Other Wise

Twitter Week: 2009-10-24

Twitter Week: 2009-10-17

Twitter Week: 2009-10-10

Twitter Week: 2009-10-03

Twitter Week: 2009-09-26

Twitter Week: 2009-09-19

Early Experience: 18EZ

18EZ is marketed as an easy entry path into the 18xx for players new to the 18xx and without an experienced 18xx player to guide them into the field. The stated hope is that new players should be able to pick up the box and be easily and enjoyably playing an 18xx-like game without great effort or a large time commitment.

A key point here is that I am not in 18EZ’s intended audience and am partially incapable of reviewing the game for that reason. I run a monthly 18xx group and play 18xx often. As an experienced player, I teach 18xx to new players every month1. I have a reasonable idea of what it takes to guide a new player into the 18xx and can support that notion with direct and recent experience on both sides of the student and teacher fence. But, I’m no longer qualified to comment on the new-user never-played-an-18xx-before starting-from-scratch experience, the experience of a brand-new player faced with an empty table and expectant players who want to find out what this 18xx thing is all about. I’m a bit past that now.

I evaluated 18EZ on two grounds:

  1. Does it succeed in providing a system for new players to ease into and learn the 18xx so that they can then reasonably move on and play the other games in the series?

  2. Is the learning course that 18EZ provides sufficiently attractive as a game or as a set of games to maintain the interest and be thought worth playing by such potentially new 18xx players?

Overview

18EZ consists of three games: Level-1, Level-2 and Level-3. Each level builds on the one before, in sum providing a sort of ladder of increasing complexity which in toto introduces most of the 18xx concepts.

  • Level-1

    Somewhat akin to the basic game included with 1856 and 1870, each player players runs a single company — there’s no distinction between players and companies — laying track, and running and buying trains. This is a rapid, relatively labour intensive exercise which introduces the concepts up track upgrades, train rusting, and running companies for money.

  • Level-2

    Level-2 introduces the distinction between players as investors and companies as investment targets, the stock-market, company floatation, capitalisation, shares, dividends, placing stations (one extra per company), certificate limits, train rusting, forced train purchases, and having the game end on a bankruptcy or breaking the bank.

  • Level-3

    Level-3 finally attempts to deliver an 18xx game, adding private companies, an 1830-style private company auction, half-dividends2, minor companies which merge into a major company on the first 5-train purchase, and more station markers.

The Good and the Bad

Technically, Level-1 succeeds at the introduction problem, and fairly well to boot. The Level-1 game is extremely simplistic, but introduces the core notions of track and running trains in a coherent fashion. In game terms, it is also about as interesting and attractive as paste3. For introducing those key early notions, it does well, albeit painfully. I would be surprised if any set of new players played it for more than 10 minutes before throwing up their hands and asking, “Where’s the game?”

The Level-2 game is similar. The map is mostly symmetric and thus entirely lacking in positional texture. With small variation, anything interesting accomplished anywhere on the board can be replicated in each of the other sectors for similar effort and rewards. While this quality is good for learning, it is less interesting as a game-quality. There are a few small shortages in the tile-set, mostly in the simple yellow-tile upgrades. but they should rarely make an appearance or have a significant effect. What is left is a little dance around priority, operating order, and the key question of who gets to buy the first 3-train and the first 4-train (to rust the 2-trains). Game-wise, again, there’s little here4. There’s very little ability for players to differentiate, even less reward for them differentiating, and the handling of stock value and capitalisation is fundamentally broken (more on this later). Due to its greater complexity, there’s more to the Level-2 game, but there’s little if any extra game-value, just more moving pieces. Like Level-1, Level-2 is a game of going through the motions as an exercise in building familiarity. There’s no texture, no differentiation, and no character for the player’s to exploit and build positions around; just a system laid out for the players to become comfortable with. This time however, due to the additional complexity, I can understand new players playing for a while, perhaps even finishing a single game before quitting in exasperation over looking for the game. I’d be surprised if any ungoaded player willingly put them selves through more than one game of Level-2.

Level-3 is the presented as the Real Deal for 18EZ and is also where the main problems come into sharp relief. Most of the new materials added, like the private companies, are pretty ignorable5. There are two problems, one introduced in Level-2 (but not such a problem there due to the general lack of game at that level), and the other brought in newly with Level-3.

  1. Broken company capitalisation

  2. Flat stock market

The resulting exercise teaches almost as many bad lessons as good, while continuing to have few grounds for interest as a game. I would expect new players to struggle through Level-3, thinking they’re learning the ropes, perhaps even for 2 or maybe 3 games at the outside, before giving up in exasperated exhaustion. As written, there’s just not enough game.

Broken Company Capitalisation

In Level-2 and Level-3, companies float as soon as 5 shares have been bought out of the IPO set, with the resulting companies starting fully capitalised6. As with other 18xx, stock prices fall one row for each share sold. Like 1826, 1832, 1846, and 1870 and a few other 18xx, shares in the IPO pool pay into the company treasury. However unlike those games, companies in 18EZ are not allowed to buy back their shares from the Open Market (and can’t issue their shares to the Open market to raise capital — but that’s a lesser point). This is a severe and even crippling problem.

First, some background: The 18xx are games of capital management. They are capitalist wet dreams. Oh there’s the whole business of companies and trains and track and stations and tile upgrades and stock prices and what-not, but that’s all just frilly distracting glamour on the core of the game: management of capital. That’s all the players do really: they manage capital. They invest that capital in shares in order to earn dividends and stock appreciation, thus adding to their capital. They float new companies so as to gain control of yet more capital via capitalisation, and then leverage that larger controlled capital into accelerated growth of their own capital. They manipulate the market and the trains and all that other palaver so as to minimise the risks to their own capital while maximising the risks to other’s capital. They manage capital from the moment the game starts until the moment the game ends, and they measure their success (score) in the game by, yep, measuring their total capital. The 18xx are games of capital management.

