18xx online via Board18

My discovery of 2019 is playing online via Board18.

I knew about it for long, but was somehow resilient to the idea of playing 18xx online. I knew it isn’t the smoothest experience and I also remembered often losing interest in the middle of asynchronous online session of board games.

Board18 (main server: https://dev2.board18.org) is basically a website that allows players to share maps and stock markets. Only players in a given game may modify those objects (place tracks, move markers), however the rules aren’t enforced so everyone has to know them. Apart from that you’ll need a Google spreadsheet that contains all financial information and the history of the game (every round has its tab) and a way to communicate with other players (HOGGS Slack)—to ping them when it’s their move and to write what you do (yes, manual logs are the thing. But actually it’s not so tiring as it may look like. And you get to know the track tiles by their numbers). Spreadsheets might be intimidating at first, but you’ll quickly see that they are awesome.


Board18 and spreadsheet


Board18 stock market


Slack

From mid-September to mid-December I’ve played:

18Chesapeake – 5
1830 – 4
1848 – 2
18NewEngland – 2
18Scan – 2
1828 – 2
1846 – 1
18Mex – 1
1849 – 1
1882 – 1
1880 – 1

In total 22 plays  that I wouldn’t get otherwise. More than the number of live plays I got in the same period.

I find 1830-like games the best to play this way. Short and substantive, with relatively brisk players they take about a week to complete. On the other hand, games with many companies tend to drag… And I tend to avoid games with many auctions since they are the worst in asynchronous playing.

When looking for a game online, remember to indicate your timezone and preferred speed of play (slow is 1-2 moves per day; fast is several rounds per day).

Learning games

This is a good way to learn games because it forces you to actually read the rulebook. I put in bold the games I first play on B18. No more blind buying.

This might be controversial, but I don’t find online implementations with rule enforcement great for learning. It’s too easy to just start doing what is clickable at the moment and be guided by the interface, without really grasping the rules. Or at least that’s my experience.

Playtesting

That’s actually why I started using B18. I knew it could be a terrific tool for playtesting and wanted to try it first.

So B18 is fantastic for playtesting because:

  • you can easily modify prototypes – all is digital, no cutting/laminating necessary. Kelsin’s tool has the functionality of generating ready-to-use B18 game boxes (I modify the tokens to make them more legible)
  • you can reach more potential playtesters—there are many people in 18xx community willing to test new games. And they will read the rulebook, which is big
  • you don’t have to make your usual gaming buddies play your untested and probably not working prototype instead of something else (and everyone has a stack of games they’d rather play). But, if someone plays on Board18 anyway, joining a prototype game (along regular ones) isn’t a big commitment
  • you have complete logs and statistics of the game thanks to spreadsheets

In order to have your own game box that you can modify as you want, you have to run  your own instance of B18 (it is open source) or ask JCL to use the one he’s created for that purpose.

Maybe it’s even become obligatory for a new game (at least from unknown designer) to have a game box. First question many people asked when they heard about a new 18xx game getting to the Kickstarter was “Is it on Board18?”. We’re getting used to be able to actually check a game before ordering it.

PS

Board18 website isn’t slow, if you know what I mean 😉 That’s a huge deal for me.

1 thought on “18xx online via Board18”

  1. Very cool. I’ve had a similar experience with rr18xx, which does enforce rules though admittedly can be a bit slow in the afternoon (once players from he states have woken up). In a recent game our group began in real time with an audio chat on Discord so that the auction could be finished quickly rather than waiting for each increment to be entered in turn. We played that way for several hours then continued with asynchronous play and finished over that one weekend.

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