Other Wise

Muck & Brass — Revision #71 release

Well that was fast!

Thanks to Tim Harrison, there are two substantive rules clarifications in this release:

  • If nobody bids on a Capitalised bank share then the active player loses 3 months
  • Secondary company shares are not available at all until after the 3rd General Dividend

Unless you’re likely to be playing 5 player games, and likely even then, there’s no need to print out a new map for either the #69 or #71 releases. Just grab the new rules and be done. Just remember that 5 player games have one more month than shown on the map if you’re playing with the older graphic.

The download file is in the same place as usual with 71 in the filename instead of the previous number.

Muck & Brass — Revision #69 released

Changelog:

  • Removed support for 6 players
  • Added a month to 5 player game
  • Small legibility changes to the map.

There are no other rules changes. The download file is in the same place as usual with 69 in the filename instead of the previous number.

map-12.png

Again, please append commentary, questions, reactions, thoughts etc1 as comments below so we may all easily track exactly what is being talked about.

Footnotes
  1. Please upload images and other media to the FTP server and then mention the upload in your comment.

Muck & Brass — Revision #67 released

Thanks for all the great responses on the playtests so far!

There are no big changes in this new release, just clarifications, grammar and typo fixes to the rules. There have been no substantive rules changes. Playtesters can download the full distribution by changing the 65 in the super-sekrit filename to 67, or you can just download and print off the new rules as they’re the only thing that has changed in this release.

Again, please append commentary, questions, reactions, thoughts etc1 as comments below so we may all easily track exactly what is being talked about.

Footnotes
  1. Please upload images and other media to the FTP server and then mention the upload in your comment.

Rules deux, n’est-ce pas?

New rules for Muck & Brass. There are no substantive changes, just a few minor clarifications for items already raised in the playtest discussion. The changelog:

  • Many missing commas fixed
  • Few typos fixed
  • Clarified bank pools
  • Clarified multiple ports in Liverpool and London
  • Fixed bad reference
  • No more merger shares (finished the job)

This is not an official re-release of the prototype (ie it doesn’t have a new release number). It is just a touch-up of the rules in attempt to say the same things they did before, more clearly. Enjoy.

Muck & Brass — Revision #65 released

I have posted revision #65 of Muck & Brass1 to the distribution point and access instructions are about to be sent out2. Future releases will bear their own release numbers. Please append commentary, questions, reactions, thoughts etc as comments to each version’s announcement3 post so we may easily track exactly what is being talked about4.

Footnotes
  1. Yep, this is the 65th revision of the game since I started formal development.
  2. I apologise for any roughness in the rules due to the various inserted notes for playtesting versus a presumed real copy.
  3. Upload images and other media to the FTP server and then mention the upload in your comment.
  4. If you’d you like to follow Muck & Brass development specifically, please use the Entries and Comments RSS feeds linked from the bar to the right.

Be free my son, go forth and conquer

The playtest files for Muck & Brass are ready and I’m braced to let them rip on the unsuspecting. Those that have contacted me should expect to be receiving a message with the super-secret (hush now!) instructions on how download the files.

I’d like all textual feedback (session reports, questions, reactions, commentary etc) posted as comments on this blog, I’ll post an entry to the blog with each new release of the game files (hopefully there won’t be many) and y’all can append comments to that for feedback etc. Then as I make a new release, there will be a new post and an associated comment stream etc for that version of the game. I’m hopeful that the only needed changes to the game will be small rules tweaks for clarity and perhaps the odd adjustment of a port or city value1. Pictures, movies and other media are always welcome and may be sent to me via email or even better, uploaded to my anonymous FTP server at ftp://ftp.kanga.nu/incoming. Please mention the FTP upload in a posted comment so I’ll know to get the files!

Brace yourself Edna, they’re comin’ ovah!

Footnotes
  1. Yeah, right!

Mucho Duo

Another realisation that struck during last night’s 2 player game of Muck & Brass was the value and utility of using the secondary companies as capital sources for primary companies via mergers. For some reason that use hadn’t struck me but as a technique it worked out well in last night’s game. It also clarifies the strange see-saw of incentive and interest that run among clear plurality holdings, ports, mergers, capitalisation and turn order control. The end-game is rife with cases of money-losing investments being the levers necessary for even more profitable returns. The classic example from last night was a share of the LB&SCR which was purchased for $61 and rewarded a lifetime revenue of around $16, but enabled other activities and incentives with the L&SR that generated ~$200 in dividends.

It is a strange thing to discover one’s own game.

Deux duggery

Work and local testing is continuing apace. I’ve gotten in several games with the new rules (and scores of simulated games) and so far it is all looking good. The big surprise was today’s two player game which worked far better than I expected.

I shouldn’t be so surprised. Muck and Brass, unlike Wabash Cannonball / Pampas Railroads etc is not primarily an auction game, but is much more about positional and timing advantages than auction values. As such with only two players the auction becomes a linear extension of that two player tactical battle and really works quite well. Of course eventually one player will tend to run away and be simply uncatchable, but that’s to be expected in any two player zero-sum perfect and certain information game, and this should be recognised when it occurs and the game conceded at that point. Don’t be too quick to pull the trigger though: there’s an awful lot of ground that can be recovered with careful exploitation of the default turn order. Still, it is a pleasant surprise and I’ve added two player support to the map and rules (a small change in all).

