18XX and the 1822 Family of Games
by Eric Brosius
In 2016, designer Simon Cutforth’s game 1822 was released. 1822 belongs to the “18XX family” of railroad games, which began in 1974 when Francis Tresham designed and published 1829, a game set in England. Tresham followed this up in 1986 with 1830, a game set in the US, which was published by Avalon Hill.
18XX games share many common concepts. Players found, own and operate companies, taking turns buying and selling shares. Company ownership is usually shared among multiple players, with the player who owns the most shares making decisions for the company on behalf of all stockholders, and with every stockholder benefiting proportionally from dividends and stock appreciation. Companies also take turns in which they build infrastructure such as stations and track, purchase and operate trains for revenue, use that revenue to pay dividends or fund additional infrastructure, and adjust their stock values to reflect their financial performance.
More than 150 18XX games have been created in some form, though 1830 remains the most widely known and owned. Typically, designers combine mechanisms from existing 18XX games with their own ideas to create new games. Cutforth did this – he says he used his favorite mechanisms from various 18XX games to create 1822. Like 1829, the game is set in England. The game met with an enthusiastic response from many 18XX fans. Several fans have gone on to create their own designs that use the 1822 chassis, with relatively minor changes and additions. In 2018, Robert Lecuyer released 1822CA, set in Canada, and in 2019, Scott Petersen released (in beta form) 1822MX, set in Mexico (both with Cutforth’s permission.) All three of these “1822 family” games are published by All-Aboard Games, which is run by Scott. It seems likely that we will see more games from this family; its fans want multiple titles.
So what makes the 1822 family different? The most obvious difference is that auctions play a far more prominent role than in other 18XX games. Most (though not all) 18XX games begin with an auction of a handful of “private companies”, or “privates”. Each private pays a regular revenue to the owner and/or confers a special power to the player who owns it or to a company to which it has been sold. This auction differentiates the player positions — different players own privates that have different powers and pay different amounts of revenue, and the players have different amounts of cash left over after the auction.
In 1822, an auction is part of each stock round, at least until the items run out. Three types of item are auctioned: (1) privates, (2) minor companies (“minors”), and (3) “concessions” that confer the right to start a major company (“major”). The 18 privates, 24 minors, and 10 concessions are not all available at the start of the game. Instead, a few of each type are available in each stock round. The order in which they appear is determined in a random fashion (and made visible to the players so they may plan ahead.) This yields variety from game to game and asks players to value items based on what is available. Items differ in value, so bids will vary accordingly. Some items are not worth bidding on at all – while the #10 minor in Birmingham should see spirited bidding, the #9 in Grimsby rarely attracts bids. (There is a mechanism for removing unwanted minors.) In a game with few lucrative items available early, a given item might fetch a higher price than in a game with a better selection. Furthermore, an item you used well in one game may be buried near the bottom of the deck in another, so that it can no longer play the same role.
Cutforth explains that in games in which all auctions occur at the start, players have little context in which to bid (other than what they have learned from previous plays.) In 1822, where auctions occur periodically, the game’s progress gives context. One player values an item more highly because of the situation they or their companies are in. The fact that juicy items may become available in the next stock round or two provides an incentive to save cash during a stock round to have enough to buy them, or at least to force an opponent to pay a fair price. In most 18XX games you aim to spend all your money during each stock round, but this is not usually a good plan in 1822. This creates important decisions.
In many 18XX games, the most primitive trains, available at the start, are “2-trains” that can run a route involving two locations – from one city to another. In 1822, the game begins with “L-trains” (local trains) that run a single city, possibly with the addition of a small nearby town. An L-train may be upgraded to a 2-train with an additional payment by the company. This is charming; to go to a different city, you must save up the money to upgrade your train! It usually takes a few turns before the first 2-train arrives. This gives players a chance to start building track and take part in a few auctions. The arrival of the first 2-train changes the rules of the game – notably, it lets players convert concessions to operating majors. Before this, only minors operate (it is necessarily a minor that upgrades to or purchases the first 2-train.) Once majors start to operate, it is easier for players to invest large amounts of capital into companies. This accelerates the game. In particular, it adds early pressure, because when the first 3-train is bought (usually by a major,) L-trains that have not been converted must be discarded. Many 18XX games have “train rusting” later in the game that can lead to bankruptcy; the rusting of the L-trains is rarely an existential threat, but it gets your attention and prepares you for more significant train rusting later.
