During our last weekly board game day/night I was talking another avid cardboard collector (read board game addict). We started discussing his experience the week before with his first 18XX game. He told me he went to a convention that the people from a gaming group called Heavy Cardboard threw and among a lot of other deep and heavy euro games, he was invited to play his first real 18XX game. A while later he went up to the northern part of Colorado and partook in a 13 hours session learning his first 18XX game. I am a pretty heavy gamer and I have played games for a long time, but 13 hours on a single game blew my mind. So, naturally, I forced him to talk to me about the nature of 18XX games and why the hell they take so long!
By this point all the 18’s and XX’s are probably just making you scream, “WTF are 18XX games?!” Well allow me to give you a brief overview. An 18xx game according to BGG is:
“The collective term used to describe a set of railroad-themed stock market and tile laying games. The 18xx set has two main branches: the 1829 branch (1829, 1825, 1853, and 1829 Mainline) and the 1830 branch (1830, 1856, 1870, etc). There are also a number of crossover games which sit somewhere between the two branches (eg 1860). While general railroad operations such as track laying are critical to both branches, the two branches are fundamentally quite different in character and player focus. The 1829 branch games emphasize stock-picking and portfolio management while the 1830 branch concentrates more on financial prediction and stock market manipulation. So in 1829 et al players are rewarded for holding the right stocks at the right time and for running their companies well, while in 1830 et al they are are rewarded more for manipulating the stock market to their advantage and investing in the companies that thereby profit.” Boardgamegeek.com 18XX family page
So in essence an 18XX game is about running a railroad company while trying to score the most point by making money for your personal portfolio. After we talked about it, I immediately thought of Panamax. A game where you push boats through the Panama Canal and manage a company while trying to get the most money in your personal portfolio by playing the market on stocks and shipments. but Panamax only takes three hours, max. So what makes an 18XX game take so long?
My friend who was describing it to me said they took about 2 hours to explain the rules, 2 hours! I can pretty much guarantee that I could never sell that kind of game to anyone I play with based on teaching time alone. So if the rules took 2 hours to go through, that means the game itself took 11 hours. 11 hours of railroad building, stock shifting, and market manipulation. Personally, I can see how this would be amazing, like you are playing an RPG about being a rail road baron. However, I do not know many people that could commit, focus, or even enjoy a single thing for 13 hours much less maintaining the mental coherency to play a game that long. Let’s not stop the scare tactics here, by the time I am done you will be terrified any time you hear the term “18XX”!
Let’s start with game size. as the board for these games alone is huge. Most of them, typically taking up most of a kitchen table, think Arkham Horror with all the expansions. So the game is intimidating just by sitting on a table. not to mention most of them are not visually appealing. as if you are doing you taxes with little wooden pieces. The box sizes can also be pretty big, about the same size of the box for Star Wars: Imperial Assault for some of the games. So, not only, do they keep these games in a veritable treasure chest, but also, they explode out onto the table without concern for any human life!
Okay that may have been a bit dramatic but it was necessary. Are you scared of these games yet?! Well you really shouldn’t be. Most of the time people won’t be asking others to play these games at you local board game night. People usually play these games with established groups as they take so long to teach. Also people who play these games often can finish them in 4-6 hours as opposed to 13 or so. Lastly, these games are nearly impossible to buy. The main manufacturer of these games is a company called Deep Thought Games, and the soonest they can get you a version of one of these games is 7-11 months.
Now that you feel safe, I would highly consider checking out one of these games at some point. Barring a megagame, not many other games tend to be such an “experience”. There are many groups around the country that run these games often and even have frequent teaching sessions. So perhaps it is time to let that rule aversion go and embrace the table being no longer used for food! See you you next time!