Train games, and more specifically 18XX games, are a huge family of games that share some common ideas, if not mechanics. The core concept is always of people owning/running train companies and attempting to run them better than the other players. Sure, elements like track laying/route developing, delivery of goods or stock market can be present or not, but they all deal with trains. Well, that is until 2038: Tycoons of the Asteroid Belt (James Hlavaty and Thomas Lehmann) published by TimJim Games came out, that is.
This week’s Time Lapse Replay will be looking at 2038, a game of intergalactic space mining in which 3 to 6 players vie to make the most money by running and holding shares of different space mining corporations.
In 2038, the players represents investors in space mining companies who buy and sell shares in various companies, all in an effort to see who can best manage their share portfolio. Players who control the majority shares of a corporation control them, deciding where they will explore, discovering valuable asteroids that hold various types of ore and what type of spaceships they will buy to exploit said asteroids. As the game progresses, the different companies will (hopefully) increase in value as their share’s price goes up. The players have to figure out what the best time is to pay out dividends to other share holders and when it is best to withhold the funds to gain operating capital. The game ends when there is not enough money in the bank, which can take anywhere from 5 yo 6 hours.
While 2038 shares a lot of aspects with standard 18XX games (it has a stock market, players own shares in companies that can change hand, etc), there are a few things that sets it apart from other of that family. The major different hinges in the way tracks are built, in that there are no tracks (makes sense when you think about it, since you know, space…). Rather, the players will draw tiles from a bag (second major change: luck!) and place them on the board, creating routes. Also, instead of the standard route running from major cities to major cities, in this you will pick up goods at the mines you placed (the tiles that were drawn earlier), placing cubes/tokens to indicate that this mine has been hit in this round. Thus, you get a sort of reverse pick-up and deliver where the turn order becomes important if you have several mining corporations in the same neck of the woods. There are other differences with standard 18XX, but those are the big ones.
In this particular game of 2038 (the first one our group has played), the TSI, which is the very first corporation that can be started, took off early and never looked back Jason backed it quite heavily, especially after most of the other players dropped their share in order to raise funds to start their own companies. We quickly got the hang of exploring for different types of ore and settled a bit into a routine of exploiting everything that was close and not pushing the “train rush” (buying a ship/train can make earlier, cheaper ships to rust and thus be removed from the game). We called the game before the bank ran out of money since it was pretty clear that no one could catch up to Jason. All told, the game took about 5 hours, including rules explanation.
2038 makes for a very different 18XX experience but I’m not really sure how I feel about it. The corporation that Jason ran, the TSI, seemed too overpowered, easily staying at the top of the stock market for the whole game. Granted, it might have been that we didn’t pay it the attention it deserved and we let Jason get away with an easy win, but still. I’d be curious to play it again and see how things pan out that time.
While 2038 is out of print, it is still relatively easy to get a hold of a copy for a decent price. If you really like 18XX games and are looking for something different, it might be worth your while to hunt it down.