How to Describe 18XX Games to Non-gamers


When people ask me about my hobbies, I tell them that I like to play train games. For the longest time, however, I didn’t know how to describe them to people who hadn’t played them. There are so many facets to the game that I would get overwhelmed with which one to feature in any given conversation. Ultimately, they would get bored with my exciting tales of choke point tokening and dumping companies.

After some trial and error, and with some help from my gaming friend, Barbara, I’ve been able to come up with a short way to describe the game without going into the details of its mechanics. I’ll share it with you now:

“In an 18XX game, you get to play the role of a rail baron. You start the game with a small amount of money which you use to open railroad companies. You then get to make decisions on behalf of the company to build track, establish train stations, and buy trains. You also receive dividends from the revenue generated by the railroad companies. You then can use the money you’ve earned to buy more shares and maybe even to start additional railroads. The game remains very interesting because you are often presented with multiple options to choose from in a given turn. At the end of the game the player with the highest net worth wins.”

The above description gives them an idea of what’s going on without going into game jargon or mechanics. It’s interesting to see what kinds of questions they ask. If they seem interested in the investing, shares, and dividends, then you can highlight the financial maneuvering possible during the stock round. If they are asking about track tiles and counting runs you can focus the conversation on the how to make a strong company because if this person were to play, they would most likely be drawn to the engineering side of the game.

Sometimes people are fascinated by the historical or geographic aspects of the games. They may have a personal connection to Chicago, Russia, Austria, or Canada. They will be excited to see the city or hex that they lived in. They may remember the Erie railroad running near their home as a child. So they might see the game as a bit of role play and the conversation will bring back fond memories of another time or place.

I’ve learned not to let myself get bogged down in explaining strategy or rules. A non-gamer isn’t going to have a frame of reference to know what I’m talking about. I would feel just like they would if they were describing the details of their line of work to me as if I were one of their co-workers. Also, most non-gamers’ reference to board games is Monopoly, Risk, Pictionary, or Chess. So from an easy to grasp, generic explanation, I am able to give people a basic understanding of how I spend my Sunday afternoons and evenings.

Let us know in the comments how you like to explain the 18XX games to the non-gamers you know.

Take care & game on,

Clayton McMahon
Conductor of the Cotton Belt Crew

Posted in Promoting 18XX as a Hobby Tagged with: , , ,
3 comments on “How to Describe 18XX Games to Non-gamers
  1. Anonymous says:

    Great description! I’ve watched a lot of people play this game, but never understood the concept. Now I know. Thanks!

    • 18xxgaming says:

      You’re welcome. I hope you give it a chance sometime. There are several titles that are good as an introduction to the series. 18MS, 18TN, 18AL, 18GA, are some examples. You might surprise yourself and find that you get the train game bug, too. :-)

  2. The 18xx series of games are a long-standing series of economic train games. Players invest in one or more train corporations and manage their routes on a board. In this episode of Board Games with Scott,

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