founding platforms redux

Stephe Thomas correctly noted that ps18xx needs a few additional tweaks in order to be smoothly used as per Founding Platforms, most notably to support alternative paper sizes (I think I used A1 for the 1830 map? Might have been A2 – play with it) and to adjust the layout for track tiles to fit correctly on US Letter paper. I’ve made a GitHub repository with the requisite changes and sent them to Stephe Thomas as well. Homefully the changes will make it into his master.

Note: The key to using the various paper sizes is setting a PAPERSIZE environment variable to the desired paper size:

$ PAPERSIZE=letter make P30.ps
make 30 playable tile list
perl concat.pl -d src P30.ps
$ ps2pdf P30.ps
$ lp P30.pdf
$ PAPERSIZE=A1 make M30.ps
make 30 map
perl concat.pl -d src -a M30.ps
$ ps2pdf M30.ps

The supported paper sizes are:

  • letter
  • A4
  • A3
  • A2
  • A1
  • A0
  • B4
  • B3
  • B2
  • B1

Wrist Tapping

I’ve taken to using a 1 minute timer for players (me and one other) in 18xx games (the other players are not timed). It isn’t that 1 minute is a convenient time or a comfortable time. It isn’t. It is rather markedly too short. It is uncomfortable. Unpleasant. It encourages mistakes, big ones, game-throwing ones. It is too short and deliberately so.

There’s strong temptation to break the time limit, to make allowances, to permit a player to break and go over time maybe once or twice a game when decisions are especially chewy. Maybe a player has unlimited time for their decisions…say…oh…once or twice per game. Maybe a player could play very fast and accumulate time to spend later on bigger decisions? I have sympathy for the argument, especially given that I’m one of the players subject to the timer and also more likely to recognise and chew on such a decision. Such an approach would play to and accentuate my personal interests and abilities. But I refuse the argument. Players have a minute, period. I have a minute, period. If a player is not done in that time, if I’m not done in that time, then I or they auto-pass and it is the next player or company’s turn. Finis.

Why? Because the purpose of the exercise is to force the players to prioritise. No ifs, no ands, no buts, no forgiveness, no choice. There is barely time to look at your own position, let alone to examine the other player’s positions. Prioritise! The purpose isn’t for the players to make the best decisions, isn’t for the players to be maximally competitive, isn’t to approximate any sort of ideal game session, isn’t to make the game the most enjoyable. It is to give no choice other than to continuously prioritise everything and to still be too short of time.

Because then we learn, have no other choice but to learn.

Founding Platforms

Last weekend I made a highly functional copy of 18301 from scratch (ie from blank paper to a finished and fully playable game) in less than 7 hours. This is how I did it.


Mechanical efficiency


Manufacturing a game is a purely mechanical and highly repetitive process. Recognise this. Optimise your body positions and your physical processes to make that efficient. Time and motion study is well worth your investment.

I’ve observed a few things about myself in this regard:

  • I’m right-handed, so my left hand and arm are clumsier and less accurate then my right. As such I optimise my workspace such that my left hand is mostly doing crude/bulk actions and my right hand is doing high-control/detailed actions. This may sound like a trivial detail, but in a test I did a few years ago that optimisation alone saved almost an hour and a half from a larger game build!

  • I’ve also noticed that I make more accurate and more controlled cuts with a rolling knife if I’m cutting slightly to the right of my center line and am cutting from the lower right up and to the left. This one is both a time saver and more importantly, an error-rate improver. I get the tools positioned more accurately more quickly, I make fewer bad cuts and thus fewer reprints and re-dos for critical errors.

  • There’s a significant accuracy and efficiency gain from doing only one thing at a time. As such, if I’m laminating, I do all of the lamination before moving on. If I’m trimming the outsides of pages, I trim all the outsides of the pages before moving on to cutting out the individual components, etc. The idea is to isolate a specific action and body motion, to optimise and practice that and to then do nothing else but that single thing until it is all done everywhere. The result is more accurate cuts made faster and thus fewer critical errors that need re-dos.

The general result of this is that I’ve established a basic physical work flow:

  • Objects to be processed are to the upper left.

  • Trimmings and scrap are to the immediate left.

  • The work area is immediately in front of me (the long side of the cutting mat in most of the below pictures).

  • Finished items are either to the immediate right or upper right.

The result is a work flow with little wasted motion:

  1. My left hand gets the next piece to work on from the upper left and brings it down and into the work area, slightly to my right.

  2. Along with my right hand, the piece and rule is accurately positioned so that the cut goes from the lower right up and to the left.

  3. The cut is made: left hand holding the rule, right hand moving the knife. If the cut requires multiple passes (generally one pass for 3mil, 2-3 passes for 5mil and 3-4 passes for 10mil), then for each pass the knife is returned to the lower right and makes the exact same cut again. I don’t roll the knife back and forth in both directions as I’ve found that encourages the knife to wander and make sloppy cuts.

  4. My right hand sweeps the cut item to the right.

  5. My left hand sweeps the trimmings to the left and then moves up to get the next piece.

  6. Repeat.

For all the arguments about the above being boring or unnecessary or overly pretentious and picky or dear-gods-give-it-a-rest I can point to saved time, a more accurate product and fewer mistakes requiring me to re-make a component from scratch. The metrics win.

If you’re going to emulate a machine, ensure that you’re emulating a very efficient machine.


Materials & Tools


Materials

First, a note on vendors. I’m going to use Amazon links almost as they’re effectively universal. However my recommendation is not for Amazon per se but is for that specific equipment, model and material manufacturer.

Just standard cheap printer paper. Really. Nothing special.

Note that the lamination pouches are matte. While glossy lamination is significantly cheaper, it is markedly less pleasant to play with. That said, satin is even better than matte, but also rather more expensive again. I don’t find the cost differential justified.

The 10mil lamination is for the map. 10mil is rather clearly thicker and stiffer than it needs to be for maps, and most laminators can’t handle it properly…but it is what I have. 7mil (which I don’t have) is probably just as good and cheaper, but I’ve not tried it. (See the additional notes below for the laminator I use)

The 5mil lamination is for the track tiles. Well, almost. At the time of this build I’d run out of 5mil and hadn’t noticed. Ooops. So for this project I made the track tiles using 3mil…which really isn’t ideal. They’ll be made again, properly, later.