The last change, and this is a small one, is that I added another port to Liverpool and London with costs around $100. The current distribution of ports and their costs is a mix of guesswork and inspiration. So far it has mostly seemed about right in our games. I’ve added the very expensive ports for Liverpool and London simply to allow trimming back late game behemoths with egregiously expensive (and historically accurate) ports, thus providing a dramatic and welcome turning point in the late game.

Counting charge

The next round appears to be done:

map-11.png IncomeTrack.png

Changes:

  • Images scaled to fit on US-Legal sized paper
  • The winner of a share pays time for a Capitalise, not necessarily the action selector
  • Time limit per round changes with player count (Thanks Tim!)
  • Moved the charters spaces off their own sheet onto the board edge, Wabash Cannonball-style
  • Put marked spaces on the charters for shares, sample colour markers etc
  • A few notes for playtesters in the rules
  • Several small clarifications of prices and edge/corner cases (eg no bids on a share)

New rules. I’ve worked through a few dozen simulated games with the changes and they worked well. The goal is to play face-to-face tonight and tomorrow night. If that proves out I’ll start sending copies to playtesters.

Selling souls on the bayou

Capitalisation may be too expensive. Too often the only correct bid is however much or one more than the player with the second most cash has. Sometimes the correct bid is to even bid more in order to fund the company or to hide cash for turn order advantage. Surprisingly rarely is it to bid less than the second richest player. The result is that the only player who has an incentive to choose Capitalise is the player with the most cash. This is a problem of the first water, exacerbated by the ability to hide capital in company treasuries for recovery in end-game payouts (admittedly a loss) in order to gain preferential turn order.

In noodling the area last night I came up with a curious idea:

What if the player that wins a Capitalised share has to pay the 3 months, not necessarily the player that selected the Capitalisation action?

Among other things this would give the ability to fork the other players. They either allow the Capitaliser to get a share (cheaply) or they sacrifice positional advantage. That can be a hard position, especially in the setup for mergers and ports. The buyer-pays-the-time pattern would apply to both the directly selected Capitalise choice and those forced by ports and mergers. A player already past the round-cut-off would not be excluded from bidding — thus weakening or at least bounding the fork-ability.

A tour around the Mersey

We played a four player teaching game of Muck & Brass last night and there were a few production-level problems. Until now I’d habitually played on a large map printed on a large format plotter. I’ve recently been rejiggering for maps produced on my HP K8600 and had so produced a reduced-size map for Muck & Brass, but hadn’t actually played on it. I had those nice big maps already in my game crate you see?

map-9.png

Well. last night we played on the new smaller map using 1cm cubes for everything (shares, track markers, player markers, etc) and the new smaller edition map was just a bit too small for convenience. Not a lot, but a bit. Another 15% or so would have made things ever so much more handy. The income tracks page had the same problem but rather more so. You see, my old big maps had nice big income and company treasury spaces on them:

map-6.png

The income track on the new smaller page isn’t really big enough to use 1cm cubes for income markers1, not conveniently, and the company spaces to hold the shares and treasury are actually rather perfectly sized in terms of things fitting but are quite poorly sized for telling what company they apply to once they’re in there, let alone handling the money for payments2 or moving shares about. Not so good there.

To that end I spent some time today scaling the map back up. It now fits and prints fairly comfortably on three sheets of US-Legal paper in landscape mode3. I used a 35 point overlap in my test run which seemed a fine value when I came to piece the three pages together. Happily that also puts the two joins that traverse the map in relatively visually convenient places. The income tracks etc are proving a little more troublesome. The company charter spaces need to be bigger (see below), the labling larger and outside the charter box, and the income track spaces at least 30% larger4

I’m still fiddling with the new income track image and don’t yet have something I’m happy with. If it weren’t so damnably visually confusing and tempting to error I’d drop the income track idea entirely and just provide an income box to stack poker chips equal to the company’s current income.

The other lesson from last night’s game was that Capitalisation when early in the turn order is bad, but the reasons it is bad are not intuitive to players trained on more traditional German game fare. Rapid Capitalisation pushes money into the companies too fast for (that) player’s advantage and grants too much positional opportunity to players later in the turn order. Unlike Wabash Cannonball, Muck & Brass is not predominantly an auction game. When I ran through the reasoning and tempo and positional considerations around auction choices with the players post-game the light started to dawn, but only slowly. They intuitively saw the shares and auctions as a pricing and funding exercise, much as they’d been trained to in so many other German auction games, and not as an income and positional advantage management problem. When I got to the bit of how having money is desperately important, especially in the early game in Muck & Brass, they nodded understandingly, but when I then continued onto how having less money (cash) than the other players is in some ways even more important due to timing-related positional advantages I lost them. The players also did not understand the tactical advantages of port builds versus mergers. Again the patterns are fairly obtuse. They understood the words, they understood the sentences, but even when I walked through an example post-game the lights didn’t come on. Again this seems like habituation from prior standard German faire: of course players advance their most differentiated investments as that’s where their deltas are! Much like the weakness of large investments in Age of Scheme: Routes to Riches and the far larger value of minor investments in that game, the merger/port choice puts the focus and value on profiting through minor investment incentives, not through major investments. As a designer I (self-servingly?) don’t see their incomprehension as a problem, more evidence of the game having both a learning curve and potential tactical depth.

