18NewEngland is a new title from All-Aboard Games, it was produced in a test print and maybe it would be released for a wide audience soon. We keep our fingers crossed for that and now we would like to share a short review. Our friend Jared played it twice and he liked it a lot. Why? Read the whole article.
First and foremost, I am by no means an expert on 18NewEngland. I have played the game a few times thus far, and these are just some initial thoughts and impressions based on limited experience. This is also not meant to be an exhaustive overview of everything the game entails, although I will touch on many different facets of the game here. I should also mention that this game has not been officially released yet. It is designed by Scott Petersen, the owner of All-Aboard Games, and will be officially published at some point in the future. I say that because there is still a possibility that things may change before its final release.
18NewEngland is a 2-5 player game. I have played the game with both 3 and 4 players. Right off the bat, I will say that I felt the game played well at both player counts. This is great for me, because although I prefer to play 18xx games with 4 or more players, many times circumstances only allow for 3 player games in the groups I play with.
When I first heard about the game, my initial understanding was that this would be a game geared toward new players. When I hear something like that, for right or wrong, I usually figure that the game will be somewhat dumbed-down, and not necessarily have a lot of depth. I had also heard it thrown around that 18NewEngland would essentially be a re-hashing of games such as 1861 or 1867, with minor variations. I’m happy to report that after actually playing the game, and this is of course just my opinion, those two things are not true. There is depth to the game, and it’s not just a “clone” of 1861 or 1867.
Let’s start out by touching on the 1861/1867 comparisons. Yes, 18NewEngland revolves around starting minor companies, and either merging or converting those minor companies into major companies, just like 1861 and 1867 do. So, sure, I guess you could say that they are similar in what they do from a very high level view. That does not mean that the games are the same, as there are some very important differences. These differences help create a very different experience. First, there are no private companies. I fully admit that I acted a bit snobbish when I first learned that. What? No private companies? That’s a critical element to an 18xx game. Bah! This sounds horrible already! Thankfully I didn’t let that stop me, and quite frankly, in the end, I didn’t miss them at all in this title. Instead of there being an auction for private companies to start the game, there is a round of acquiring and starting minor companies. The way this works is that on a given turn you can either reserve a minor company, set an already reserved minor company’s value on the stock market (of which there are only two spots for minor companies on each available market value), or pass (and relinquish any minors that you have which do not have a value set yet). The turn order starts with the first player, but after the last player takes their turn, they get to take another turn, and the turns snake back and forth like that. This initial round of minor acquisition can be very influential, because getting the minors you want in combination with the values you want can be both tricky, and also very important to your long term strategy.
There are a few other differences from 1861/1867 that are worth mentioning as well. You cannot start a major company on its own. The only way to start a major company is by either merging two (and only two) minor companies into a major company, or converting a single minor company into a major company. There is no state or national railway. There are no loans. Share prices for minors do not increase or decrease. Wherever they are set is where they will stay while the minor company exists. If a minor company is train-less at the end of its operating turn, and does not have enough money to purchase a train from the bank, you can either choose to let the minor close, or you can choose to go into emergency fundraising to buy a train out of pocket.
This brings me to something unique, and is something that really makes the game shine for me. I haven’t seen this done in any other 18xx game that I have played (having played 45 unique titles to date). When you convert a minor company, or merge two minor companies together, there is a par value set for the new major company. Without going into too much detail here, if you are converting, the par value is set at $100 (all of the minor company values are at or below $100). If you are merging two minor companies together, the par value is set at the closest value, rounded down, of the sum of the two minor company values. Many partial capitalization games that have minor companies that merge or convert into major companies don’t usually have par values, but rather for the rest of the game, whenever you purchase a share, it’s purchased at market value, and the company receives that full amount into its treasury. Because this game has a par price set for the new major company, all of the new shares for the major company start as IPO shares. Here’s the thing though, whenever you buy an IPO share of the major company, you have to pay the market price, NOT the par price. At the same time, no matter what the market price is that you paid for the share, the company only receives an amount of money equal to the par price. This alone create some interesting dynamics, but it gets even more interesting. Major companies can issue shares from either the IPO, or shares in its treasury, into the bank pool. It can also redeem shares from the bank pool into its treasury. When you issue shares, the market price drops one spot on the market for each share issued. So, you add that mechanism onto the whole par price and unique capitalization mechanism, and it opens up even more interesting financial shenanigans. I’ll leave the theory-crafting of what you can do with this up to you, but this results in there being some fun levers to pull, and works in a way that I have never seen before. This, as a whole, is what really makes the game purr for me.
In one of the games I played, one of the players ended up in what looked to be a very poor position. We all thought he was basically out of the game, but by using some stock shenanigans from the mechanisms mentioned above, he was able to get back into a competitive position. It was actually pretty impressive, and quite eye-opening. In the designer notes of the rules, Scott Petersen says, “My goal for this game was to produce a partial capitalization game that does not suffer the traditional “snowball” problem where the highest value companies are capitalized the highest, buy the best trains, make the best runs and can’t be caught.” Based on what happened in the game mentioned above, I fully believe that he has accomplished that with this game.
One last thing I’d like to mention is how the express trains, also referenced as “E trains“, work. There are standard trains in the game (2, 3, and 4), but all of the permanent trains are E trains (5E, 6E, and 8E). An E train by itself will function just as a standard train, but with the added benefit of optionally ignoring towns. Although, if a company owns two E trains, instead of the two trains running on separate routes, the trains are essentially combined, and can only run a single route the length of the smallest E train owned. The revenue of the route is calculated, and then doubled. For example, if a company owns both a 5E train and an 8E train, it can run a single route of up to five stops. The values of the five stops are added up, and then doubled. This does a couple of things. First, it means that there is some potential strategy into getting the right set of trains into the right company. The other thing it does is speeds up the end of the game once most routes have been established and won’t be changing much anyway. It means less time trying to figure out and calculate multiple routes, which in turn can translate into less time running out the bank to end the game. I really like how the E trains work here.
In closing, this is not just another version of 1861/1867. I know I’ve been comparing it to them, but that’s because I kept hearing that it’s just Scott’s take on those games. Moving forward, I hope that 18NewEngland being tied to 1861 and 1867 in the same breath stops, because I don’t think it’s an accurate representation of what the game is. 18NewEngland is a unique game. It stands on its own. It has some very interesting dynamics with the minors, par pricing for major companies, and major company capitalization, etc. I was pleasantly surprised, because the game has depth, and it definitely surpassed my initial expectations. I look forward to playing in the 18NewEngland sandbox more in the future.