Other Wise

Pampas Railroads order line (P50) — second chance!

THE ORDER LINE IS NOW CLOSED. ALL AVAILABLE COPIES HAVE BEEN ACCOUNTED FOR!

The P100 for Pampas Railroads P100 sold out and still the orders kept on coming in! Winsome Games has kindly agreed to do yet another reprint, this time for at least 50 more copies. Due to the smaller print run, the additional commission to the BoardgameGeek marketplace and (frankly) the larger than previously estimated effort level these pre-orders take from me, there’s been a small US$5 increase in the S&H fees over the previous P100. The game order will be placed with Winsome Games when we reach 45 fully paid orders. As before, if the orders are still coming in thick and fast, I’ll delay placing the other until the order rate subsides.

If you are local to San Jose California and can collect the game directly from me, please use the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40 + US$5 S&H):

If you are elsewhere in the continental USA or Canada, please select the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40 + US$15 S&H):

For buyers in the rest of the world, please select the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40 + US$20 S&H):

The S&H charges are sufficient to cover up to two (2) copies. If you’d like to order 3 or 4 copies, please make multiple purchases. If you would like to order more than 4 copies, please contact me on BoardGameGeek (user: clearclaw) for specific S&H costs for such a larger order.

Note: Like the P100 edition, this reprint will also come with a standard linear income track rather than the first edition’s clunky 0-10 track with x1 and x10 markers for each company. This reprint will not come with crayons. Winsome Games has run out of crayons. You will need to supply your own drawing implements. Do not use Crayola or similar children’s crayons or dry-erase/whiteboard pens as they will stain the board. I strongly recommend using wet-erase/overhead pens. They are readily available at most office supply stores. Most wet-erase pen clean up perfectly with a little water. Another choice is china pencils, usually available from cooking supply stores. TEST THE PENS YOU WILL USE ON THE BACK OF THE MAP FIRST!

I will report progress on the collected payments toward the required total in the Pampas Railroads forums on BoardGameGeek. As soon as enough orders are collected I’ll send them to John Bohrer at Winsome games, he’ll do the reprint and send the games to me and I’ll send them out to all you lucky players! Of course if progress is too slow and the money simply isn’t appearing fast enough I’ll cancel the order line and reverse all the transactions — which would be a real shame. Pampas Railroads is a great game and deserves to be far more widely known and played.

Puffing outward

I’ve been struggling with the text for the Expand action. An abortive version of the current not-so-good stab follows:

The Expand action connects cities and foreign ports to railway companies.

General restrictions on Expansion:

  • A player may only choose the expand action for a company if they own a share of that company

  • Expand may not be selected for a company with insufficient funds

  • Only one company may build a given route (dashed line) between cities

  • Companies indicate the city connections and foreign port connections they’ve built with route markers

  • The first route a company or merged component-company builds must connect to its home station. Subsequent routes may connect to the home station or to any city already connected by the (component-)company’s railway track

    tables of initial and secondary home stations here

  • Route building costs are paid from the building company’s treasury to the bank

  • Routes may be built to the home station of a not-yet-operating company

  • A company may not build more than three connections from any city, and may not build all the connections from a city with more than two connections. These limits are only checked at the time of building track

  • The limits on railway track building change after the third General Dividend. Before the third General Dividend:

  • Only a single track link may be built each turn. The cost is $5

  • When track is built the building company’s income increases by the sum of the current values of the cities at the ends of the new track

  • Track may not be built to another active company’s home station

After the third General Dividend the following are also allowed:

  • A player owning a plurality of shares in a company may build two track links for a cost of $15:

    • The first track build must connect the company network to a city which is not part of the entire company network and the second track build must connect that city to another city which is also not part of the entire company network. In the case of merged companies the networks of all component-companies are considered for both builds
    • All track built with a double build must be for the same (component-) company
    • Connecting to another company’s home station or to London immediately ends the Expand action (and may cause a merger, see Mergers)
    • The company income is increased for each link as if each it were built separately
  • Foreign port connections may be built if the company is already connected to their city:

    • Foreign port connections cost the price listed against them
    • Foreign ports do not increase the income of the bulding company but do increase end-game share value (see [sub:Game-End] Game End)
    • A route marker is placed on the port to indicate which company built it.
    • Foreign ports may not be built as part of a double track build.
    • Immediately after a foreign port is built the building company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)
  • When building track for a merged company, all track built must be for the same (component-) company

  • Track may be built to other company’s home stations. Connecting to another active company’s home station causes a merger (see Mergers)

Not the most brilliant piece of wordcraft I’ve done, but better than the exception heavy piece of paragraphed flat prose I’d before. I still need to make the language among links, connections, and track consistent among other changes.

