Now that 18FR-RCE is getting publisher attention (more on this later), I’ve been working on two more designs: 1845 and 18RT. 18451 has been in flight for more than a year now, but 18RT has replaced it as the smaller, simpler vehicle for trialling some of the core notions of 1845 while also exploring its own area.
The current notion is for the map to cover the area from Darwin in the Northern Territory, down through Alice Springs to Adelaide in South Australia, and thence Melbourne in Victoria, and across to Brisbane in Queensland2. Perth (Western Australia), Tasmania and the various major ports would be represented by off-boards, the Nullarbor Plains likely being implied by a token surcharge in the Perth off-board or extreme terrain costs for a single hex connection there. The primary focus of the map however would be a morass of dits and terrain surrounding the cattle ranches, metal mines and other bulk-export production centres.
The general idea is for a slew of private companies with 1870-esque revenue bonus tokens, accelerated track-builds, terrain discounts and the like. The general idea is that these would either be assigned to major companies ala many David G Hecht games, or sold (at close to cost) to major companies ala 1846.
I’d like to also represent, if only partially, the excessively poetic GSR and Ghan. Wrapping them in a revenue-based private is an obvious route, but perhaps less interesting. Instead I’ve been toying with the idea of a president-less investment vehicle (akin to the bank of England in 1848) which pays liability-less revenues as a function of both the current train technology level and much of the connection between Adelaide and Darwin has been built. Something similar might be also done with the (recent) iron ore connections to China, the Tasmania produce connection, the vast emergent wine industry etc, but in those cases in a manner which more directly connects to major companies operating in those areas.
I’m currently toying with 8-10 major companies which can be incrementally capitalised or fully capitalised at the president’s choice3.
Trains, err, Trucks
A first notion is to change how trains are managed. Of course they’re not really trains, but bear with me as calling them trains makes the 18xx-relevant language easier:
- Unlimited trains per technology level
- No train limits for companies
- Maintenance fee due for each train at the end of that company’s operation of: ((current_tech_level – train_size)^2-1)*10. ie the sequence of $10, $30, $80, $150, $240 etc.
- A company may research the next technology level and upgrade all of its trains (for a $fee) to the next available train-level. When doing so the company may not run the trains that are upgraded. This may happen multiple times in an Operating Round with increasing expense for each acceleration.
- If no company researches the next available technology level in a given set of Operating Rounds, then the game does immediately before the Stock Round.
- The definition of a legal route is changed. Only stations and off-boards count against train-length. Dits count for revenue but not against length. At least one train’s route must intersect both one of the company’s station markets and a small town/dit. All subsequent trains must either intersect one of the revenue locations touched by a previous train and a dit and a city, or must intersect a station marker (in a city) and a dit in the normal manner. As a result, a single station marker can support many possible train routes that spread out somewhat like a peacock’s fan from a single starting station (ie a sort-of flood-fill)4.
- A company which pays a dividend and cannot profitably run a given train (ie income from the train is larger than maintenance fees) must discard the train (for no recompense).
The next area of exploration is a tentative form of impermanent track combined with an inversion of normal revenue allocations:
- Dits (towns) are generally worth more than cities and upgrade to be worth a lot more. Specifically dits appreciate faster and further than cities when upgraded.
- Bush “track” is represented by narrow gauge track.
- At the end of each set of ORs all narrow gauge track is removed from the map (dirt roads wash out with the rainy season)
- Most of the centre of the board is terrain interspersed with single and double dits.
- Yellow narrow gauge track can be upgraded to green standard gauge track, which is not removed at the end of the set of ORs
- Single dit track does not upgrade (ala 1830).
- Yellow double-dit narrow-gauge track can be upgraded a green tile to a mix of a narrow-gauge route and a standard gauge route. In this case at the end of the OR the tile is demoted to a green single dit of a higher revenue.
- Yellow narrow gauge double-dits can also be upgraded green track with to both sides being standard gauge.
- Green double-dit standard gauge cites can be upgraded to (standard) green/brown 4-exit cities.
- The offboards which ring the map allow train (gangs) which run to them to double-count N dits for revenue.
