If you are eager to explore different themes and mechanics for your 18XX matches, you should give 21MOON a chance, available in Board18 and as a PnP game. 21MOON adds many bells and whistles and is suitable for relatively short but strategically intense games designed for 3 to 5 players.
As its category suggests, most 18XX games are inspired by the railroad expansion during the 19th century. Most, but not all. You can find some titles based on the ancient world, such as Poseidon, Cleopatra’s Caboose, and Ur: 1830 BC. And there was 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt, a space mining adaptation of the 18XX concept. In some cases, they are so unlike most other 18XX games that many people claim they are not such thing.
Well, 21MOON is one of these games, as it is focused on mining the Moon. As its author Jonas Jones explains, 21MOON inherits many mechanics from 1830. However, it also adds some ideas from other 18XX titles and includes some new concepts, making it a clearly original game.
I have to recognize it: because of the theme and a different setup in each play, with four types of minerals scattered through the map and some other details, I even asked myself for a moment ‘is this just a eurogame that uses 18XX concepts?’ For me, the answer is ‘no, this is an 18XX, with no random luck during the game, an aggressive stock market, etc., but perhaps one 18XX that could attract serious eurogamers who love space-inspired games to the 18XX arena’.
So, we are on the Moon. There are seven mining corporations (that is, the public companies), six private companies, six types of transports (from T2 to T10), a 2D stock market (similar to 1830 and many other 18XX titles), 6,000 credits… Everything sounds familiar, and sometimes it’s only the name that changes. However many details deserve to be pointed out. Let’s summarize the main points:
- Map: it includes the seven base camps (that is, home bases), many hexes with terrain costs, 17 hexes where minerals have to be deployed (that would be the ‘cities’), and one special hex for the Rocket Launch Pad. There is an unpassable rift unless you have one of the privates and bonuses for runs E-W. Tiles use the typical sequence (yellow-green-brown-gray) and are not very abundant, so sometimes you need to run for a concrete tile before it is taken by other corporations.
- Mining corporations: there are seven but, in each match, one of them is randomly chosen and cannot be bought until mid-game. Corporations get their funds as the shares are being sold, but only in the SR that they are opened in, each corporation can sell shares to the open market to raise more money. You only need 50% of the shares to open a corporation (and 50% is the limit). These two concepts, combined, could allow the player to open two corporations very fast.
- Minerals: 17 tokens, 4 types. They are randomly assigned during the setup. Minerals determine the value of the hex, as do the cities in typical 18XX. When you change the tile, the mineral’s value also changes, but some minerals increase their value while others decrease it. This mechanic, combined with the 7th mining corporation, makes every game strategically very different, as is the case, for example, in 1862.
- Private companies: some are typical, some are new. The auction is 1830-style, and they can be sold from 1 credit to 150% of their face value.
- Transports: T2 to T6, and then T10. T2 are rushed by T5, not T4. This is unusual, and at first it can make you think this is an easy game, but it is quite the opposite. You can buy a train being on the max transport limit if that action makes one of your older transports to be scrapped. Furthermore, there are only two T5 and two T6, so in the latest ORs, transport rushing is very fast. It is quite easy to find yourself having to buy a very expensive train, so planning when to buy a train is critical if you want to succeed.
- Stock market and SRs: it works like in 1830 but, when you give dividends, you can go right twice if you give enough of them. Stock round order depends on the quantity of money in players’ hands at the end of the previous SR, so you can plan in advance what will happen in the next SR. At the beginning of all SRs except for the first one, corporations can buy or sell one share of other corporations. Yes, corporations buying shares of other corporations.
- Turns: they are predetermined: only 5 SRs and 11 ORs. You know when the game finishes in advance.
- Rocket Launch Pad: each corporation has to run, at least once in the game, to the central hex. Not doing this implies moving its value moves 10 times to the left in the stock chart when the game finishes, so you should never forget doing this.
How to play 21MOON
The rules are available at the BGG, and you can ask for all the 2.0 assets -with improved graphics- to do your own PnP version of 21MOON to its author. Even more easily, you can play it online at Board18, using a spreadsheet linked in the BGG. This is one thing that makes Board18 great: it allows a new design to be published, tested, and played with nearly no investment.
If you have played some 18XX titles, you can learn the mechanics of 21MOON quickly, but the overall sensation when playing is a bit overwhelming at first. The rules are 22 pages long, which is very reasonable, but there are so many small differences compared to many other 18XX titles that it takes some time to remember everything. However, there is nothing strictly complicated or not clearly explained in the rules.
Another issue is mastering the game. Having a different setup in each match is great, as it improves replayability, but it’s also a strategic challenge. Corporations having the option of selling shares when opened and buying shares from other companies is easy to understand, and could make it much easier to fund a company, but implies another thing to consider when planning. The rushing of the trains is fast and deserves close attention. The order in the SR is determined by your money at the end of the SR, so take care of this aspect too when deciding which shares to buy or sell. Corporations need a run to the Rocket Launch Pad, otherwise they will lose much value. Upgrading a tile can decrease the mineral’s value, so perhaps you should upgrade tiles that you are not using to reduce the value that other corporations are taking. So, here and there, there are many strategic implications everywhere. All this, combined, makes 21MOON a hard game to master. For me, this means extra fun.
Even with all this, I think 21MOON can attract newcomers to the 18XX field, and can be played easily in a single session. And, if you like the game, it can be replayed over and over while providing many hours of challenging entertainment.
Links to latest rules: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/213368/21moon-second-edition-rules-201217