Suggestive responses

The Slow Start is probably the easiest of the two problems to address, at least initially.

Proposal:

  1. Players start the game with 2 explorers. More cannot be bought. The Explorer track is removed/defunct. Prestige can still be used to buy a third explorer for the current turn only.

  2. Players start the game by claiming two free routes. This would be done settler’s style with the first-to-last and then last-to-first. Once the free claiming was done exploring a single new route (and bidding on it) would happen in the normal fashion

This would tend to have the effect of making the big islands with many exits a bit more valuable than they already are in the early game and it may (slightly) accentuate the value of the centre of the map, but I suspect these factors are counter balanced by the values of tieing in with those centre placements from the fringe. It is a tough call but it feels about right.

Solving Opaque/Confusing is harder. Ben Keightly pointed specifically to the currency translations surrounding kula as being a little over-wrought. I suspect he has a point. His proposal was to lose the kula fish/shell typing entirely but that seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Something a little more delicate and incentive grid torqueing is needed — something that maintains the value justification for shells as well.

Proposal:

  1. Same kula tokens, same VP values and costs (I’m uncertain on the costs — I’ve not run the production volume models yet)

  2. No more mixed fish/shell kula items. Every single token is now a kula item

  3. When a kula item is given the recipient may also give the giver a gift of opposite fish/shell type that’s also of lesser value

  4. Both directions receive the normal VPs/prestige for their gifts with the addition that the initial giver receives an extra prestige if they receive a return gift

  5. All other kula rules like rot and upgrades remain unchanged except for those aspects sundered by splitting the kula token/item concept

I’m nervous about this last proposal. It feels about right but I’m quite uncertain the numbers actually work out. I’m particularly concerned about excess Prestige inflation from the new give-back prestige. Tough call. I’ve a hunch that the costs and rewards both will need adjusting. I’ll try and run some models on Sunday.

BTW: The new kula model is rather thematic. Kula primarily consisted of shell armbands (mwali) and necklaces (veigun or soulava). The armbands moved one way around the kula ring and the necklaces the other. Upon receipt of a pair of armbands one was supposed to give a set of necklaces and visa versa. Theme baby!

Feeling the wet (d)ark

Benjamin Keightly and Morgan Dontanville were both kind enough to blind playtest ‘Ohana Proa recently. Both played 5 player games. Both had similar and related complaints and praise. Paraphrasing and summarising heavily:

  1. The early game is too procedural
  2. The game doesn’t get started fast enough
  3. The first third of the game seems like setup for the real game
  4. It takes too long
  5. Kahunas are wonderful (A neat quote here that I hope the poster doen’t mind me revealing: Nowhere is your famous line about torquing the incentive grid more palpable than with the way kahunas operate. Every one of us thought they were fantastic.)
  6. Income rates were far lower than usual for here (eg about 2-3 whole turns lower)
  7. The turn order auction is too chaotic
  8. The network is too large
  9. There are too many currencies and currency bookkeeping tasks

The first four complaints clearly form a set which can likely be summated as Slow Start. The lower income is probably explicable by inexperience. The last three also seem a set which I’ll generously lable Opaque/Confusing.

After getting over the traditional they’re criticising my baby reaction I think they have a point or three and likely very good ones. They’ve made a variety of proposals for addressing the Slow Start none of which appeal directly as they lose other qualities I still (wrongly?) feel significant. Ben also has a bunch of quite credible suggestions for the Opaque/Confusing which make sense but also head off in the woods from the problems I’d like the game to address. It will take a bit to digest that impedance.

Clubbing issues and joins

The idea of different merger and floatation rules is growing on me.
Proposal: 1. All companies are limited to 3 bank pool shares each (!)

  1. Merger shares continue to operate as before

  2. After the 3rd General Dividend shares in the secondary companies may be sold in the normal manner with a minimum bid of $5

  3. After 2 shares have sold a secondary company is active and operating with an initial income of $0

  4. Companies merge by building into another other company’s home station, with a special dividend etc just like before

  5. Secondary companies which start already connected by track cause insta-merges as before

  6. The rule-of-3 still stands but secondary companies only have to honour it for their colour track — thus the NER may continue building links from Sheffield even though its component companies already have 3 links built

I kinda sorta maybe like the feel of this. Maybe. As I wrote, it is growing on me. It may be fungus.

