Marek (also known as Arasq) was my fellow boardgames buddy for some time. I had a pleasure of introducing him the great world of Imperial Struggle. Now he convinced me to start the exploration of the vast lands of 18XX railroad series. Well, I heard about those games a lot – here and there – so it was high time to check what that all fuzz was about!
Before going into actual session, couple of words for those unbeknownst to the genre (well, quite recently I was among them!) 18xx is the name for a genre of board games that feature the creation and operation of railroad companies set in the 1800s. The landscape of 18xx games includes many different titles, usually with rules differences from one game to the next, giving each game its unique play style and flavor. Many 18xx games are named for a particular year that is historically significant to the game. For example, the title of the first 18xx game was 1829 and refers to the early British railways. Other titles reflect a geographical region rather than a year.
18xx are games of stock investments and railroad operations. Players act as investors to found railroad companies, buy and sell stock, and build their investment portfolios in hopes of collecting dividends and benefiting from rising stock values. The public railroad companies that are founded develop the map by building track and railroad stations, buying and operating trains, and managing their revenue. At the end of the game, the winner is the player with the highest net worth in their investment portfolio and cash holdings.
The game chose by Marek for an introductory purposes was 18MS. Love that cryptic names 🙂 That actually mean “Eighteen Mississippi”. One of the smallest games in whole 18XX series and a perfect starter for a new player like me.
18MS is an 18xx game set in Mississippi and Alabama, together with portions of adjoining states. Players invest in railroad companies in an effort to have the greatest net worth at the end of the game – just as almost in every game in the series. This is determined by adding the cash holdings of the players to the value of the stocks each owns. The game consists of set number of Stock Rounds – five, where players buy and sell stock in the various companies, each of which is followed by two Operating Rounds, where the various companies operate by laying tracks, placing stations, and buying and running trains.
There was of course no way for us to meet face to face so only the digital option was possible. Thankfully, the Tabletop Simulator is full of great 18XX implementations with 18MS among them.
That was an introductory game for me of course. And I could count on assistance of both my co-players (Marta and Marek) as well as spectators (I think Adrian was also there). I have invested in Frisco company (very good choice in our game), Marek took GMO (that proved to be pretty fatal mistake in our set-up) while Marta made sure that location of Atlanta corporation was well used.
We pretty quickly bought second company (me and Marek) and our board was full of upgraded tiles. Marta unfortunately had to play further only with one railroad company. In the end, when last Operational Round was over and we counted the money, to surprise of everybody (and definitely especially for me) the results were following:
- Michal $5292
- Marta $4631
- Marek $3479
That was definitely luck of the newbie. And yes, this result of course built more interest in me for that title! So a week later, we played second game!
We again used Tabletop Simulator and our set-up was similar – me, Marta and Marek. Still, the game developed into completely different direction this time.
First, Marek took this time another company – The West Point Route from Memphis. Marta bought Frisco while I took ownership of Atlanta. Completely different set-up as well as strategies of the company owners. And a tough learning – do not start far away from others, as they usually – sometimes even unintentionally help each other build the trains infrastructure!
This time again, the flow of the game caused Marta to own only one company while the rest of us had two. That did not stop her from actually winning the game! The final results were both much lower – we did not started the new companies as early as in the initial session – as well as very, very close. Between me and Marek we had $25 difference!
- Marta $3629
- Marek $3399
- Michal $3374
That was close, exciting and very informative session!
Playing he 18MS was a nice differentiation from my usual wargame theme. I just realized that since pandemic started and the social contacts were severely limited I have not played the real economic game! So that was quite refreshing and a nice experience.
The series itself (judging after two plays of one title) can be really addictive. And not necessarily only for the fans of railroads – what makes the experience so great is combination of operational dimension (building tracks & stations as well as running training) and the stock exchange operations. Especially the latter one can be very exciting as you really should not be too attached to your initial company. Well, in the end it is just a tool for you to profit!
I am sure I will play more. Will I become an acolyte of 18XX cult? Well, maybe not necessarily but for sure getting that series to the (digital) table from time to time would be a great idea. More to come!