Even with all the early Capitalisations and thus the super-funding of the companies and the resulting loss of tension in the early game as the struggle among positional advantage, turn-order and investment portfolio was (mostly) lost, it actually worked pretty well. The game ended in the fourth round and the game was (effectively) dictated by the division of the super-treasury of the mega-merged company. That was a little disappointing but it was also clear to the players how that had occurred and they had ideas as to what to do about it next time. That was pleasing — and reminiscent of our early days with Wabash Cannonball.

Play time was a little under 90 minutes including rules teaching. I took a few pictures of the game and will post them later. Meanwhile Tim Harrison has questioned the action divisions across player counts. I recall working it out but I should review it again and ensure it is right.

Footnotes
  1. I’d drawn it intending to use Settlers of Catan-style road bits for income markers, but using the same 1cm bits for income markers and shares is just too delightfully simple.
  2. I assume standard-sized poker chips.
  3. It will be a bit tougher on Europeans who will likely have to resort to a couple sheets of A3 and to scale the map down slightly to fit the marginally reduced height.
  4. Corporate incomes for aggressively merged companies will commonly approach 100 and in slightly unusual cases will approach and possibly even exceed 200. The big-image income track thus runs from 0 – 200. The small income track runs from 0-100 and assumes that players will keep track of whether a given marker indicates an income of <100, 100+ or 200+. I'm likely to continue assuming that.

Playtest feedback systems

There has been some delay since I opened Muck & Brass to external playtesting. The delay is because I’ve been thinking about how I’d like to receive and collect feedback.

Historically I’ve used a mixture of email and BoardGameGeek geekmail. That worked fairly well but was also less interactive than I would have liked. In particular the feedback was always private (I’d prefer public feedback) and there was never any cross-discussion among the different groups (a side effect of privacy). (I think) I’d like a more facile system which not only more easily supported discussion between playing groups as well as between the groups and me, but also allows photographs and other non-textual elements to (more) easily accompany the discussion.

There is also the very small question of how to distribute the game files in the first place. The rules, shares and tracks sheet are already freely available. All that’s left is the map image. I’d like to know where the files are going and to track who has them. I can’t do that perfectly of course, but I’d like at least a good notion.

Email works well except for the privacy problem already noted. For large photo or movie sets which were clumsy to send via email1, I’ve provided an FTP site where they could upload the images and then reference the upload in their email. That worked well but the disconnect between the email and the FTP upload was occasionally jarring. I’m a habitual IRC user and am on #bgdf_chat pretty much 24/7/365. IRC is great for discussion and could be used for the file distributions via DCC SENDs, but it has concurrency and ephemeracy problems. I’m likely to have playtest groups scattered about and would like them to be able to communicate to me and each other asynchronously and IRC just doesn’t do that. Another option is to use the comment system built into this blog (WordPress). Groups would post their feedback as comments. This WordPress installation currently doesn’t support attachments to comments, so media components would still have to posted via FTP and I’d have to come in later to attach them more directly to the blog. We could also create a game entry for Muck & Brass on BoardGameGeek and have the reports posted there as standard session reports. That seems like an abuse of the system to me but others clearly have different views on that area. BoardgameGeek session reports also don’t come for free as supporting images couldn’t go through moderation, thus requiring them to be either hosted off-site or in contributor’s individual galleries, both of which solutions have their own ephemeracy problems. Movies and other media forms are also not supported by BoardGameGeek unless hosted off-site (YouTube et al), introducing yet other dependencies and problems.

I suspect there is no good easy answer, but I’m still thinking about it. I suspect I’m going to end up doing all of the above while encouraging the combination of this blog and #bgdf_chat as the default venues, the FTP site being used for asynchronous media. Perhaps.

Footnotes
  1. I’ve had groups sending turn-by-turn pictures of their entire games or even movies of several turns or some of the debates or discussions among the players which happened during or as a result of the game (both were highly appreciated)

Returning clarity

The Muck & Brass rules are being exposed to a rather larger audience than they’ve had before. I’d greatly appreciate comments as to their clarity and utility, any problems with comprehending the game. unanswered or difficult to answer questions the rules left you with, etc left as comments on this entry. I am particularly interested in gaps, contradictions and unnecessary repetition. I’ve laboured to cover every possible contingency in the rules, but only just the once.

I have a rather non-traditional rules-writing approach (passive voice, no examples, close to minimum spanning tree etc) which approximates my ideals for rules. I’m interested in other’s perceptions of the rules as written. I should note that I’m actually not averse to examples, but I dislike putting them in rules until the very last minute (ie right before publication) as otherwise I find it too easy for the examples to start supplanting and extending on the actual rules rather than just exemplifying them. I loathe rules in which the examples actually define or supplant the game’s rules. The Platonic ideal of course is for the rules to simply not need examples as they are already so clearly obvious!