I’ve also been a little annoyed by how to handle the plethora of bank pool and merger shares given the current merger rules. No answer seems good: cards, slips of paper, glass bits, cubes, chits, whatever. Time to retreat back to good old charts and tables and wet erase pens to mark off shares to players from the tracks:

Which required an update to the map to remove the pool squares. I also clean up the foreign ports to something that at looks like the values make sense.

Another congress, conquering division

I got talking with Aliza Panitz (BGG: Morganza) last night about the merger model in Muck & Brass and in the process realised that the first or second merger is liable to be too powerful. There are a few primary early merger paths:

  1. Both northerns via the loop around Sheffield
  2. One of the southern companies with the L&SR via Peterborough
  3. One of the two northern companies with the EUR via Peterborough
  4. Two of the southern companies via Peterborough or any of the other London orbits

The problem is with the mergers with the northern companies and with anything that involves the B&GR from the southerns. If anything in the north merges, and they start the NER, then it will auto-merge, thus generating a second special dividend for those players before the General Dividend. If anything involving the B&GR merges and they start the GWR (which the B&GR has also certainly built to), then the same problem repeats to the south. That’s 3 and a bit of the four early merge cases where a small subset of players get two special dividends in quick succession without any ability for the other players to do anything about it in advance.

That may not be good. Another related problem is the turn ordering which puts the cash richest players first. As soon as the mergers hit they are liable to remain the cash richest as they steamroller as above. To give a quick sense of the problem in concrete terms from this morning’s solo play:

The first expansion after the 3rd General Dividend merged the LB&SRC with the L&SR via Peterborough. The special dividend went to the LB&SRC. The NER was then started, merging the L&SR& (which now contained the LB&SCR) and the L&MR into the NER. A second special dividend was paid to the original LB&SCR share holders. The next expansion merged the B&GR into the EUR and started the GWR which insta-merged into the B&GR for another two special dividends paid to the B&GR share holders. The GWR then merged into the NER via Peterborough and paid a third special dividend to the original B&GR shareholders and a second to the EUR shareholders. They started the CR which was won by a player with so much cash they could simply throw it away on the CR and still win. The next player, who was already low on cash, had no chance at any of the merger shares, built a foreign port as did the last expansion. The game then ended on the fourth General Dividend as there were only two operating companies: GWR & CR.

An obvious partial solution is to require that a merging player pick a secondary company which:

  • is not connected by track

or if that’s not possible:

  • is not connected to the company which just merged

Such a rule is unpleasantly clunky, if historic and reasonable from a financials market perspective. It pretty much guarantees that the SWR is going to be the first secondary company out with the GWR and LNWR in the next round. The CR is a knife aimed straight at the L&SR and has all the subtlety of the Wabash in Wabash Cannonball. Likewise the The LNWR is a somewhat similar knife aimed at the L&MR and by extension at the B&GR. The SWR conversely lurks between the B&GR and the L&MR and can’t insta-merge in one build like the CR and LNWR can, but it potentially controls many foreign ports and is thus interesting for that reason alone. The NER is just a pig — whenever it starts it will isnta-merge into whatever the current shape of the L&MR/L&SR pair is. The GWR is a similar inst-merge into whatever the B&GR is then.

At least there’s now some subtlety to the mergers with the ugly delay rule.

Sigh.

Another potential model struck this morning:

  1. Scrap all the current merger rules
  2. Starting after the third General Dividend players may start capitalising the secondary companies. As soon as a share sells (two? three?) they may start operating.
  3. Should a secondary company build into another operating companies home station (using its own track) the other company is absorbed, shares trade up etc and there’s a special dividend for the secondary company

ObNote: This model may unduely protect the LB&SCR and EUR and unduly weaken the NER. It may also require adjusting the rule-of-three track building rules.

Getting to the port

The port pricing is still a problem but the base game seems to be cleaning up well. I’ve also made the art a little more functional, noting the starting stations and the like, fixing a few small track problems (eg Blackpool) and such forth. Nothing major.

Walk like an Egyptian

Today’s comment should amuse the punters. From Games with strong theme:

Ra is dripping with theme. Look at your role in the game as the steering patriarch of a family dynasty that invests in the Egyptian civilisation over generations. What balance of investments will best carry your people forward? Feeding them with floods? Monuments to their glory? The favours and wealth of the gods? More pharoahs to carry the torch? Perhaps the technologies of civilisation: mathematics, weights and measures, granaries etc. Which family line will hold the first rank in creating Egypt’s status in the world and history?

