18XX games vary, but most follow this general pattern:The objective is to enhance personal wealth, not the assets of any companies a player may be operating. Personal wealth consists of cash, company stock (which increases wealth both by receiving dividends and by capital appreciation), and other investments (such as private companies).
Players don't directly interact with the game board, but do so indirectly through companies they control. Generally, the player who owns the most stock of a company is the president of that company and makes all decisions on behalf of that company. Usually, the president is also required to help fund the company when it lacks sufficient funds to pay a required expenditure (such as a train).
Game play alternates between "stock rounds" and one or more "operating rounds". In a stock round, players buy and sell stock (some games have company actions during a stock round as well), while in an operating round players take actions on behalf of companies they control, including laying track, placing station tokens, operating trains, withholding income or paying dividends, and buying trains.
"Certificate limit": there is usually a limit to how many corporate shares and private companies a player may own, to keep the game competitive by preventing snowball effects resulting from early leads by some players.
The "President's certificate" (or "Director's certificate") represents control of a railroad corporation, usually represents a greater percentage of corporate stock than other certificates (e.g., 20% as opposed to 10%), and is usually the first one purchased for a company (with its purchaser setting the price, or "par value", for regular shares of stock in many titles in the series). If another player accumulates more shares in a company that the current president, they acquire the President's certificate (with attendant side-effects for both players regarding certificate limits) in exchange for their own lesser shares, and becomes the new controller of the corporation.
Certain games may impose restrictions on the order in which companies may be started (generally to impose a historical context upon the game), and they vary in how many shares must be purchased before the company may operate ("floats").
The map is usually a hex grid that depicts cities and terrain features. Hexagonal "track" tiles (representing available land-rights) are laid on top of this map to represent the growth of railroad networks, and tokens are placed on the board to represent stations (as well as special abilities from private companies). Cities have values which can vary based on which tiles have been laid on the city, the phase of the game, or even which type of train is used to reach them. Different color tiles are available in succession, and in phases. These phases are typically determined by the first purchase of a more advanced type of train.
A company's stock price is adjusted based on the revenues earned and whether the president chose to pay dividends or to withhold the earnings in the company treasury. Stock prices are usually also affected by actions in the stock round, and some games have other mechanisms that affect the stock price.
Scarcity (forcing future-turn planning by players) of available corporations, shares thereof, train types and track tiles.
Trains become obsolete, and must be replaced by ever more expensive trains that also have greater capacity for earning revenue. Purchase of a new type of train usually triggers other events in the game, such as when older trains become obsolete, the availability of different sets of tiles, closure of private companies, etc.
Game end is usually determined when the bank runs out of money, and also by player bankruptcy (when a player cannot pay the debt of a company they control). Some games do not end when a player goes bankrupt, while others add other conditions for ending the game such as when a stock reaches a certain value on the stock market, or the most advanced type of train has been purchased. Other games do not feature bankruptcy at all, and enable a player to place a moribund company in "receivership", or be incorporated into a government railway, and walk away from debts.
While adhering to common similarities (see preceding section), each 18XX game differs from the others in subtle or significant ways in rule set as well as game map. As with games in general, each individual mechanic has probably been used before, but a new game can put together a set of mechanics which provide a new and interesting challenge. Some typical areas of difference are:Initial Auction - there are many different ways to distribute the initial privates and corporations.
Private Companies - most 18XX games have private companies which are entirely owned by one player, and represent the earliest companies in the game or provide special abilities. "Privates", as they are called, generally do little other than provide revenue, but in some games they control access to or enhance the revenue of certain hexes on the map. Some games have very similar private companies, some have very different private companies, and some dispense with having private companies at all. Some titles (e.g., 1835 and 1861) also have Minor Companies, which are again owned entirely by one player but play a more dynamic role than Privates.
