We’re kicking off my June favourites with one of the best games I’ve ever played 1846: The Race for the Midwest.
These blog posts are going to be slightly different to my usual kind of thing, I will give a brief overview of how to actually play the game but I really just want to give my thoughts and opinions on the game and why I like it. Let’s dive in…..
A little about 1846
Designer – Tom Lehmann
Publisher – GMT games
Players – 3-5
Game length – 240mins
In 1846, 3-5 tycoons compete to earn money and build the best stock portfolio by investing in and operating railroads within the mid-western United States during 1846-1935.
1846 is an 18xx game set in the Midwestern United States. Differences from other 18xx games include scaling the number of corporations, private companies, and bank size to the number of players, fewer restrictions on actions such as raising money and using private company powers, the initial distribution of private companies, and paying for virtually all track builds.
Five competing eastern railroads, in search of mid-western grain and markets, crossed the Appalachian mountains in the early 1850s: the New York Central, Erie, Pennsylvania, Baltimore & Ohio, and, via Canada, the Grand Trunk, backed by Boston merchants. In front of them were literally hundreds of failed local railroads, most existing only on paper, but a few of which had laid bits of track and acquired locomotives, before running out of capital and being sold to Eastern interests in 1846. Further west, the first land grant railroad, the Illinois Central, is being formed.
This is the first 18xx game that I have played and have been told by many people that this is a great entry level game into the world of 18xx. I have been constantly wanting to get it to the table since I first learned to play and I’ll be honest, even though it’s the only one I’ve played so far, I’ve got 1830 and 1853 sat on my shelf ready to go and I’m so excited to play them.
My first game wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it was going to be and after five or 6 plays, I feel like I thoroughly understand the game and how to play. I had heard about 18xx being pretty heavyweight on a number of occasions and trust me it was, but I had painted this picture in my head that it was going to be pretty overwhelming and scary. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it and got along with it from the very start. Yes, your brain wile have a lot of work to do and a hell of a lot of decisions to make but this game really does fascinate me and I’m really looking to playing more and more 18xx this year.
Now, obviously this doesn’t just apply to these types of games but one of the things I really liked and thought was important to mention is that there’s pretty much no randomness in the game at all . I like that all of your choices matter and will definitely affect the game later down the line, in sometimes surprising and exciting ways. There’s nothing wrong with luck based games or games that easily forgive however I like more of a challenge and love that every single move I make would definitely affect what happened in the game and may come back to haunt me later on. On that note though, there is no clear way of winning, which I also quite like. It’s really hard to judge who was going to win as things could change very quickly throughout the game.
Something that’s pretty new to me is buying and selling stock and how the whole stock market works. It took the full first game for me to understand that well enough to be able to play again, it pretty much clicked when the game was about to end which was annoying but I feel like I got to understand it quite thoroughly which definitely helped my second game. Considering it was my first game though, I was quite happy that I came away understanding how to play at the end. I learned enough to be able to play again with a group of people that hadn’t played ANY 18xx at all.
To save me even trying to explain how the Stock rounds work, you can find it on page 5 Here.
So many thoughts …
Decisions about which companies to invest in was not obvious at all to me which was definitely a challenge, I feel like this will probably become a bit easier with experience however apparently with 1846 that is always the case. As I have played this game more, this has definitely improved but something I’m still working on!
One thing that initially surprised me was the length of the game. It didn’t last as long as I thought it might, I had always been under the impression with 18xx that it was going to last forever however the games I’ve played have always been around the 4 hour mark which really isn’t that bad. Game length is never an issue for me anyway, if I’m having fun then I’m happy to play a game for as long as it takes. I was a bit worried at the beginning in case I didn’t enjoy it and had to sit there for that long waiting for the game to end.
Something that did catch me out in my first couple of was buying trains, I was focusing so much on laying track (which I really enjoyed) and trying to understand how the stock rounds work that I completely forgot that my trains were going to phase out which definitely hurt towards the end of the game. Basically, 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, and that’s when older trains become obsolete, meaning you cannot use the trains that you purchased earlier on in the game to run routes, this is really frustrating if you are not focusing on trains!
Now, the game is way too complex to start going through all of the rules on here but here is an overview!
Each player begins with $400, spending some of this to purchase Private Companies, which provide varied advantages. Play then proceeds by alternating Stock Rounds with pairs of Operating Rounds.
In Stock Rounds, players launch, invest in, and trade shares in the railroads. During Operating Rounds, the President (majority stock holder) of each railroad directs it to build track, run routes with its trains, possibly pay dividends to its shareholders, and buy new trains. A railroad’s stock price depends on both investments and stock trades by players and the dividends it pays.
Trains are grouped in phases, representing technological advances. Once the first train in the next phase is purchased, the game phase advances, affecting various game aspects.
The game ends after the bank runs out of money.
At game end, players total their cash and the value of their stock shares. The player with the highest total wins.
Important: A railroad’s treasury does not count towards its President’s final score. Victory is determined by players’ personal stock portfolios and cash, and only indirectly by the railroads they build and operate.
I’d like to thank GMT games for making 18xx accessible to many people. I may not own tons of 18xx games but I’ve definitely got the bug now and from experience of looking for and trying to buy different games, they can generally be pretty expensive and hard to get hold of so I really feel like GMT have done a great job of this reprint and a great job of making the hobby a bit more accessible to people that want to play or have been interested in 18xx for while, like myself.
Second of all, they have done a great job on the reprint of the game. 18xx games aren’t supposed to be pretty, it’s about the strategy and function of the game and I truly believe that but the component quality and the aesthetic of the game is inviting, there are lots of nice bright colours and a lovely take on the classic 18xx theme. It really does feel like a deluxe version of the game and it doe’s feel pretty special when you’re playing it, especially in relation to the price point.
I’m really happy that I discovered this game, its something that is still new to me but I’m getting into the swing of things and excited to keep playing.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope that if you do play, you enjoy this game as much as I do.
See you next time,