The Wikipedia page seems like an awful introduction to the subject though. That's just a list of features that might or might not be present in the games of the genre, I don't understand how someone who isn't already familiar with it could get any value out of the page.
The reason these games might apply to the HN demographic is that they are effectively simulations about running companies in times of rapid technological change and seemingly infinite growth. (We used to play a lot of 1841 around 1999-2000 boom and bust, and made a lot of jokes about the similarities between the game and reality.)
Effectively what you have is a very complex board game feeding valuations into a fairly simple stock market system, with market instabilities and riskiness being inserted into the game by passage of time. (Old equipement becomes obsolete by technological advances, and stops being productive.)
They're games about making money, and that money might be coming from any number of places. You might be creating value for real, effectively defrauding the taxpayer, fooling the gullible retail investors, or fooling your gullible opponents. Different games will fit differently on the engineer/investor/swindler triangle, but all will have some aspects of all.
Anyway, if anyone wants to give these games a try, http://18xx.games/ is the best place to play them online. But I'd kind of recommend finding a group of friends to try it out with, rather than playing with randoms.
So it tends to read a bit like when you ask someone "Do you like horses?" and get back a taxonomy and discussion of various horse bloodlines, relative performance at races thereof, and historical progenitors.
Sometimes, more information isn't the answer to a simple question.
Incidentally, I think 18xx has been going through a mild resurgence as board gamers graduate from the economic Euro-style games and into the rules-heavy games, eventually becoming curious about this 18xx genre. It's been creating a bigger demand, and as such, many 18xx titles are getting reprinted commercially, instead of the traditionally hand-made variety.
I never really figured out how the operational aspect of the game should work, though.
You might like the book Design Rules: The Power of Modularity. https://www.amazon.com/Design-Rules-Vol-Power-Modularity/dp/...
I'm going to ponder how to design the game artifacts.
I definitely recommend watching! I'm not even into board games much, and yet I still find that channel captivating.
My family loves them. My dad is a train nut, and ages ago I tricked him into boardgames by giving him 1830 for his birthday. Since then, he's bought nearly every 18xx game in existence, which turned out to be way more than I expected at the time.
We try to play them regularly. Usually it's my dad, my brother and me. Originally, sometimes my mother or my sister would join us (and I'd immediately lose) or I'd bring a board gamer friend from university. These days, my 11 years old son joins us.
Our most recent favourite is Steam Over Holland (No 18xx name! Heresy! which is only the latest of many, many games of the genre taking place in Netherland. But this one is really nice, plays fairly quickly, and has a predictable length. A previous favourite was 18EU, taking place in Europe (France to Austria), which felt big and epic, with 15 minor companies merging into larger companies in sometimes unpredictable ways, but actually still played relatively quickly, at least compared to a monster like 1841.
What's really interesting about the genre is how all these games have roughly the same rules, but slight variations in those rules, or even just the board or the number of available trains, can make a massive difference in how the game plays and feels. I still remember the first time I played 1835 (Germany, very non-aggressive, constructive and buildery) and tried my reliable aggressive strategy from 1830 (US East Coast, very aggressive and cut-throat), and only got exhausted without getting anywhere. Every game is similar yet totally different, and everybody has their own favourites.
There's a lot to like here. Stock manipulation, cross-company collusion, dumping, obsolescence, griefing and so on.
Each 18XX has rule variations, perhaps for variety or perhaps trying to resolve some downside of earlier versions. Like some variants effectively forbid pump-and-dumping stocks.
Later games allowed you to build 2 yellow tiles in a single build turn. 1830 did not allow this and it's unfortunate because it effectively makes everything but New York, Boston and Baltimore irrelevant.
Some variants included Diesels. Diesels could make unlimited stops. Other trains were limited. This could lead to some truly enormous runs and was generally positive. Other variants (eg 1870) do not have Diesels (1870 tops out at 12 trains) and the last third of the game essentially devolves into an accounting exercise as there's no real difference between any of the companies and it largely comes down to who didn't have their stock dumped so they could build a good share price.
18XX is pretty tedious. It really does need a good computer version with a decent AI. Back in the 1990s, Avalon HIll released a DOS game that was actually pretty decent. It only implemented 1830 too (but also with random maps). I wish there was an iPad version of this updated to include more variants.
Train games are a popular genre for board games. Despite all the 18XX variants for me it's not the best of the genre. That honor belongs to Age of Steam (IMHO).
Age of Steam does not have a stock market element but it is a very deep game with a mix of tactics and strategy, the ability to effectively control areas of the map, the need for planning on future expansion, debt that can cripple you and a bonus action auction mechanic that can be brutal if you don't plan carefully for how much you're willing to spend and what you need. It also has many maps with rule variants.
There have been a few projects to make these games playable on computers over the years, but http://18xx.games/, launched this year, is in my opinion clearly the best (disclaimer: I'm a contributor to the codebase). Ideally you can find a game with experienced players who are eager to help a newbie learn the ropes.
One of the reasons that 18xx games appeal to engineers is that they are deterministic, most game do not have any random events. What they do feature though is auctions which induce variances in the game. Players are investors looking to make money. Everyone starts out with an equal amount of cash and you invest in companies. The majority shareholder of a company is its president and gets to decide what the company does. Generally, a company will build out its network and then buy equipment (trains) which will service (imaginary) passengers and make money. This money can be re-invested into the company itself or paid-out to the shareholders.
Another reason for the appeal to engineers is the track (network) building aspect. Some games offer quite a variety of network building and some games are more focused on the financial aspect.
Quite a few titles can be played online @ 18xx.games - feel free to message me (wheresvic) if you'd like a teaching game.
Now I'm feeling the need to play some Railroad Tycoon!