I’m interested in varying the rates of appreciation at different sections of a stock market, as well as stock markets which don’t have the traditional triangular shape5. What if the market had a different shape? What if the top-edge of the market weren’t flat? What if the rate of appreciation across the market were non-uniform in an interesting manner? What if navigating the marker’s new particulars were significant to gameplay?
A first toy idea is below6:
- The top row appreciates by 15% horizontally. The next row down by 14%, the next row again by 13% and so on down to 8%. Then the next row down by 9%, 10% etc back up to 15%. The result is a market that’s heavily skewed towards stock-appreciation at the edges, but is flat and uninteresting in the middle — that same middle that the shape of the market pushes all shares towards.
- The magnitudes of the stock-price increases toward the top, especially in the second section, and are thus rather large7. It is hoped that this will provide a balancing tension between being dividend/income-centric versus portfolio/stock-centrism.
- Arrows on ceiling cells by walls point down and to the right for when stocks bounce on the ceiling or hit the wall.
- Similar arrows for floor cells merely point vertically up (no acceleration).
- Red cells are possible pars (some will likely need to be removed)
- Players may buy past 60% from the Open Market.
- The coloured sections in the corner may be removed, or if they remain, are unlikely to have traditional definitions.
Stock price movement
- Up or follow arrow if 100% in player hands
- Right (at least) once if total dividend is larger than price
- Right twice if total dividend is more than double price and company is incrementally capitalised8
- No movement if total dividend equals price
- Left if total dividend is less than price but larger than half of price
- Left and down if total dividend is half of price or less
- Down on stock sales (possibly once per sale rather than once per share)
- Down if shares in the Open Market at the end of a Stock Round (maybe)
- Yes, a stock can pay a dividend and move right or up and find its price reduced as a result. Of course it can also pay an inadequate dividend and move left or left and down for the same reduced price result. Simply consistently paying dividends is no longer enough to prosper.
- (Not shown) the stock market is divided into diagonal stripes. Companies start with a limited and small number of station makers. As their stock prices move right across the various bars, they are allowed to buy and place additional station markers.
- On the sale or research of the first 6T all share prices fall to the floor, move left (if possible), and then fall to the floor again. (This ordering is deliberate and specific) Again, like 18FR-RCE’s all-the-trains-rust moment, this is in recognition of World War II. It is generally hoped that this will happen when several companies are near or shortly past the market constriction around $1059.
- The result of the steeply banked par values and stock-appreciation differences, encourages fully capitalised companies to par high in order to maximise capital and ease getting their price through the passage.
- Conversely, incrementally capitalised companies do not want to par high as later shares will (almost necessarily) be much cheaper than the initially parred shares, and will proportionally fail to raise capital. However parring an incrementally capitalised company low simply fails to raise enough capital to be viable.
- And more on 1845 later as well. ↩
- ie everything except Western Australia. ↩
- This may change. I do want to provide a choice regarding capitalisation, but I want it to be a real choice where both answers are frequently correct. ↩
- I am also toying with using something like 1873’s train-multiple concept here. ↩
- After 1828’s market which has a large new triangular section bolted on the end-tip of what is otherwise a normal triangular-shaped market. ↩
- The gray sections are for calculations and are not part of the market. ↩
- eg $210/share should a stock reach $1,600/share ↩
- The notion is to have both incrementally capitalised and fully capitalised companies, at the player-choice per company, with the choice as to which to prefer and when being difficult. ↩
- Recently termed the stock anus or sphincter in local discussions. ↩
Stock-trashing in 1830: Is it actually necessary for Good Play or is it merely gratuitously abusive? This came up recently in both our 18C2C game and in an 18FR-RCE game a couple weeks before. I’ve no doubt it will come up future games as well. In both the mentioned games I set about trashing the stock-market (often buying shares and then selling them at a loss and so losing money) and several players complained that I was just being unnecessarily negative and wasting everyone’s time with an overly long and uninteresting Stock Round, when in truth a lot of my later success in those games was due to the fact that I’d stock-trashed so heavily (and taken the loss) earlier. Yep, if I hadn’t stock-trashed, I would have come in dead last rather than competing for the win.
The primary keys to the value of stock-trashing1 mentioned, are return on investment (ROI) and liquidity. It will take a little bit to explain exactly how, so bear with me.