And yet is is merely a set collection game. The depth of theme, like any game, is merely in how one chooses to look at it. It is a pure elective. All games are abstract. The rest are the trappings of self-deception that we distract and amuse ourselves with.

Sig Action!

Seth Jaffee commented approvingly on the BGDF chat on my making actions in Muck & Brass mandatory, unlike the optional actions in Wabash Cannonball. I replied that while I’d have a hard time phrasing a strong argument for making them mandatory, I was convinced that it was necessary.

Later in the resulting (brief) conversation it struck me: A significant portion of good play in Wabash Cannonball centres around controlling the game length in terms of General Dividends. For instance in a 3 player game selecting Capitalisation once without auctioning a share will often add an additional General Dividend to the game, doing it twice makes that near guaranteed, thrice and you’ll sometimes get a second additional General Dividend. As a result Wabash Cannonball has control of game length as a central challenge in the game. But control of game-length is not central to Muck & Brass so supporting a strong mechanism to affect game length would distract from the actual core foci of the game (network potentials, financial leverage, emergent alliances etc) and should thus be avoided.

ObAside: The sway point in Wabash Cannonball appears to be at 3 passed Capitalisations for 3 players as past that and games start ending more frequently from track cubes than they do from shares, thus requiring passing on Expand to gain further General Dividends.

Driving trains by braille

Several small changes based on simulation runs:

  1. Setup vs game start rules clarified
  2. As each initial share is auctioned that company builds a free link
  3. Initial turn order after auction is now cash-based rather than starting with the L&MR player
  4. Action rotation clarified
  5. Actions are now explicitly stated as mandatory (unlike Wabash Cannonball)
  6. Foreign Links may not be built until after the 3rd general dividend. (not sure this is needed)
  7. Expand action requalified to limit builds to not more than three connections out from any city, and not all the connections from any city with more than two connections. This allows the dead ends (like Thurso and Penzance) to be interesting as well as the many two-connection way-stops
  8. Clarified cases of merger shares auctioned without bids.

Reaching the Third Rail

A little more playable:

Inkscape: Score tracks

Previously I’ve had trouble drawing a score track that I thought reasonable. Some of it was as simple as how to get a nice looking score track with highlights every 5 and 10. Then there are more complex items such as how to get a rectangle that loops at exactly 100? 200? I’ve been asked this more than once and it really isn’t that hard.

A few small blindingly obvious (in retrospect) tricks work wonders:

  1. Draw a shape that will represent one of your score track locations
  2. Copy it 10 more times so that there are eleven of them in a row
  3. Highlight the first and last of them in your choice of 10-space manner
  4. Highlight the middle one for a 5-space
  5. Select them all
  6. Use the align tool to give them a common base line
  7. Copy the set and put them in a row, continuing the line at the end of the previous set
  8. Do this a few more times until you have 100 or so
  9. Repeatedly use the equal-horizontal-gaps tool in the align tool interspersed with adjusting the locations of the two end shapes to get them spaced the way you want
  10. Select and group that row
  11. Rotate it 90 degrees
  12. Make the 10-space end of the vertical row align verticall and horizontally with the bottom and left of the horizontal row and then group them
  13. Copy the vertical row again and repeat with the bottom and right of the horizontal row and group them giving you a U-shaped-scoring track
  14. Insert numbers into the cells as needed

A little arithmetic will yield how long your sides will need to be for a closed loop of 100 or whatever. Just chop your horizontal to that length, do the align bit, chop the vertical to suit, make the U-shape, copy up another horizontal row, align it again to the corners and Bob’s your uncle yet again.

From Tithes to Ploughshares

Quite a few changes this week.

I spent a few hours digging through the early history of the English railways from around 1830 onward and picked a more representative set of companies for the areas I’ll be putting them in. I also ordered them by starting date so that the initial companies did in fact start earlier as railway companies and the merger companies did in fact start later and heavily focused on mergers (eg GWR, LNWR, NER etc). There are a large number of goofs in home stations, but none I hope egregiously large (eg the GWR starting in Exeter?).

The current initial companies are:

  • Eastern Union Railway (EUR, started 1846, Ipswich)
  • Bristol & Gloucester Railway (B&GR, started 1840, Bristol)
  • Leeds & Selby Railway (L&SR, started 1830, York)
  • Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR, started 1830, Liverpool)
  • London Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR, started 1846, Brighton)

Merger companies:

  • Caledonian Railway (CR, started 1845, Edinburgh)
  • Great Western Railway (GWR, started 1838, Exeter)
  • North Eastern Railway (NER, started 1847, Sheffield)
  • London & North West Railway (LNWR, started 1846, Birmingham)
  • South Wales Railway (SWR, started 1845, Swansea)

I’ve also had a first pass at allocating share counts for the initial and merger companies. Total gut sense with initial companies running from 3-5 shares and merger companies running 8-10 shares. I’m clearly going to have to play with those numbers.