The problem is that 18EZ allows capital to be destroyed without any recovery, and that prevents capital management in any useful sense. In a standard 18xx, like say 1830, shares in the Open Market pay into the company treasury. While this may be somewhat counter-intuitive, it provides a reward and recovery path for a company that has had its share price trashed: all those Open Market shares are now paying their dividends into the company, capitalising it, and increasing its viability as a company. Thus the director of a company whose share price is trashed may wince, but they also appreciate the resulting influx of capital as those shares pay into the company treasury. The company is weaker…and yet stronger, and that trade isn’t such a bad one. And, most importantly, company presidents are able to manage their company capitalisation via keeping shares in the Open Market7. In all the games I know of that have IPO shares paying into the company treasury, the game also allows companies to buy back their own shares (at the new low market price) and thus still receive the capitalistion benefits of the shares8. In this way a company director in those games can directly manage his company’s capital and capital income.

In 18EZ Level-3 share shares reduce stock price, just like normal9. Additionally shares out of the IPO market cease paying into the company treasury. The result is that it is in every 18EZ player’s interest to move all their competitor’s shares out of the IPO market and into the Open market as fast as possible, thereby not only destroying their opponent’s share value, but also destroying the ability to further capitalise the company without withholding. There is no risk to a player in destroying another player’s share value in this way. There’s nothing but upside: the other player’s net-worth (ie score) is reduced and their companies are greatly weakened due to lost capitalisation ability. All with no cost or risk to the trashing player! This free supply of You_Lose! activity is not present in other 18xx, and for good reason: it encourages pathological and abusive behaviour.

In short, 18EZ’s pattern, which directly encourages share trashing without any value return for the destroyed capital value, encourages abusive and pathological behaviour. Once past the 3rd Stock Round, the primary incentive of every player is to ensure that all his competitor’s share-prices are pushed down to the floor — and he can do that very easily and with no cost or risk to himself.

18EZ also teaches players to withhold regularly, frequently, as the only way to capitalise their companies once they’ve run through their early train money. This habit is death in a normal 18xx. The base 18xx pattern10 is that players should never withhold dividends unless it is either with their trailing/trash company11 or the company can thereby immediately buy a permanent train after withholding. 18EZ’s effective insistence that further capitalisation is only possible via withholding (combined with the flat stock market) directly encourages players to withhold frequently; a habit that will sink and damn (and befuddle) them in almost every 18xx game they later play.

The big problem is that these traits destroy much of the value of the game as a teaching tool. The game as currently written teaches its players to play badly, and to make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons, thus reducing their ability to play other 18xx games until they un-learn the bad lessons 18EZ taught them. It does this by rewarding them for playing badly. It teaches them that capitalisation control is non-existent, and it isn’t, not in every other 18xx. It teaches them that stock trashing is free, obvious, and carries neither risk or penalties, and that’s simply not true in every other 18xx. It teaches the new players that having your stock trashed is an unmitigated bad with no possible upsides, and that there is nothing you can do about it except suffer, and that too is not true in every other 18xx. It also teaches new players that capitalisation is fixed, that there is no such thing as creative capital destruction12, and that capital under control is actually an almost completely illiquid quantity, and yes, that is just not true in every other 18xx. Finally, it teaches players that there is little to no penalty for withholding dividends, and that managing withheld dividends and capital across companies is mostly unimportant, and yes, that’s also not true with every other 18xx.

I expect an 18xx-teaching game to teach new players good habits and patterns of thought regarding capital management. Or at the very least, not to teach them bad habits and sloppy thinking that will kill them as soon as they step into a real game. 18EZ fails on this score.

Flat Stock Market

18EZ’s stock market is a model of equilibrium. Every stock-appreciation delta is $10. It doesn’t matter where the stock is in the market, right or left, up or down, the deltas are always $10. This seems nice and simple, and it is, but it also loses a key value of the 18xx: the rewards for getting a stock’s price marker to the right.

In a typical 18xx stock market, the stock-appreciation for shares far to the left can be but a few dollars. However, if a stock manages to get to the other side of the stock market, far to the right, then a single price-appreciation step may easily add $50 to a share’s value, rather than the (say) $3 for another share far to the left. The varying rate of stock-appreciation across the stock market is the foundation of several core lessons and principles of 18xx. As roughly 70% of a player’s final net-worth (and thus score) in a typical 18xx game is the value of their portfolio, getting high share values for their companies and thus having their portfolio stuffed with high-appreciation shares is critical to successful 18xx play13 — but 18EZ loses that lesson in its entirety by having a flat stock market, and the result, again, is that 18EZ teaches its players bad habits and poor decision-making processes.

Fixing the problems

Fixing the above problems isn’t hard. While the problems are large, they are also easy to address. There are two obvious approaches to fix the capitalisation problem:

  • Instead of IPO shares paying into the company (which is the more rare form), have shares in the Open Market pay into the company (the more common form).

or:

  • Stay with only IPO shares paying into the company, but change the capitalisation of companies from full capitalisation (100% on float) to incremental (as each share is bought from the IPO pool its purchase money is added to the company treasury), and also allow companies to buy back their shares from the market during stock rounds (putting them back in the IPO pool) as well as to sell their own shares into the Open Market to raise capital.

Both approaches work, both approaches restore the capital balance of the game, and best of all, both approaches teach new players that they can in fact predict and constructively manage capital into the future. The players learn the right lessons. The first form is simpler and perhaps more obvious for new players. The second address is more complex and allows for a much larger range of creative options, but may be thought too confusing for new players (a fair complaint).

Fixing the stock market is also relatively easy, but requires some number juggling. The current stock market has 6 rows and 14 columns, for a total of 18 unique stock-price ranks. While I’m not fond of the shape, it isn’t terrible for this sort of learning game and could be left unchanged. What needs changing are however the stock prices! Currently they range from $20 – $200 in steps of $10. Something vaguely like the following stock-value sequence, counting in diagonal rows, would be better14:

$30/$35/$40/$50/$60/$70/$80/$90/$100/$115/$130/$145/$160/$180/$200/$225/$255/$300

Happily there is definitely still time available for a rules-errata and all the above fixes can be made easily and even fairly cheaply.

