Other Wise

18xx Structural Analysis

I wrote the following on Boardgamegeek and it seemed worth preserving locally:

There are four basic types of 18xx:

  1. Run Good Companies
  2. Where’s the Free Money?
  3. Put Things Together (typically mergers or company pairs or synergies)
  4. Timing Games

Clearly some, most, all(?) 18xx games are mixtures of the four camps in various degrees and at various times during a given game. The private sales to companies in many games is a free-money element, but so are destination runs with multi-jump stock increases and the extra 40%-50% in free capital given when floating companies in full-capitalisation games. The mergers in 1817, 1824, 18EU, 18C2C etc are clear plug-things-together moments etc, but so are the synergies between privates and majors in 1846, 18C2C etc. The portfolio management of the 1825s, 1853 and the like fall out cleanly as timing games, but 1826’s focus on getting the right trains into the right companies arguably does too.

Few if any interesting 18xx seem to be purely any one of the above meta-types, rather they move and shift focus across a balance of those points over the course of the game.

Amusingly, 18xx players can also be classified across the above four criteria, and like the games, the Run Good Company players are considered the least interesting and the Free Money players get all the despairing head shakes.

Other structural divides centre around elements like:

  • Fast trains: Some games tend to focus on train rushes, and coming out on top after the dust has settled. The key metric is how large a fraction of the purchase cost is the typical run value and how many times they’ll run. 1843’s trains generally need to run three times in order to cover their purchase cost, but will often only run once or twice before rusting. Another key metric in this space is whether trains sometimes rust before they ever run. This usually means that the key decisions in the game are made leading up to the early cheap permanent trains. 1830, 1841, 1843, 1849, 18Mex etc all tend to feature blistering train rushes (though 1843 skips the cheap permanents bit). David G. D. Hecht designs (as a broad for-instance) tend to have rather sedate/processional train progressions.

  • Low or high income: A basic measure of how rich the game is, especially as a function of train purchase and company floatation prices, but it can also be as a function of more basic operational costs (eg tack-laying costs). 1830 is the most notorious example of a low income game, but 1849 gets in there too. 1843 tries to be a low income game and often is. 18C2C and most of the Double-O Games designs are high income games.

  • Tile manifest: Are the tile limits a significant function of Good Play? 1830, 1843, 1849, many of the Wolfram Janich and some Double-O Games designs fall into this camp. In other games, the tile manifest is explicitly generous, or at least rarely if ever a consideration in Good Play (1817, 18C2C, most-but-not-all David G. D. Hecht designs, etc).

  • Stock appreciation vs dividends: Which is more important: dividends and cash in-hand or stock appreciation? 1830 is the grand-daddy of stock-centric games with 70+% of player scores descending from stock appreciation. Most Mark Derrick designs are heavily cash/dividend focused.

  • Certificate limits: Are key strategies in the game focused on managing certificate limits (yellow fever, forbidden forest, variations in share density, number of presidencies, etc). Most any game with a classically coloured stock market falls into this camp with 1830 and 1870 being the two most notorious examples. 1817 plays in this space with share densities and thus the balance between stock appreciation and dividends.

  • Liabilities: Are investments possibly significant liabilities? The classic form of this is the potential requirement to buy a train out of pocket. Not all 18xx have that property (eg the 1825s, 1860 etc), and several of the Double-O Games titles feature not-very-onerous loans which smooth the edge there. The 1825s, 1853 and to some extent 1860 conversely impose no requirement for companies to own trains, just financial hiccoughs if they don’t.

  • Balance of share values: Which is more important, owning the best shares or owning more shares? Does that change over the course of the game? 1846 for example is notable in being readily won while still not at paper limit — it is a game in which owning better shares is commonly more important than owning more shares. Conversely 1830 is the poster child of owning more shares typically defaulting to being better than owning fewer better shares.

It is worth nothing that the shape of the stock market does not feature anywhere in this list. 2D and 1D stock markets are effectively identical, just with rather more complex price movement rules for the 2D markets.

Money can buy you privates

One of the 1839 playtesters argues convincingly that $2700 is too much starting capital for 1839. When playing, that feels right, it does seem too rich, but the numbers don’t make sense to me. Both games have a non-sellable B&O-type private for $220, so ignoring that:

  • Maximal total private sell-in value in 1830 is .

The privates in a given game of 1839 are semi-random, but the face value of the random portion ranges from $400 to $680

  • Smallest maximal private sell-in value in 1839 is .
  • Largest maximal private sell-in value in 1839 is .

