18 Chesapeake: 18xx in its purest form

Review following a game played online using the Board18 game box

As 18Chesapeake is largely designed to introduce 18xx to new players it’s very likely you may not know what 18xx games are or maybe you’ve heard things and have been put off trying them previously, or you’ve tried and not liked them. Well you’ve come to the right place.

What is 18xx?
These games are a series loosely based on a format first defined by Francis Tresham 45 years ago with 1829. Though the genre really took off with the release of 1830 also designed by Tresham – this brought a more stock market focused game.  The genre simulates the growth of the railway industry in various places/times by running train companies and buying shares in those companies. Players invest in train companies, expanding the network & driving locomotive technology forward. The real kicker is that you can invest in your opponents companies and make them work for you, or if you’re unlucky have companies which are down on their luck being forced upon you through careful planning and devious business practices. Buying newer trains makes older train obsolete – forcing your opponents’ companies to purchase even newer trains in a never ending race for supremacy. Having your companies do well is vital but at the end of the game only the value of you cash & share portfolio is counted, money in companies is simply discarded.

18xx is very different from Euro style games as it can allow more aggressive and directly confrontational play yet shares a lot of the similar low/zero luck ethos. Saying that it makes learning them hard, especially against seasoned veterans. The classic approach to teaching 18xx is ‘sink or swim’ which some people thrive on and some hate. 18Chesapeake has been designed to simplify and condense the 18xx style in a way that doesn’t dilute the game play but does remove some of the archaic aspect of the genre. To find out if I think this has been successful please continue reading.

I recently played a game of 18Chesapeake using Board18, the draft rules on the Kickstarter page (plus a few assumptions/corrections) as well as a jury rigged spreadsheet – a format that has its drawbacks but allows me to play about 5x times as many games than I can face to face! 18Chesapeake is designed & published by Scott Petersen of All Aboard games specifically to simplify and streamline the rule-set first introduced by the game 1830. The game is set in the Chesapeake area of the mid eastern United States (like quite a few other 18xx games).

It’s currently live on Kickstarter so hopefully this will help you decide whether or not to back it. I will, however, say that the 18xx community benefits greatly the continued development and production of new titles and ways to introduce new players. That’s why I firmly believe it’s important to support games like this on kickstarter, to ensure the continued growth of 18XX in general.

Scott has certainly succeeded in the primary aim, vis streamlining the 18xx rules:

  • There are fewer Par values (starting company values)
  • Simpler stock market values (no 67s for example)
  • No needless frills or edge cases
  • A simple tile set with a few adjustments like OOs cities merging in the brown phase, which simplifies the Diesel routes late in the game.

Private Companies
From a simplicity/beginner point of view the privates are ideal. Nothing feels too powerful. in particular the private, Cornelius Vandelbilt, having a different major at the start of every game reduces the ‘chess-like’ openings of some titles. The privates that block hexes do make the top right very tight to start with, which I enjoyed. But from a more experienced perspective, the privates are a little lacklustre. The B&O private (1 share in the B&O majors) having no income is a bit of a booby prize – I understand why it’s like that, as the Camden & Amboy of 1830 is pretty over powered. I just would have liked a little income.

Major Companies
All in all, I quite like the placement & distribution. I particularly enjoyed that the Camden & Amboy is a major company in this. The starting positions of a few companies lend them to be little better than cash-stuffed briefcases, a mechanic that I wouldn’t have expected in a beginner title – despite the fact that the draft rules do state that a company must own a train, I believe the briefcase issue has been raised with Scott. I have heard on the grapevine that the plan is to change the rules – so that companies without a route are not required to own a train.

There are two main changes from 1830 that facilitate the train stall/rush in 18Chesapeake. First, at the end of each set of O.R.s you remove one non-permanent train from the supply. This was a nice touch; it didn’t speed the game up (as there are more non-permanent trains than in 1830) but it did mean that there was no stalling possible. Sometimes its possible might stay in phase 2 for an extra O.R., or no one wants to buy that last 4, allowing others to buy the first 5s. Either way, these tactics slow down a genre that already suffers from extended game times and punishes inexperienced route planning.

The second and arguably bigger change is that the 5 trains are $50 more and the diesel trains are $200 cheaper and cheaper to trade in as well.  The 5s being more expensive meant that the top parred company (95/share) couldn’t buy 2 permanents out of the block. The reduced diesels were clearly to ease the train rush and mean that bankruptcy is highly unlikely! In our game we had 4 forced train purchases and none really made us sweat. I felt this reduction did lack something in the end game, the tension of going bust wasn’t particularly evident and isn’t that why we play?! To feel like we’re on the edge of destruction the whole time?! …Maybe that’s just me ?

Saying that, things did come down to the wire and we had about 100 left in the bank going into the final SR. I know for a fact that the leading player wanted to finish the game there instead of going into the SR where pain awaited him. He did end up winning, as even with a company dumped on him, and having to sell down to share limit the forced train just wasn’t punishing enough.

All in all this seems to do exactly what it set out to do, bring more people to the genre, something I can certainly get behind.

Will it be my number one intro game? Undecided, as I’ve yet to actually teach using this. And my current teaching title, 1846 has it’s own pros and cons which we can discuss another time.

One advantage is that by learning this (compared to say 1846) you don’t have as much to relearn when playing other 1830esk games, which is a big plus. Whether I need another intro game (own 46, 89 & FL) is probably the main hurdle currently for me personally to owning this game, where I am now – I am expanding my horizons AND bringing new players to the genre, in about equal measure. This means I play quite a few games once and 1846 a whole load.

18Chesapeake has a lot going for it, shorter play times most certainly, (compared to 1830 & assuming no bankruptcy) – easier for total beginners to pick up though I’d be surprised if many people backing the KS had never played before though. Hopefully this review can do a little to help that. As even though it’s an intro title it’s still in the higher end price wise vs the normal gateway type board games. The target market therefore is evangelists of the genre, like myself, who want to spread the gospel of 18xx to everyone and anyone.

So to wrap things up, I like the game but I’m not sure I’d play it many times with seasoned veterans. I wouldn’t however avoid playing it, I could certainly see myself using this over say 1889 to teach –  1889 has a tighter title set and more interesting privates which I’d argue makes it an intro+. Whether I need 18Chesapeake along side my current collection is as I’ve already said currently what’s stopping me from backing, if I had no other title of this natural or this was my first foray into 18xx I would jump in feet first. I can certainly recommend this if you are wanting to try 18xx as a completely new player – teaching yourself and a friend or 2 would be very achievable as the rule book, even in draft format, is very clear and well defined.

6 thoughts on “18 Chesapeake: 18xx in its purest form”

  1. Nice overview. I have a brazilian friend who played this recently on Board18. My only experience is 1846 and 1889 and I would appreciate playing another one of the introductory before diving into 1830 and longer games. But of course I’ll play if the opportunity arises haha

    1. Thanks, I certainly enjoyed playing it, the key to getting into those longer games is all down to tempo, newer players who’re not used to it usually make the mistake of buying enough trains (not always bad but understanding the train rush is really key) and running suboptimal routes. Both factors will severely extend your game time, but that comes with practice ?

  2. Great write-up! I wasn’t sure about the game either, but had a chance to join 12-pack order, so I decided to try.

    1. Thanks! I don’t think you’ll be sorry! I definitely would like to play a face to face game once they start shipping!

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