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Note on 2nd Printing: This version is identical to the first printing, except that there is an updated rulebook in which all known errata is corrected. Tom also made one rule change to Rule 6.86 that affects emergency fund raising. Also, 2 new Private Companies have been added for greater variety, particularly in 5-player games.

LIVING RULES

PUBLISHED 2016, 2021
DESIGNER Tom Lehmann
COMPONENT ART Mark Simonitch
COVER ART Kurt Miller
EXECUTIVE PRODUCERS Andy Lewis, Tony Curtis, Rodger MacGowan, Gene Billingsley, and Mark Simonitch

Tom Lehmann's 1846: The Race for the MidWest is a 3-5 player Railway operating and share trading exercise from GMT Games. It is adapted from Francis Tresham's '1829' which was published by Hartland Trefoil Ltd, a company he founded in 1971 and which later gave the boardgaming world another Francis tresham creation - the innovative 'Civilization'.

'1829' was the first of the famed 18XX games, and out of curiosity I did a quick Wikipedia search to see how many 18XX games there are now, and how many are attributed to Francis Tresham himself.

There are far many more than I had considered possible - my quick check found 68 titles for Railway games with '18' at the beginning of their title. They have been published by different games companies, such as GMT, Deep Thought, Mayfair Games, D.I.C.E. Hartland Trefoil and several others, many being self published by their authors (of which there are many other than Francis Tresham and Tom Lehmann) from a variety of countries.

You can currently find five 18XX games on the gmtgames.com website; 18 India, 1833NE, 1846 (2nd Printing), 1848 Australia and 1862 Railway Mania in the Eastern Counties.

I was introduced to 1829 and others of the 18XX by Francis Tresham himself, and to Francis by members of the long-lost-not-forgotten Small Furry Creatures Press who were a group of University Educated games players with a wicked sense of humour and a penchant for Muskateer-style role-playing. My friend of many years, Mike Oliver (a brilliant author on the era and battles of of Napoleon) also ensured that 18XX games were brought to our table, though my wife never really took to them - she thoroughly enjoys most Railway based games but could never savor the 18XX system.

1846 comprises of a solid amount of extremely well produced cards, boards and counters. Each new edition/addition to the range brings with it a few, mostly subtle, changes. If you play with regular 18XX players then you will discover that they not only know the rules (and, if necessary differences) so well that there is a good chance you will turn up at the venue (one of their homes) for a game and find the game already set out and the first N number of moves already played through; all that is required is for the players to randomly draw a staring company. Such is the nature of 18XX games.

Some members of the SFCP were well known for treating Civilization in a similar fashion. This being something neither I nor my wife ever got used to or truly liked even though we could see their logic as to how each country would begin within the confines of the political and military situations in which Civ' is perceived.

GMT have always provided good quality parts, boards, and components, in all of the GMT games I have played; these are of the same quality of card stock and printing. With many of my board games, but particularly with GMT Games, I tend to either push counters back into the sheets they arrive in or keep them fairly well separated in necessary-sized zip-loc baggies. Many companies, including GMT, now include zip-locs in with their games but if you find you need more my suggestion is to check out your local office supplies store where you can buy them in 50-100 or so packs. I also keep the paper wrap-sleeves for the notes for as long as possible as they do tend to keep the paper money safe and tight from creasing.

The idea of the game is to be the richest Railway Tycoon, with cash and shares, when the game ends and the dust has settled; which is the completed Round when the bank has basically run out of money ($500 is set aside at the beginning for last minute payouts and is now brought into play).

Play is in a set sequence, with there first being a Stock Round where players, in turn order, may sell Shares (note the 's') they hold and (not and/or) buy one Stock certificate. This Stock Round continues until all players are satisfied with what they have achieved (or frustrated because they didn't do what they had hoped to do) and they have all passed. Then there are two Operating Rounds where the the Railroad President (or owner) operates each company under their control.

This generally means that Shares are redeemed orissued via the Stock Market - 1846 is very much a business game with Railways being companies that are the means to stocks and shares trading. Although railways routes and stations are built and expanded, and there are cards that represent trains (but never actually move on the board), do not let anyone kid you that this is a 'train' game per se. True train games are those like Railway Rivals, Empire Builder, Ticket to Ride etc. where physical model trains are actually played onto the map-board. Then there are card games such as Express, Station Master, etc and other games, Colt Express, Russian Railroads, etc. where there is a game mechanic that uses trains as its theme.

The 18XX series are mostly about getting wealthy through constructing routes and buying companies or into companies like professional investors; Profit, with the capital 'P', and smart business strategies rather than the colourful trains, tracks, cards etc of train games aimed at family players. If you see a 'train game' that is for 2-6 players aged 8+ with a playing time of an hour or less then you are most likely looking at a fun, family oriented entertainment. If that is the kind of game you want then the 18XX series is most definitely not for you.