Track tiles made with standard printer paper and 3mil lamination are a bit too thin and a bit too flexible. They tend to stick together together a bit, are harder to pick up from the board and harder to sort and separate in the hand. This isn’t a Huge Deal, they are playable, but it makes a noticeable difference. 5mil laminated track tiles using the same paper etc handle noticeably more nicely.

Everything else, privates, shares, and trains was printed on standard printer paper and laminated with 3mil…and that’s just fine. Well, kinda okay.

Be careful with the choice of label paper. I’vee found that Avery don’t stick nearly as well as some cheaper brands, epecially the one I linked above.

Tools

I have several steel rules, but you only really need one. Asides from the rubber/cork backing (pretty standard), I recommend getting a stiffer rule (thicker metal) rather than one of the floppier/more flexible varieties. The shorter stiffer rules are easier to control and position accurately with one hand. I think the one I linked above matches this description but I haven’t tried that specific make/model.

Similarly, I don’t know the specific thin-bladed knife I linked above but that one appears similar to the one I use.

The corner rounder I used is cheap junk and is not recommended. It works, but only barely and only for thinner stock and thinner lamination (a bit iffy with 3mil and even more iffy with 5 mil). Oregon Laminations corner rounder is however recommended…but I hadn’t received it by the time of making the game.

The Apache AL13P2 laminator I use is big, heavy, built like a tank, heats slowly, cools even more slowly, and the outside gets hot enough to burn. But…it has four rollers and can be heated past 360 degrees Fahrenheit…and that’s useful.

Cheap consumer-grade laminators generally only have two rollers and ~no temperature control. At worst this means laminated material comes out cloudy and whitish due to the lamination not getting hot enough to properly melt and not getting enough pressure to be fully pushed into the fibers of the paper. Now this mostly doesn’t matter with 3mil lamination, most any laminator can handle that, but it comes into play with the thicker stuff. Even the $17 Amazon Basics Laminator can mostly handle 3mil lamination. Mostly. Given enough passes running the material through again and again it even tries (and half-fails) to handle 5mil using Oregon Laminations 5mil matte pouches: The pages still comes out cloudy and whitish.

I mostly-happily used a Fellowes 5600 (think that was the model number) for most of a decade until it died earlier this year. It did great on 3mil and with a couple passes even did well on 5mil. Maybe it would have worked with 3-5 passes on 7mil? I don’t know. But it completely failed on 10mil. When it died I replaced it with the Apache AL13P2 mentioned above. That laminator handles 3mil, 5mil and 10mil with only a single pass, just like a dream4.

Note: Oregon Laminations appears to recommend the TruLam TL-320B – which appears identical to the Apache AL13P2 laminator. Possibly one is the OEM?


I also used an Ellison Prestige Pro die cutter for the privates, shares and trains. (Note that it is $600+ on Amazon and ~$400 direct from the manufacturer It is a fairly expensive bit of kit, and even more so when you add in custom-made dies2 for cutting track tiles.

The Ellison Prestige Pro is the same equipment that Deep Thought Games, Golden Spike Games and All-Aboard Games all use (and I think Marflow Games as well).

For this build I used the die cutter, along with the test die that it came with solely for the privates, shares and trains. I wrote XXPaper to produce private, share and train art that precisely fits the test die.

While the die cutter certainly saves time, it really isn’t necessary unless you are making a lot of games. Trimming the privates, shares and trains by hand would have added perhaps half an hour to the build.


Printing


Making & printing the map

First, make and print the map and tile sheets. ps18xx5 can trivially generate the map…but it does so at a reduced scale (small enough that the entire map fits on a single page). The trick is to get it to make the map properly bigger and then to paginate the result across multiple pages cleanly.

For 1830 I had to do two things:

  1. Scale the map hexes up to be normal size.

  2. Move the resulting image on the page so that it needed fewer printed pages to cover all the important bits (ie not the white space) and the printed segments more sensibly divided up the map space.

Scaling the hexes is easy. For 1830 the top of the 30-map.ps file looks like this (your version of the file might have some extra bank lines or indents than I’ve shown below – but don’t worry as they’re irrelevant as its just the words and numbers that matter, not the blank lines or spacing):

%
% $Header: 30-map.ps[1.6] Wed Nov 15 17:26:41 1995 doko@cs.tu-berlin.de saved $
%
%
% ----------------------------------------------------------------------
% 1830 map
newpath
/mapRows 11 def
/mapCols 24 def
/mapScale 0.6 def
/CM { 28.35 1 mapScale div mul mul } def
mapScale dup scale
21 CM 0 translate
90 rotate
/mapFrame {
...etc

The key line there is the mapScale line. We need bigger hexes…and some measuring and calculation gives the desired scale bring around 1.20 rather than 0.6.6.

However that positions the map rather clumsily on the resulting image/page. The resulting larger image paginates poorly across more pages than are really necessary. In order to get the map segments most cleanly distributed across the final pages, I found that I needed to “slide” the map a bit on the page, and so I also edited the translate line to get:

%
% $Header: 30-map.ps[1.6] Wed Nov 15 17:26:41 1995 doko@cs.tu-berlin.de saved $
%
%
% ----------------------------------------------------------------------
% 1830 map
newpath
/mapRows 11 def
/mapCols 24 def
% /mapScale 0.6 def
/mapScale 1.20 def
/CM { 28.35 1 mapScale div mul mul } def
mapScale dup scale
% 21 CM 0 translate
40 CM 0 translate
90 rotate
/mapFrame {
...etc

Note: The lines starting with percent signs (%) are comments and thus can be and are ignored.

Now make the map:

$ make M30.ps
make 30 map
perl concat.pl -d src -a M30.ps
$ ps2pdf M30.ps

And there you go, a nice map nicely positioned as a raw Postscript file7. Now to get it properly paginated for printing and cutting.

Most Linux systems come with a tool called poster to do this sort of thing. Certainly there are other similar tools available for other systems.

$ poster -v -i 1190x1580p -s 1.0 -m letter -o 1830_scaled.ps M30.ps

In short, I manually defined the page size of the original file, scaled it by a factor of 1.0 (ie not at all) and paginated it across letter sized pages. If you live in a sensible and civilised part of the world with an actually rational measuring system, use A4 instead.