Establishing dot products

I somewhat inadvertently opened Muck & Brass to external playtesting on BoardGameGeek:

I (currently) have not provided a playable map image (the posted images are deliberately too small). The online rules are maintained at the latest version (don’t worry if they look like crap in Acrobat, they print beautifully). Within some limits I’m willing to send printable map images to interested folk. You’ll need to provide perspex and pens, shares (I’ve posted share images; I use glass bits) and income/action/etc markers (I use 1cm cubes from an educational store). As always, YMMV. As a game Muck & Brass is roughly in the middle of the set formed by Wabash Cannonball, Pampas Railroads, and West Riding/The Riding Series and yet is little like any of them. It bears little similarity to the rest of the Historic Railroads series after Wabash Cannonball (Preußische Ostbahn, Gulf, Mobile & Ohio etc).

What you’ll need

To produce a working copy of the game you’ll need:

  • A copy of the rules. The fonts may appear poor on-screen due to bugs in your PDF viewer. Don’t worry about it as it will print beautifully.
  • To print the map. Contact me to ask for a copy of the image file. Be persuasive. I print it on 24″x12″ paper. You can also split it over several smaller sheets. Whatever works for you. Problems in getting a good print, paper, printers, scaling etc are your own. Really.
  • To print the income track.
  • ~30 shares in each of 10 colours. 3 of them should be market shares, the rest merger shares. I cheat and use glass blobs and don’t visibly distinguish between market and merger shares. I could as easily use the same 1cm cubes I use for the income markers etc below and likely will in future. If that doesn’t work for you I’ve produced PDF share images which can be used instead (I wouldn’t and don’t bother). Print three pages of each share onto coloured construction paper (see your local office supply store). They are sized to fit well in penny sleeve card protectors.
  • Track markers, ~50 in each of 10 colours (same colours as the shares). Settlers-of-Catan road markers are ideal or you can just use wet-erase pens and put the game map under a sheet of perspex when playing as I do here. As wet ease pens come in only 6 colours, either hatch the rail lines when you run out of colours (yet to happen here) or have the merged company used the darkest of the merge-company pen colours and quickly scribble the previously built track in the new colour to free up the other pen colours (ie what I do).
  • Income markers, one in each of 10 colours, ideally the same colours as the shares (I use 1cm cubes from an educational supply store).
  • Action markers (I use 1cm cubes again). They can be different colours or all the same. You could also use cards or tiles instead. It really doesn’t matter as long as the distribution is right and you track the durations properly
    • 3 Capitalise (3 months)
    • 5 Develop (1 month)
    • 7 Expand (2 months)
  • Player markers each of 3-6 colours (however many players you have) for the player action track. Again I use 1cm cubes.
  • Money, lots of it. I use poker chips. I haven’t formally estimated bank size but $7,000 should work comfortably.
  • A General Dividend marker. I simply scribble with a wet erase pen on the the map as each one is paid. You could also use a marker if that works better for you.

Feeback

I’ve not figured out how I’d best like feedback. I’ve no privacy bones. Email or comments here on the blog are likely best. I’ll work out something.

Enjoy.

Ricochets toward stability

I haven’t gotten as much Muck & Brass played lately as I’d like, but I’m not complaining too hard given what else managed to hit the table (mostly a lot of 1889). That said and forgiven, I’m particularly pleased with how the new action selection method is working out in practice. The recent changes are two-fold:

  1. Action distribution changed to 3 Capitalise, 5 Develop, 7 Expand
  2. A Neuland/Thebes/etc-like combined action costing turn order mechanism is used to control turn order1.

The result is surprisingly dynamic. Wabash Cannonball has a fairly rote sequence of action selections in each round: 3 Capitalise followed by 5 Expand. Conversely Muck & Brass averages somewhere between 1 and 2 Capitalise actions per round with both 0 and 3 Capitalise actions in a round occuring if infrequently. The shift away from Capitalisation not only leads to increasingly cash-strapped companies but to a hurdy-gurdy pattern as the players struggle to balance short-term need with long-term viability. The patterns are delightful.

The core of the pattern is that a Capitalise early in the round takes so long (3 months) that it grants an enormous range of options and flexibility to the other players. Given the game’s blinding focus on liquidity, that’s simply unaffordable. The only players who seriously consider Capitalisation are the high-cash players who can be assured of winning the share. The result is that the early portion of rounds are dominated by Expands and Develops, the Develops usually being used to slip in an extra free action while catching up to a player earlier in the turn order. Then, as the end of the round approaches, usually it is the players early in the turn order who have the most control over when the round ends. They could Capitalise but their low cash position (which puts them early in the turn order) makes them unlikely to be able to win a share and none of the positions have developed enough to make alliance hunting/breaking viable — and in the meantime the Expand and Develop are both about to exhaust, ending the round anyway! Thus there’s great incentive to not Capitalise.

