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There are several 18xx games easily available, maybe 8 or so that have mass produced and a few dozen kits that can be purchased or downloaded.

I love 18xx games, but I've found that not everyone I teach shares my enthusiasm. I understand that some games will never appeal to certain folks but I think that part of the problem is the relative complexity of 18xx games. As a group, they have several different mechanics that have to be learned for a new player to play a credible game.

With this question I'm looking for recommendations for the best 18xx game to teach a new player. The game should have the best chance of hooking new players and getting them to want to explore the genre deeper. I think that the best game would have:

  • a shorter playing time
  • The importance of Private companies should be minimized. I've found that asking people to bid right at the start of the game on things they don't understand is very intimidating.
  • tolerance for mistakes (I'm thinking of the ease of sliding into bankruptcy for even experienced players in 1830 here)
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closed as not constructive by Pat Ludwig Jan 8 '12 at 6:39

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4 Answers 4

I have 1830, 1870, 1856 and 1833. Of them, I think 1830 is the most suitable for new players.

It contains the basics of the game:

  • Private companies
  • Track building
  • Route optimization
  • Company management
  • Stock manipulations

If you want a simpler game, you can ignore the private companies. Lower the starting money a bit if you like. I have played with and without privates and it seems to make no significant changes to the game.

If the stock market is too confusing, you can ignore that too. Just have one company per player. It's possibly wise to reduce the number of trains, else you never get rid of those 2 trains.

Most players run away from these, so no need to get a more complex game.

All 18xx have their own focus. I like 1856, because you can get away with mismanagement and get rewarded in the end (just like in real life).

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I think 1830 is a good intro game but for new players you should include the Reading variant rules (resources at boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/56839/…) as there's a bit of extra protection from having a company's trains rust right away when a new phase is entered. Without that I find new players suddenly end up wearing a company with not a lot of options except bankruptcy and walk away with a "I'm never playing this game again!" feeling. –  cfeduke Oct 29 '10 at 17:40
    
@cfeduke could you add this as a separate answer? I think it deserves to stand on its own merits. Finding out about smaller variants was one of the reasons I submitted this question! –  Pat Ludwig Nov 30 '10 at 17:28
    
Done. (Obligatory characters to allow comment to be posted.) –  cfeduke Dec 2 '10 at 4:53
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1830: Take a Ride on the Reading

Classic 1830 with the addition of the Reading variant. This variant can be downloaded from Boardgame Geek. It adds a new company, the Reading, which competes with the Pennsy. More importantly it adds a delayed rust rule for trains which gives new players some extra protection against being choked out early.

Additionally there is rumor that the reprint may include one or more of the variants.

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1870 is my current choice.
alt text

I've played a bunch once or twice, but 1856 and 1830 are the only other ones I've played extensively. All comparisons here are to 1830.

  • Private companies seem less important (can't specify why, it just feels that way)
  • Shares have several built in protections to maintain the price, therefore the finance game is less dangerous
  • No double O tiles (I find these are somewhat confusing to new players)
  • Small cities can be upgraded (people don't like being locked into a tile they laid on turn 2)
  • Destination hexes give a default goal for laying track
  • Can play 2 yellow tiles/turn (building is easier for new players, here they get to do more of it)

There is one major downside for beginners though

  • Time to play is noticeably longer than 1830
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My first 18xx experience was 1870 with four or five players, none of whom had ever played an 18xx game. And reading through the rules, we all got the idea that it was about laying track and driving trains around -- not manipulating the market. We quit after twelve hours, not understanding how to shut it down. That said, 1870 would be my choice too, but it's been to long to justify why with any rigor. –  clweeks Oct 28 '10 at 15:14
    
1870 is a tough sell for new players. Every new player we introduce through it never plays 18XX again. I think its just game time length (3-6 hours) that does it. –  cfeduke Oct 29 '10 at 17:37
    
Noticebly longer than 1830? Ouch. I would have thought that for most newbies, 1830's length would already be a detraction. But it completely depends on what the new peoples' existing experience is with game length: most hex-and-counter types could easily support the game length. People coming from the heavier german-game style (including Martin Wallace and Splotter's designs) would be in a for a bit of clock-shock, I think... –  Viktor Haag May 16 '11 at 13:27
    
@Viktor - well I did say it was a major downside :) For some games, most notably Civilization, Age of Renaissance and 18xx I make a point of telling people up front that this game is going to take hours. Some folks are definitely turned off, and I'd rather weed them out up front by being honest. For me, a long game has to be enjoyable as an experience, not just for the winner but for all participants. I think the 3 I mentioned qualify. Of course, there is always Empires in Arms for those who scoff at 8 hours being far too short of a game! –  Pat Ludwig May 16 '11 at 15:15
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I got introduced to 18xx through 1825 (specifically Unit 1, then Units 2 and 3) and trying more 183x inspired variants later, like 1856, I've value the introduction I got. The more constrained board and the shorter playing time was a real advantage. Also, the game felt a bit more forgiving of mistakes. One of the big disadvantages to the 1825 series, though, is their relative rarity -- if you don't already own a copy, you'll probably find it quite difficult to get one: they were assembled by Tresham in relatively small numbers, and the run of readily available copies has long since sold out, I believe.

Years later, I played Poseidon, a game I believe is specifically intended as an introduction to 18xx-style games. As with Tresham's 1825 units, the game play is shorter, and the field somewhat more constrained than in most 1830-inspired games; for better, or worse, Poseidon "re-imagines" 18xx to a certain extent, using different theme and terminology. But I do believe that it's a good gateway to 18xx games, proper -- for players comfortable with the playing time and difficulty in games like Le Havre or Age Of Steam or Brass, Poseidon can easily act as an enjoyable bridge to full-blown 18xx. Poseidon was also produced by a game studio (Lookout Games) and so is probably much easier to find than 1825 units at this point.

Finally, there are some 18xx games that I believe were rather specifically intended as means to introduce people to games; you can find entries for the "So, you're thinking about giving 18xx a try?" list at boardgamegeek: 18EU and Steam Over Holland (and Poseidon). But also, you'll find a lot of commentary and comments on the pros and cons of introducing newbies to 18xx with a wider variety of games not often thought of as starting points.

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