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A New Breed of 18xx Games are Needed

winter 1996/Vol. 3 No. 3

Dear Heather,

I have attached a letter that I would like for you to consider publishing in a future issue of the Gazette. I hope it is sort of a call to arms for independent designers to consider working on some shorter 18xx designs.

About a month ago, I competed in an 18xx tournament at a small gaming convention in Knoxville Tennessee. I played in a six player 1870 that started promptly at 8:00 a.m. It was a fairly typical game in which twelve trains came out. The game was not over until 4:30 p.m. After a very short meal break, our table jumped right into 1856 since we had missed the scheduled start time of 4:00 p.m. Our game ended with a bankruptcy after a diesel was bought which was sort of a good thing since we had to be out of the convention center at 10:00 p.m. and our game would have had to have been adjudicated if it had not ended earlier.

The point is that many 18xx games are getting too long. Unfortunately the trend seems to be for even bigger, longer games. Although long games can be very rewarding when time allows, we need to encourage the design of shorter games to help new players enjoy the 18xx system. As with games like Empires in Arms, new players can be overwhelmed by such long complicated rules. It's bad enough that many 18xx have contradictory rules (i.e. some have open money, some don't, etc., etc.). It seems to me that there could be a place for shorter, more straightforward designs. About a year ago, I started piddling around with an 18xx "lite" design based on my home state of Tennessee. I started working on it again this year and now have a playtest version that I have shown to a few groups.

I would like to suggest that a discussion begin on some sort of design criteria for a line of shorter 18xx games. As a start, here's what I would suggest:

  • Make games designed to be playable in around four hours with few special rules so that several games in the same line would be similar. Don't make the private company special abilities too complicated and make the stock market chart smaller so that there are less decisions to be made in stock rounds. Keep the number of railroad corps small (I would suggest less than eight)

  • If there were a series of these types of games available that were fun to play, multi-round tournaments in these games would be possible at Puffing Billy Tournaments? and could be played in one day. New players could learn the strategies without getting stuck in long games with no chance of winning (this is a common complaint against many longer games including Rail Baron, Advanced Civilization, etc).

In the meantime, I plan to continue work on another "lite" game set in the State of Georgia. I would enjoy hearing your comments. Send them to my mail address as shown in the directory or email me at


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