Note: I fiddled with the above line, trial and error, also adjusting the translate line in 30-map.ps and the exact size of the page I passed to poster until I got what I wanted. It was fiddly but didn’t take long before I got a good result..

Okay, not make the PDF and then print it:

$ ps2pdf 1830_scaled.ps
$ lp 1830_scaled.pdf

This will print the map in segments, with clearly marked cut lines. All that’s required from there is laminating and then precisely trimming to those cut-lines.

Making & printing the track tiles

Simple enough:

$ make P30.ps
make 30 playable tile list
perl concat.pl -d src P30.ps
$ ps2pdf P30.ps
$ lp P30.pdf

Making the Stock market

A not entirely different process, but with a lot more fiddling, got Peter Mumford’s stock market similarly scaled and printed. I don’t yet have a good tool-chain built for automatically generating larger 2D stock markets, so for this build I’m stealing, err, Peter’s slightly buggy file (it has a minor error).

Making the privates, shares, trains and token art-files

XXPaper comes with a few .xxp files for 1830 assets. While they’re fine, I ended up making my own, adjusting the colours mostly, but also because longer term I want to extend that tile to include many of the variant companies (Norfold, Pere Marquette etc). The build.sh script in the samples directory shows how to make the files:

$ xxpaper -P letter ../1830_JCL-Papers.xxp -f nooutline
./charter_sheet1-nooutline-letter.ps
./charter_sheet2-nooutline-letter.ps
./private_Sheet1-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_B&O-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_NYC-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_B&M-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_PRR-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_ERIE-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_CPR-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_C&O-nooutline-letter.ps
./share_NYNH-nooutline-letter.ps
./token_sheet1-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_yellow-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_green-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_blue-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_brown-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_red-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_gray-nooutline-letter.ps
./train_player-nooutline-letter.ps

But I want the charters with outlines because they will be hand-cut, where-as the rest will be die-cut:

$ rm charter*
$ xxpaper -P letter ../1830_JCL-Papers.xxp -f outline -s charter
./charter_sheet1-outline-letter.ps
./charter_sheet2-outline-letter.ps

Convert them all to PDF:

$ for file in *.ps
do
  ps2pdf $file
done
$ rm *.ps

Produces:

$ ls -1
charter_sheet1-outline-letter.pdf
charter_sheet2-outline-letter.pdf
private_Sheet1-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_B&M-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_B&O-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_C&O-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_CPR-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_ERIE-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_NYC-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_NYNH-nooutline-letter.pdf
share_PRR-nooutline-letter.pdf
token_sheet1-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_blue-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_brown-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_gray-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_green-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_player-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_red-nooutline-letter.pdf
train_yellow-nooutline-letter.pdf

Then just print them:

$ lp *.pdf

Making the game


Lamination

Take each page, slip it into a pouch of the appropriate thickness, center it and run it through the laminator. Adjust the temperature of the laminator appropriately for each type of pouch (in general this means flipping a little 3mil/5mil switch but for the laminator I used it means dialing in the target temperature directly).

Starting the lamination process

Here’s the map all done in 10mil. Look closely and you can see the cut lines (little back triangles) showing where to cut for the map segments to align precisely.

Map segments done

And then everything fully laminated:

The rest of the laminated components

Cutting

First, start with a new blade in your knife. I use a new blade for every game, two for larger games. The extra ease and precision is worth it (blades are cheap).

Also remember that I’m sitting to the long side of the cutting mat in the below pictures. New stock is to my top left, waste to the lower left, cut material to the right.


The map segments have cut markers showing precisely where to cut to get the segments to line up perfectly. The problem is that once you cut to one marker, you’ve also cut off the other marker on that side – and precision is particularly important in getting the map segments to line up exactly.

My trick was to make the cut along one side all the way through but not for the full length. I didn’t cut all the way to the end and left the extra bit still connected at the end. Thus the strip dangled and was attached only at the end…and was perfectly aligned with the remaining map. Then I made the next cut in the other direction, cutting off the loose end of the dangling strip while creating a new partial cut.

Lather rinse repeat around the outside and you get a perfectly cut map segment!

Trimming the map segments

Checking the map segments are perfectly square and exactly the same size:

Cuts are square and segments exactly the same size

Now cut the charters, first pass trimming the outsides, then cutting them into two strips of two charters each, then cutting those strips into individual charters:

Trim the charters

And now for the big monster, the track tiles! Following the rule of picking a single action and doing it everywhere before moving onto the next action, the first step is to trim the outside of the tile sheets. A secondary goal in this process: whenever possible make cuts that affect multiple track tiles. Doing so reduces the total number of cuts needed, thus also reducing possible errors.

Trim the outside of each tile sheet

Next, cut the sheets into strips of tiles:

Next trim the tiles into strips

You’ll commonly need to trip both edges of each strip:

Mind the accuracy of both edges

Cutting the strips into diamonds, each one containing one track tile::

Cut the strips into diamonds

Now trim each individual tile, checking all 6 edges for precision:

Trim the diamonds into individual tiles

And all done in 1 hour and 10 minutes!

Done in 1 hour and 10 minutes

Carefully aligning the map segments and putting a strip of standard cello tape across the back seam to make a folding board:

Check map segment sizes

I originally stuck the segments together in pairs. Since then I’ve decided that was a poor(er) choice and instead to make a 6-panel folding map. This will mean that some of the cello tape is on the top/visible surface of the map, but as I’m using a slightly whitish tape, something close to a “magic tape”,” and it just disappears once it is on the map.

The stock market was made just like the map, but only had two panels.

Ahh, the Ellison Prestige Pro die cutter! There it is in all its glory along with a test due and an old extra private I’ve previously cut with it.

Ellison Prestige Pro

If you look carefully you can see that I’ve drawn pencil lines along the middle of the die in both directions. XXPaper puts similar lines around its art-files and they can be used to correctly align the die with the printed page:

Die registration lines

I use an old spare private or share I cut earlier to ensure that the alignment lines that XXPaper made on the art-file lines up perfectly with the registration lines I drew on the die. As you may imagine, this can be a bit fiddly8].

Lining up the die

And voila, a cut sheet of shares!

Cut shares

All that’s done, all the privates, shares and trains, and now to round the corners of the charters and trains.