Corporation Funding - some games have full funding for a corporation as soon as it floats, while others have the company receiving money only as each share is sold. Some games require the corporation to reach a historically relevant destination in order to receive some of its capital or earn the best level of income.
Company Types - some games have multiple company types. These types may vary based on how many shares are available for purchase, the funding model for the company, the number of station tokens available, or which types of trains may be purchased by the company.
Corporate mergers and demergers - some games feature optional, or forced, mergers or splits of one or more companies.
Corporate stock-ownership - some games enable companies to hold their own stock, purchase private corporations, and/or own the stock of other companies (even to the point of owning or as prelude to merger).
Train Types - some games may offer multiple types of trains with distinct capabilities or lifetimes.
Some trains may "degrade" into other train types upon certain events (for example, delayed obsolescence of 4-trains in 18MEX, or normal trains becoming H-trains in 1844).
Trains may become available in unusual sequences. For example, in 1830, diesel engines are available as soon as the first 6-train is purchased — all the 6-trains are not required to be purchased first. In 1824, G-train availability is controlled by when normal trains are purchased.
Certain trains may be restricted in terms of which locations they may run to or may count revenue from, or they may provide bonuses for running to certain locations. For example, in 1844, H-trains are prohibited from running to off-board locations. In 1854, only Orient Express trains may run to certain off-board areas. In 1889, diesels get special bonuses for off-board locations. In 1826, E-trains and TGVs ignore dot-towns. TGVs in 1826 and 4D-trains in 18MEX double the value of cities they count. In 1824, only G-trains may run to mines and the corporation always gets the value of the mine rather than it being potentially paid to stockholders.
Theme - a few titles eschew the common railroad/stock-market theme. For example, 2038 involves space exploration of the asteroid belt, while Ur, 1830 BC involves building dams and canals in ancient Mesopotamia (in the latter game, "corporations", "presidents" and stock "shares" are represented by kingdoms, rulers and parcels of land).
A number of conventions have at least some emphasis on 18XX games, including the Chattanooga Rail Gaming Challenge, held in January or February in Chattanooga, Tennessee and run by Mark Derrick. 18XX games also figure prominently in various "RailCon" and "Puffing Billy" tournaments at many conventions.
Note: Many titles are out-of-print and difficult to find.
Web-published in 2011 by designer Ian D. Wilson.
Colorado, published 2002 by David Methany in Rail Gamer #17, designed by Antonio Leal
Designed by Ian D. Wilson and published by Deep Thought in 2011.
Designed by Craig Bartell and Tim Flowers and published by All-Aboard Games and Deep Thought Games in 2010.
Designed by Simon Cutforth and published 2016 by All-Aboard Games.
1824 was published by Double-O Games in 2005. The game was designed by Lonny Orgler and Helmut Ohley, and is set in Austria-Hungary. It is a smaller and simpler version of Lonny's 1837, and adds some ideas from his later 1854 and Helmut's 1844.
Great Britain, released 1995 (Unit 1) by Hartland Trefoil, 2000 (Unit 2) and 2004 (Unit 3) by Tresham Games, designed by Francis Tresham. The game has subsequently had many revisions, reprints, add-on kits and variants.
1826 was published by Chris Lawson in 2000 and Deep Thought Games in 2004 and set in France and Belgium. As David Hecht's first design, it is the most conventional, and only one to use "traditional" green and brown plain track upgrade tiles. 1826 started out as "1830 on a different map", but rapidly evolved into a game of capital and technology management: the game's key decisions revolve around when to "grow" a company, and which trains to buy to optimize a company's final position.
England, released 2005 by Tresham Games, designed by Francis Tresham.
1829 (South) was the first game in the 18XX series, published by Hartland Trefoil Ltd (UK) in 1974 from an original design by Francis Tresham. A second version, 1829 (North) was published in 1981. The game has subsequently had many revisions, reprints, add-on kits and variants.
1830 was published by Avalon Hill in 1986, and its popularity led to the creation of many other 18XX games. The game has subsequently had many revisions, reprints, add-on kits and variants.
