Chris' List of 18XX games
Chris Farrell
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Long ago, in a newgroup far away, when I used to be an 18xx authority , I opined on the relative merits of 18xx games. Things have changed a bit in the intervening years, but the 18xx series is still great and one that I still play, albeit not nearly as much as I used to. Still, much of that is just simple wear, with games being picked up, played, and then discarded; 1830 is still in my list of all-time great games, and I have very high opinions of others in the series. To wit...
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1. Board Game: 1830: Railways & Robber Barons [Average Rating:7.81 Overall Rank:148]
Chris Farrell
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1830 was the first 18xx game I played, and the last one standing when everything was said and done. It achieves the best balance between complexity and play value of all of the 18xx games, being of modest complexity, modest length (at least, after players have become familiar with it), and great play value. Unlike many previous big multi-player games like Dune, Titan, or Diplomacy, players are never eliminated and often it will not be clear who of the top 2-3 players has won until after the money is counted. Combines interesting tactical play (laying tiles, stations, playing stock games) with strong strategic elements (which RR to start, which railroads are good in combination). 1830 is also unique amongst what I consider great games (interestingly) in having a pretty hard ceiling; I think it loses its lustre after, say, 25-50 plays. Still, who can argue with that? Skill is also so important that it's hard to play with players of greatly differing experience with the game. Still, a great game for a regular group of serious gamers, one that will keep you going for a long, long time.
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2. Board Game: 1853 [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:2317]
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I'll probably get into some hot water with some die-hard 18xx players for this choice, but this is a game I genuinely like a lot. However, there is a caveat: I've always played with a variant that adds 2 2M trains and the "missing" yellow track configurations (notably, the soft curve/small city). With these very minor changes, you get a game that has a great richness of tactical detail in the tile-laying. If you play with the variant from the expansion in which the BBCI can be a major railway at start, you have 5 railways with a very comparable level of potential, and players who like "building stuff" will have a blast; although the EIR is still a bit better than the rest and should be fought over. Another certain advantage of 1853 is its modest length (may be a touch shorter even than 1830 once players are familiar with it), simple rules, and the more incremental game play which doesn't focus so much on single defining events as 1830 does. This is IMHO the best of the 1829 branch of the 18xx family.
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3. Board Game: 1856 [Average Rating:7.49 Overall Rank:781]
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Of the many varaints the 1830 base game has spawned, 1856 is the best. All of the sensible 1830-based games add complexity to varying degrees, but the added complexity in 1856 is the most successful, in that the additions are truly different and change the game fundamentally, rather than simply making the game more detail-oriented. The loans, destinations, and CGR all make the tactics of running a railroad deeper and more interesting, and open up the tactics a great deal over 1830 or 1825. This is a complex game, not one to play as your first 18xx game, but a great one to throw into the mix once you've played 1830.
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4. Board Game: 1825 Unit 1 [Average Rating:6.81 Overall Rank:3091] [Average Rating:6.81 Unranked]
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I don't really think of 1825 as being truly great in the same sense as 1830 or 1853, but it does score in three extremely important ways: 1) It's very playably short, the shortest of the sensible 18xx games. There are several "truncated" and "minimalist" variants of 1830 playable in a few hours, but to my mind none of them quite work, while 1825 does. b) It's simple, the cleanest & most streamlined of the 18xx games. c) It has a lot of simple, minimal-impact variants that can be used to spice up and vary the game to keep it different. I really like how the minor companies work in this respect, although the expansions themselves are a bit overpriced (although still fairly cheap).

I hope Mr. Tresham finishes this game off with "Module 3". While when judged soley as an 18xx game it may perhaps not come out on top, it is an excellent compromise between the classic, big 18xx games and the currently popular euro titles, and is a game I rate quite highly in general.
 
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5. Board Game: 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt [Average Rating:7.05 Overall Rank:2396]
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2038 is a game I have mixed feelings on. It's too long for comfort, and I'm not a big fan of the "start packet" and how the companies come out. On the other hand, there is a huge amount of good stuff in here: the managing of routes with the different ship types, bases, refuelling stations, etc., is tactically great. I like how it's added randomness through the tile draws, without really risking unbalancing the game too much, since it's not so much about what comes out as where it is and how to get it where it needs to go - so the variable board keeps the game fresh. This could have been #2 or #3 on this list if it had been based on the 1830 base game, instead of 1835 (which is probably the most mediocre of the professionally-published 18xx games). Still, a recommendation, albeit with reservations.
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6. Board Game: 1829 [Average Rating:7.07 Overall Rank:3304]
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1829 has the core of a truly classic game, so I suppose it's hardly surprising that it went on to spawn some of the best multi-player games of the 80s. The original is a great game except for one small detail: it takes about twice as long as it should to play. I think 1829 and it's related games (1825, 1853) are underappreciated by 1830 fans; one of the things I like about 1829 is that there is actual stock trading, with players juggling their portfolios as the fortunes of railroads wax and wane, while in 1830 players are so terrified of the loot-n-dump that the stock market is frequently totally quiet, as nobody is willing to buy more than one share of another player's railway. 1829 is hard to find now, and not worth the collector's premium given that 1825 now exists and is in general just a 2.0 version of 1829. The northern game (which has not yet been ported to 1825) is worth a play.
 