Corner rounding the charters and trains

I only round the corners of charters and trains, nothing else. I could do the privates and shares too, but I find that square corners on the shares make it easier for players to display their portfolios neatly (okay, I find it easier). And as for privates? Some privates contain a lot of information and the corners can get a bit crowded. XXPaper‘s format is still generous enough to allow the corners to be rounded, but not by much and privates aren’t handled much, so I leave them square.

Rounding...

Now for the tokens.

I used to use wood plugs manufactured by General Tools as sold by Home Depot (the small box to the left). They work well. But Home Depot is out of my way and General Tools no longer sells direct…and I’ve found that Platte River sells bags of 1,000 even more cheaply on Amazon. If you’re only making a few games I recommend the General Tools product.

But for this game I’m going to use tokens from old prototypes from the bag at the top of the picture. I’ll be peeling off the old stickers and attaching the new.

Making the board

Showing how easy it is to peel the sticker off an old token using a thin-bladed knife.

Token re-use

First, cut the whole-page label with the tokens into strips, two tokens wide:

Strips of token stickers

See the little flap sticking out one side of the punched token? Almost every time that will be there due to the different behaviour of the backing paper to the main paper of the label in the punch. The little tab is the backing material and is an easy handle to grab with a fingernail to peel off the rest of the backing.

Peeling flaps

But if it is missing (happens sometimes) the thin-bladed knife can slip in the edge and peel off the backing paper:

Using a knife to peel off the back

Peeling the back off normally:

Or your finger to peel

Marching through the companies:

TOkens for each company


The finished game


You may note that there’s some shading, that the left edge of each map segment is darker than the right edge. That is a previously unknown behaviour of my printer – I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to do that!

Note: The perspex sheet atop the map isn’t actually needed, its just convenient and now almost expected for my table

All done -- the game!

And a finished game with 3 players:

End of a 3-player game


Update


As correctly noted by Stephe Thomas, ps18xx needs a few additional tweaks for the above, most notably to support alternative paper sizes (I think I used A1 for the 1830 map? Might have been A2 – play ith it) and to adjust the layout for track tiles to fit correctly on US Letter paper. I’ve made a GitHub repository with the requisite changes and sent them to Stephe Thomas as well. Homefully the changes will make it into his master.

Note: The key to using the various paper sizes is setting a PAPERSIZE environment variable to the desired paper size:

$ PAPERSIZE=letter make P30.ps
make 30 playable tile list
perl concat.pl -d src P30.ps
$ ps2pdf P30.ps
$ lp P30.pdf
$ PAPERSIZE=A1 make M30.ps
make 30 map
perl concat.pl -d src -a M30.ps
$ ps2pdf M30.ps

The supported paper sizes are:

  • letter
  • A4
  • A3
  • A2
  • A1
  • A0
  • B4
  • B3
  • B2
  • B1

  1. I own two copies of 1830 by Avalon Hill, one by Mayfair (so yes, I have a license to the game), plus now my third homemade edition. 

  2. My last quote for a custom die was a bit over $300. Two such dies3 (one for track tiles, the other for rectangular components), plus the die cutter sums up to around a $thousand if bought new. I bought my die cutter via EBay for rather less (after almost two years of waiting for a good deal), but it still wasn’t cheap. 

  3. Getting the die accurately positioned with respect to the paper is a core problem. Even with my little tricks of pencil lines to check orientation and alignment, it takes me a frustrating minute or three for each page. A key advantage of the custom dies is that they come with an alignment system for quick, easy and very accurate alignment of the die to the printed material. 

  4. Well, a dream where you wait 6 minutes for it to heat up, try not to get burned while you’re using it, and then wait an hour for it to cool enough to put away… But the produced laminations are completely delightful. I am a fan. 

  5. The linked version is old and rather out of date. Contact the venerable Stephe Thomas for the latest and greatest. 

  6. A scaling factor of 1.0 is the nominally right size. It makes for hexes which are tight compared to the the track tiles, even slightly smaller than the track tiles depending on the details of how you cut them. However a 1.20 scaling factor such I used gives hexes which are slightly bigger than the track tiles. Not a lot, just a little and for me, but just enough bigger as to make it placing and replacing track tiles on the map significantly easier and faster and less prone to disturbing all the surrounding track tiles. Thus I use the slightly sloppier 1.20 scaling factor, 

  7. Most systems can probably natively display Postscript. If your’s can’t, you’ll probably want to install ghostscript, which comes with the very nice ghostview Postscript viewing tool. 

  8. The custom dies have a far simpler and more effective registration and alingment system, much less fiddly, but as I don’t have them yet I’ll just leave that there. 

Following Curiosity

What should be used to introduce a new or potential player to…

Use whatever interests them.

You are assumably playing this game, this teaching game for them, to help them, to expose them, to pilot their ignorance toward their curiosity with a steady hand – and not for you or your interests. It doesn’t matter what game that is, how unapproachable or complex you think it might be, or any of the rest. That’s your head, your evaluation, your value system and not their’s. They are interested and that interest is effectively the universal solvent for any and every problem.

Oh look, I got completely smashed and destroyed and I have no idea how or why that happened let alone what I could possibly do about that, this is incredibly confusing and I simply have no idea…isn’t that interesting!?”

And lo! That implacable unconfrontable morass of a game gradually dissolves before nothing more amazing than someone just being interested. Don’t waste the primary weapon and faith the other player is entrusting with you.

Inflationary Spending

A fundamental question is how to deploy capital into already extant companies and the friction and costs thereto. Possible methods include:

– Half-pays: intercepting part of the flow of capital from train-runs into the treasury. 18India and Rolling Stock perhaps take that particular pattern furthest in allowing the president to freely declare any between $0 and the full value of the the treasury plus run. Partially along this line, 18EA allows the company to “pad” the dividend with capital from treasury – often used to edge into a higher multi-jump stock increase.

– Revenue-generating assets sold/held by companies instead of players. This can be anything from cross-invested shares in 1841 to private companies with revenues, to bonds and other derivatives, to inter-corporate loans/securities and so forth.

– Horizontal transfers from other companies or other financial instruments, possibly newly floated or created for the purpose, can be interesting. Mergers, acquisitions, take-overs of objects with assets…can all fit in here.