1832 was published by Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by Bill Dixon and is set in the Southeastern United States. It retains the new rules Bill introduced in 1850 and 1870 for share price protection, stock redeeming, and reissuing, while adding new rules to model the mergers that shaped the South's railroads.
1835 was designed and published by Hans im Glück in 1990 and distributed in the United States by Mayfair Games. The game board covers most of Germany. It was the first 18XX game use the concept of 'minor' companies, which operated like the normal stock companies (with some limitations) but are owned by a single person like a private company.
Austria-Hungary, released and designed 1994 by Lonny Orgler
Saxony, self-published in 2003 by Wolfram Janich
Rheinland, self-published in 2001 by Wolfram Janich
Netherlands, self-published in 1993 by Paul Stouthard and Rob van Wijngaarden
1841 was published by Chris Lawson in 1996. The game was designed by Federico Vellani with assistance from Manlio Manzini and is set in Italy. With its complicated financial rules and very steep train gradient (i.e., the trains get very expensive very quickly), it emphasizes stock manipulation and funding train purchases over route building.
Hamburg/Schleswig-Holstein, self-published in 1995 by Wolfram Janich
1844 was designed and published by Helmut Ohley in 2003. Peter Minder collected extensive background material and drew the map.
A 2016 Mayfair and Lookout Games republishing of 1844 and 1854 with various changes.
1846 was published by Deep Thought Games in 2005, with a second edition by GMT Games in 2016. The game was designed by Tom Lehmann and is set in the Mid-western United States. It features a linear stock market (like 1829), n/m trains (which count n cities but may run through m total cities) and a simplified private company distribution. Another unusual feature is that the number of corporations, private companies, and the bank size all scale with the number of players, and the resulting game is shorter than most 18XX games.
Germany-Pfalz, self-published in 1996 by Wolfram Janich
Australia, self-published in 2007 by Double-O Games, designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler
Sicily, released 1998 by Chris Lawson, designed by Federico Vellani
1850 was published by Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by Bill Dixon and is set in the upper Midwest United States. It retains the rules Bill introduced in 1870 for share price protection and stock redeeming/reissuing.
Tennessee, released 1998 by Chris Lawson, designed by Mark Derrick and Chris Lawson
India, released 1989 by Hartland Trefoil, designed by Francis Tresham
1854 was published by both Lonny Orgler in 2002 and Deep Thought Games in 2005. The game was designed by Lonny Orgler and is set in Austria. It features a hexagonal stock market, local railways which operate on a smaller map (which takes place on two hexes of the large map), mail contracts, 150% capitalization, and player share options. There are also tunnels which allow you to build under other track and terrain features, such as avoiding small cities. The local railways eventually grow up to be regional railroads operating on the main map, and the tradeoff between getting good revenues on the local map versus getting locked out of important locations on the main map is an important decision to make. The game was republished (with revision) as 1844/1854
1856 was published by Mayfair Games. The game is set in Upper Canada, including the upper reaches of the St. Lawrence River, and the Toronto to Detroit area for southern Ontario.
Isle of Wight, released 2004 by JKLM Games, designed by Mike Hutton
Russia, released by JKLM Games and Lookout Games, designed by Ian D. Wilson
1862 was designed and published by Helmut Ohley in 2002. The game covers the entire width of the United States and parts of Canada.
East Anglia, England; in development (~2011) by Mike Hutton
Mississippi Valley and central United States, released 1995, designed by Bill Dixon and published by Mayfair Games
China, released 2010, designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler, Self-Published by Double-O Games
1889 was published by both Wild Heaven Productions in 2004 and Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by Yasutaka Ikeda and is set in Shikoku, Japan. The rules for 1889 are essentially the same as 1830, except on a much smaller and terrain-heavy map and different privates. The goal is to make a quick and relatively simple game which explores the history of railroads on Shikoku.
