1846 quick notes

We played 1846 yesterday, but unfortunately had to abort the game. We had played about 3.5 hours and had plenty of game left, when the time ran out — I was expecting we’d finish in three hours or so. Well, two total newbies and so on, my bad.

Here’s some thoughts about the game:

  • Basically I like it. Lots of fun features to like: 1D stock market with multiple step jumps, interesting privates, interesting companies…
  • The race to Chicago and jockeying for east-west connections is good, as it creates a clear goal.
  • The private draft is better than an auction for new players.
  • I like the independent companies (small privates that operate a single train and split dividends).

So, I definitely want to play this one again, and it’s clearly among my favourite 18xx games (so far that’s 1846 and 1825, pretty much — I’ve enjoyed all, but those are my favourites).

1846 board after game
Here's where we aborted our game. Sorry about the glare!

Here’s an interesting quote from Tom Lehmann, the designer of 1846:

What makes a good “18xx beginner’s game” is not an easy question to answer.

One approach is to make it “gentle”. 1825 tries that and succeeds at making the game gentle at the cost of making it, imo, boring and tedious. Another approach is to make it “small”. 18AL, 18GA, 1851, and 18Mex all tried this and, imo, the first three fail due to play being far too stereotyped from game to game. This can work fine for a group all learning 18xx at the same time, but it can get awfully repetitive for experienced players trying to help newbies get into 18xx (18Mex has just enough variety to remain interesting and is the best of this bunch, imo). A third approach is to start “small” within the game via minors and gradually build up to more complexity by the end of the game. 2038, 1861, and 1826 (to some extent) all try this and, imo, 1861 succeeds the best, since — other than the mergers — everything else in that game is fairly straight-forward.

The fourth approach is to keep the rules complexity “manageable” and to simply make the game “interesting” from the start, hoping that the new players will find the decisions compelling enough to come back for more. 1830 is not a simple game and, yet, I know a fair number of 18xx groups who, after trying various of the games mentioned above to hook beginners, have ended up using 1830 as their newbie game… (And, particularly at exactly 4 players, 1830 works pretty well for this.)

With 1846, I decided to go the “interesting”, rather than the “gentle”, route. I also tried to turn some of the “automatic” heuristics that players pick up from 1830, 1856, etc. (start your first company low and your second one high; get to 50% of your companies ASAP; always launch a second company; get lots of privates and buy them in ASAP; don’t invest in shares of companies belonging to other players before the late midgame; more shares is almost always better than fewer “value” shares; pay out as much as possible, except to buy a permanent train; etc.) into tough and non-obvious decisions. Indeed, blindly following these heuristics in 1846 is a good way to get in trouble…

As a result, I have seen newbie 18xx players beat experienced 18xx players, new to 1846, a number of times. Hopefully, the interesting decisions will encourage both types of players to play 1846 again.

This was posted in a BoardGameGeek thread on 1846.

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