– Direct access to the president’s personal cash. While 1832 has the London Bank private (company and personal cash are no longer separated), emergency train buys are the classic form of accessing presidential cash, but there are other ways from 1831 allowing presidents to freely contribute to train buys (and in some games, also other purchases), to even billing all shareholders for such elected purchases (pro-rated by the percentage held – yes, just being a minor share-holder is an ongoing risk in such games).

– Then there are loans. The most common form have the companies take the loans (eg, 1817, 1856, etc), but in some cases players can be the ones taking loans (1824, 1844, etc), sometimes solely by force (had to buy a train for a company and couldn’t afford it), and sometimes electively. Typically loans exert some sort of pressure, be it a constraint on future choices (eg most Double-O games), or interest payments (eg 1817, 1856, etc), or a long-term penalty on final score (various Vellani games).

– Company-issued derivative assets, be they 1817’s shorts or 18NE’s bonds or 1849 Electric Dream’s bonds or the Bill Dixon games with re-issuing treasury shares (also seen in 18C2C), or other ways of dynamically increasing the share issuance (ie the company dilutes its extant shares by issuing more shares that might be bought – ala 18201)…etc. (This is an area in which I expect to see considerably more innovation)

More broadly, the costs of redeploying capital are a largely untapped and rich field to be explored in 18xx games.


  1. I should note that the cost of deploying capital in 1820 is particularly high, averaging just over 40% in the early game (spend $100 in order to deploy $60 of capital) and varying from there onward. 

Falling Down The Sky Above

A play in three acts.

Act 1

I first meaningfully encountered the 18xx during a consulting gig in Groton Connecticut. It was in the rather grim basement of Citadel Games, the local game store in Groton. The game was 1870, the teaching was absent, I was out of my depth and adrift in multiple dimensions and I entirely and vehemently foreswore the family of 18xx games.

Act 2

Jump forward a few years and back to California and I began to think that I’d been unfair, I clearly didn’t understand the 18xx and yet I’d damned them. That seemed stupid. I’d been stupid and could do better. So I started working on 1830 and divers other games with a local mate.

It did not go easily.

Many things will submit before mere persistence, but it might take a while.

To give a sense of scale, several years after resuming my assault on the 18xx, we were up past a hundred 18xx games played, and I was damned if I was going to give up. I’m tempted to say, “It was personal”, but it really wasn’t. I’d said I’d not render judgement until I understood them and that was enough to persist.

By this time, after not much under a half dozen years of trying to push myself into the 18xx, I wasn’t doing noticeably better. I’d still only won the one game a few years back – which we’re convinced was a banking error – and more importantly, neither clarity or ability were dawning. I continued to not only lose and be confused and adrift, but to be destroyed and routed in every game. Every game, every time. Like a comatose sheep to the slaughter.

Act 3

A change of approach seemed in order.

I setup an 18xx-playing group: SFBay-18xx, a sort of sub-chapter of the South Bay Boardgamers, and we started playing 18xx at least once a week and often two or three times a week. Pretty much the same handful of people every week and a fairly small roster of games (almost all bought off the secondary market).

And suddenly, shockingly, gob-smackingly, things started to work for me. I tried gambits and…they worked! (They’d never done that before) This was different. I was able to make plans and carry them out, to make and test hypotheses, and thus to learn.

Previously I’ve written that I was unlocked because now when I tried things, they weren’t immediately shut down by a more skilful player exploiting my execution weaknesses. Now I could try things and even though my execution was fumbling and imprecise, I could see them (haltingly) work because my opponents didn’t know any better than I did. Now not everything failed. And I could see their attempts and struggles and failures and partial successes as well.

Maybe that was it, but I’m not entirely convinced. It is a bit too convenient and neat a post-facto explanation. It also wasn’t the only change I made – I’d also started spending at least 30 minutes on analysis for every hour I played. If I played a 6 hour game, then I spent at least 3 hours (usually more) working through that game and its implications. Sometimes I put in 2 hours for every hour played. That also had value.

We played a lot of…oh, go look at the geeklists: they’re all there. One result now is that I’m far less convinced of the wisdom of gateway games, teaching-games, on-ramps to the 18xx then I was then. I expect we’d have done better just diving into whatever interested us and carrying the new people along for the ride. Enthusiasm and interest are great vehicles. If there’s both interest and fortitude, I see little reason for players not to start with any title. Pick your interest and dive in.

So play and play and learn I did, ~rapidly unrolling and testing, verifying, vetting the ideas, notions, gambits and conceits I’d built up over the previous years. Even more importantly, I started to build a conceptual language of how the games worked, of what the immediate forces were, what the shaping forces were, how the games were structured, how they were shaped and defined, and what the players did both in the details and at the almost macro-economic level in their game decisions.


And that was maybe 6 years ago. That language and its backing conceptual framework is and has been my most valued take-away. Much has changed since then and I’m still working on that understanding except that now my primary investigation tool is game design.

meteing capital

On the difference between full and incremental capitalisation systems:

In full capitalisation games a little money creates and controls twice as much money. You invest $500 and get to control $1,000 and only half the income. In incremental capitalisation games there is no inflation of capital. Instead it is about income: a small investment controls a larger income flow. $500 controls $500…and 100% of the income. You don’t get free money, you get control of twice as much income. Which is why high pars are so difficult (you can’t get enough of the income you control to buy more shares quickly enough) and cross-investing rather than a gift of capital is a direct attack (your investment has stolen their income and fundamentally weakened their company for the long term).

Which in sum shows what’s needed for a successful second company: enough opportunity (usually time but can be track etc) for enough income to out-perform other opportunities.

counting cain

I’ve long mused on writing an article on Track-Tile Rosters In The 18xx: Their Use & Management. And clearly until now I haven’t. Well, almost. Perhaps a collection of quotes from my posts on the area will suffice.


A collection of minor and marginally impolitic rants about track-tile management and use in the 18xx, with focus paid to their use and abuse by players and the process of learning to do so.

On the use, abuse and lack of recognition of the existence of the track-game in the 18xx:

Summarising: You and your opponents are either too incompetent to see the track games before you or (less likely but it happens) are unwilling to engage them, and are (as sadly the vast majority of players are) utter crap at offensive track management and route building. Which is fine. It just means that there’s large chunks of the game you have neither seen or learned yet and so you have things still to do. Good stuff. The first step is recognition of the opportunity.