Which is fine and great until the companies start to run out of money. If a share isn’t capitalised those companies are dead ducks. This point usually hits either late in the second round or early in the third round, at which point there’s an added complexity. The fourth round is approaching, with its support for mergers, ports, double Expands, etc. The players are torn in multiple ways. They are still desperate for personal cash but they also want to start the next round with low cash (and high income) so as to have the positional control of early turn order, they have to get their companies Capitalised if they are to remain viable, and they have to build a tactical position to offer personally-advantageous ports-builds and mergers for when the fourth round starts. And just to make it worse, buying good shares will all too often earn such good dividends as to put the player late in the turn order! Arghh!

Then the fourth round starts, strong share-holders strive to merge their companies, accumulating their incomes and hopefully setting up a domino trail of mergers, weak share-holders build expensive ports to cripple their low-stake companies, leaving those companies prostrate to be merged into, hopefully by the companies they have larger holdings in. Meanwhile little tactical Expands, setting up honeypots and barriers for mergers and ports continues setting the scene. And again, companies are running out of money — except that now there are no shares left to sell to raise capital (only 3 per company)! Meanwhile the second round companies start to float, merging with the first round companies and injecting capital into their treasuries.

Often the game will end in the 5th or 6th round. It seems to only run until the 7th round if players have been really aggressive with the second round companies, blocking them out, building up their revenues and delaying the game while their income rate recovers their cash position. Certainly proper control and prediction of the second round companies can make the Wabash in Wabash Cannonball seem like a cakewalk.

It is all very delightfully tortured.

Footnotes
  1. Actions are assigned costs in terms of time: Capitalise (3 months), Develop (1 month), Expand (2 months).. As players select actions their markers are moved forward on a track. The player that has spent the least time and started the round with the least cash has the current turn. Iterate until two players have used more than 5 months.

Charmed I’m sure

Small clean-ups of the map and rules:

map-9.png

Nothing really big done: just edits for clarity, consistency, a bit of extra colour on the map, a few changed nouns, fixed capitalisations etc.

Reposed mumbling recovery from a shower

The recent play of Muck & Brass has been occupying my sleeping nights and bedraggled shower time. I’ve no great conclusions other than that 5-days-for-everyone is a Bad Idea (see below). The rest is just terrain mapping.

The standard action pattern in the recent game was a spate of Expands followed by a mix of Develops and Capitalises. Typically the final actions were chosen to either force the round closed, or to put the next player in a position to force the round closed. The only times Capitalise was selected early was when either all of a player’s companies were broke or in the late game in order to float more secondary companies in order to extend game length (it was set to end in the sixth General Dividend with only two companies left operating but we called the game early mid the 5th round due to other constraints).

Unlike Wabash Cannonball early capitalisations were not seen as critical early moves, in part due to the high opportunity cost of the Capitalise action (time), but also because there are simply so many shares available (10 unsold shares) and relatively little to differentiate among them. The result is that Muck & Brass is mostly not about temporary emergent alliances but about the old standards of [[arbitrage|arbitrage]], opportunity and tactical position.

In a four player game the dance is straightforward:

  1. Stay low/early in the turn order to get more Expands for your companies
  2. Buy lots of shares (difficult when you’re low in the turn order)
  3. Buy shares that players lower than you in the turn order also have so that you profit from their activities
  4. Try to keep your own shares undiluted

The lack of a Chicago-style golden target to create a discontinuous value set is the main characteristic that precludes temporary emergent alliances. What alliances there are, are happenstance collisions of mutual interest rather than deliberately managed affairs. As such the player relationships are much closer to Preußische Ostbahn’s management of temptation and exploitation than Wabash Cannonball’s forthrightly collusive work-together-and-we-both-make-more.

In our game, because of the high opportunity cost for capitalisation, Capitalise was usually used as a round ender to re-invigorate a cash-less company or to setup turn order for the next round. Thus the first round looked something like:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/5 (E0/D5/C2)
  • P1-C3/7 P2-C3/7 (E0/D5/C0)

The second round was a little more interesting as London started to be developed, thus freeing up a host of other possible Develops for other companies:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-E2/4 P4-C3/6 (E0/D4/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 P3-C3/7 (E0/D2/C1)
  • P1-P1-D1/6 P2-D1/6 (E0/D0/C1)

The third round was similar, but with even less Capitalisation:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 P2/E2/2 P3-E2/2 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/1 P4-E2/3 (E3/D4/C3)
  • P1-E2/4 P2-E2/4 P3-D1/3 (E0/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/5 P4-C3/6 (E0/D3/C2)
  • P1-D1/5 P2-D1/5 (E0/D1/C2)
  • P1-D1/6 (E0/D0/C2)

Such a lower rate of capitalisation encourages companies to run with broke treasuries, for positions to be more heavily invested, and for strong player differentiation, both positional and financial (low cash high income versus lower income and high cash). It also encourages players to forgo Capitalise and instead Develop heavily as it has similar effects on income (and slows the game down). From a design perspective these are all desirable patterns, not least the slowing of the game.