That’s variously $260 and $540 more than 1830. In a 4-player game of 1830, privates generally sell as a collective set for a little under a 40% premium over face value, or 70% of maximal sell-in value. 1839’s privates shouldn’t be any worse than 1830’s in sum, and are often better due to useful special powers. That gives baselines for total expenditure:

Which puts the baseline additional expenditure on 1839’s privates from $182-$378 more than 1830. While I haven’t done a formal permutations analysis as to where the average total value is for 1830, my sense is that it sits around $1,150, which gives $245 more in overage. As such, adding $300 to the game’s starting capitalisation seems not-reasonable. Yeah, a bit rich, $15ea too rich in a 3-player game, but surely not overwhelmingly so? Or is the richness seen more as a product of the dutch auction for the privates rather than 1830’s traditional reservation auction?

39 steps of 1839

Early playtests of 1839 have been promising, but have not gone well. The game has played smoothly enough, it has clearly shown that there is an interesting game in there, but also that the then current incarnation wasn’t it.

But, it is getting closer. Perhaps it is time to review where it has gotten to.

Map

First, some background context as much has changed:

ps18xx map

Track and stations

  • Companies may place up to two tiles per OR, one of which may be an upgrade.
  • The second tile is optional, and has an additional cost of $20 if placed.
  • All companies have 5 station markers.
  • Stations cost the value of the revenue centre where they are placed, multiplied by the number of hexes with that companies station markers after the placement.
  • A revenue location counts for revenue only once, no matter how many trains hit it.
  • There are exchange markers. An exchange marker is a second station marker placed underneath where the company already has a station maker.
  • Each company may have one exchange marker on the board at a time.
  • An exchange marker allows a company to count that revenue centre once for each train that hits it.
  • An exchange marker also makes that station market not-blocking. Other companies can run trains through it and lay track on the other side.
  • A route ending at another company’s exchange marker counts that revenue center normally.
  • A route passing through another company’s exchange marker counts that location for $0 revenue.

Train roster

The trains have stabilised as to definition, even if not as to count:

Colour Type Cost Rusted
yellow 2+ $100 by blue
green 3+ $200 by brown
blue 5+ $400 by red
brown 7+ $700 by gray
red 5D $1,000 by black
gray 7D $1,500 permanent
black FLOOD $2,000 permanent

Train notes

  • +trains don’t count dits and off-boards but do count cities, and pay all three.
    • (Currently being considered) This would mean that off-boards don’t count against train-length, but also don’t satisfy the definition of a route.
    • I’ll almost certainly have to reduce off-board revenues if I adopt this notion.
  • D-trains count and pay only cities and pay but don’t count off-boards, and then pay double that total.
  • FLOOD-trains pay the sum of every revenue center that could be reached with infinite numbers of infinite trains and infinite track-reuse.
  • At the start of each SR a marker notes the smallest brown-or-larger train currently in a company.
  • If a company still owns one of those trains two SRs later, the game is over.
  • As a result, brown trains may be permanent, but probably won’t be. Red trains will probably be permanent, but also may not be. Gray and black trains are always permanent.

Privates

Privates? Yeah, they’ve gone haywire. Five privates are always in the game.

    • Cost: $40
    • Revenue: $5
    • Blocks: H7
    • Power: Owning company can place an additional yellow track tile or upgrade, in addition to their normal build, closing the private.
    • Closed: When power used.
    • Cost: $160
    • Revenue: $20
    • Blocks: nothing
    • Power: Owning company may place a tile (can be an upgrade) and station marker (must be both) at K16 or L3 for 80f.
    • Closed: When power used.
    • Cost: $160
    • Revenue: $20
    • Blocks: J7
    • Power: Owning company may place a station or exchange marker for free
    • Closed: When power used.
    • Cost: $220
    • Revenue: $35
    • Blocks: F13 and G12
    • Power: Comes with the presidency of a random company picked during setup. Company is automatically parred at $94. Flevoland bypass automatically built when closed.
    • Closed: When that company buys a train.
    • Cost: $300
    • Revenue: $25
    • Blocks: C10 and D9
    • Power: Comes with a 10% certificate of a (different) company randomly picked during setup. Owning company may place a station or exchange marker for half cost. Afsluitdijk built when sold.
    • Closed: In red phase or when power used.

