Time to play: 60-90 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)
Best played with: 3 Player (1 – 4 Players)
That’s right, a 18xx game that plays in an hour to an hour and a half. If you have never played a 18xx game you may not realise how much of a feat this is, but it really is! This is an incredible construct and the fact that this game truly captures the feel of a 18xx game in that time space is a tribute to the design.
So setting aside the fact that this game does what it sets out to – is it actually a good game?! Well, 18xx games are generically games about building and running railways. You are an investor in rail companies, ready to make your fortune by investing in profitable businesses – think of the railway barons of the 1800s Americas.
There are two key phases in any 18xx game that reflect the duel aspect of this game. The stock round – the round where you buy shares in the companies, you found companies and you gain special abilities (in some games). The operation round – the round where you lay track and run the railway engines. The operating round is where you make profits (hopefully!) and then chose to either retain the profits or distribute them.
These two phases interplay as the operating performance of the company effects the share value of the company. Oh and at the end of the game – most money wins (including the value of those shares!).
In this specific version of 18xx there is one really big oddity though – there is no map! 18Lilliput starts with a central location and players build out from this under certain rules. This creates a different map with each game and forms the basis of the operating rounds – the possible routes to be run!
You will have 8 stock rounds and 24 operating rounds. You will buy shares in the stock round and in the operating rounds you will take action cards (out of a subset available for player count). The action cards will offer you the chance to expand the map, build stations, buy trains and other classic 18xx actions.
This card selection is again different from the traditional games but it compresses the decision tree for the player. This is helpful as you have such an open board and such a limited time to achieve points. Limiting the decision space of players helps them to pick the best of the available actions without being overwhelmed by the options / time pressure.
Coming back to the map then…this is a really interesting 18xx because the map can vary, and there are rules to the placement which make it possible for players to block off other players. There are limited pieces just like other 18xx games – and again this can allow players to block each other.
In eight rounds, you will block players, cut off their tracks, buy companies out from under people and choose not to dividend out to companies partially owned by your opponents. You might even get the chance to “rust” your opponents trains! Rusting is what occurs when you advance the train purchases sufficiently far that the older trains become useless. In this game you get a warning period where they run at half value but this is still a material drop off in profit.
Lastly, I need to mention that this game comes with special asymmetric player powers. Picking between these allows you to gain a special ability during the course of the game which might help with stock rounds, operating rounds or simply with end game scoring.
This game may seem extremely complicated, but once you start to play its intuitive, fast and really enjoyable. Okay, there’s a frustration as the last turn rolls in and you find there is too much to do and not enough time, but that just leads to better play next time!
The only reason I can see someone not enjoying this game is if the feeling of picking the best of a bad bunch of options frustrates you. There are a lot of choices here, but they ultimately can be a best of worsts when other players before you are likely to be best served by stealing the options that work for you!
- If you want a shorter version of 18xx this is a great solution
- If you don’t like 18xx then there is very little here that will help you
- If you win, try again and with a different power