Summary

18EZ almost works as a teaching-game. It has most of the right basics together, but a few critical flaws prevent it from succeeding. However even with the flaws fixed, it is difficult to see 18EZ ever being more than a somewhat laborious exercise rather like the Geography games played in High School, which while they were certainly educational, were also abysmal games. With the fixes, as a $45 exercise to be done a few times just to learn the 18xx, 18EZ will probably work fine. At this level it is effectively paid-training that is discarded once it is (rapidly) surpassed. The problem with such paid-training is that it had also better be enjoyable or most of the audience will abandon their good intentions early rather than drudge through15. This is perhaps the main area where 18EZ falls short as a game. It is, pardon my candour, almost inescapably boring at all levels simply because there is no differentiation, no texture, no character, and no significantly unique qualities to player or company positions, and it remains at heart a training exercise that feels more like a training exercise than a game.

Even with fixed capitalisation and a graded stock market, the game remains abstract and texture-less. The very genericy that makes it easy to use as a stationary bicycle to learn how to pedal, also removes the differentiation and character that are the keys to human interest. Most 18xx games are tightly tied against both a specific period of history and the specific terrain of a certain part of the world. That simple aspect of realism, of relation to the player’s world, does a lot to resonate with players, even if they don’t know that period of history or that part of the world well. Some of the names ring bells, they understand mountains and rivers and lakes, they kinda sorta see why there might be cities in some of the locations just by the geography and their faint memories of skipped history lessons, and all the names of companies and locations ring with echoes of the culture and language of that time and part of the world. While a subtle effect, it is surprisingly emotionally powerful, and 18EZ not only loses that, it also aggressively devalues it, and I don’t think that double-whammy can be recovered from.

Footnotes
  1. For example, this coming Monday I’ll be teaching 3 more new players.
  2. I had quite a surprise here. I’d not expected half-pays in a teaching game.
  3. The white starchy edible glue used in pre-schools and kindergartens.
  4. And the grind just to get through the trains is painfully slow and tortuous.
  5. The private companies are pretty over-priced and entirely bland and uninteresting. Only the $20 trigger is clearly worth its face value. The rest are arguably over-priced and thoroughly uninteresting. They’re certainly not worth bidding much more than face value for, and in general I’d feel advantaged to start the game without owning a private company just due to the greater capital flexibility.
  6. 10x par price as the starting capital for the company.
  7. In fact it is common for company presidents to sell shares of their own companies into the market just to get that extra capitalisation (among other details).
  8. The stock-price may be hurt, but the company got some free money (the difference between the par-price and the new lower stock-price).
  9. ie The stock-price moves down one row per share sold.
  10. This is a very tough one to teach — trust me on this — new players have a notably hard time internalising this lesson.
  11. And there’s another hard-to-teach distinction.
  12. It is creative capital destruction, the cyclical creation of vibrant new capital via the destruction of other older capital, that I see as the real heart of 1830-style 18xx. It also happens to be a fairly decent game-model of our rapaciously cannibalistic industrial economy.
  13. In fact it is easy to predict the winner of most 18xx games: Which player owns the most shares of companies at the top/right of the stock market? Most of the time that simple heuristic will give the right answer.
  14. Sucked purely from the end of my thumb with no attempt to verify balance across the arc of the game.
  15. Just ask any trainer at a gym!

Twitter Week: 2009-09-12

  • Splotter's Greed: http://tr.im/xXmB Let the competitive frothing begin. #essen #spiele #
  • Ahh, one copy of the Pere Marquette made (inkjet, Super77, manilla file-folder, some cutting). Now to find a table to inflict it upon. #18xx #
  • Good article on the evolution of software/product development and implications for licensing: http://bit.ly/Yhmzv (via @hnshah, @joshelman) #
  • It seems I am the west coast #18xx champion. 4P 18Mex, $1.3K, $1.1K, $1K, $500 (bankrupt on the 4Ds). Pretty much a straight capital game. #
  • @andsoerinsaid @scottredracecar I expect 18EZ is a poor game at all levels. (Barely) Okay for teaching as a walk thru, but unexciting. #18xx #
  • @scottredracecar @andsoerinsaid 18EZ is thoroughly Bill Dixon-esque, perhaps the least interesting of the #18xx design-styles. #
  • @ChrisTheCat I won the (single game) #18xx tournament at PaifiCon/ConquestSF (ala west-coast WBC). in reply to ChrisTheCat #
  • RT @timoreilly:Good Washington Post article: 5 Myths About Health Care Around the World http://bit.ly/139Yzs Be informed in your opinions! #
  • 6P 1830. Bankruptcy on first diesel. 2nd by $50. Wild stock market. A teaching game where I think I learned more than the students. #18xx #
  • 3 days of #18xx. About to go and start the third. More 1830 perhaps? I've been learning a lot about prediction & control of bankruptcies. #
  • Just listen. Carefully. RT @timoreilly:Beatrice Golomb on conflicts of interest in medical research: http://bit.ly/13tfSs #healthcare #
  • The return and welcome of the extinct bee: http://bit.ly/PZvv0 Charming. #
  • Newt Gingrich, William Gibson & I seem to agree? Shocking! Pretty good Obama education speech: http://tr.im/y6yF Not brilliant, but good. #
  • @BrenoKummel I'm still learning too much to want to slow down. I finally have a handle on what is required to be at least mediocre. #18xx #
  • @BrenoKummel http://bit.ly/AWN5Y Oh, & follow the money & think very hard about tempo. in reply to BrenoKummel #
  • @BrenoKummel I'm learning at lot about control of capital ATM. Great stuff. It has taken me ~100 games to get to this point of half-a-clue. in reply to BrenoKummel #
  • On Drowning in Games (http://tr.im/y6GH), my blog-post on learning curves and hope is suddenly getting a little rash of web-attention. Cool. #
  • 3P 18FL, got priority, dumped the dog, floated new company, got $2K capital under control, 4 permanent trains, and ran away by miles. #18xx #
  • @BrenoKummel @andsoerinsaid 18FL was interesting solely because I pulled off the great swindle. I see little other value in the game. #18xx #
  • 1830 Coalfields made & ready to play: http://twitpic.com/h5phm Wabash & Nickel Plate are next. Maybe Chesapeake Bay Bridge too. #18xx #
  • Greenspun surveys healthcare models and comparatives: http://bit.ly/2Hzxl #
  • Somehow I find this art-video viscerally scary. It hits a sort-of uncanny-valley goosebump-revulsion for me. No idea why, http://tr.im/ymUo #
  • @msaari That's a fine chipset for #18xx. May suffer if playing larger bank games. eg 1830+Coalfields, $20K or 18C2C, $80K (heavens forbid) #
  • @msaari I would change the chipset a little: 50×1, 75×5, 75×25, 50×100, 25×500, either 25×10 or 25×2.5K. Total $20,050 or $82,300 #18xx in reply to msaari #
  • @msaari We often run short of 5s and 25s, popular chips, not often 1s, sometimes 100s in the late game. Thus adjusting for that. #18xx in reply to msaari #
  • @jesnellm @msaari Yeah, spreadsheet is good but having full bank allows visually gauging the end-game. Can see the bank running out. #18xx in reply to jesnellm #
  • @icheyne @msaari @jesnellm I mostly use my 320 chip set these days. I'd adjust it a bit too if I were doing at again. More 5s & 25s. #18xx in reply to icheyne #
  • @ekted The #Twitter concept of a conversation is not a sequenced thread but rather a set of time-ordered messages bearing the same #hashtag. in reply to ekted #
  • @msaari Welcome. Actually the chips you'll want are a function of the games & players you play with. You've got a good base though. #18xx in reply to msaari #
  • RT @cshirky:"Dark Stalking On Facebook" http://pjf.id.au/blog/?position=590 (h/t @lehrblogger) #
  • Black Toad (a fine schwarzbier) on an empty stomache, followed by a 20oz steak chaser, has left this lad's digestive tract feeling insecure. #

