Once upon a time, GMT Games produced wargames and nothing but. Luckily for the gaming public at large, they’ve long since diversified their product line with games on everything from lemmings to stock cars, including their first foray into the niche realm of 18XX railroad games, Tom Lehmann’s 1846: The Race for the Midwest.
Originally available through Deep Thought Games, a bespoke and apparently defunct 18XX producer renowned for a several year waiting list, 1846 serves as a relatively simple (yet still cutthroat) introduction to the 18XX family of games. GMT’s lavishly produced and reasonably priced edition offers this game series to a wide audience, hopefully converting some new fans to the financial skullduggery of these railroad games.
I recently had the opportunity to play through much of a game of 1846 with my good gaming friends Mike and Jess at Labyrinth Games in Washington, DC. Neither of them had much experience with the series, but they both picked up on the fundamentals quickly and we criss-crossed the Midwest with rails before long.
Unlike the most well known of the 18XX games, 1830, 1846 has a streamlined process for launching corporations and also gives them the ability to deal in their own stocks. I launched a single corporation while Mike and Jess each launched a pair. My B&O focused on Cincinnati and environs; Jess tried to get into Chicago from the east and south; and Mike worked the routes around Lake Erie. Forced train purchases (caused by technological progress in the game, resulting in old trains being removed) pretty much drove all three of us into bankruptcy, as we hadn’t optimized our track purchases—or much of anything else—leaving us without enough funding for new trains. Though player bankruptcy doesn’t end the game, we decided to call it while the game was still in the third of five phases and while we still had some dignity left.
We all want to come back to it, though. There’s something about 1846, and indeed 18XX in general, that speaks to that part of the brain that wants to get an economic engine ticking just so—all while fending off the predations of others seeking to profit off of your every miscue. Brutal games indeed, and brilliant for it.