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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Thursday, May 25, 2006

1825, 18Mex, et al (or, Big Games Redux)

As Eric mentioned in his post, we got in a game of 18Mex at Sunriver, and that was enough to bring to the fore Eric’s existing but (long?) dormant interest in the 18xx games in general – so much so that we got in a 2-player 1825 Unit 3 last Saturday. The 18xx series are the games I’ve missed the most since moving to Portland, as my Dallas game group used to play them quite regularly, and most of the folks here in Portland don’t have (or haven’t expressed) an interest in playing them. I’m glad that Eric, and to an unknown extent George as well, found it enjoyable enough to want to try more of them – I already own quite a few of these, and I’d really like to see them hit the table more often. Chris and KC have expressed some interest as well, so things seem to be looking up.

It will require some more pro-active planning to make this happen, as they tend to be longer than most of our weeknight fare – so they’re likely limited to weekends. I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll be able to make it happen.

What is it about these games that lead to the level of interest (obsession?) that they do? I enjoy them immensely for the following reasons:
  • Multi Player – I find that I much prefer multi-player games to 2-player ones, and the 18xx series in general is designed for 3-5 players (1825 Unit 3 being the only one strictly limited to 2, while a few other 18xx’s support 2 or more players). I find that I enjoy games with multiple opponents more than those with only 1 – partially this is due to enjoying the socializing that comes with that, but I also enjoy the game dynamic of multiple opponents.
  • Low (or No) Chance – 18xx’s are definitely low chaos games – in most, there aren’t any external random elements (such as dice or card draws). For the most part, other than the other player’s actions, you are responsible for your success or failure. If there is a chance element in a game, I prefer that there be something I, as a player, can do to mitigate its effects on my position. My acceptance of chance in some games is higher than others, but a general rule of thumb is my tolerance for luck is inversely proportional to the length of the game.
  • Development Over Time – I tend to like games that, even if I don’t win, my position has developed over time, and the 18xx series definitely has that element in spades. Personally, stock holdings grow in value and diversity as the game progresses. Companies I control as president I develop on the board – they grow their routes, manage their assets (trains, stations and $$, mostly), and hopefully improve their position on the board (never forgetting, though, that the goal in 18xx games is personal wealth, which is not at all the same thing as corporate wealth). Even in games where I don’t win (or, even, do particularly well) I can enjoy if I’ve developed my position from where I started.
  • Strong Theme or Story– while I won’t argue that the 18xx games are simulations, they are definitely fairly strongly themed, and it’s a theme I find engaging. There is an element of history and geographical development that I find interesting, and even if they don’t simulate history, they do encourage me to learn more about historical elements I might explore not otherwise (I feel the same way about some war games – Paths of Glory in particular inspired me to read more about WWI).
  • Reward Experience – by this I mean that several plays reveal more about the game, and how best to play it. In 18xx games, this comes into play in everything from which private companies to bid for (in those games that have auctions), which major corporations to open, and how to develop their routes for maximum value. The downside to this is that new players may have a difficult time their first few games, especially if they play against experienced players, and may, as a result, find that they don’t enjoy them (in the inverse of Cooley’s Law).
The games I prefer tend to include many of these components, although I’ve recently become much less dogmatic on the low chance issue than I once was. Other games that I think include most (if not all) of these elements include Ursuppe, El Grande, Euphrat & Tigris, the Ticket to Ride series, and I’m sure many others would come to mind if I spent more time thinking about it. The 18xx games are probably at the upper end of my length (in time) tolerance, but they grab my imagination well enough that that isn’t as much of a problem as it could be.

As Eric mentioned, we’re planning to attend the 18xx con in Portland in a couple of weeks (June 23-25th) – it will definitely be nice having someone I know along, as well as someone who isn’t super-experienced (or super-obsessed) with the 18xx games. Hopefully Chris will be able to join us – I’ll be sure to let you know how that goes!

Until next week, happy gaming!


  • At 5:28 PM, Blogger Wes M said…

    You can put me down as another person who, despite never playing one, has a healthy interest in playing an 18xx. (As mentioned previously, in I believe Chris' first burndown post...)

  • At 8:25 PM, Blogger Eric said…

    I don't know if I'd characterize my interest in 18xx as dormant. Given my preferences in games, it's something that should have been expected given proper exposure but I'd been intimidated by stories of laptops at the table and long-time players fleecing newbies in a desire to win.

    I didn't intentionally take this route. I bought 1860 sort of on a whim, and because I thought it was going to go out of print quickly - I didn't realize JKLM would continue printing it so my investment dreams were shot. 1856 I picked up as Bridgetown had it for half price.

    After going through the rules, though, I had a real good feeling for how I'd react to the games.

    Out of the reasons you posited, I'd say two don't really apply for me - multi-player and theme. Being a wargamer at heart, I'm fine with big, long, 2-player games. While I like strongly themed games, Roads and Boats (one of my top ten all-time) is not exactly strongly themed.

    The other attributes fit perfectly, though - positions develop, experience is rewarded (while still being accessible when new), and the games have a real arc to them. You don't just do the same thing over and over and then suddenly the game ends.


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