Twitter Week: 2009-09-05

  • 3P 1889, tried to mix appreciate/dump/2x float with investing. Not as good as a pure capital drive. Barely won: $7.3K, $7K, $6.5K. #18xx #
  • @jdludlow I’m interested in how slippery the Sidepot Veneratis are. I’ll probably go for Super Diamonds for my next set. #18xx #pokerchips in reply to jdludlow #
  • @jdludlow We don’t bother with exact banks. Just run on paper once you determine which set of ORs the bank will break in. #18xx #
  • @jdludlow I would bulk up the $5s & $25s a little and drop the $5,000s. Some games, like 18Mex, chew through $5s & $25s. #18xx #pokerchips #
  • 4P 1844, 7hrs, Daniel $11,781, me $11,331, Aliza $10,598, Jim $9,345 http://twitpic.com/fyglz #188xx #
  • @ingredientx @mgoadric What I like most about #LyX is I don’t have to care about layout at all and I still get beautiful documents! #TeX in reply to ingredientx #
  • 4P 1826: A game that focuses on all of my weaknesses and rewards none of my strengths. DFL of course. We’ll have to play this more. #18xx #
  • @sedjtroll You betcha. 1826 rewards none of my strengths, but rather directly fights me & the manner I usually play. It is the anti-JC #18xx in reply to sedjtroll #
  • Played Endeavour. Clearly not my sort of game, but an interesting sort of not-my-sort-of-game. It appears to reward moderate extremism. #
  • @sedjtroll Endeavour will probably rate a 4 here. The right/left binding is horrible, bad snowball, but some ineresting interplays. in reply to sedjtroll #
  • @elenuial Group-sorting Twitter client without AIR or Flash: #nambu in reply to elenuial #
  • @QarldeV Less than 30% (~15%?) of decisions in Chicago Express R/L bind & alliances care more about turn order than R/L adjacencies. in reply to QarldeV #
  • RT @GreatDismal:”Feel the Dickmentum” http://bit.ly/3RltH5 via @markos (This one is for Becca T, who will know why, won’t she?) #
  • @neilhimself Dear Neil, Please mind the gape while in Watford. (Said in the most plummy London Underground tones) in reply to neilhimself #
  • Endeavour did not improve with 2nd play. Thankfully not much worse either. Strong R/L binding, fairly stylised play, likely over-computable. #

Twitter Week: 2009-08-29

Variants for 1830

Note: David Reed’s Geocities page, frequently linked and quoted below, will be disappearing as Yahoo! shuts down Geocities. Thus, those links will break, and also in part, my rush in getting this page and the related files assembled.

Reading Railroad by Alan Moon

David Reed writes:

Take a Ride on the Reading by Alan Moon, published originally in The General volume 23, number 6 (and due to be republished in the Train Gamer’s Gazette volume 2, number 4), added the Reading Railroad to the game and suggested several other changes to the rules of play.

I’ve assembled a PDF of the rules for the Reading Railroad Variant. Source files for the new track tiles and shares may be found here and here.

Coalfields by Alan Moon

David Reed writes:

The Coalfields by Alan Moon, published orginally in Games International number 6 (and recently republished in the Train Gamer’s Gazette volume 2, number 2), added the Norfolk and Western Railroad; an extra portion of the board; two “7” trains; off-board connections that can be the center of a run, instead of the end; and suggested several other changes to the rules of play. including rules for combining The Coalfields with Take a Ride on the Reading.

I’ve found two supporting archives, fortunately non-contradictory: one and two. The former has the advantage of providing both the new rules and colour images for the new map sections, tiles and shares.

Update: Please note that the colour PDF I’ve assembled above for the Coalfields expansion prints the map extensions slightly too small. It doesn’t accurately match the 1830 map. The resulting map sections, while undersized are certainly playable albeit also ungainly and clumsy. Oddly the track tiles that go onto the board are however just fine. The track tiles placed by players appear to be small by a similar fraction to the map extensions.

I have not yet determined why this is true, or what the correct scaling factor is. I estimate by rough eye that it is not far under 10%.

Perre Marquette Railroad by Federico Vellani

David Reed writes:

The Pere Marquette by Federico Vellani, published in the Train Gamer’s Gazette volume 3, number 1, adds a new western railroad.

I’ve stashed a PDF of a photocopy of the original magazine article documenting the new company and related rules changes.

Bonds/Corporate Debt by John Puddifoot

David Reed writes:

The 1830 Debt Variant by John Puddifoot, published originally in the Train Gamer’s Gazette volume 1, number 3, added the ability for companies to go into debt (similar to, but not exactly like the debt rules in 1856).

