Modern strategy board games

Straight Talk on Strategy Gaming

Suddenly a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed. Suddenly a pirate ship appeared on the horizon! While millions of people were starving, the king lived in luxury. Meanwhile, on a small farm in Kansas, a boy was growing up.

Around the World in 80 Days

The year is 1980 and our hobby [at least on the continent I am writing from] consists largely of the sprawling wargames of SPI and Avalon Hill, the mostly abstract and parlor style bookshelf line from 3M, a healthy smattering of negotiation classics like Junta or Machiavelli or Dune or Cosmic Encounter, and the first big wave of fantasy titles such as Magic Realm or Titan or of course Dungeons & Dragons. A faint rumbling of a "chugga chugga" or a "wheeeesh" can be heard from such titles as Railway Rivals, Boxcars / Rail Baron, 1829, or even Dispatcher. It wouldn't be until later into the 80s with the reimplementation of Railway Rivals as Dampfross and development of 1829 into 1830 that these titles would really gain popularity and influence.

Beyond that, none of these early train-themed games bear much resemblance to what we think of today as a "train game" [not even the seminal 1829, although 1830 does; the difference, I think, is in the very restrictive way in which 1829 introduces both new companies and new track into play]. Railway Rivals / Dampfross is more akin to Streetcar: A connection game followed by a race game. Rail Baron / Boxcars is more akin to Merchant of Venus: A roll-and-move game of buying infrastructure and making deliveries; sounds about right, and MoV is this close to being a train game, but Rail Baron not only has pre-set tracks but limited delivery contract / route options. Dispatcher is a minutia-laden game more akin to the logistics in a wargame.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

So if all of those games aren't exactly "train games", what exactly is a "train game"? And why does anyone care? Similar questions are currently being fielded by Jason Begy in his dissertation on train games for Concordia University. I'm not going to attempt to go into nearly as much detail in my research as what Jason is likely to end up with, but I want to share a bit of the story of Empire Builder and its important place in hobby gaming. Along the way, I hope to place it as a transition point from these earliest train games to something recognizable as "the modern train game", and obviously to describe a fair bit of what that term means. So let's begin at the beginning: What is a train game? Well, we'll get to that later. First, let's answer something easier:

They're more like battle tank

by quiltmama

Than dungeon dragons.
They're basically board games, but with more strategy than, say, Pictionary or Taboo. They've got all sorts of different premises from making money by selling modern art ("Modern Art"), Bean farming ("Bohnanza" - definitely one we need to get if we can't find our copy!), developing land in the middle ages ("Carcassonne"), creating camel trains in north africa ("Through the Desert"), beheading nobles in the French Revolution ("Guillotine"), or building a railroad across the United States ("Trans America").
There's a real variety out there, let me tell you. You can check out this url: to find out about the games I listed above. You can follow the link on the front page to the "Spiel des Jahres 2004" (Games of the Year) to get the names of some of the best...

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