But your and your opponent’s incompetence does not mean that the game is absent.

Done well, track will just seem to happen, to be obviously impossible or inevitable and of course it came out that way. But it came out that way because a good track builder knows the tile distribution and the timing constraints of the game and made it happen. They saw that you’d need a #23 in a few rounds and arranged for them to all be used elsewhere, that you needed a #46 to do the second best thing and…oh well, that too. And that all the tiles they need are just automatically available when they need them, perhaps liberated by the upgrade their other company did just before. And this all looks so natural and easy that it seems incidental.

And it isn’t. No more than Curry’s casually tossed off 3-pointers or Messi’s corner kicks that tuck into the net with the light inevitability of gravity, or Bjoern Borg’s effortless ground play driving McEnroe to his knees – those aren’t just fate either, and for the same reasons.

But most players are crap at track. Really utterly dreadful. Even many of the old hands have just never put in the work to fully learn how to play the track game. Instead they think it is about drawing point-to-point lines using funny-shaped tiles…and then they struggle and hem and haw over irrelevant details and wondering what tile does what or if there is a tile that does this…and never give a thought to having planned those lays three ORs ago and having already considered and managed the implications of the other connections incidentally created by that track lay and what that does to the mix of available tiles and how that affects every other company’s track future…and thus they miss the game staring them in the face.

Which is not to say that the track game is the greatest or best sub-game in the 18xx. It isn’t. It is just one sub-game among several, and it happens to be the one that novice players are most ready to claim is obviously absent…(as I did)…and then spend untold hours faffing about and mostly accomplishing nothing and using that as a demonstration of their conclusion rather than of their inability.

Start out by learning the tile roster. Every tile, every count, and all of its connectivity and upgrade paths. This is easy enough in 1830 – there are only 85 tiles across 46 tile types in the game, so that’s fairly easy. Then start thinking about the implications of dits not upgrading, of the double dits and OO tiles in particular, of how many edges are ever connected by a given track tile and why 1830’s permissive track rules are important there…and then you should be able to give a reasoned argument for why there are only four #7s and #57s in the game…any why, and thus how you setup to use that limit to or against your advantage.

Then leading forward into the particulars, the actual management and definition of the problem space:

How many different possible ways are there for one line of track to cross a tile? A moment’s thought tells you 3: straight, broad & sharp curve. Okay, that’s 9 tiles down: the simple track, dits and yellow cities. Ooops, two of the yellow city types are missing, so 7. (I wonder why? Go to the map and fiddle for a bit, imagine what could be done with broad and sharp curve cities – ooooh, lots of balance problems there!) Next, let’s look at tiles with two routes. How many different possibilities are there? Yeah, a lot. Okay, break it down: How many where the two routes don’t intersect and join at an edge? So two different routes joining a total of four edges.... There are 9. Ergo there are 9 possibilities for green co-existing track tiles, 9 possible double dits and 9 possible brown OO tiles. Of course 1830 doesn’t have them all, for instance there are only 5 double dit tiles – so 4 are missing. Same for the brown OOs. And only 4 greens? Which are missing, and do the different tile types overlap?

Okay what about the green switches? Two routes connecting only three edges? How many of those can there be? Well, obviously one route could be a straight, broad or sharp; and the other route could also be a straight, broad or sharp…but they have to connect, so they could connect at either end of the first track. Oh, and some of them are impossible like straight/straight can never connect only 3 edges and broad/broad is either 3 or 4 edges and is rotationally symmetric…and yeah, a bunch of them fall out for being the same shape, just rotated, like the broad/broad switch is the same track no matter how you spin it. So fiddle with pencil and paper for a few minutes and you should come up with 10.

There are 10 possible green switches. 9 possible coexisting patterns and 10 switches. That’s not so many. Are they all in the game? Grrrrr, some are missing. Which?

Green cities? They connect 4 edges. How many permutations? Yup, 3: X, K and chicken foot. Except the last isn’t in 1830. Hurm, these exceptions are starting to be annoying. Still, we’ve just done 26 of the 46 different tile-types in the game and have spent what? Only a few minutes? More than half way done in so little time or effort.

On to the browns. Oh, they are a mess! So confusing! Or are they? We’ll use the same tools to cut them down to size. How many different routes on a brown tile? Yep, 3 or 4. Unghh. Okay, how many different edges are connected on any given tile? Yep, 3 or 4 and…yes..all the ones with 3 edges also only use 3 routes. And a given edge with track only ever has 1 or 2 routes. Never 3. Okay, grab your pencil and paper: How many possible ways are there of doing that? Now for the 4s, how many? And…which are missing from 1830?

Nothing joins 5 or 6 edges…? Oh, just the brown cities. Everything else tops out at 4. Really, everything. Go check. Does that have any…significance? Yeah, connected edges never go away across upgrades…so every time you lay a yellow tile you’re committing 2 of the 4 possible edges to be connected for the rest of the game. And when you do a green upgrade to a switch you’re committing the 3rd edge…which means that only one more edge can ever be connected. There are only 4 edges, ever.

There are no 5- or 6-edge simple track tiles. So during upgrades you can just count the edges, and if its 3 or 4 its possible, but otherwise, no go no how. Hang on, 1830 track is permissive! That means that when you plop down a green co-existing tile you’ve just dictated, forever, which 4 edges of that hex will be connected for the rest of the game. And switches…they commit two routes to an edge. Once that switch is down, nothing else will ever connect to that edge. Ever. Those are pretty strong commitments that you’re making with simple track-lays. Maybe, just maybe, you could use those little tidbits to make decisions?

So far in this little exercise you’ve spent what? We’ll call it an hour, maybe two hours; a little under or over. And yet you’re already significantly ahead of most 18xx players. Truly. Now keep going and figure out some more patterns. As you’ve seen, it isn’t hard and pretty quickly things like that 4-edges bit fall out, and that’s one hell of a handy weapon. Are there more?

Is any bit of the above process hard or even particularly time-consuming? No. Its just simple stuff, applied simply, one step at a time in simple and even obvious ways. Just plod along thinking it through, step-by-step. The only things that screw it up are the exceptions/missing-tiles – but even those tend to fall out in fairly clear-cut ways when you carry them back to the game and ask yourself, What would happen if these were present in the game? Would they significantly change things or would they just be irrelevant? Why? Does it make things easier or harder? For…everyone or just in these special cases? Do those special cases matter? Really?