I’ve assembled a PDF of the rules for the Bonds/Corporate Debt Variant.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge by Carl Burger

David Reed writes:

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge by Carl Burger has not been published anywhere yet, to my knowledge. It adds on to the Coalfields variant. A bridge between hexes J14 and I17 is the only added terrain. K15 (The N&W base) is now has room for two tokens, and its value changes based on phase from $30 to $50 to $60. Two tiles are also added: one each of tile 145 (from 1870) and 220 (from 1835).

I’ve been unable to find any further details.

“Simple” by John David Galt

David Reed writes:

The “Simple” 1830 variant by John David Galt adds the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, & Pacific (CMSt.P&P – The “Milwaukee Road”) starting with 3 tokens in hex D2 (Flint MI) and the Louisville & Nashville (L&N) starting with 3 tokens in hex H4 (Dayton OH). Both companies have standard 1830 share set-ups (President: 20% and 8 x 10%). The third “6” train should be used, but no other trains should be added. These should only be used with 5 or 6 players. The variant also adds a couple of gray tiles, which will be available when the first six train is sold. The first is a tile identical to the Toronto tile in 1856 for New York City; the second is a “B” tile (two hole city with five exits, worth 70). Only one of each of these tiles is added.

In an email exchange with John David Galt about this variant, he commented:

What’s up on that long-dead site is all there is. The variant was nothing more than a one-liner response to someone on the 18xx mailing list who wanted an 1830 variant with more companies.

I’ve been unable to find any further details except for Keieth Thomasson’s mention listed below under the Nickel Plate variant.

Nickel Plate by Wolfram Janich

Mentioned in several places, including in Kieth Thomasson’s issue 138 of For Whom The Die Rolls, December 2006. Quoting from that magazine:

The 1830 Variant Box No.1 is just enough information to intrigue but not enough to give any idea what this actually contains. This is published by Wolfram Janich and contains the Wabash Cannonball Variant by Harry Wu, the ‘Simple’ Variant by John David Galt. The rules to these are in German and English. There are also two alternative maps by Wolfram.

— The Wabash Cannonball variant

This introduces a new company, the Wabash Railroad, which starts in hex H2. The map is extended to the west, moving Chicago a couple of hexes west in the process. There is an overlay for hex D20, which makes the hex north east of the NYC base a value 20 station in a grey hex. There is one additional train of type ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’ and ‘5’, and eight ‘7’ trains, which cost $830 and replace the Diesels. You cannot trade in a train for a ‘7’ as you could for a Diesel. There are also a few extra tiles – one extra 57, one extra 15, and two brown tiles that are the same as a 15 tile and valued at 40. These brown tiles are not numbered, but the design has been used in a number of games and is identical to tiles 448 (1854/1889) and 776 (1860).

— The ‘Simple’ variant

This variant introduces two new companies. The CMStP&P starts in D2, while the L&N starts in H4. The optional third ‘6’ train should be used, but no other trains added. There are two new tiles – both grey – which come out when the first ‘6’ is bought. One is an upgrade to New York, as used in 1856, and one upgrade for the Baltimore/Boston tiles. This variant is recommended for 5 or 6 players only. I presume it is called the ‘Simple’ variant because the changes are simple, not because it makes the game simpler :-)

— Alternative Maps

These maps are based on random maps produced by the 1830 computer program. The maps produced by the program can be very unbalanced, so Wolfram used those as a starting point and then reworked them to get a better balance. I have a number on order from Wolfram, but don’t know quite when to expect them. Half of those are already reserved. If you’re interested I’ll be selling them for £20 plus post and packing, which is about the same price if you buy directly from Wolfram. It’s quite light, so post and packing should be£4 at the most for the UK. Let me know if you want a copy.

I’ve been unable to locate any further details on Wolfram Janich’s Nickel Plate variant.

Wabash by Harry Wu

Described briefly above by Kieth Thomasson, and pictured below by Knurt on BoardgameGeek:

I’ve been unable to find any further details, especially regarding the rules.

Westpark by Warter Sorger

I’ve assembled a PDF of the rules for the Westpark Variant.

Twitter Week: 2009-08-22

  • Played 1844. Wow. My gray matter is pleading for a cease fire; something about the Geneva Convention & my abusing prisoners of war. #18xx #
  • 6P 1830 5.hours Diesels ran 8 times! Daniel $7548 Aliza $7780 Ron $4661 Jeff $6093 Tim $7613 Me $6842 #18xx http://twitpic.com/ec1ca #
  • RT @timoreilly: Everyone who is trashing Obama’s healthcare plan should…answer the following multiple choice question: http://bit.ly/KUpwm #

Twitter Week: 2009-08-15

Twitter Week: 2009-08-08

On drowning in games

I wrote this as while back in reference to Wabash Cannonball, but it seems a generally true paean to both the types of games I like and the way I like to approach them:

First you lose a lot,

Then you win a game…and don’t know why,

Then you lose a lot more and think you should have won,

This happens for Oh, a dozen or so games,

Then you win one and think another player threw you the game unintentionally,

Then you lose and think you threw the game to another player!

Then you do that some more, say another dozen-odd games,

Then you win a game but clearly see it was because of another player’s error,

Then you lose a game because of your error,

Then you lose again because of an error you could have exploited but didn’t,

And that goes on for a dozen or so games,

Then you win, know why you won and feel great,

And you lose, know why you lost and feel great,

And that goes on for a while,

Until you lose and don’t understand why,

And win and don’t understand why,

And you suspect that you threw the game to another player,

Or another player threw the game to you or someone else,

But you’re not sure,

And this goes on for a while, perhaps a dozen games or so,

And then you realise you’re exactly back where you started,

With exactly the same uncertainties and confusions you had in those very early games,

Not really knowing what you’re doing,

Still feeling your way in the dark,

You just know a lot more about the questions now,

But you still have the same uncertainties and questions,

And you keep on struggling with them,

And you win some,

And lose some,

And hope to learn from both.

