1830: Railways & Robber Barons – Lookout Games – Review

This is a heavy difficulty game that has rightfully earned the respect and dedication of many board game enthusiasts.  

Joseph Summa


Theme and What is it?


1830: Railways and Robber Barons is one of the most recognizable of the 18xx gaming series.  In all 18xx games, players take on the role of industrious investors looking to make their fortune.  The development of better trains and more track infrastructure offered a period in history where the most ruthless of robber barons could manipulate the stock market to crush their rivals.  This is a heavy difficulty game that has rightfully earned the respect and dedication of many board game enthusiasts.  

Gameplay Mechanics


1830 has a series of overall game state phases that all center around two main types of play.  Stock rounds allow players to spend funds to establish new railway companies or invest in (or sabotage) other existing companies.  Operating rounds allow the majority controller, president, of the functional rail companies to do the things they need to turn a profit.  Companies lay down or upgrade existing track, establish new stations, run their existing trains along the most profitable routes they have created, and purchase new trains to use on future rounds.

Privately owned companies are one of the distinguishing features of 1830.  The very first phase of the game has players buying or auctioning for control of these companies.  During operating rounds for the first several phases of the game, these private companies pay revenue to their owners.  Some have special powers for gaining stocks or reserved board locations.  As the game progresses, players gain the ability to sell these private companies to the public rail companies for a fast cash grab.  And then a bit later, these companies close forever and are removed from the game.  

Initial Impressions


My honest first impression?  Sweet, Holy…  What an intimidating game!  I have been wanting to try the 18xx series for years but worked my way up to it through hundreds of other board games before finally taking the plunge.  I had intended to take the time to be taught the game in person at a convention or gaming club.  Instead, I learned it from the rulebook and reinforced it with a few videos and text conversation with experienced players before putting it on the table.  It was not the struggle I feared it would be to learn.  The main steps of the stock and operating rounds on one of the first few pages of the rulebook is really the only rules needed for play.  Except for the exceptions.  

There are a few small details about when stock prices adjust, when the Initial Public Offering (IPO) or current stock value is used, and which track tiles can be placed where that took a play to fully understand.  Do not grab this game expecting it to be something you can put on the table on a whim.  You and your players should come expecting the first game to get everything sorted out and fully understood.  The mistakes you are likely to make in strategy (and maybe a few small rules ones) will all make sense by the time you are getting the biggest track tiles and trains into play.  

Hang with it; it is worth it.

Game Build Quality


The game comes with great company boards, stock cards, track tiles, and a really well constructed board.  The components are all really great with one exception.  The paper money is a little tedious to work with and changes hands in various denominations absolutely constantly during play.  We worked with it for only a few minutes before pulling out poker chips to use instead.  Another option would be paper and pencil.  My next play I intend to do operating rounds using notes and only paying out the grand total change to players rather than giving two dozen small payouts back to back.  This would likely make the paper money feel perfectly acceptable as well.

Artistic Direction


18xx games do not have much emphasis on their artwork.  The maps are made well and the newest edition has nice railway art on the routes rather than just solid black lines.  The trains look wonderful and (I assume) are accurate representations of the various models.  This is not the most exciting visual game I have ever played, but neither does its ensemble lack table presence.

Fun Factor


I had a surprisingly positive reaction from my friends when I asked if they would play a potentially very long game from the 18xx series.  Most had the same things to say, they wanted to try it and know if it was something they would do again.  Everyone I have taught it to has enjoyed it and would be willing to play again.  Most would not be up for playing it weekly.  

Only one said they were glad to have played but didn’t intend to ever play something this long again.  The next day he texted me to let me know he couldn’t stop thinking about the game.  He wants to run his strategy differently and see how it goes.  Now he wants to make sure  he is in for the next time we play it.

Age Range & Weight


14+ is an absolute necessity.  I cannot imagine playing a game with so much money juggling and fully static strategy with a younger child.  Especially since most games will take 4+ hours.  For our first play, we took 5 hours.  I think we can potentially cut that down significantly by running our operating rounds more efficiently.  But we also wouldn’t have people getting quite as blind sided by forced train purchases when the diesel trains make even more trains become obsolete.  

I would be likely to budget 6 hours for future plays just to make absolutely sure and hopefully get something else to the table when it ends in a more reasonable time frame in our next play.  More experienced players may be able to drastically reduce that time frame, especially by having all their track purchases perfectly planned before it is their turn to run.



I was afraid I wouldn’t have anyone willing to play this with me.  I didn’t need to worry.  Of the first 6 people I asked if they would be interested, 5 knew of the 18xx genre reputation and were curious enough to want to learn it with us.  1830 will not appeal to casual gamers or those with a phobia of numbers.  

Many experienced life-long board gamers I know play 18xx at least once a week if not more.  It is a highlight of their schedules and a regular feature of their conventions.  I understand it now and will be joining them in making it into these games every few weeks.  I intend to make sure my regular players all know how to play 1830 so we can pull it out more frequently.  

In the end, I just want to to make sure it is clear this game is not one to take lightly and is also not one to  steer clear of because of its complexity.  I had the impression before playing that 1830 was going to be the heaviest game I had yet confronted.  It turns out, I have already played a dozen euro strategy games and thematic story telling games that are more complex to learn and play.  If you have played any games over the Board Game Geek 3.5 weight rating and managed to handle it, especially if you have played any near a 4 rating, you are ready to play this modern classic.