key features of an 18xx game. It uses a full capitalization, and has a brutal train rush. The map is fairly open, still, the key areas will be heavily contested. Bankruptcies in this one are the rule, not the exception. For me, propaply the most intense 18xx experience. I did a playthrough here.
And another one by Thresham. This one is set in India. It clearly follows the 29 line… stock value only moves depending on the company´s performance. It adds dual gauge to the system. My playthrough is here.
Possibly the first non Thresham 18xx title. This is one of my favourites, set in Germany. In introduces the concept of minor companies, as it became common in later games, as well as a state railroad. It´s a perfect mixture of 29 and 30 ideas: Companies may only float in tiers, and their shares may only be purchased after the shares of the previous tier are sold out. This forces players to do cross investing. On the other hand, the dynamics on the stock market follow the more interesting concept of 1830. The train rush is not terribly brutal, and therefore the game doesn´t feel as intense and stressful as 1830, but gives you a more relaxing experience with often close results. Love it! Can see the playthrough here.
A real highlight of the series. So many restrictions of the other games are removed here: Players may trade shares between eachother, companies may trade shares of other companies and even act as the president, companies may be started in any city, there are mergers, minors and a map with historically changing borders. The rules are horribly written, but once you´ve digested them, they are pretty intuitive. Still, this is not for beginners. Playthrough is here.
1856 is settled in upper Canada. It adds loans that may be taken by the companies. When the first six train comes out they have to be repaid…but if you cannot do that, the president may dump the company in a new forming government company, wich swallows all the foul companies. This is a big gamechanger, because you can get a lot of money in your company and exploit it completely without being afraid of getting bankrupt. The shares will be exchanged in a 2 to 1 ratio, so you´ll lose some money here, but it´s often worth it. Apart from some other minor changes, the game uses a partial capitalization, wich also changes the flavour of the game a lot. Components are better than Avalon Hill 1830. A playthrough can be found here.
This one adds some intersting ideas: Companies may only be floated in a specific randomized order, terrain cost are huge, there´s a lot of it, and you also have to pay the full cost for every upgrade. The game also has dual gauge and uses hex trains. Narrow gauge is less expensive to built, but trains are much less efficient when running it. While this sounds more like an operational game, it seems to lay more on the financial side. There´s a lot of stock trashing going on becuase it hurts the companies even more than in other games, because it uses a partial capitalization, share value drops with every single share sold and an additional space, if there are shares in the market at the end of the SR. Route building isn´t as interesting as it might seem, simply because terrain is so brutal and money so thight that you pretty much get the same routes every time. Although this game seems to be very much enjoyed by most players, I didn´t like it that much…maybe I didn´t play it right or I simply might not be too much into Stock trashing. You can see me do a playthrough here.
Solid 18xx title set in Alabama, nothing too exciting here. A little gentler train rush, but still interesting. Good intro title. See the videos here.