The rules are looking pretty clean now. Not final but at least playable without instant gamer-pattern baldness.

A remaining problem is what order to auction the initial company shares in? It is tempting to do them in historical opening order which would be: L&MR, L&SR, B&GR, EUR, and finally LB&SCR. I’m not so happy about the very ordered progression from north-to-south that sequence represents on the map — despite the fact that the industrial furnaces of the midlands did actually drive the industrial and railway revolution in England. My sense is that the auction ordering should pose immediate spending challenges with early risks made in spite of later temptations. The three companies near London are obviously attractive — London develops beautifully and there are many fine ports to the south (the white bars) which offer Special Dividends — but having them come together as a group seems…wrong/odd. Likewise for the L&MR and L&SR with the wonders of Sheffield, Leeds and Manchester right next door. Urk.

Proposal:

  1. LB&SCR
  2. L&SR
  3. EUR
  4. B&GR
  5. L&MR

Of course that’s all higgledy-piggledy for historical dates, but it may work better. I’ll have to sleep on it.

Over the last couple days I moved the map from yEd over to Inkscape and into SVG format. Unfortunately this required a nearly from-scratch redraw as I lost patience writing the script to post-process yEd’s concept of what it should produce for SVG elements versus what I thought I wanted. Fortunately for such a simple graph this did not take long. A few colours here and there, an income track, yada yada and voial!

Note to self: Must remember to put numbers on the income track.

Dodging the revolting draft

The bit about the active player choosing which side of the merger pays the Special Dividend could be a doozey. It allows minor shareholders with similar holdings to collude across turn order in order to cause mergers which mutually benefit them but not necessarily the plurality shareholder. Consider:

PlayerX owns a significant plurality of CompanyQ. PlayerY and PlayerZ both own but a single share in CompanyQ. CompanyQ is two single builds away from merging with CompanyR. Both PlayerY and PlayerZ have significant holdings in CompanyR. CompanyR is too far from CompanyQ’s home station to consider the merge that way. So, PlayerY builds one of the links toward CompanyR and PlayerZ builds the second and as predicted by PlayerY, selects CompanyR for the Special Dividend. PlayerX with no investment in CompanyR is of course overjoyed to be shut out of the Special Dividend. PlayerX would have far preferred to build the connection himself and declare CompanyQ for the special dividend but was outflanked by the emergent collusion among PlayerY and PLayerZ.

Other forms of possible insurrection and insurgency by minor share-holders abound. I’m not clear if this is delightful or merely fatal yet. In terms of layering the incentive mesh formed by share-ownership however, this is quite delightful.

Revisiting congress

The new more historically flavoured merger rules read as follows:

When a company connects to another active company’s home station the two companies merge. A merged company may have several home stations from its constituent component companies. The active player decides which of the two companies will be acquire merge into the other acquiring company.

The acquired company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)

  1. Any unbuilt track markers for the acquired company are added to the acquiring company’s supply

  2. Each player’s shares in the acquired company are replaced 1:1 with shares from the new parent company. Shares are initially taken from the bank pool of the acquiring company, then shares from the merger supply for that company. The shares of the acquired company are placed face-down in the bank pool of the acquiring company so that it may be clearly seen that it is now a component-company.

  3. The income of the acquired company’s income is added to the acquiring company’s income, and the acquired company’s marker is removed from the income track

After the merger is resolved the active player selects an inactive merger company to start. If the new merger company’s home station is already connected by track, the connected companies will be acquired by the new merger company.

  1. Any unbuilt track markers for companies that have connected track of the home station of the new merger company are added to the merger company’s supply

  2. Each player’s shares in the companies that have connected track to the home station of the merger company are replaced 1:1 with shares from the new merger company. Shares are initially taken from the bank pool of the merger company, then shares from the merger supply. The shares of any acquired companies are placed face-down in the bank pool of the merger company so that it may be clearly seen that they are now component-companies

  3. A share of merger company is auctioned in the normal manner (see Capitalise). The new share is taken from the merger company’s merger supply if a share is not available from the bank pool

  4. If the merger company’s home station is already connected by track, the merger company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)

  5. The winner of the newly auctioned share selects the next merger company to start, starting the merger process all over again

If no players bid on a merger auction the auctioning player discards the share into the bank pool and receives the current income of the company divided by the current number of issued shares including the just auctioned share in exchange.