When you want a game of substance that offers 2+ hours of intrigue, that is based around clever and strategic trading, buying, selling cooperating, then head for any of the 18XX games. They are all very similar but, as previously said, are all slightly different in mostly subtle ways. A few years back I knew some regular 18XX players who opened a new 18XX game and begin playing without reading the rules. They setup the game as they expected it to be, have played it as they expected it to play, and enjoyed it in their own commercially industrial manner. Those same players a later met someone else playing that very same 18XX game and only then discovered that the way they had been playing it wasn't quite right - because of the subtle changes to one or two rules.

18XX has trains that are known as 2-train, 3-train etc and Yellow railway line tiles (hexes) that start as fairly basic straights and bends/curves. The building of the tracks was originally innovative because, as far as I remember, the mechanic was one of the first to allow players to build over previously placed tiles whilst having to keep every aspect of the previous (now underneath) tile. For example a North-South straight track could have a tile placed on it that allowed for different directions, or perhaps the building of a Station on the junction where none stood before, just as long as the new tile being placed kept the original North-South straight route.

For instance: If you look at my photo of the Yellow tiles you can see that the third Yellow tile down in the first column has a small tight curve from (as viewed in the picture) about 4-o-clock to 6-o-clock. Yellow tiles are always the first tiles laid and can only be upgraded in Green, Brown, Grey order (not strictly true as other tiles of the same colour as the previous tile can be placed on top of previously laid tiles as long as they keep the same perspective AND add something to the possible route/s.

Therefore if you look at the aforementioned Yellow tile and then at the Green tiles you can see a number of Green tiles that can be positioned over the Yellow tile. Instead of listing them I am going to let you study the Green tiles and then the Brown tiles for yourself so you can decide on which tiles can enhance the original (Yellow) piece of railway track, starting by (mentally) placing a Green tile over the Yellow tile and then a Brown tile over the Green tile. The tracks on the tile being covered must always be represented on the tile that is covering them. 

During the Operating Rounds companies can 'run' their trains as long as the route begins and ends and ends at a Station and the train used is of the type that can travel the route - a 2 train, for example, can only run from one Station to another. Every aspect of the 18XX games are down to skilfull play rather than sheer, unadulterated luck. Each player has to manage their money, control their buying, building and expanding and generally all aspects of finances. Paying Dividends may be an ideal way of keeping shareholders happy but it may also leave the company in a financial pickle if not carefully though through. A lot of time in 18XX games is thinking, thinking for now, thinking what your opponents are likely to be doing, thinking for two or three turns ahead.

 

Buying trains may seem like a good idea, and indeed your organisation will need to own trains, but there are times when those trains will no longer be able ro operate because newer trains have been brought into play. Purchasing a train from the next phase may seem the older trains being phased out; there is a need and a balance and being the corporation with its finger on the controlling button can be the difference between staying financially afloat or sinking.

As trains are operated, routes are built, tracks are evolved or dissolved, there is always the fear of bankruptcy just around the bend. Cash and a healthy Stocks & Shares portfolio win games, trains are not valuable. One of the dilemmas I seem to facew whenever I play is whether to buy or stand with what I have. Whichever I do I can almost guarantee that the other option would have been better, but of course when faced with a similar situation in another game that other option never looks like it's going to pan out. I have lost a few games from being bullish when thoughtfully bearish would have been the best proposition. Then again I have lost out to a bullish opponent by being over cautious.

I used to like the 18XX series a lot, and do still find the occasional game a good game for a long session, but as I have left my thirties (and 40's, 50's, 60's) behind focus and concentration are no longer my friends. At 71 I do not consider myself to be 'old' but I use my age as a factor because I do often mishear or totally miss important rules when they are read out (so nothing new there then). I also make too many errors now, which although friends and family usually say I can take back a move that's not really me playing the game the, and either just don't see the consequences of my actions before taking them or I just simply really miscalculate them.

My wife has never been a great fan of the series but has always joined in if a game is in the offing and inevitably she does better than I do. Lately though she hasn't felt inclined to play 18XX games even though she relishes railway games and this, along with my age and my Covid fears means that I have even less chance of playing them. 

The 18XX series is a very popular and important range of Railway Business games so as long as I am able I will continue to play one or more of them and hope that I can interest the younger gamers in the family and amongst friends towards the need for social games of this length, style and magnitude, be they 'train games' or 'historical' war games. 45-60 minute games are fine but games like 18XX, or GMTs history based tabletoppers, are very much needed so that the past isn't consigned to Google and Wikipedia.

 

© Chris Baylis 2011-2021