18xx with Ambie: 18xx Intro

September 9, 2018

18xx with Ambie is Ambie's video series about 18xx board games featured on The Dice Tower's YouTube channel.

In this video, Ambie introduces what 18xx games are and why she likes them.


Hi! I’m Ambie, and this is my video series about 18xx games. In this video, I’m gonna go over what 18xx games are, and why I like them!

If you’re like I was, then you might have no idea what 18xx games are. Before I played my first 18xx game, they were kind of like a mythical creature - I had heard them mentioned but I didn’t know anyone who played them, and I hadn’t seen or experienced them at all. But now, I mostly know what they are, so I can share what I’ve learned with you!

18xx games refer to a family or system of economic game with stock markets and route building. In the stock market side of the game, players buy and sell shares of different corporations, and whoever has the most shares of each corporation is the current President of that corporation and is in charge of it. For the route building part of the game, there’s a map where the corporations will be laying track to build routes, buying and operating trains, and paying out dividends to all the shareholders. But the President gets to decide what the corporation does, so they can decide to withhold the dividends in the corporation if they don’t want the other shareholders to get money!

The goal in 18xx games is to get the most money and share value for yourself. You’re playing as the railroad businessmen who started up the different railroad companies, so the games are about trying to come out ahead in a changing economy. Although not all 18xx games are train themed, the theme fits well because the railroad industry brought about so much change to the world in the 19th century - trains brought everyone closer and caused a boom in the economy. And all those important events that happened in the 1800’s are why the family is called 18xx. Most of the games are named after years when important things happened, like 1829, 1830, and 1860.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to like trains to like 18xx games. In fact, I don’t even like trains.

I’m not a train enthusiast. Yes, I have a picture of a train there, but that was gifted to me after I got into 18xx games. And I learned about the history of the railroads because I got into 18xx games. So you can enjoy the games without knowing much or caring much for the theme beforehand. And since the scale of the games are so large, when I play 18xx games, they feel more like economic war games where trains and corporations are tools to come out ahead. But if you do like trains and the history of railroads, then you can also like these games, and the history might be even more interesting to you.

What you might not realize if you haven’t played any of these games is that the 18xx family is a system with very different games. Just small changes in the rules can make a game feel completely different. There are some games that are more focused on route building and trying to make a really good corporation. There are others that are more focused on the stock market and the routes you build don’t matter as much.

For example, the first 18xx game was 1829 designed by Francis Tresham, and it took place in Britain. The next one, 1830, was published by Avalon Hill and took place in the United States. The railroad businessmen in the United States were a lot more aggressive and dishonest than those in Britain, so with a few rule tweaks, 1830 is a much more aggressive game where you can basically embezzle money from your corporation.

So one thing I really like about 18xx games is that once I’ve played one of them, I know the basic rules and it’s a lot easier for me to learn a new one. When I learn a new game, I just need to know the difference between that and previous games that I’ve played, and it will be a completely new experience for me with different challenges.

Also the basic rules of the game aren’t too complicated compared to a lot of other board games I’ve played, but the decisions can be very complex because what you do now affects everything that happens later in the game. 18xx games tend to have little to no randomness or hidden information, so they’re kind of like a multiplayer abstract game. If you all played exactly the same way, you could play exactly the same game again, but because there’s so many different decisions throughout the game, every game is different.

The games are very open ended, so even though each turn is pretty straightforward in what you do, there are so many options and the impact of your decisions are very important. Similar to Go, where all you do on your turn is place a piece, but because the game is so open it’s difficult to comprehend how your piece will affect the future state of the game.

I also like the player interaction in the games. Because there’s no randomness in the game state, the uncertainty comes from what other players do. What you do has an impact on the game further on, and on other players. There have been a lot of games I've played where someone was in a really bad position, but they turned things around by attacking the other players’ positions, and then they came out ahead. So there can be epic moments where people make really interesting decisions and cause a turning point in the game.

As I said before, there are a lot of different types of 18xx games. There are hundreds of games in the family, and even if you don’t like one of them, you could like other ones. If you like route building, or trying to build up a corporation and make it the best that you want it to be, then there are games for you. If you like playing with the stock market and gambling with the shares or even trying to short sell shares, there are games for you. If you want a heavily interactive experience where you can block people off on the board or you want to do a hostile takeover of a company, there are games for you. If you like really great components and art, well... let’s get back to that later.

If any of that sounded interesting to you, then maybe you might want to try an 18xx game! But there are a couple of disclaimers that you should know before you jump in.

Firstly, they tend to take a while to play. Not all 18xx games are the same length, because they’re all really different, but the shorter ones tend to be around 2-3 hour games, and the really long ones can be 10 or more hours. But the length is group dependent - if players take a long time analyzing every move, it will take a lot longer.

Secondly, because of the shared incentive in the games, most 18xx games are minimum of 3 players, so that combined with the game length might make it difficult for you to find a group to play.

Thirdly, not many people play them currently, so because of that they’re not very widely distributed or produced, and they’re kinda hard to find. So if you want to get into playing them, it may take some effort to try to find your first game. And back to the components and art - because they’re not professionally produced, the components and art won’t be what you’re used to from other board games.

But if you want to try an 18xx game, then in my next video, I’m gonna talk about some 18xx games that are good to start with! Thanks for watching 18xx With Ambie! You can comment below or email me at ambie@dicetower.com with any questions or comments!
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