Why I Enjoy Playing 18XX Games


Endgame Board of 1846

I’ve been playing strategy board games for about 5 years now. My gateway game into the genre was Dominion. I still play it occasionally; in fact, I played Dominion tonight at my local game night. After a game or two of Dominion, which only last about 30 minutes each, I’m ready to play something else. With the 18XX genre, however, this is rarely the case. After playing a game or two of 18XX, I’m eager to play another game or two more. What is it that keeps drawing back to the game table with these games?

A typical game of 18XX lasts for multiple hours, but rarely feels like it. While playing, I am constantly engaged in either executing strategies or making tactical adjustments to my plans. I have to stay mindful of my next move as well as mindful of the moves of the other players.

I think this may be because of the strong ripple effect found in most 18XX games. Small decisions made throughout the game can end up having a huge impact in how the game takes shape. The difference in a game where 2 public companies start in the first stock round versus where 3 start is very noticeable in both the early share availability and stock market volatility. Alternatively, the impact of one player having several private companies versus having just one or two sets the options of what you can expect to see during that playing.

Every decision creates a ripple in the water, and it’s these ripples that make an 18XX game exciting. It’s these ripples that make an 18XX game replayable. As many times as I’ve played 1830, I can’t think of 2 games that were the same. This phenomenon fascinates me about the genre. It just proves how much an impact players have, and that nothing about these games are scripted. Like in a chess match, there are strong openings and weak openings, but you win or lose a game not on your opening, but on how you take it into the mid-game and on through to the endgame.

In addition to managing the ripples in the game, the lack of randomness adds to the sense of achievement I feel when I play well in a game. I know that I earned a victory not just because I got a lucky roll a few times or drew the right card at exactly the right time. Instead, a victory is achieved through a series of decisions that were executed with precise coordination, careful timing, and tactical flexibility.

Lastly, these games are challenging. There are so many facets to keep in mind and systems to keep in check. As a result, these games have a fairly steep learning curve. So, once you get to the point that you feel like you’re driving the train instead of letting the train drive you, these games become exceedingly rewarding and highly satisfying to play.

So, now you know why I love these games. I’d love to hear why you enjoy playing these games. Let me know in the comments below.

Take care, & game on!

Clayton McMahon
Conductor of the Cotton Belt Crew

Posted in Promoting 18XX as a Hobby

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