Osaka Japan, released 1999 by Nobuhiro Izumi, designed by Shin-ichi Takasaki
Namibia, released 2005, designed by Helmut Ohley and Adam Romoth
France, self-published in 1999 by Michael Brünker
China and Korea, released by Chris Lawson, designed by Dirk Clemens and Ingo Meyer
A variant of 1870 played on a somewhat larger fictionalized map, with additional privates and other rules variations. Designed by Allen Sliwinski and self-published by Scott Peterson.
18AL was self-published by Mark Derrick in 1999 and later by John David Galt. It is set in Alabama, United States and aims to provide a quicker and simpler introduction to the 18XX series. It is very similar to 18GA.
18C2C (AKA "Coast to Coast") was published by Designs in Creative Entertainment in 2003. The game was designed by Mark Frazier and covers the entire United States and Southern Canada. This is an extremely large game that attempts to model the entire history of railroading in the United States, and accordingly takes a long time to play. It consists of a 38"x68" map, 34 public companies, 18 private companies, and 108 trains.
Published 2015 by Deep Thought and designed by John Merrick, this is set in the Deep South US during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. Also includes two upgraded smaller games, 18GA and 18MS.
18EU was published by Deep Thought Games in 2004. The game was designed by David G.D. Hecht, and is set in the heart of Europe, reaching from Paris and London to Rome, Budapest and Warsaw. 18EU is a compact game, played on four map panels. Unlike most 18XX games, there are no private companies, and before the sale of the first 5 train, share companies may only be started indirectly. When the game starts, fifteen minor companies (similar to the "forerunner" companies in 1835, 1837 and 1824) are auctioned off. These companies represent regional or private-sector rail companies. There are eight possible share companies, and before the first 5 train at least one minor company must be merged into a share company to form it.
18FL was published by Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by David G.D. Hecht and is set in Florida, United States. It is very similar to Mark Derrick's 18AL and 18GA in that it is a simple game intended as an introduction to the 18XX game system for new players. Unlike 18AL or 18GA, the "ultimate" train is a 6 (or a 3E) train. This means that 4 trains never become obsolete, and the greatest difficulty in a small game (and the greatest deterrent for new players), a massive "train rush" when permanent trains are first available, is substantially mitigated.
18GA was self-published by Mark Derrick in 1998 and later by John David Galt. It is set in Georgia, United States and aims to provide a quicker and simpler introduction to the 18XX series. It is very similar to 18AL. Republished with 18Dixie in 2015.
18GL was published by Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by Gary Mroczka and is set in the Great Lakes area, United States. It uses basically the same rules as David G.D. Hecht's 1826 (specifically, H-trains, loans, trainless companies get merged into a government railroad) except that there are no destinations, there is only one merger, and instead of TGV trains there are Diesel trains. The map is quite different, and the private companies have the effect of altering how the map develops depending on the combinations of private companies and corporations particular players get.
Self-published in 1996 by designers Colin Barnhorst and Kristopher Marquardt
Variable-geometry board, self-published in 2000 by Mike Schneider
Web-published in 2016 by Ian Scrivins.
Netherlands, self-published in 1992 by Erno Eekelschot
18MEX was published by Deep Thought Games in 2005. The game was designed by Mark Derrick and is set in Mexico. It features a government railroad that optionally absorbs only one company (with additional limits on which companies may merge into it), so it can be dangerous to plan on being able to get rid of a trainless company through merger. Like most of Mark's games, dot-towns don't count against trains, so part of the strategy is arranging to pick up as many of them as possible while still getting through important cities. In addition, there are three minor companies which operate under restricted rules in the early game.
