Many games place the player in a particular role—grizzled space pilot, bouncing bird, dungeon keeper, omniscient general—from which the gameplay more or less follows. The 18XX series of games puts players in the role of a railroad tycoon, building track, buying trains, manipulating stock, and running routes. It seems rather sedate, but the gameplay in these rail games verges on the cutthroat, with players driving others into bankruptcy, forcing their tracks into convoluted curves and unprofitable runs to whistle-stop towns. Apparently, rail barons weren’t the nicest people on the planet. I’ve played my share of mean, backstabbing games, but the 18XX games are the worst (or best, if you will) of the bunch.
The newest entry in the 18XX series (all of which derive from Francis Tresham’s 1829) is 18OE: On the Rails of the Orient Express, a two-map monster game recently released by Designs in Creative Entertainment, designed by Ed Sindelar and developed by Mark Frazier. The game covers railroad construction and operation in late nineteenth century Europe, centered on the Orient Express run. Funded on Kickstarter in the summer of 2013, 18OE proves that crowd-funding can be wildly successful if handled in a professional manner, and DICE really came through on that front. The game is, to put it mildly, stunning, not to mention the heaviest game in my collection at eleven pounds shipping weight.
The bulk of the weight comes from the two mounted maps, covering Europe and European Russia, plus a mounted info/stock market board. The maps have a satin-like finish, and they look to be a treat to game on. It’s not an exaggeration to state that they’re the nicest mounted maps I’ve ever owned. The other components—stock and train cards, railroad charters, track tile counters—are similarly top notch, though the die cut tile markers are a bit thinner than I would have liked. I’m sure they’ll play well in practice, but as a wargamer, I’m used to slightly thicker counters. Perhaps it’s just as well, because I’m worrying about finding a shelf sturdy enough to support the box as it is. (And, sadly, the hexagonal track counters don’t fit in my new counter corner rounder, as the counters come out of the tree with just a bit of a nib.)
Rules-wise, there’s tons of chrome, with ferry crossings, national border transit rights to buy and sell, and multiple railroads to operate. Any game that lets me run both a Norwegian and a Romanian railroad is a winner in my book.
Multiple short scenarios (on single maps) give me much hope that I’ll actually manage to play this game, but even as a shelf queen, 18OE cuts a fine figure.