The players clearly valued Expand higher than the other actions. I’m not convinced they were wrong. Getting to London is critical for most companies and building out of London not only offers a larger income delta than any other activity (once London been developed once), but also positions for ready mergers with the three companies surrounding London. In our game the B&GR built 5 connections out of London. When London was developed up to $9, that was $45 income for the B&GR: $14/share just for London alone!

Consider a hypothetical 4th round of a game:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-E2/4 P4-D1/3 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P4-D1/41 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-E2/6 (float or merger) P3-C3/9 P4-E2/6 (float/merger) P4-C3/9 (E0/D3/C3)
  • General Dividend (two players past 6 days)

Four secondary shares were sold. There is potentially only one company left in the mix. The game could have just ended. Or, more likely there are less ports and mergers as there’s just not enough money in the other companies/players for the Expands required for ports and mergers. The players early in turn order are likely to have shares in companies with cash for ports and mergers:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-E2/2 (port/merger) P1-C3/5 P2-E2/2 (port/merger) P2-C3/5 P3-E2/2 P4-E2/2 (E3/D5/C3)
  • P3-D1/3 P4-E2/4 (E2/D4/C3)
  • P3-D1/4 (E2/D3/C3)
  • P3-D1/5 P4-D1/5 (E2/D1/C3)
  • P3-D1/6 P4-C3/8 (E1/D0/C2)

Two secondary shares just sold and one arbitrary share was capitalised. Assuming that mergers were done instead of port builds there could be as few as 3 companies left in the game. Assuming instead that P4 had a share of a company that could merge with a single expand the last actions set could have been:

  • P3-D1/6 P4-E2/7 (merge) P4-C3/10 (E0/D0/C3)

In which case there could potentially be only two companies and the game would be over depending on what share P4 force capitalised. P4 has three choices:

  1. Capitalise the first share of any secondary company. This clearly makes sense if P4 will win as the game ends
  2. Capitalise the second share of a secondary company which is already connected to a company in which P4 is invested. This assumes that one of the earlier players capitalised the first share of that company. In practice this usually means either the NER, LNWR or GWR and only makes sense (again) if P4 is will win as the game ends
  3. Capitalise the second share of an unconnected company. This will put three companies back in the game causing the game to not (yet) end.

The choice-set is interesting because P1 and P2 control whether #2 is even present as a choice, and which company fits #3 (likely one near their investments). Neat!

More immediately useful is that without the forced 3 days for the merger there’s a reasonable potential for a merger storm in the fourth round that instantly ends the game. The real problem is that it is absurdly difficult to control or predict the values generated by such a merger storm from the preceding rounds making the game results essentially a crap-shoot. Scratch that idea!

The other perspective is that ports effectively offer several values to minor investors:

  • Cause a special dividend
  • Impoverish a company such that it can’t afford to drive future mergers
  • Ability to capitalise a share that encourages a merger-via-Capitalisation along with its related Special Dividend (ie a connected secondary company)

Mergers deliver all the above plus the following:

  • Accelerates game-end condition
  • Builds a combined treasuring which is likely large enough to afford another merger or port

Mergers are generally better for major investors as they provide two forums for special dividends for their heavily invested shares. Ports conversely offer only one future venue for additional secondary dividends but protect other investment’s special dividend capacity from predation by a steamrollering behemoth.

The other advantage for forced 3 day capitalisations is that players are now encouraged to capitalise more heavily in the early rounds in order to get enough cash into their companies to afford special dividends be they from ports or mergers. However this early capitalisation rush exposes another phantom that pushes back on such heavily capitalisation. Imagine the following perhaps not-quite-so-fantastic evolution:

  • P1 is invested in the L&MR (possibly even a minor investor), Expands to a port in Liverpool and force-capitalises the NER
  • P2 is invested in the L&SR (possibly also minor), can’t afford a nearby port and so merges with the EUR or LB&SCR for a special dividend. P2 then force-capitalises the NER to make a L&MR/L&SR/EUR/NER merger for yet another special dividend.
  • P3 is desperately behind and merges the LB&SCR or EUR into the new huge agglomerate, thereby removing the merger possibility from the agglomerate and securing their share’s dividends. P3 Capitalises something. Anything.
  • P4 has a potentially remarkably ugly decision as there are only two companies left in the game, the huge agglomerate and the B&GR.

That’s two actions spent for 3 special dividends. Oof. What’s different is that huge gobs of money have just been thrown into the mix by the three mergers. P4 is really wishing he owned a good spread of the northern companies at this point. Double oof.

Footnotes
  1. By exploiting time-position P4 gets in two Develops

Ploughing submarines

The new map fits on 18″x12″ paper easily enough with broad empty swathes down the edges. It is a bit tetchy at that scale. A few of the short links such as York/Selby, Preston/Blackoool and Dover/Canterbury get to be awfully short — going smaller would present significant clarity problems. For the Europeans printing on A3 is the best bet despite being a smidge shorter than the not-quite Super-B I’m working with here. (I’d test that conjecture here if I could find a reasonable supply of A3 or Super-B paper about San Jose).

map-8.png

I’ve updated (increased) the port costs back to within reason. If ports are too cheap then they are used exclusively rather than mergers. As the goal of ports is to a provide way for minor shareholders to drain gobs of cash from companies and to thereby ensure that they are not able to cause mergers, the cost of ports has to be high enough to provide the needed drain and yet low enough to prevent casual use. (ie more than $30 but not too much more) Meanwhile other players push for mergers as they solidify share positions and aggregate treasuries for further dividending activities.