Twitter Week: 2009-08-01

Twitter Week: 2009-07-25

  • Music industry copyright arguments of 100 years ago. Yep, same old tired arguments, just more articulately and better argued. http://tr#
  • What that last link should have been: http://bit.ly/oJHzT Sorry folks. #
  • RT @cshirky:FF 3.5 *recommends* AdBlock+ as an add-on. Moves FF from hosting the advertising arms race to being an active belligerent. #
  • 4P 1830, went bankrupt in a beautiful 3 company train swindle. Then 3P 1830: $9336 (Daniel), $7502 (me), $7428 (Tim). Bahh! #18xx #
  • Last night’s 3-player 1830: http://twitpic.com/b0ynn #18xx #
  • Winsome Essen set: B&O reviewed. KP clever & unobvious. Wabash exp is brill: alliances for losers. PO exp good. GMO exp deeper than appears. #
  • @davemcclure #Twitter is public performance art akin to street acts. FB is more clubby & rife with social bonding & strong feedback loops. in reply to davemcclure #

Twitter Week: 2009-07-18

Site: OpenID logins are now enabled for commenters

I have enabled OpenID account creation and login support. Now you don’t have to maintain a separate login for this blog in order to post comments!

Enjoy.

To be or not to be a cutlery, that is the question!

A few weeks ago I reviewed Corner Lot with Tom Lehmann. Tom asked abot the $2 raises. One of the reasons, asides from accelerating the cashflow management challenge, is that $2 raises greatly increases the rate of subsequent $1-off events1, or if you wish, Power Grid moments2. Tom ever so gently suggested that the $2 raises were an unjustified complexity as such $1-off moments were in fact something of a false decision 3.

After some thought I’ve concluded that he’s quite right, and yet not. The core notion is of the $1-off decision is that at the time of (fund) allocation a player is able to reasonably predict that spending $1 more or less now will control whether or not they’ll be $1-off for a later item. Tom is right, that’s a tall order and in the case of Corner Lot or Power Grid, or any sufficiently dynamic system, this is bogus. In Corner Lot such an estimation requires predicting not only the cards in the future markers, but the exact results of player bids — certainly not a reasonable question at the $1 precision level. The players simply have no way to predict that accurately. Instead the $1-off moments are effectively random events which simply happen to the players, randomly specifying that a given player does or does not have enough money for something. At this level the $1-off events, and their creation, are clearly uninteresting and the decision at the point the $1-off event was incepted (when the money was allocated) doesn’t really exist.

But that is not the whole story. When a $1-off event occurs, the subject player must decide how to respond and, if necessary, to recover. There are frequently real decisions at this point: The player can’t afford what they need or want, so how to marshal their capital to still support their victory? There’s usually a real decision there and that’s where the decision is. The decision isn’t at the time the $1-off event is created, not at its inception, but rather the decision is post-facto in the recovery from the random event. Additionally, this clearly identifies the real design question: Is the additional rules complexity of requiring a minimum $2 raise justified by the additional interesting decisions created by recovering from the higher rate of $1-off events? I’m tempted to say it is, but I’m clearly also biased. Hey play-testers, what do you think?

One of the other results of the conversation with Tom is that I’m going to be forking Corner Lot. I’m pleased with the current game and enjoy playing it, but auctions are out of fashion with the German publishers and the required componentry (chips, markers etc) make the more attractive lower price points difficult to realise. As a result I’m going to fork the design and create a different game, one still based on the same reservation bidding concept, but with considerable less arithmetic and with no explicit auctions (ie no round-robin auctions to resolve multi-bid cards). I’ve no idea on the game yet, or much idea about the theme (Ariel Seoane has suggested musical group bookings for a concert), but I’m working on it. Currently the numbers are just not working out…

Footnotes
  1. Occasions when players are $1 short of being able to afford a desired item).
  2. Power Grid seems to be famous for $1-off events.
  3. Assuming I interpreted his comments correctly.

Twitter Week: 2009-07-11

  • @ChrisTheCat Is Ducati back up? It was down for what seemed the longest time. #bzflag in reply to ChrisTheCat #
  • 18TN appears better as a 3P than 4P. Odd little game. Neat, clever, small. I may just be a fan of Mark Derrick designs. #18xx #
  • RT @raphkoster:Brilliant infoviz graph porn on the economic recovery! RT: @tobiasbuckell http://tr.im/r8Dz #
  • 18TN. 120 minutes start to finish. Scores: 6485 (me), 6374 (Daniel), 5745 (Aliza). http://twitpic.com/9nuyg http://twitpic.com/9nv0z #18xx #
  • Actually that should be 180 minutes for 18TN, but who’s counting? #18xx #
  • Paxos, bakery, other concurrent algorithms – my scratchpad is ink-sodden just thinking them through. #
  • 18TN, 3 players, 3 hours, $6486 (Jacob) $5894 (me) $5424 (Aaron) – stupid 5 train! #18xx #

Twitter Week: 2009-07-04

Early Experience: Baltimore & Ohio

Eddie Robbin’s Baltimore & Ohio is the latest member of the Historic Railroads System and is part of the Winsome Games’ 2009 Essen Collection. It is a particularly [[trenchant|trenchant]] perfect and certain information game all about timing, timing, and well, timing. In broader character, Baltimore & Ohio is Rimsky Korsakov‘s Flight of the Bumble Bee: full of little surges and races, layers upon layers of them, never relenting, always rushing, all of the races critical and requiring full attention and an endless delicate dedication to the dance.

Baltimore & Ohio has been described as the Historic Railroads System meets the 18xx, and there’s some truth to the claim. Functionally it is clearly a member of the Historic railroads System with a hex-map, track abstracted to putting a cube in a hex on the map, companies with shares, company dividends a function of company cubes in cities, etc. Architecturally Baltimore & Ohio is a child of 1825 Unit 1 (and 1825 Unit 2 and 1825 Unit 3) with a glaring focus on (1825-style) portfolio management and timing (owning the right shares at the right times) rather than 1830-style market manipulation. Spiritually, and yes the parentage is this complex, Baltimore & Ohio is the direct descendant of Lokomotive Werks1 with all of that game’s extra-ordinary attention to exacting cashflow, turn order, and timing — just carried forward into a larger and less relenting game2. Of the three, Lokomotive Werks has the dominant genes, shortly followed by 1825.