If all the merger companies have been started and a merger occurs, the active player may either pass on the rest of their turn, or may auction any available share from the bank pool in the normal manner (see Capitalise).

Quite a bit cleaner. Conversations with Ben Keightley (Coca Lite) have caused me to re-examine this simplified model, though I don’t think that was his intention. In particular I’m re-considering the automatic chaining of mergers. I’m not sure it is justified. Without automatic chaining the mergers will still tend to happen in a flurry, that is where the money is, but it will not be quite as uncontrollable an orgy and allows for interesting decisions to be made between mergers (eg track blocking) which are not possible with automatic chaining. The specific relationship of turn order and share investments also becomes more interesting. In short methinks I’ll lose the automatic chaining of mergers. I see little loss and much potential game.

The other change, and this is a biggie, is allowing the active player to determine which of the sides of a merger will pay the Special Dividend. This change was done on a whim but it feels right. It allows minor share-holders to merge foreign companies into a company in which they hold more stock, thus getting the Special Dividend where they want it while also building the agglomerate.

Historical backpedal

The current merger rules for pre-connected home stations (see below) are backwards. The merger companies were the agglomerates. The GWR (for instance) was a merger of many other smaller railway companies, as was the LNWR the NER, etc. They also (obviously) started later than the companies they acquired.

Thus, I’m reversing the direction of share flow for mergers. If a merger company’s home station is connected when it starts, all the connected railways merge into the merger company (which makes a sort of historical sense), and then the merger company pays out a special dividend. Of course this makes no difference in terms of where the money goes and how much of it, but it does make better thematic and historical sense. It also makes the game slightly cheaper to produce as less merger shares will be needed for the initial companies.

Approximating Promontory

Good progress today. I’ve finally a full working draft of the rules, complete with all companies (initially) historically researched and specified, and the text for the actions even makes some sense.

Next is polishing and bringing the map up to date followed by a good bit of number crunching simulation and analysis. Ah, the joys of abstract game design. But for now it is time to go off and watch some Anime. Blue Seed, Junkers Come Here or Voices of a Distant Star?

Unholy congress resulting in a union

A working concept for mergers:

When a company connects to another active company’s home station the two companies merge. A merged company may have several home stations. The company that built the track will be acquired and will merge into the other company.

  1. The acquired company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)

  2. Each player’s shares in the acquired company are replaced 1:1 with shares from the new parent company. Shares are initially taken from the bank pool of the acquiring company, then shares from the merger supply for that company

  3. The acquired company’s income is added to the acquiring company’s income, and the acquired company’s marker is removed from the income track

  4. Any unbuilt track markers for the acquired company are added to the acquiring company’s supply

After the merger is resolved the active player selects an inactive minor company to start. The new minor company’s home station will either still be unconnected or be connected by track from one or more companies.

Starting a minor company whose home station is unconnected by track:

  • the share of new minor company is auctioned in the normal manner (see Capitalise) with a minimum bid of $5. After the auction play proceeds in the usual manner.

Starting a minor company whose home station is connected by track:

  1. If only one company has built a connection to the home station of the new minor company, then the new minor company is considered to be auto-merged into the connected parent company:

    1. The unbuilt track markers for the selected new minor company are added to the acquiring company’s supply and may be built in future starting from its home station (see Expand)
    2. A share of parent company is auctioned in the normal manner (see Capitalise). The new share is taken from the company’s merger supply if a share is not available from the bank pool
    3. The parent company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)
    4. The winner of the newly auctioned share selects the next minor company to start, starting the merger process all over again
  2. More than one company has built a connection to the home station of the new minor company, then connected companies are auto-merged and the new minor company is considered to be auto-merged into that parent company:

    1. The active player selects one of the connected merging companies to be the new parent. Each player’s shares in the acquired company/companies are replaced 1:1 with shares of the new parent company. Shares are initially taken from the bank pool for the acquiring company, then shares from the merger supply for that company
    2. The acquired companies’ income is added to the acquiring company’s income, and the acquired companies’ markers are removed from the income track
    3. The unbuilt track markers for the acquired companies are added to the acquiring company’s supply
    4. The unbuilt track markers for the selected new minor company are added to the acquiring company’s supply and may be built in future starting from its home station (see Expand)
    5. A share of parent company is auctioned in the normal manner (see Capitalise). The new share is taken from the company’s merger supply if a share is not available from the bank pool
    6. The parent company pays a Special Dividend (see Dividends)
    7. The winner of the newly auctioned share selects the next minor company to start, starting the merger process all over again

If no players bid on a merger auction the auctioning player discards the share into the bank pool and receives the current income of the company divided by the current number of issued shares including the just auctioned share in exchange.