Imagine a game of 1830, perhaps a 5-player game. The game starts, the private auction happens, and you get…nothing, or maybe only a really small private company. Everyone else has nice big private companies and everyone (who can) is going to float a major company. You will float a major company too, but they’ll be getting nice big revenues from their private companies and you’ll be getting what, a few more shares and their piddly revenues and meager stock appreciation to match?
Key point: You’re already losing the game. Yep, you are already losing.
Think about that. You’re already losing the game. The game has just started, and you are losing. If you let this continue, you will in fact lose. That is, or should be, utterly unacceptable and you’d better do something about it right now. You need to win!
Right now you have more money than they do, but they are making money faster than you are, and pretty soon they’ll catch up and pass you as they sell their private companies into their major companies. At that point the game is history and you’ve lost. If you’d like to compete for the win, and I assume you are playing for the win, then you’d better change something and change it fast. Going on wanly hoping isn’t going to do it. The winning players certainly have no interest in changing anything as they’re already winning (or at least contending for the win). You are losing, so it is up to you to change something so that you can win instead, and this is where stock-trashing can come in.
But before we get there, we’d better understand a little more about how and why you are already losing, because you are most certainly already losing, and losing badly.
At core you are losing because your money is not working for you as well as their money is working for them. Sure, you can buy more shares than they can, but their private company revenues have massively better returns than any share you can buy. What they’ve invested in is simply better than what you’ve invested in, and they’ve got more of it than you do. Even better for them and worse for you, in a few more turns they’re going to be able to sell their private companies into their major companies, pulling out gobs of money, and they’ll use that money to buy even more shares than you can! Their money is not only working better than your’s, but they have a great wad of free money just sitting there waiting for them to take it! You don’t have any of those advantages, but they do! Thus, you are losing.
Change something. Now.
In the classic form they’ll sell their private companies in for massive money and then immediately sell down (or even better dump) the company they just looted, adding all that wonderful stock-appreciation they’ve made in the meantime to their dividends and private company money, and then they’ll float a brand new company for a nice high par and never even bother to look back. If someone wants to take their old company, then they’re welcome to it as it has crap trains and no money2 They’re interested in their bright shiny new company that’s full of bright shiny new money!
That classic form is not good for you. Sure, it is good for them, but I really hope your goal in the game is for you to win, not for them to win. So, you’d better change something, and this is where stock-trashing can usefully enter.
The core problem is that their money is working better than your money, and you have to change that. One of the things you can change is stock-appreciation. If after they loot their companies when they then want to sell those (now crappy) shares in order to buy bright shiny new shares in a new company full of money it turns out that you’ve already trashed their stock so they have no stock-appreciation…well gosh, their money isn’t working for them so well any more, is it? You’ve killed their ROI (stock appreciation). And if you also just happen to have left the Bank Pool full of their trashed shares so that they can’t actually sell much into the market, well, you’ve clipped their wings even more as you’ve killed their liquidity (ability to sell shares to raise capital). Oh, and that new company they float? How about you stock-trash that as well, really beat the crap out of it? They bought $600 worth of shares in floating that company. If you can beat it down hard enough, that $600 worth of shares will now only be worth $300 or less (perhaps given a little help from the other players). Again, now their money isn’t working for them so well any more. Sure, they’ve got control of $1,000 in bright shiny new capital — you can’t solve every problem all at once — but it is going to take a long time to get that share-value you destroyed back. But, even better, you’re probably going to be able to buy those shares you trashed back again in the next stock round pretty cheaply as they won’t have appreciated much! You buy the shares, you trash the shares, you wait a set of ORs, then you buy most of them back again on the cheap in the next Stock Round. Now your money is starting to work for you better than their money is working for them!
What makes this a little more interesting is that many good players will buy/sell the last (6th) share of a company they’re floating. They do this in order to dissuade the stock-trashers waiting in the wings (it now costs money to stock-trash as the par is higher than the stock price), but also so that they can then use that money to buy a share that will be paying better than their new company (their new company will miss at least one dividend as it has no train). Someone may also flip a share or two into the market while you’re building up your portfolio to dump, thus costing you even more money as you trash the market. The costs to stock-trash can be high.
