All Tracks Lead to 18xx

Train Tuesday

I talked to one of my friends on the phone today and we had a really interesting conversation about the trajectory of strategy board gamers. The argument is that no matter where you start in the hobby, if you enjoy deep strategy and critical thinking, you will ultimately end up playing 18xx.

Some would even go as far as to say that once you begin to explore 18xx, the rest of board gaming loses its luster. I am not in that camp. But, as someone who has been delving depths of the 18xx rabbit hole for the last 12 months, I have definitely met those people.

The friend that I was talking to has been one of my best friends for over a decade. We met in college and we spent a lot of time playing modern board games together. I grew up playing board games and he grew up playing cards, so it has always been a mutual hobby of ours.

A little over a month ago, I invited him to try playing an 18xx game with me on He lives across the country now, so finding time to play anything together is always a joy. He obliged, teasing me about the fact that I can’t stop playing them, and we fired up a game of 18Chesapeake. We played 2-player, which is a fine enough way to learn, but doesn’t really provide a true 18xx experience, simply because the game isn’t quite as dynamic when there are fewer people playing. Anyway, I ran through my teach and we played about half the game before we ran out of time for the day. We decided to continue asynchronously and that was that.

I left that game thinking, “Well, the teach went really well and he seems to be picking it up, but he didn’t seem to be all that jazzed about it.” The next day I get a text from him, “I can’t stop thinking about ways I can play 18Chesapeake better next time.”

I literally laughed out loud because I have said nearly these same words before and have heard countless others say them when reflecting on why they fell so hard for 18xx games. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about how I could have played better.”

Needless to say, a few weeks later and he has fallen in love. In less than two months, he has played 15 games on, introduced other people to 18xx and even started up a slack channel between the two of us just to talk strategy for different titles.

So all of this led to our conversation today, which focused on how is taking away so many of the boundaries to new players getting into the niche and why we think it’s inevitable that eventually, all strategy junkies find their way to 18xx.

Here are some highlights from our conversation:

  • Strategy Depth: Rules Overhead Ratio – While some argue that 18xx has a lot of complicated rules, the one nice thing about the genre is that once you know the rules to a base title like 18Chesapeake, you understand 80-90% of the rules for every other title. On top of that, for anyone who has played really heavy Euro games, the 18xx system is much more streamlined and often less complex. What’s truly magical about the 18xx genre is that so much of the strategic depth is due to branching decisions made throughout the entire game. After nearly any game, you can think back on your performance and figure out the 2 or 3 decisions that helped win or made you lose the game.
  • is Lowering the Bar to Entry – One of the hardest parts of learning an 18xx game is trying to balance all of the thinking and rules with the maintenance and upkeep. Between cashing out chips, setting out the tiles for the next phase, and manipulating the share values on the stock chart, there are so many little things that make the game take a lot of time for those who are unfamiliar with all of the maintenance. Playing via the web app takes out all of the upkeep and helps with rules enforcement, which allows new players to focus on playing the game.
  • Most Heavy Strategy Games are Solvable – Not all, but many heavy euro games diminish after a dozen or so plays as dominant strategies and counter-strategies are discovered. Which, by the way, isn’t a bad thing because if you’ve really gotten a game to the table 12 times it has more than paid for itself. However, 18xx games seem to fall victim to this phenomenon much less often because there are so many player decisions that impact the end game. Plus, as we mentioned above. If you get tired of a particular title, you can nearly pick up any other title in the genre. For heavy euros, that isn’t the case. You might be able to quickly decipher some of the key mechanics at play, but often title switching between heavy euros is quite cumbersome.
  • Accelerating End Game – One more huge critique for 18xx games is that the end game tends to drag on due to the game end conditions. This is exponentially worse for new players because they tend to not push the system as hard as more seasoned players. Here again shines because the end game is significantly shortened due to the app taking care of most of the heavy lifting.

In summary, for those who play board games because they like to push their problem solving, critical thinking, and strategy to the max, 18xx seems like the epitome of gaming. For those who haven’t tried it, even though they think they would like it, due to long play times and lack of accessibility, is the way to go.

99 Days of Blogging Challenge

I’m trying to get my blogging legs under me, so I’ve taken up the challenge to blog every day until the end of 2020. Just one of the ways I’m keeping my sanity in the midst of the dumpster fire this year has been. If you liked this content and you are interested in following along, click here to sign up and help me decide what to write on by suggesting topics and voting on content.

Blogging Schedule

  • Mechanics Monday
  • Trains Tuesday
  • Wired Wednesday
  • Top-20 Thursday
  • Freeform Friday
  • Collection Strategy Saturday
  • What I’ve Been Playing Sunday

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