While the wording will undoubtedly be tightened, hopefully it at least makes (non)sense. Without adding a host of special rules about building into secondary company’s home stations, which seemed needlessly complex, this was the simplest pattern which combined player-predictability, (relative) simplicity and (reasonable) transparency while also offering potentially interesting game decisions — especially once they start to chain.

Leaving the bubbling beverage to cool

The following escape hatch to the share auction is attractive:

If a player auctions one of their own shares and no players bid, the player may put the share back into the bank pool and receive the current income of the company divided by the current number of issued shares including the just auctioned share in exchange.

What a delightfully nasty and abusive money pump, especially in lower player count games! I fear my auction theory is too weak to predict out all the implications. I should probably spend some time talking it over with with the auction theory guys at Stanford before committing, but I sure like the idea so far.

Tentative zetetic

Below is a possible introduction section for the rules. Some of the stated goals, like the duration, may be ambitious, but that’s the nature of good goals:

After the birthplace of the steam engine, railway development in England was a rocky and tortuous affair. Bankruptcies were common. Struggling railway companies merged and then merged again, acquired other companies and became not-so-vast agglomerates. In Muck & Brass players will invest in railway companies and then attempt to leverage their investments for profit. Railway companies will start, grow and then merge into each other as yet more companies pop up to join the frenzy of growth and mergers.

During the course of the game players will buy and sell dividend-paying shares at auction, build track to increase the income of the companies they own shares in, and develop the industrial base of cities the companies serve to further increase their income. After a period of heady growth companies will begin to merge, creating both ever larger income vehicles and prompting new companies to join the growth and merger fray.

By carefully controlling and timing the purchase and sale of shares, the railway networks their companies build, the development of the cities they connect and the mergers of the companies, players may leverage their investments for great profit.

The game ends after one or more of:

  • the seventh (7th) general dividend

  • only two operating companies have unsold shares

  • only two operating companies have a legal track build and can afford it

The player with the highest net worth at the end of the game wins.

Muck & Brass supports 3 through 6 players, is particularly recommended for 4 or 5 players and plays in around 90 minutes.

Resolving to aggregate

I’ve spent the last three hours trying to work out a coherent and functional and (relatively) simple set of merger rules that handle all the cases. Ooof. I don’t think I’m there yet but at least it is closer.

So far I’m tending strongly to resolving the case where the new minor is already connected by track from one or more companies, by a) merging the other companies first (active player picks which is the parent), b) selling a share in that merged product, and then finally c) issuing a special dividend for the merged company before starting yet another minor. As is typical in such cases the concept is far simpler than the language.

BTW: There’s a similar mess in Stephenson’s Rocket when a train line manages to merge into multiple other lines all at the same time. There it is complicated by the share trade-up rules, but at least they don’t also have Special Dividends.

Polished knuckles

At the prompting of Benjamin Keightley (Coca Lite) a number of small clarifications to the rules:

  • Clarified that resources are produced for every island along the path of a market delivery.

  • Addressed the case where claiming produces a stack of more than 5 markets.

  • Tweaked the end-game condition to over 33 prestige.

Also added one brand new rule to partly address the minor problem of dumping kula items on a player who is far out of contention:

  • Kula recipients also receive points for each kula item they already have.

New Rules and Player aid posted.

Selling a shared foreigner

Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters makes shares valuable beyond their mere revenue value. The shareholders divide the company treasury evenly amongst themselves (another dilution factor here) with any remainders going to the Director. Basic shares then cash out for $4 each and Grouping Shares cash out for $10 each. As an aside, this treasury payout model is a very attractive method of stashing cash away so that it doesn’t affect your turn order position while also keeping it in-hand for the end-game score — as long as you don’t trade those shares up to grouping shares.

Pampas Railroads also makes shares valuable beyond their mere revenue value. There the concept is that a company has a base value which is a function of the number of links it has built, and that value is cashed out in the end-game to the players. Additionally there are special particularly expensive off-network locations that may be build, foreign connections, which significant boost share value but also signal a company-specific dividend (ala Wabash Cannonball’s Chicago).

