Strategically Thematic: 1830

April 13, 2017

Strategically Thematic is a segment featured on The Dice Tower's bi-weekly Throat Punch Lunch videos about games where the theme and mechanics go together really well.

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Hi, this is Ambie from Board Game Blitz, and this is Strategically Thematic, a segment where I talk about theme in different strategic games. This time, I’m talking about 18xx games, specifically 1830.

18xx games are a family of economic train games with shared ownership in railroad corporations. Each player is a railroad tycoon, trying to amass the most wealth by investing in the different corporations. There are a bunch of different 18xx titles, each based on a different region and with slightly different mechanics to match the history and feel of railroad development in that area.

1830, which takes place in the eastern United States, is one of the most well-known 18xx games, since it was one of the first ones published. In 1830, you can start up railroad corporations by investing in shares of their stock and you operate the corporations by building train track and running trains through the cities. Everyone starts out the game with a small amount of money and invests it in different railroad corporations.

Throughout the game, which simulates decades in history, you’ll be building up routes for your corporations to run through and getting revenue by having trains run through high-valued cities. As your company pays out dividends, its stock price increases, so your value can keep increasing throughout the game. But you can also sell shares of corporations, and that causes the stock to go down. Some may think that this isn’t a very thematic stock market, but in the 19th century, the railroad tycoons actually had a lot of power over the stock market, and they engaged in a lot of stock manipulations. This can happen a lot in 1830, when players buy and sell shares of other corporations just to devalue another player’s shares and make sure their own corporations come out on top.

As the game goes on, cities are modernized and become more valuable, but trains also become more expensive. In the later 19th century, a lot of railroad corporations went bankrupt, and this is also shown through games of 1830. As the game goes on, trains start becoming obsolete, since newer models have come out. If the corporation can’t keep up and loses all its trains, it’s forced to buy a new train for a lot of money. When the company doesn’t have enough money, the President of that company is liable for the cost, so it’s just as easy to lose everything you have as it is to make millions.

Even though 1830 may not be the prettiest game to look at, the feel of the game is super exciting and tense as you’re vying against all these other railroad tycoons to come out on top. And with just a few map and rule changes, other 18xx games can have a completely different feeling, matching the theme of that specific game. For example, 1841 takes place in Northern Italy, and partway through the game there’s the Second Italian War of Independence that changes the Austrian borders and influences where your train tracks can run through.

These thematic differences in the game can drastically alter the gameplay, and every 18xx game I've played has been exciting and unique. Thanks for watching Strategically Thematic! What are your favorite 18xx games? Let me know in the comments!
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