There are then 10 more privates which are shuffled face down and then drawn randomly until the total face value of the drawn set exceeds $400. The drawn privates are then used in the game and the rest put away:

    • Cost: $60
    • Revenue: $10
    • Power: Comes with a $20/$10 token that may be put in any port location, permanently increasing the revenue of that location by $20 for that company and $10 for all other companies.
    • Closed: When the power is used.
    • Cost: $120
    • Revenue: $20/$0 (No revenue when owned by a company)
    • Power: Owning company has a 50% discount on all terrain costs.
    • Closed: In red phase.
    • Cost: $160
    • Revenue: $20
    • Power: Owning company may mark a train as obsoleting rather than rusting.
    • Closed: In red phase or when the power is used.
    • Cost: $180
    • Revenue: $20
    • Power: Owning company has a discount on train purchases: Green $100, Blue $150, Brown or later $200.
    • Closed: In red phase or when the power is used.
    • Cost: $200
    • Revenue: $20
    • Power: All towns are +$10 revenue for the owning company.
    • Closed: In red phase.
    • Cost: $200
    • Revenue: $20
    • Power: Owning company may buy a train, including as an emergency purchase, at any time in its operations.
    • Closed: In red phase.
    • Cost: $200
    • Revenue: $25
    • Power: Owning company may convert a town to a yellow city for a 40f terrain fee as the company’s upgrade tile lay.
    • Closed: When power used.
    • Cost: $220
    • Revenue: $15
    • Power: Owning company may add $10 to every revenue center encountered by one of its trains.
    • Closed: In red phase.
    • Cost: $250
    • Revenue: $?/$0 (Nothing when owned by a company)
    • Power: Owning player is paid the revenue value of each previously unconnected revenue location connected by track to a station marker for the first time by a company controlled by the player.
    • Closed: In red phase.
    • Cost: $300
    • Revenue: $0
    • Power: May be converted by the owning company to any single train prior to brown phase. Auto-converts to a brown train at the start of brown phase.
    • Closed: In brown phase.

Private notes

  • The auction starts with the player with the #1 player card and proceeds in player card order with the #1 player next in rotation after the player with the largest player card number.
  • Each player in turn may pass or do one of:
    • Buy one of the displayed private companies at a purchase price of the face value of the private company minus the total cash currently placed on the private company.
    • Place 10f from the bank on any private company.
  • If the total cash on a private company reaches its face value, the next player in turn order must acquire that private company at no cost.
    • A player that passes may act in a future round of the private auction.
  • The private auction ends when all players pass in sequence, or all private companies have been acquired by the players.
  • At the end of the private auction, the player order for the upcoming stock round is set using the numbered player cards in ascending order of remaining player cash. – Tied players retain their prior relative order.

Foreigners

  • There are 8 foreigners in the game, one each for each off-board.
  • Each is a 10-share incrementally capitalised company.
  • They are grouped in three countries: Germany, Belgium, and Overseas.
  • Each foreign company has a private income slot and they share a common country treasury.
    • A train may not run from an off-board to another off-board of the same country.
  • Foreign companies are parred at the largest legal par available the first time a train is run to them, and operate from then on.
  • When a company runs to an off-board, 20% of that the total run for that company is put from the bank on the income slot for that foreigner.
  • When a foreign company comes to operate, the money on the income slot is put into that country’s treasury, and then all the shares of the off-board pay 10% of the total cash (rounded up) that was in the income slot (paid from the bank).
    • As such, they have crap dividends.
  • The foreign company then buys all of their own shares they can from the Open Market, using the country treasury.
  • And then buys all the trains it can with any remaining monies. Any bought trains are discarded from the game. Any phase related changes happen immediately.
    • Thus investing in the foreigners accelerates the train rush.
  • Foreign company shares do not count against certificate limit.

Stock

  • The stock market is identical to 1843’s except that all the coloured sections have been made white.
  • There are no pars. Everything sells at the current stock price.
  • Shares of a company may not be sold until that company floats.
  • Selling shares does not change stock price.
  • At the end of an SR:
    • Shares in the open market move the stock price down once per share for public companies.
    • Shares in the open market move the stock price down once for foreign companies.
  • Public company stocks move right only if their total dividend equals or exceeds their stock price, otherwise they fall left.
  • Foreign company stock prices move right if they pay any dividend at all, otherwise they fall left.
  • Both move up for being all sold out at the end of SRs.
  • The game ends if a stock reaches a price of $500.