How much is stock-trashing worth to you? How much is it worth to your position to beat them down? Is it worth buying 4 shares at $67ea and sell them at $65ea, losing $2 each? What about buying shares at $100ea and selling them at $90ea, losing $10 on each one? Or buying shares at $100 and selling at $82? There’s a judgment call here on how much loss is acceptable. There’s a point at which it is simply too expensive, but how much is too little and how much is too much? Not biting the bullet will lose the game, but losing too much money in stock-trashing will also lose the game. Finding the right middle ground is key3.
You’re going to have to lose money, to deliberately throw money away, in order to slow them down and to rescue your position, but how much money should you throw away and which stocks should you trash and how much? If all goes perfectly (unlikely) you’ll convert an obviously losing position to a competitive position, but doing that is going to cost you some of that money you so desperately need. More likely you’ll convert a losing position to a merely weak position, and then you’ll have to fight again, and again in later stock rounds, beating and thrashing the stock-market, taking losses as you do so, until you’ve caught up and pulled them down to your level. It won’t be cheap, or easy, but if you do win, you’ll have earned it by tooth and claw from the ground up.
But then isn’t the answer then to just make sure you always get some good private companies and thus bid whatever’s needed to get them? No. Pay too much and you’ll never get it back4. The guy without any private companies will stock-trash, you won’t get your money back from your over-large bids, and you’re losing yet again. There’s a balancing point, and it is hard to find and balance correctly5.
Also, won’t everybody just stock-trash, turning stock-trashing into a shared pathology that makes no net difference? Yes and mostly no. Stock trashing sacrifices opportunities. You’re buying bad shares or passing on doing any actions while the other players snap up the good shares. Do that too much of that and you’ll lose as well. Also you’re making good shares cheap, and the other players are going to buy some of them (at their new low price) — so you’re helping as well as hindering them with your stock-trashing. Getting that balance right is not easy. In short stock-trashing is a necessary thing, but also a fairly subtle and highly contextual thing.
Also, remember that stock-trashing is not your only weapon. There’s also track and the train rush to consider among others. 18xx players have many offensive and defensive weapons to choose among. Stock-trashing is just one.
- There is another value of stock-trashing, which I’ll not discuss in this article, of manipulating operating order so that certain companies run before other companies. This can be critical, but is outside the scope of this article. ↩
- That company is now a dog. If nobody takes that liability away from them, they’ll rescue it with their third company or, more likely, just buy its permanent trains out of pocket from the great dividends they’ll make from all their great new shares. ↩
- And that’s a hard spot to find accurately. ↩
- As learned to my cost in a game of 1856 where I bid $5 too much for the port… ↩
- If it were easy, we wouldn’t be playing the game. ↩
The concept of the poison train is common in 18xx games. Commonly it is the poison 4-train: the last train before the permanent trains, and might never run before it rusts, and almost certainly won’t run for long. From a design-perspective, how bad can that poison train be before it becomes unreasonable?
In the particular case I’m looking at, the poison train is a little worse than the poison 4-train in say 1830 as there isn’t a nice cheap permanent train on the other side. Instead…there’s another poison train right after the first poison train. Oy vey.
Some explanation is in order. I’m looking at a fairly standard extended train roster: 2/3/4/5/6/7/Diesel. The 4-trains rust the 2-trains, the 6-trains rust the 3-trains, the 7-trains rust the 4-trains and Diesels rust the 4-trains and 5-trains (both). Yep, 5-trains aren’t permanent. Also, both the 7-trains and the Diesels become available for purchase immediately after the first 6-train has been purchased. What this usually means is that after the first 6-train is bought, the very next train bought is a Diesel which rusts all the trains in the entire game, outside of that first permanent 6-train. It is fairly dramatic.