Cutforth, who is English, set 1822 in Great Britain. Lecuyer, who is Canadian, ported the system to Canada with 1822CA. Unlike in 1822, where London is by far the largest city, there are several important cities in 1822CA, including Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal. The game also has rules for grain elevators and grain trains, reflecting the importance of grain farming in Western Canada and giving players an incentive to build there. Not surprisingly, the board is larger in 1822CA than it is in 1822, but all of the 1822 games have boards with many hexes. To keep the physical size of the games manageable, the family uses a smaller hex size than is usual for 18XX (27mm edge to edge rather than 38mm.) I find the smaller hexes perfectly usable.
All-Aboard’s Petersen used a smaller board for 1822MX. This shortens the game. 1822MX also has a government railroad, the Nationale de Mexico, that plays a special role, and the game uses an ingenious “track cube” mechanism to help companies with the difficult terrain that is so widespread in Mexico, albeit at the cost of slower building. 1822MX is still formally in development, but All-Aboard sold a number of pre-publication copies to facilitate a public beta test of the game.
Two expansions are available for 1822. The first, 1822+, adds more minors and privates to the game, while 1822 MRS (“Medium Regional Scenario”) allows the use of only part of the board, reducing play time.
An argument could be made that 1822 has been the most influential new design since 1830. (1830 has been reissued with both the original and new editions featured in the Spring 2012 Gamers Alliance Report.) An academic’s influence is often measured by the amount and quality of research their students and their students’ students publish. Two descendants of 1822, not just borrowing design elements but adopting the system with modifications, have already been published, and I don’t think the flow will cease any time soon. As I mentioned above, it is common for a new 18XX game to borrow elements from previous titles, but it hasn’t been common for other designers to make such heavy use of a single earlier game’s system. This just demonstrates how strong a pull 1822 has had on many 18XX fans.
Currently, all items in the 1822 family are published by All-Aboard Games. All-Aboard is not selling any 1822 items at the time of writing — they are in the process of moving from their past hand-crafting production model to a mass-printing model, starting with their upcoming game 18Chesapeake, and they have suspended most production over the summer. However, I expect these games will once again become available soon, perhaps via a mass-printing model.
Who might be interested in games from the 1822 family? I would not typically use them as first 18XX games – for your first game I would pick 1830, 1846, 1889, possibly 18Chesapeake, or another game that is good for beginners.
However, it is a relatively accessible game as long as you enjoy auctions. It is not a game of financial manipulation; in addition to its heavy focus on auction valuation, it requires route planning and careful consideration of how to get the right trains into the right companies. The latter two considerations are intimately connected with the auctions. A major company has only 3 stations on its own; if you want to place more, you ordinarily do so by having the major company acquire the right minor companies – often minor companies that you purchased well in advance and used to build track that serves as a key part of the major company’s route. And some of the privates provide special trains that can be given to a company to help it get up and running.
Game lengths vary more widely from group to group than those of a typical 18XX game. The auction process is composed of many small decisions. If your group has trouble paying attention, the games can be long, and the family may not be for you. On the other hand, if everyone pays attention, as my group does, it moves along reasonably quickly.
I recommend 1822 games for groups who enjoy auctions, who like building good companies, and who can pay attention. I have played these games 23 times so far, and many of the people I play with enjoy it as I do. They are among the most commonly asked-for games in my groups. – – – – – Eric Brosius
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Other Fall 2019 GA Report articles