It is easy. A bit laborious I’ll give you, but easy enough that just spending time and low levels of effort will get you there – things to fiddle with in your head while in the shower or commuting – and the pay-backs are strong and close to immediate in your games.

On holding the bar and setting expectations:

No, you’re way overstating and in the process affirming the dilettante’s self-reassuring assumption of, “That’s too much work…” Rather than holding up the clearly visible and should-be-rotely-assumed goal: Of course people know these sorts of things about the games they play.

The idea that things like the above aren’t an automatic part of playing any game, that they are just as obviously necessary as knowing the rules, is something continues to baffle me. What do you think of the player who asks the same questions about the game rules, makes the same mistakes, again and again and again, game after game after game after game after game after game? The same rules questions. The same mistakes and stumbles. Every game. Again. Why is that any different than a player asking and stumbling and tripping over the same questions about the track-tiles in a game, game after game after game after game? How is it different? The track tiles and their arrangements are just as much game rules as those about selling shares or running trains.

That said, I’ll happily admit that it took me a long time to get to seeing the above and using them constructively, starting from scratch with no guidance, but that wasn’t for lack of pushing. It was manifestly obvious to me that something was possible even if I didn’t yet see what it was, and so I hammered away and didn’t get far for a while. (It took a comment from Mark Frazier before the flashbulbs all went off)

Estimation of effort and structural similarities to trick-taking card games:

At no point am I deriding people who haven’t learned or figured out this stuff. I am deriding those who aren’t even trying. We all start out not knowing. The question is, What are you doing about that?

I assume you play or have played Poker or Rummy or Canasta or Euchre or some such. How many cards are there in a standard french suited deck? 52? How many suits? 4? What are the suits? Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades? How many colours? 2? How long is each suit? 13? What are all the cards in a suit? Ace, 2, 3, 4…10, jack, queen, king?

Simple, right?

You know all that, and I bet know it without a second thought and consider it “easy” and “automatic”. You likely use this knowledge in deciding what cards to play in games like Hearts without blinking. 1830 track tiles are not substantially different. They are just funny shaped cards. Their particulars are a bit different, but not a lot different: they just have a colour and 1-4 lines drawn across them in some pretty limited and standardised ways. They’re actually simpler than playing cards!

You also know the various melds for playing cards like 3 and 4 of a kind, runs of cards in order etc. Track tiles are also laid out in ordered structures, essentially cards in a shared tableau we call the “board” and the placement rules are even simpler than those for say Poker melds: Put down any tile anywhere so long as it:

a) Matches the type of what's underneath it.
b) Doesn't change what was there before.
c) Can trace a line from the new tile back to one of your
station markers.

And that’s pretty much it. (Everything else is basically an edge case or exception) Or if you want:

a) You have to follow suit.
b) The card must be bigger than the previous card if any.
c) Some connection rule which maybe doesn't map to
trick-taking card games well.

That’s really not so hard.

This isn’t a question of me operating in realms beyond mere mortals. Ptui! There’s not a single damned thing listed out above which you and every other reader here can’t observe, utterly and completely, in a few seconds. I’ve done nothing unusual above beyond articulate something that’s mostly obvious in one (hopefully) fairly cogent lump.

And of course, the parallels in Carcassonne, honing in on structure:

Carcassonne tiles have basically three types of features: castles, cloisters & roads. Each feature has simple constraints/patterns: castles always join 0 or 2 corners of the tile; cloisters sit in the middle of the tile; roads always run from the midpoint of the edge to the center of the tile, are never inside castles, and there can be 0-4 of them. And…that’s it. If you want to add in the river, it follows the same patterns as and is exclusive of roads. That’s pretty much everything structurally. Everything from there is about the distribution, how many of this tile versus that.

And I don’t think memory is really useful – certainly not in the presence of a tile sheet that’s just handed out – or for 1830 either. It isn’t being able to chant off how many #45s there are in the game (2), but rather understanding the patterns and rules of the system that’s been built. What is possible? What isn’t possible? What are the constraints? Which priorities does this create on players? How do you detect, determine and assess those? What edges does this knowledge create and how can you use it? Etc. None of that is based on learning tile counts, though that tends to happen as a side effect, but instead on understanding the implicit rules of the game as explicitly encapsulated in the tiles. There is a pattern and a logic and a set of structured limits there that can be readily understood and used.

In Carcassonne players learn really quickly to count the number of open edges on their castles. The more edges, the harder it is to ever close. Simple enough and not a memory thing. 18xx track has similar structures: 2 routes maximum on an edge, no more than 4 connected edges, 3 basic track types, 9 co-existings, 10 switches, all brown tiles are pairs of switches (there’s a new one for you)… All these things define the space in which the game happens and implicitly define the game rules even if they never have words put to them in the rules. They are just as much the rules to the game as what the train limit is or how much money the players start with.

So learn the rules to the game.

goes around, comes around

Until now the development of 1820 has been mostly discussed on BGG. Given the new blog stack etc, it seems time to bring that back home.

1820 has been developing apace1 and is now in rather fine if not-quite-complete fettle. I don’t know that there are any problems2, but the end-game hasn’t been fully proven out3 and I don’t think I can adequately validate that here. At least not within my lifetime. To the bat c…, umm, external development! So play-tester copies need to be made and that means not only more use of XXPaper’s new-found support for The Game Crafter, but also getting John Tamplin’s/Deep Thought Game‘s track-tile generation4 and production system setup here5.

So, what to do while that’s going on? I’ve been talking about setting a game in Java for a few yearsnow, but those ideas are too undeveloped to use now. 18RT is an older and troubled design. Many of its ideas were taken by 1820, but not all and while most of what’s left is crap, perhaps there are worthwhile bits to rescue. Thus 1836 is born – in Cuba7 commemorating Gaspar Betancourt Cisneros‘ founding of the first railway service in Camagüey (aka Puerto Príncipe aka Port-au-Prince)8.

Sugar train

In launching any new design it is always easy to make it a derivative or extension of the prior design. While I don’t want difference for difference’s sake, 1836 should stand on its own feet as an independent and original design.

Already a troublesome goal.

Masthead?