The game itself consists of stock rounds alternating with a pair of operating rounds. Initially 6 companies are available (B&O, B&M, C&O, NYC, NYNH&H & PRR). Later in the game 4 more companies become available (Erie, IC, Nickel Plate & Wabash). During stock rounds players acquire shares and manipulate the stock market. During operating rounds companies operate and may generate dividends for their shareholders. The game ends at the end of a set of operating rounds in which the highest level train is purchased (common), or when a share price reaches $375 (unlikely). The winner is the player with the largest net worth (portfolio value plus cash). There are few surprises here.

The rest of the model model is mostly familiar but does have surprises:

  1. As has been long-suggested for many 18xx (perhaps most frequently by Robert Jasiek) player turn order is ordered by ascending player cash at the start of stock rounds
  2. The stock market is linear with par value ranges an increasing function of the largest train purchased by any company
    • Sold shares reduce share-value by one slot, no matter how many were sold
    • Share values increase only if the company pays a dividend that is larger than its dividend from the last operating round
    • Share values go down if the company has shares in the open market, or its dividend (paid or withheld) is less than it was in the last operating round
    • In all other cases, whether dividends paid or withheld, share values remain unchanged
  3. On their turn a player may sell any number of shares from any number of companies, and then buy any number of shares (of one company)
    • Companies are incrementally capitalised as shares are bought
    • Each company has a different number of track cubes, limiting its potential reach and growth with some like the B&M and NYNH&H being very small (but adjacent to great cities) and others like the C&O having a great many track cubes
  4. When determining a company’s dividend run, all the trains the company owns are summed (eg two 2-trains, a 3-train3, and two 4-trains gives a total of 15) and then that many cities connected by the company’s track are selected to generate the dividend (without regard for sequencing or locality). Thus there is no route tracing, just a simple connectivity check
    • The actual dividend a company pays is equal to the sum of values of the cities hit by the company trains, minus a maintenance fee for each train the company owns, divided across the 10 shares in the company. The fee per train is equal to $10 multiplied by the size of the largest train purchased by any company, making smaller trains increasingly uneconomic over time

The board is rife with layers of short and long (timing) races. The number of companies allowed to connect to a given city is equal to the size of the largest train purchased by any company, thus there are races to get to more desirable cities first, locking other companies out. As city-capacity increases immediately when a new level of train is bought (and track is built after train purchasing), there are also races to be in position to buy the next size train and then immediately fill the newly accessible more-valuable cities. There are also races for special locations on the board with dividend-increasing coal tokens. As companies operate in descending order of stock value, stock rounds easily become positional dances attempting to force advantageous relative operating orders for specific companies so as to get them the good cities, good trains, good coal tokens etc4 before some other company does5.

Similarly, as there is such an advantage to being marginally lower in cash at the start of a stock round (to get first dibs on the best shares), there is often a muscular struggle in the operating rounds to run companies to pay as much as possible while having the controlling player end up with $1 less than the other players so as to secure the better turn order in the upcoming stock round.

This latter turn-order positioning is made more complex by the difficulty of increasing company stock values. There is a strong incentive to run companies for less than their maximum dividends so as to ensure stock-price increases by reserving future dividend increases by counting not-as-good cities for a dividend and then swapping in better cities in future dividends6. Getting the dividend sub-reporting for continued stock-value increases combined with maximising personal cash while also securing good turn order positioning can be difficult.

Those are not the only timing layers. There are yet more at different layers and levels, all open to inspection and manipulation. One trick is to hide cash in increased share value which would otherwise affect the player’s turn order. As companies are incrementally capitalised as their shares are bought, and all shares sell for the current stock value, there is not only a race for good operating order, but for various combinations of good turn order positions, operating order positions, good board positions/access, etc. For instance, the right new company floated at the right time, with the right par and thus the right capitalisation, and thus the right operating order (even after player-market assault), can pay great dividends while preserving the player’s turn order position, and be ripe to be dumped immediately in the next stock round, capitalising either buying all the best shares or floating a new company with the right par and the…etc.

As another example, there are also timing games that can be played with trains. In one of our games the NYNH&H, a very small company that can only reach 5 cities, already owned two 3-trains and had enough money in its treasury to buy an additional 5-train. Of course that gave it a total train capacity of 11 when it only connected 5 cities, but no matter. It then withheld its dividends and in the next operating round sold its 5-train to the bank7 and used that money along with its remaining treasury to buy the last 5-train, thus selling a 5-train to buy a 5-train and accelerating the end of the game while also leaving an opponent’s company unable to afford the larger train it needed and thus forcing it to withhold dividends yet again. Similar little timing games around the trains exist through-out the game.

All the little races and plethora of timing games, with every detail counting, sum to a larger fight to control the pace of the game and thus the length of the game. However rather than game-length being the defining centre of the game as it is in Wabash Cannonball, it is more an emergent and less directly-controlled property formed by the amalgam of all the little races. Due to capital concentration, ability to control the game’s development speed and thus length with lower player counts is greatly reduced. For the same reasons, the importance of game-length control, and the ability to affect it, also tends to increase as player-count increases.

Baltimore & Ohio scales across player counts similarly to the 18xx. As player-count decreases, control increases and the timing games may be played with ever-increasing finesse. As player count increases, capital is diluted across players, and control not only decreases but shared-incentives becomes more important and a whole new layer of emergently collusive timing games become possible. At the higher player counts the patterns start to stylistically resemble 6-player 1830’s, and at the lower player-counts, to likewise resemble 3-player 1830, complete with not only the different pacings, but the different values of different companies at the different player counts. The result is that 3 players plays very differently from 4 players, which in turn plays very differently from 5 players (I’ve not tried 6 players yet).

Expect your first session of Baltimore & Ohio to take between 4 and 5 hours, possibly a little more. With experience that play-time can be shortened down to around 150 minutes, but it will require both skill and discipline as with that increased skill comes greater ability to predict, control and thus play with the many many layers of timing in the game, pushing the game back up toward 4-5 hours. Perhaps surprisingly it is easier to push play-time down with increased player-counts, as with more players timing-control also decreases, making a great many of the more subtle and time-consuming timing games unviable.