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7. Board Game: 1870 [Average Rating:7.43 Overall Rank:1073] [Average Rating:7.43 Unranked]
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Of the two 18xx games Mayfair published, 1870 is definitely the weaker. It has some rather purposeless complexity (what the heck was Bill Dixon thinking when he put in that ledge? And why didn't the developer kill it?), and the ability to repurchase stock probably sounded like a good idea at the time, but to my mind is unbalancing - by making the power of corporation ownership even greater in 1870 than in 1830, the balance has skewed a bit too much towards simply owning good corporations IMHO. There is also a tricky kingmaker issue with the 12 trains. The 12 trains should almost always see play, because there are virtually always players who can and will see significant advantages from doing so. However, often these players feel they are in 4th or 5th place at that point, so exhaustion will mean they will choose not to bring them out so as to not lengthen an already quite long game they don't feel they have any chance to win (even if it would dramatically improve their position). Yet, that decision (or non-decision) can dictate which of the other players will win. This is somewhat unfortunate. 1870 is still an interesting game, but due to the length not a classic in my opinion.
 
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8. Board Game: Ur: 1830 BC [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:3771]
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This is a game I really wanted to like. The length is just right, the "route-building" game has a lot of the neat tactics that made 2038 so interesting, and it's a real attempt to broaden the scope of 1830 rather than being simply derivitive. Sadly, it just doesn't quite work. The early play is too constrained - just like 1835, the "kingdoms" can really only be brought out in a specific order due to the costs of "shares". The endgame is strange, with the game ending very abrubtly; the biggest and most infrastructure pieces will operate only once, and the late-game kindgoms perhaps once or twice. This game is unusual in that I think it actually wants to be a little *longer* than it is, and like 1835 it really needs more flexibility in the early game to be engaging.
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9. Board Game: 1851 [Average Rating:6.86 Overall Rank:5189]
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This is somewhat representitive of a class of what I think of as "truncated" 1830-style games. IMHO the 1830 branch of the 18xx family does not suit itself very well to the shorter games, given that there is a lot of power in corporation ownership and that some corporations are just better than others; somthing that will be magnified in a short game. The late-game train shuffling and corporation synergies are too important to the balance of the game, playing mainly the "first half" simply makes getting ownership the right corporations too important. Don't get me wrong, 1830 is a great game, but significantly shortening it dilutes it's strengths and accentuates what problems it has. 1830 is about a 5-hour game, and this is right where it wants to be. The other problem is the hex-based trains, which are substantially less interesting than the normal, city-based trains. Although they might make more sense logically, it makes the route-building too trivial.
 
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10. Board Game: 1841 [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:2652]
Chris Farrell
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Wow, this sucker is freaking huge. When I was seriously into 18xx games, this was the holy grail - taking the 18xx engine and adding a lot of detail that made it feel much more like a "simulation" giving you a lot more financial management tools. The ability to merge, have subsidiaries and cross-holdings, the complete flexibility in where to start companies, how much stock to issue, etc., was facinating. Even then, it was so involved I almost never got to play it. Today? I dunno. Certainly I'll never play this again, and part of it is certainly that if I'm going to play somthing this involved, I'd much rather play a 2-player game (wargame, mainly) in which you are less at the mercy of mistakes, vindictiveness, etc., of your fellow players. Facintating game, but for the multi-player genre I think it's simply too much.
 
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11. Board Game: 1835 [Average Rating:7.02 Overall Rank:1775]
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Definately the weakest of the published 18xx games, by a significant margin. Some interesting ideas are undone by excessive length, the overpowered minors, and a lack of control (through the start packet layout, 20% last shares, oddities in the Prussian ownership, and share availability) for a game so long and involved. A valiant try, but not in the same leage as 1825, 1830, or 1853. There is a "minor companies" variant that looks extremely promising, but I never got to the point of playing.
 
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