18MEX has one of the fiercest train rushes of all the 18xx games, second only to 1841. The action start when the first 4-train is bought. This has several effects to the game. One of it is that it effectively rusts all the 2-trains. Another is the one train per turn limit is lifted, so corporations may buy as many trains as their funds and corporate charters permit on each subsequent operating round. However the real action starts when the second of the two 5-trains is bought. The next set trains is a pair of 6-trains. The first 6-train rusts all the 3-trains in play, while the second 6-train will obsolete all the 4-trains in play. The price of the next set of trains (4D-trains) is set at 700 pesos.
This fierce train rush coupled with the extremely high track building cost (98% of the board is covered in difficult terrain and some track upgrades requires money as well) will see almost half of the corporations in play unable to buy the next train when their trains become rusted at an alarming rate.
Also, there are only 11 permanent trains available but there are 8 corporations. All corporations have a train limit of 2 except for NdM which has a train limit of 3. This means that some corporations will most likely end up without any trains to operate.
18NEB was published by Deep Thought Games in 2010. Designed by Matthew Campbell, it supports 2-4 players and plays in 2–4 hours.
Netherlands, self-published in 2005 by Wolfram Janich.
Designed by Edward Sindelar and published by D.I.C.E. (Designs In Creative Entertainment) in 2014.
Variable geometry board, self-published by Jim Gallup in 2013.
18Scan was published by Deep Thought Games in 2005. The game is one of the smaller 18XX titles, and was designed by David G.D. Hecht in order to introduce gamers to some of the more "exotic" systems used in other designs. 18Scan includes 1835-style minor companies, an 1835-style merger corporation, 1870-style destination rules (for the minor companies), 1856-style company flotation rules, and market-priced incremental capitalization rules as in 1851 and 1826.
18TN was published by Deep Thought Games in 2006. The game was designed by Mark Derrick originally in 1996, and upon discussions with Chris Lawson it was modified and published by Chris as 1851 in 1998. The two games were sufficiently different that the publication of the original was warranted.
18US was published in 2006 by Deep Thought Games. The game, designed by David G.D. Hecht as an "advanced" 18XX game, is set in the continental United States. Unlike 18C2C or other, similar products, it is a very compact game: the entire "Lower 48" only takes up two map panels.
18VA was published by Deep Thought Games in 2005. The game, designed by David G.D. Hecht, is a smaller 18xx game, originally intended to be similar in scope to Mark Derrick's "one-state" games 18AL and 18GA. Set in Virginia and Maryland, it is slightly more complex than either of the above.
18West was published in 2007 by Deep Thought Games. The game, designed by David G.D. Hecht, is set in the western United States. Many of the mechanics are quite different from other 18XX games.
2038, by Tom Lehmann, has the game mechanics of an 18XX railroad game but with an asteroid mining theme. Its financial aspects are fairly similar to those of 1835, including a set of minor companies and a larger merger company. Its board features include asteroid mines that can be improved (the equivalent of cities), a small exploration reward for companies which explore asteroids (the equivalent of laying a tile, but requiring a spaceship/train), and two different types of corporations (those that start with full monetary assets and "growth companies", which start with fewer assets and a lower stock price but retain earnings from their unsold stock).
Aegean Sea, designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard "Lonny" Orgler, and drawn by Klemens Franz, and published through Lookout Games and Z-Man Games, is a shorter (two hours) variant 18xx game set in ancient Greece with shipping lines instead of railroads.
Netherlands, designed by Bart van Dijk; publisher Vendetta. Based on 18IR.
Ur 1830BC is loosely adapted from the 18XX series, and features irrigation and kingdom management in ancient Mesopotamia. It was designed by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga and published by Splotter Spellen. As with all games in the 18XX series, play centers around ownership of valuable networks. Ur 1830BC replaces the rail networks found in most 18XX games with networks of irrigation canals, shares with parcels of land, companies with kingdoms, trains with irrigation technologies (such as reservoirs and pumps), and company presidents with kings. While typical 18XX games rail networks generate income through the operation of trains; in Ur 1830BC networks of canals and waterworks generate income by irrigating lands within kingdoms.