Wabash Cannonball’s simplicity of ignoring shares is attractively simple. Player scores are merely the cash they have on hand when the game ends. However there also seems value in shares being worth something. Pampas Railroad’s company value system is unpleasantly fiddly for the game-value it generates. WS&IM’s straight share value is at least something but is interestingly flat. I do however like the idea of the treasury paying out to the share holders in WS&IM. Perhaps a combination of the two?

Proposal: Shares are worth $1 for each city the parent company is connected to, and the company treasury pays out divided across shareholders, remainders going to the bank.

Additionally, is it worth implementing an equivalent to Pampas Railroads’ foreign links? England certainly has a plethora of ports that could be used. They could be both very expensive (and thus an attractive way of sucking capital out of a company as a minor shareholder), and an additional source of per-company special dividends. But should they still affect end-game per-share value, and if so, in the same way?

Proposal: Each foreign link adds $10 to the end-game per-share value.

Suppressing reverse mitosis

The initial map shown in the previous post was drawn with yEd, a fine and remarkably useful graph editor. I’m still fiddling with that graph but think it is time to export it to SVG and resume via Inkscape. It is time for annotations, score tracks, actoin markers, stock pools etc — all things which aren’t really part of the graph and are thus better performed by a more general purpose tool. Thankfully yEd can export to SVG, making this easy.

Merges are going to be interesting. The basic concept is that when CompanyA connects to CompanyB’s home station, the two companies will merge. Further, the active company will pay out a (Wabash Cannonball) Chicago-like dividend immediately prior to the merge. The two companies will then merge: stock in the active company will trade-up into stock of the parent company 1:1, the incomes will be summed and the track markets for the companies collected. Then the active player will select one of the four minor companies to add to the game and auction a share of that company in the standard fashion (shades of both Wabash Cannonball and Pampas Railroads).

This gets a little more interesting if the new minor’s home base is already connected by track. Obviously the new company should start and merge immediately, but there are several ambiguities and choices in exactly how to do that. For instance, should the minor share be sold, and if so, what should it pay out before it merges? Or should a parent share be sold and the parent then auto-pay? What about if the minor company is already connected by the track of several different um-merged companies? How to resolve that? Should all the connected companies merge? What if there are more than two? Three? Four? Five? Should there be an order of the merging and paying, or should it all happen at once in a grand orgy of unification?

Those are not the only problems. As the graph is roughly circular, gaps between home stations are small which makes early merges easy(er). Additionally, if I copy the double build rule from Pampas Railroads, which I’d like to do, merges could be extremely rapid with the game ending in but a few turns and the first-to-merge having a near unassailable advantage from their early merge-dividend payouts. Thus merges will need to be delayed and possibly the double-build ability constrained.

Pampas Railroads order line (P100)

UPDATE: ALL 100 GAMES IN THE REPRINT HAVE BEEN SOLD! THE ORDER LINE IS NOW CLOSED!

Given the amazingly fast response and surge of interest in the Pampas Railroads P100, John Bohrer at Winsome games has generously offered to print Pampas Railroads before we get to the full 100 orders! As of this posting we have 76 pre-orders. Now to get this great game printed!

If you are local to San Jose California and can collect the game directly from me, please use the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40):

If you are elsewhere in the continental USA or Canada, please select the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40 + US$10 S&H):

For buyers in the rest of the world, please select the following payment button to order Pampas Railroads (US$40 + US$15 S&H):

S&H charges are sufficient to cover up to two (2) copies. If you’d like to order more than two (2) copies at a time please contact me on BoardGameGeek (user: clearclaw) for specific S&H costs for larger orders.

Note: The reprint will not come with crayons. Winsome Games has run out of crayons. You will need to supply your own drawing implements. Do not use Crayola or similar children’s crayons or dry-erase/whiteboard pens as they will stain the board. I strongly recommend using wet-erase/overhead pens. They are readily available at most office supply stores. Wet-erase pen clean up perfectly with a little water. Another choice is china pencils, usually available from cooking supply stores. That said, TEST THE PENS YOU WILL USE ON THE BACK OF THE MAP FIRST!

I will report progress on the collected payments toward the required total in the Pampas Railroads forums on BoardGameGeek. As soon as enough money is collected I’ll send it to John Bohrer at Winsome games, he’ll do the reprint and send the games to me and I’ll send them out to all you lucky players! Of course if progress is too slow and the money simply isn’t appearing fast enough I’ll cancel the order line and reverse all the transactions — which would be a real shame. Pampas Railroads is a great game and deserves to be far more widely known and played — we played last night and had a wonderful time.