Footnotes
  1. Early experience: Lokomotive Werks
  2. I’d never expected to describe Lokomotive Werks as more relenting!
  3. As in most of the 18xx, 3-trains are the best trains in the game.
  4. Most of our games have spent more time in stock rounds than operating rounds.
  5. Destroying stock values all the while!
  6. This is considerably easier with some companies than others.
  7. Companies may sell their trains to the bank (and out of the game) for a marginal value.

Twitter Week: 2009-06-27

  • The hummingbird chicks by my door are growing apace: http://twitpic.com/86zp9 Fed on the spiders from the junipers, they’ll be flying soon! #
  • @ingredientx This is the Valley. No way in hell Twitter will run out of money. VCs beg to give them money. The ecosystem has really started. in reply to ingredientx #
  • @ingredientx They’ve a long way to run before monetisation is an issue. They have the eyeballs: that’s all that’s required for some years. in reply to ingredientx #
  • @ingredientx I went through the bubble at VA Research, Nuron, Critical Path, Protego Networks etc. I grok. I think they’ll make it. in reply to ingredientx #
  • Looking into #Django. There’s a fair bit to like here for a rapid development platform, esp if your code is also high velocity. #
  • @ingredientx Hehn. Yet more echoes of Lokomoticve Werks? The local complaint has been the hidden/uncertain demand. (I’ve not played yet) in reply to ingredientx #
  • @rholzgrafe Congrats! in reply to rholzgrafe #
  • Thinking of learning/using #Django to parse the #18xx differences list into a RDBMS so that game-specific views may be extracted. #
  • @brettspiel Dude, I told you to see Coraline 3D at the tme! It was exemplary. Yet to see UP 3D, but may this week. in reply to brettspiel #

Age of Steam: production probabilities

The following python script calculates the probabilities of a given cube on a row being produced by the end of a given round in a game of Age of Steam:

#! /usr/bin/env python
# Author: J C Lawrence <claw+blog@kanga.nu>
# Date: 25 June 2009
# Purpose: Calculate AoS cube production probabilities by row and round

def fact (x):
    if x < 1:
        return 1
    return reduce (lambda x, y: x * y, xrange (1, x + 1))

def xCy (x, y):
    return fact (x) / (fact (x - y) * fact (y))

def point_p (d, n):
    c = float (xCy (d, n)) 
    p = (((1.0 / 6) ** n) * ((5.0 / 6) ** (d - n)))
    return c * p

def sum_p (d, n):
    rc = 0.0
    for i in range (n, d + 1):
      rc = rc + point_p (d, i)
    return rc
    
def main ():
    for p in range (3, 7):
        print "Players: %d" % p     
        for r in range (1, [10, 8, 7, 6][p - 3]):
            print "\tRound %d:  Row 1 - %f\tRow 2 - %f\tRow 3 - %f" \
                        % (r, sum_p (r * p, 1), sum_p (r * p, 2), sum_p (r * p, 3))

if __name__ == "__main__":
    main ()

The results:

Players: 3
    Round 1:  Row 1 - 0.421296  Row 2 - 0.074074    Row 3 - 0.004630
    Round 2:  Row 1 - 0.665102  Row 2 - 0.263224    Row 3 - 0.062286
    Round 3:  Row 1 - 0.806193  Row 2 - 0.457341    Row 3 - 0.178260
    Round 4:  Row 1 - 0.887843  Row 2 - 0.618667    Row 3 - 0.322574
    Round 5:  Row 1 - 0.935095  Row 2 - 0.740378    Row 3 - 0.467775
    Round 6:  Row 1 - 0.962439  Row 2 - 0.827219    Row 3 - 0.597346
    Round 7:  Row 1 - 0.978263  Row 2 - 0.886969    Row 3 - 0.704381
    Round 8:  Row 1 - 0.987421  Row 2 - 0.927041    Row 3 - 0.788168
    Round 9:  Row 1 - 0.992720  Row 2 - 0.953411    Row 3 - 0.851205
Players: 4
    Round 1:  Row 1 - 0.517747  Row 2 - 0.131944    Row 3 - 0.016204
    Round 2:  Row 1 - 0.767432  Row 2 - 0.395323    Row 3 - 0.134847
    Round 3:  Row 1 - 0.887843  Row 2 - 0.618667    Row 3 - 0.322574
    Round 4:  Row 1 - 0.945912  Row 2 - 0.772831    Row 3 - 0.513209
    Round 5:  Row 1 - 0.973916  Row 2 - 0.869580    Row 3 - 0.671341
    Round 6:  Row 1 - 0.987421  Row 2 - 0.927041    Row 3 - 0.788168
    Round 7:  Row 1 - 0.993934  Row 2 - 0.959962    Row 3 - 0.868240
Players: 5
    Round 1:  Row 1 - 0.598122  Row 2 - 0.196245    Row 3 - 0.035494
    Round 2:  Row 1 - 0.838494  Row 2 - 0.515483    Row 3 - 0.224773
    Round 3:  Row 1 - 0.935095  Row 2 - 0.740378    Row 3 - 0.467775
    Round 4:  Row 1 - 0.973916  Row 2 - 0.869580    Row 3 - 0.671341
    Round 5:  Row 1 - 0.989517  Row 2 - 0.937104    Row 3 - 0.811313
    Round 6:  Row 1 - 0.995787  Row 2 - 0.970511    Row 3 - 0.897210
Players: 6
    Round 1:  Row 1 - 0.665102  Row 2 - 0.263224    Row 3 - 0.062286
    Round 2:  Row 1 - 0.887843  Row 2 - 0.618667    Row 3 - 0.322574
    Round 3:  Row 1 - 0.962439  Row 2 - 0.827219    Row 3 - 0.597346
    Round 4:  Row 1 - 0.987421  Row 2 - 0.927041    Row 3 - 0.788168
    Round 5:  Row 1 - 0.995787  Row 2 - 0.970511    Row 3 - 0.897210

No accommodations have been made for maps with different numbers of rounds per player count, or the insta-production rules used on most of my maps. Enjoy.