Unfortunately the empty spaces along the edges of the new map aren’t large enough to fit the income track or the bank pool spaces. Instead I’ve made a separate tracks page that will fit comfortably on letter or A4 for those details:

ScoreTrack.png

And of course some rules polishing. The changelog:

  • Ports and mergers cause a (forced) capitalisation
  • Forced capitalisations cost 3 days! (This is big)
  • Added rules section for forced capitlisation
  • Sized bank described as ~$4K
  • Pumped port values most of the way back up
  • Removed several ports
  • Clarified glossary
  • Clarified double build language
  • Development rule WRT London clarified to account for Liverpool and York.
  • Added scoretrack page.

The forced capitalisations for ports and mergers is a huge question. There are good reasons to think it is a great idea, as a control on late game velocity, but also good reasons to fear it slows down the effective rate of capitalisations in the late game which in turn delays the rate at which secondary companies enter the game and that is a problem. I’m finding modelling this problem fiendishly difficult; it is so sensitive to exact player positions and incentives that I’m not yet able to predict broad pattern behaviours.

In partial response I’m considering changing the round-end determinant yet again. Currently it is two exhausted actions or two players at or past 6 days. While that’s a nice pattern it is also a wee bit slow. The new thought toy is to end the round on two exhausted actions or when all players have used at least 5 days. In a 6 player game that ensures that all rounds will end on two exhausted actions. With lower player counts it will often be all players at 5 days. Hmmmm.

New rules.

Peen hammer toccata

Changelog:

  • Reduced port fees (perhaps too much)
  • Auctions clockwise from capitalising player (faster and simpler)
  • Clarified multiple home stations for merged companies
  • Fixed action supply length and colours on map
  • Correction: Capitalise may be chosen for any available company or one of their own shares
  • Clarified that non-floated company treasuries are discarded when scoring
  • Clarified that merger-forced capitalisations take 3 days (Okay, added)
  • Clarified that merger-auctioneers are not required to bid
  • Fixed language about summing incomes for auto-merges

New rules.

Smithying finesse

Updated map:

map-7.png

Updated rules.

I have not adjusted the port prices. But the new days language is used for the action track and the action track length has been reduced from 7 to 6.

Smelting for copper

Four of us had a go at Muck & Brass with the new action system this afternoon. In short, it was wonderful, really wonderful and far less unstable than the earlier version. Early conclusions:

  • It was more intuitive to describe the action system in terms of days than points. Actions take days (time) and the players take turns in the order in which they are available
  • Ending on 7 days or two exhausted actions is too rich. It wasn’t terrible but we always ended on actions rather than points. 5 days may be too short but it is clearly either 5 or 6 days
  • The secondary companies are odd. Simply, odd. It is tempting to have them float on one share, but that feels too large a change for their modest oddity. I’m not sure they need to be addressed but it is tempting
  • The Foreign ports are probably over-priced by ~30%
  • 3 Capitalisations, 5 Develops and 7 Expansions seems right
  • The requirement for London to be the most valuable city forces the early game into an expansion frenzy. This is good, but I’d forgotten it in my earlier thought cases.
  • One player strongly disliked the action/time track being way from the geographic map. That’s easy enough to fix.

In all, an excellent outing.

Share lessons

I made paper shares for Muck & Brass tonight using the share PDFs I genned yesterday. I don’t need them, the glass bits I have been using work well enough, but I suspect that a slightly crisper presentation (and demonstration of personal investment?) will make acceptance of a very early stage prototype easier.

A quick trip to an office supply store produced a pad of craft paper in 8 colours (sadly one of the colours was a very dark purple). A couple aisles over revealed two packs of copier paper in 5 colours, one set rather pastel and the other day-glo. I grabbed the craft paper and pastel sets, printed four sheets of each share sheet, cut them quickly with a Fiskar’s rotary cutter and slipped them into penny sleeves. 390 penny sleeves no less. However, they’re really quite nice. The paper colours are bold and clear, the black printing shows well, the company abbreviations on the ends of the shares allows them to be fanned easily (as often done in the 18XX) etc. Fair dinkum.

Meanwhile yesterday’s trip to the paper supply store revealed a business card cutter: feed printed stock in one end, turn the handle and out fall cut business cards. Cost ~$150. I suspect card production is not as trivial as it suggests and that a vice-based paper cutter remains the better choice there. Lastly, while business cards could make good shares/cards but there are narrow limitations on available stock colours and relatively high media costs. Bah.

The paper supply store also had a manual corner rounder for $300 (essentially a jig with a vice and a curved blade). It was a rather heavy-duty piece of equipment; likely to survive WWIII unscathed. it was tempting to be tempted. I have a hard time resisting such well-formed mechanical engineering. Thank the gods nobody is waving a Curta calculator in my face.

