This is Balaji Hariharan’s story in the competition due to our 2nd anniversary.
I’ll try to answer the topics of (a) what brought me in 18xx, (b) how I got into these games and (c) why I’m still here.
My disclaimer, I’m still a 18xx newbie. I’ve played only about half a dozen games of mostly 1830 & 1889. If online games count, then probably would have played a dozen or so games. I am not a fan of playing board games online, so I end up registering in the forums for a ‘rules’ game (to figure out the rules). I own 1830, and recently acquired 1853. I’m hoping to add a couple of more 18xx titles in a year.
What brought me to the 18xx door:
I’ve been into regular board games for more than 10 years. I’ve been lurking in BGG for games suggestions since 2011. I met a steady group of gamers in my city (Chennai / Madras) in 2015, and we quickly moved to heavier games.
Being based out of India, there’s no direct access for board games. We typically rely on international shipping which is a usually a double whammy of huge fees, and if unlucky, really high customs duty (sometimes final price paid for a game is twice or more the MSRP). Alternative is to keep an eye out for friends, relatives, or kind-hearted strangers that happen to visit our city and agree to bring (mule) our games from US or Europe. I have 50+ games in my collection, almost all of them added this way. It was in one of those moments when an opportunity came across for getting games from Europe, and my interests led me to research for language independent heavy board games, since I was looking at German and French online stores. I shortlisted 3 games (Die Macher, Roads & Boats, and Indonesia), however that person didn’t end up traveling, so I didn’t get any of these games. Reading more about Indonesia gameplay led me to Heavy Cardboard podcast and guild. I came across references of AoS and 18xx, but could not make much of it. It was in one of BGG forum discussions about the ideal 18xx to start with that I came across the 18xx family.
What made me knock the door of 18xx:
While 18xx was in my radar (along with other heavy games), the high prices, and general lack of availability with popular retailers and online stores was a big deterrent from moving forward on adding to my collection, or to play. My interest in 18xx actually crystallized after playing a session of Steam. I had an opportunity to travel to the US in 2017, and used the few weeks of my stay to head to several different meetups and play different games. In one of the sessions, I joined a table with 18xx gamers. Since there were other new gamers who knew nothing about 18xx, they brought out Steam, which I had played couple of times before. During the session, we got talking about their 18xx collection, and I got some insights and clarity. For example, I had gone through couple of blogs and rules overview on 1830/1889, however the private auction was discussed in much detail, that as a newbie I could not contextualize the rest of the game. However, over the game of Steam, we discussed in general about maps, route building, track placement, revenue engine through goods delivery. After this interaction, I went back and re-read the rules for 1830 and found that more pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit easier. Back home in India, in a surprising deal, there was a new copy of Mayfair edition of 1830 for around $45 available in India. Considering that a typical copy shipped to India would be more than $100, I bought the copy, though I didn’t play for nearly a year since buying.
What keeps me in the game:
It was actually the collective effort of 4 of us in the end to table 1830 and subsequently spend collective effort to refine our understanding of the game, and repeated play that has kept me in 18xx. All of them were experienced heavy gamers, and eager to wade into 18xx. Couple of the folks who ended up playing were interested in games with ‘low to no’ luck/randomness. For one gamer, it was about running through everyone’s collection of games, and his willingness to try new games. For me, 18xx was a revelation after understanding them, and the depth of game play is a big positive.
Each session of 1830 and 1889 have been vastly different. We have experienced train rusts, stock dumps, route blocks, tile upgrades, to even sitting out without owing companies in the last couple of rounds. Some find it fun, some find it frustrating after a 4+ hour session to have a forced bankruptcy, or a bank bust, but a 18xx session always leaves us with a enriched gaming experience. We typically spend time after the game discussing several ‘what if’ scenarios, and talking out several other possibilities. While we are not experts, we enjoy the level of depth 18xx offers, and how the game changes as it progresses to the higher value trains. I guess 18xx will always be there in my collection, even if we might play a 18xx once in two months or so. In my opinion, the 18xx family is underrated and has stood the test of time. I ‘invest’ hours reading through various social media sites (Twitter, Slack, BGG Forums and Guilds, blogs), listen to podcasts, and watch videos specifically around 18xx. There are enough sub-genres within 18xx for everyone to find their niche, and more blogs, podcasts, and good videos always help further the interest in 18xx. I enjoy playing 18xx, and even though I rarely win, I have the satisfaction of playing a game that makes me want to play it again.