The problem with this pattern is that nobody wants to buy the last 5-train, as it will get to run no more than twice and probably only once before it rusts, if that.. So, I copied a page from Lonny Orgler: At the end of each set of ORs the government/foreigners buy a train from the supply. Thus, even if the players pause, the trains keep moving and the game advances. The twist I’ve added is that if the government buys the last train of a rank, thus making a new train-type available, then they also buy one of those (with all game phases changing as appropriate). Thus, for instance, if there’s one 2-train left, then the foreigners buy a 2-train and the first 3-train, thus putting the game into the green-phase. Or, more topically, if there’s one 5-train left, then the foreigners buy it plus the first (permanent) 6-train, thus rusting the 3-trains and starting the rush for the permanent trains. So far the form in our games has been that the foreigners take the first 6-train at the end of a set of ORs, and the first first company to run after the Stock Round buys a diesel, thus causing every other company in the game to lose all their trains. It is, as they say, dramatic.
What this all means is that not only is the last 5-train a poison train, but the penultimate 5-train is also a poison train. If a company buys the penultimate 5-train, then the foreigners will buy the last 5-train and the first 6-train and VOOM! the game is moving fast and that 5-train the player bought is about to rust very soon now. Ditto of course for the last 5-train.
But…if someone doesn’t buy the penultimate 5-train, then there’s another set of Operating Rounds while the foreigners/government whittle away the penultimate 5-train, and then at the end of the next set of ORs the foreigners take the last 5-train and the first 6-train — which means that the first 5-trains probably get to run 5 times, which is pretty good, and maybe too good.
And there lies the rub. Having a company buy the penultimate 5-train is essentially throwing money away, in this case $4001. Who is going to buy it? The only player that has any incentive is the player that’s losing. They are losing, so they have to change something to have any hope of changing their position — except that in this case the only thing they can do also comes with a $400 fee. Ouch.
And yet players buy the poison 4-train in 1830 all the time. It hurts, they know it is poison, but they also know that if they don’t they’re really sunk. So they bite the bullet and buy the 4-train…and usually the first 5-train immediately after it (which softens the blow a little). And that’s fine, except that I don’t have any nice permanent train immediately after the poison train, just another poison train…
There are three basic cases:
1) The “losing” player buys the 5-train because if they let the non-permanent trains continue to run they will lose, but if they bring out the permanent trains then they’ll win (presumably because of their better diesel routes) Of course in this case they’re not really “losing”.
2) The losing player buys the poison 5-train because if they let the non-permanent trains continue to run they will loose massively, but if they bring out the permanent trains, then they won’t lose as badly. Thus buying the poison train improves their position.
3) The losing player buys the poison 5-train, brings out the permanent trains, and thus loses even more badly than if they had let the non-permanent trains continue to run.
The first case is ideal, and not a problem from a design-vantage.
From a design-vantage the second case is also fine and even somewhat ideal. However it requires unusually perceptive players in order to distinguish between the second and third cases a 3-9 Operating Rounds before the end of the game. That’s a pretty high competency threshold.
The second two cases are the more likely to happen in real games, and in those cases it may seem that the game-system is punishing the losing player by $400, and it is punishing them because they’re losing. They’re down, so the game kicks them. Worse, I suspect that many players will see everything but the first case as being the third case, and then they’ll often see that in the worst possible light as punitive punishment of the already destitute.
I don’t think that perception matches reality. The reality I’ve seen in games with players of mixed skill in our local 18xx group is that the first not-really-losing case is far from common (and is absurdly hard to detect), the third going-to-lose-even-worse is also not common and usually only happens after the game has spent an extended period in the already-losing-but-will-lose-by-less middle case, and the already-losing-but-will-lose-by-less middle case is actually the significant majority of all cases.
But, detecting that the middle case is actually the most populous case rather than the third case, requires a skilled and perceptive player. Just how high can, should, I set the bar of required player-skill for an already-losing player to make the Right Decision? It seems a significant question. I don’t want to design a hand-holding game for perpetual novices, but I also don’t want it to only be effectively playable by world-class players. Gah2.
Which, even ignoring that more interesting question, puts me right back to the initial question. How bad can that poison train be before it becomes unreasonable? If the poison train cost $10,000 it is clearly too expensive to ever bite the bullet. If the poison train cost merely $1, then nobody would even blink at buying all of them. Somewhere in the middle is the this-hurts-but-I-have-to-bite-the-bullet point that also provides for the most interesting game decisions, and I have very little idea how to determine where that point is. For now I’ve picked $400. It is as good a number as any and better than most (and perhaps worse than a few?).