Lessons from tonight’s production run:

  • Colour copier paper in a wide range of colours (I need 10 colours for the 10 companies in Muck & Brass) is readily available outside my local office supply stores (Stapes, Office Max, Office Depot etc). eg this store
  • Sleeves are constant size. This can hide a multitude of sins surrounding cut shares not being of constant size.
  • Craft paper is nice stuff to work with
  • Craft paper easily jams in the printer. Treat it carefully and ensure the guides and feed are aligned well!
  • Coloured copier paper is not so nice to work with, tending to crease, crumple and stick
  • With a little care the rotary cutter will handle and cut stacks of 8 sheets well enough. That makes for 8 cuts for 64 shares. Not bad.

The goal is to play tomorrow at the Endgame Anniversary party. It isn’t likely, but worth a shot.

Sampling choice

A broken out action track for testing the proposed new action selection rules:

actions.png

For some reason the scaled-down PNG is showing with a black background. View it directly to get the proper image. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to playtest it this weekend. I’m having a terrible time attempting to simulate games.

Falling practice hammers

Being in possession of a new printer, an HP K8600 whose main claim to fame is that it is can up to print A31 (roughly 13″x19″ — useful for prototype maps/boards), I spent a little time this evening messing with another new tool: Scribus. Scribus is a page layout tool akin to Adobe’s Framemaker. There’s little Scribus can do that I could not do and likely do better with my long standing favourites of LaTeX and LyX, but for quick, experimental and mostly throw-away tasks Scribus has a lower barrier to entry. The fact that it also emits SVG and PDF is icing on the cake.

My first test project was to draw shares for the 10 companies in Muck & Brass (EUR, B&GR, L&SR, L&MR, LB&SCR, CR, GWR, LNWR, NER, SWR). The assumption is that each sheet would be printed 4 times, each company on a different colour of paper, and then one of the non-merger shares for each company would be discarded. The final shares would be slipped into penny sleeves, perhaps with a card backing. This would give 3 non-merger shares and 28 merger shares per company, which is just barely enough.

Winsome Games uses rather nice coloured paper in a wide range of colours for many of their shares. I’ve not seen anything quite so pleasant at my local office supply stores. I wonder what I’m missing?2

EUR-shares-page1.png

As Ben Keightley graciously reminded me on #bgdf_chat, it would be better to put small images showing the position of that company’s home city on each share. I plead gross laziness and a knowledge of English geography! I can’t quite be bothered to [[gen|gen]] 10 maps of England with highlighted cities, not when the above sheets merely required producing one master and doing search-and-replace with XEmacs to produce the others.

Footnotes
  1. Would that I could find a local paper supplier that carried A3!
  2. I did find very polystyrene clamshell cases at a local store, similar to the ones that Winsome Games uses but rather larger (~4″ deep). Thought provoking.

Future millstones

Assuming that Capitalisation (or control of Capitalisation) remains the most attractive early action in the game (an argument I’m having difficulty supporting):

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/21 P4-E2/42 (E6/D3/C0)
  • P1-D1/43 P2-D1/44 P3-D1/45 (E6/D0/C0]

Total actions performed: 9

Total actions per player: P1:2 P2:2, P3:3, P4:3

Now let’s assume that P1 recognises the action race and changes tempo:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/21 P4-E2/4 (E6/D3/C0)
  • P1-E2/57 P2-E2/5 P3-E2/5 P4-E2/6 8 (E1/D4/C0)
  • P1-E2/79 (E0/D4/C0)

Total actions performed: 11

Total actions per player: P1:3 P2:2, P3:2, P4:4

Interesting.

Let’s assume that P4 wins one of the early share auctions with his cash lead and thus has more he can develop:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/3 (E7/D2/C0)
  • P1-E1/510 P2-E2/511 P3-E2/512 P4-E2/5 (E3/D2/C0)
  • P1-D1/6[.1 Encouraging dividend for low cash player] P2-D1/69 (E3/D0/C0)

Total actions performed: 12

Total actions per player: P1:3 P2:3, P3:2, P4:4

Now let’s assume that P1 is cash poor, diluted on both sides and that P2 in similarly incented towards a fast dividend:

  • (E7/D5/C3)
  • P1-C3/3 P2/C3/3 P3-C3/2 P4-D1/1 P4-D1/2 P4-D1/3 (E7/D2/C0)
  • P1-D1/4 P2-D1/4 (E7/D0/C0]

Total actions performed: 8

Total actions per player: P1:2 P2:2, P3:1, P4:3

This is fascinating. The players have no choice but to focus on Expansion next turn as there’s just no opportunity for any more Development. What interesting rhythms!

Footnotes
  1. Guarantees next turn
  2. Assuming only one share held, nothing left to develop
  3. Fastest route to an addition turn
  4. Also
  5. Selected in order to guarantee a dividend
  6. Guarantees next turn
  7. Most populous action, doesn’t drive dividend.
  8. Guaranteed not to get another action before the dividend.
  9. Instant dividend
  10. Almost certainly in a corner, needs a dividend fast but can also get two Expands, which could (unlikely) be better
  11. Also doesn’t want to push it?
  12. Expects to not get another action before the dividend
  13. Instant dividend