The center of the game of 1836 is Cuba’s sugar trains. Those are the minor companies that start the game.

Sugar train

Then, later, come in the trams to ferry people – these are the major companies. It is unclear which might be more profitable.

As Cuba is poor, 1836 will not be a rich game. Instead the expectation is that players will be deep in debt for the entire game, but through asset growth their net values will end up being positive (maybe) by the end of the game. Figure winning scores in the $hundreds, maybe just over $1,000-ish after accounting for a fat handful of loans (eg: ending the game with $5,000 in assets and $4,200 in loans for a net score of $800).

  • Basic economic model the same as 1820 (incremental capitalisation, where shares pay, no half pays etc).
    • Stock movement is a little different:
      • Pay a dividend of your stock price to move up.
      • Pay a dividend of double your stock price to double-jump.
      • Pay less and fall.
      • Fall again if you didn’t have a train.
  • A variation on 1820‘s free track system.
    • No simple track.
    • Every hex is a double dit.
    • Double dits can then upgrade to OO and more typical green cities (eg #14, #15, etc).
  • As Cuba is long and skinny and free-track-like systems don’t work too well with narrow constraints, I’ve “fattened” the island10.
    • This made the map too large, and so I’m cutting into two sections along the coloured lines seen below, with a two-hex overlap between the sections.
  • Players start with no capital, but can borrow money.
    • Yes, players take loans, not companies.
    • Loans are probably for $200.
    • Currently expected interest rate is 40%.
  • The train progression is the typical yellow, green, blue, brown, red, gray.
    • Minors can only run/own “G” trains. Majors can only run/own “N” trains.
      • G trains ignore cities and pay dits.
      • N trains ignore dits and pay N cities.
    • Brown rusts green, red rusts blue, gray rusts brown.
    • Yellow 1G trains are rusted by brown and replaced by permanent brown 2Gs.
    • Green trains are thus N trains (for majors only)…and are probably 2Ts.
  • The game starts (SR1) with a ~dozen ~5 share minors,
    • Auctioned by an as-yet-unknown method.
      • I want a simultaneous auction ala 1820‘s lobby system, but do not want to recreate/re-use 1820‘s lobby system.
        • Goa’s spatial auction has been haunting my head.
          • But it is too involved.
          • But I love the idea of players paying other players in the initial auction.
    • Minors are only available in SR1.
    • Minors must start adjacent to ports.
      • On a yellow city.
        • The sole exception to the rule of all yellow track tiles being double dits.
    • Minors can lay two yellow track tiles per OR or one upgrade.
    • Minors do not pay terrain costs for yellow track.
    • Minors have a single station marker until later in the game when they gain a second station marker which may be placed for free(?).
    • Minors start with a 1G train which pays dits and not cities.
      • Yellow dits are worth $5. More in later colours.
      • The 1G rusts in brown and is replaced by a 2G train.
        • This is probably when the second station becomes available.
  • In SR2 and later majors can be started.
    • 10 shares.
    • Two stations (home plus one, free placement)
    • Cannot lay yellow track but can do 2 upgrades per OR.
    • Major’s N-trains cannot run on yellow track.
    • Minors can merge into majors:
      • Each pair of minor shares trades for a major share.
      • Loose shares can pay up or get cash instead.
  • Yellow double dits upgrade to:
    • Green double dits (one of the dits grows a third leg, the other dit gets more revenue)
    • Green OO cities (same spacing requirements as big cities in 1820)
    • Green normal cities, but with 5 legs.
  • Upgrades from there do nothing interesting except that the brown OO tiles have one of the cities growing a leg and the other getting more revenue.
  • No director’s certificates.
    • Same buy-to-40% to float as in 1820.
      • Yeah, this really is its own game…
  • All shareholders are liable.
    • Mostly this means emergency buying trains.
      • Like loan debts in 1820, shares in play are obligated to cover their fraction of the expense.
  • Game ends after…?
    • Probably after N ORs in gray.
    • Intended game length is 6 SRs.
      • Well before Castro.

1836 development map


  1. I guess getting to here in about 4 years is a “pace”. 

  2. I’m not expecting anything big. A cousin or a port might profit from a small adjustment, a terrain on a hex here or there perhaps. 

  3. To wit the tension BR and the final viable with a FLOOD. I suspect that the game is a little too heavily canted against the final viable company, but that’s dashed hard to tell conclusively. 

  4. The software stack, custom die for my Ellison Prestige Pro and whatever physical system they use for die registration. 

  5. Conceivably I could hack ps18xx to produce track tiles to fit DTG’s dies, but I expect that bleeds would be a problem. 

  6. I’m going to miss using ps18xx for track tiles… 

  7. I’d originally intended Ireland, but it seems mannerly to give Ian Scrivins’ 18Ireland some room. 

  8. Albeit horse-drawn. While Cuba has one of the most extensive railway systems in the world, arguably the largest per capita, Cuba operates on small scales. 

  9. But can borrow money at only faintly usurious rates. 

  10. Hopefully still recognisable. 

Shivering Newness

Welcome to the new old blog.

In short I’m moving off Wordpress and moving to a static-HTML solution built atop Nikola. Why? Because it doesn’t come with the load and security concerns of Wordpress, PHP, database servers, XSS, etc. Smaller, simpler, easier and rather more care-free, not least across upgrades.

The old blog:

The prior blog format

Some features are being lost in the transition:

  • dict integration (I’d link keywords to their dictionary definitions) is gone. Mayhap I’ll get around to writing an extension for PyMarkdown for that, but it won’t be now.

  • Automatic cross-linking of keywords and phases to other pages/sites. This mostly means that a lot of links to BoardGameGeek for various game names have fallen out. The names are still there, but the links are not. Again…maybe I’ll write an extension some day to do that.

  • Comments. They’re gone. Sorry. I’m not yet sure what I want to do here. Isso is a strong possibility – not least because I’ll have a possibility of porting the old comments over – but I don’t want to hang up this migration with the larger question of what comment system to use.

  • Image galleries are not quite so nice. Sigh.

And of course there was an excuse for a visual redesign. I so rarely do UI work; this was rather enjoyable.

Ahh well, I now see 20 things to fix 5 seconds after hitting deploy. ‘Tis ever thus. If you notice any problems, please feel free to drop me a note at the email address in the footer.