I’ve long mused on writing an article on Track-Tile Rosters In The
18xx: Their Use & Management. And clearly until now I haven’t. Well,
almost. Perhaps a collection of quotes from my posts on the area will
A collection of minor and marginally impolitic rants about
track-tile management and use in the 18xx, with focus paid to their
use and abuse by players and the process of learning to do so.
On the use, abuse and lack of recognition of the existence of the
track-game in the
Summarising: You and your opponents are either too incompetent to
see the track games before you or (less likely but it happens) are
unwilling to engage them, and are (as sadly the vast majority of
players are) utter crap at offensive track management and route
building. Which is fine. It just means that there’s large chunks
of the game you have neither seen or learned yet and so you have
things still to do. Good stuff. The first step is recognition of
But your and your opponent’s incompetence does not mean that the
game is absent.
Done well, track will just seem to happen, to be obviously
impossible or inevitable and of course it came out that way. But
it came out that way because a good track builder knows the tile
distribution and the timing constraints of the game and made it
happen. They saw that you’d need a #23 in a few rounds and
arranged for them to all be used elsewhere, that you needed a #46
to do the second best thing and…oh well, that too. And that all
the tiles they need are just automatically available when they
need them, perhaps liberated by the upgrade their other company
did just before. And this all looks so natural and easy that it
And it isn’t. No more than Curry’s casually tossed off 3-pointers
or Messi’s corner kicks that tuck into the net with the light
inevitability of gravity, or Bjoern Borg’s effortless ground play
driving McEnroe to his knees – those aren’t just fate either, and
for the same reasons.
But most players are crap at track. Really utterly dreadful. Even
many of the old hands have just never put in the work to fully
learn how to play the track game. Instead they think it is about
drawing point-to-point lines using funny-shaped tiles…and then
they struggle and hem and haw over irrelevant details and
wondering what tile does what or if there is a tile that does
this…and never give a thought to having planned those lays three
ORs ago and having already considered and managed the implications
of the other connections incidentally created by that track lay
and what that does to the mix of available tiles and how that
affects every other company’s track future…and thus they miss
the game staring them in the face.
Which is not to say that the track game is the greatest or best
sub-game in the 18xx. It isn’t. It is just one sub-game among
several, and it happens to be the one that novice players are most
ready to claim is obviously absent…(as I did)…and then spend
untold hours faffing about and mostly accomplishing nothing and
using that as a demonstration of their conclusion rather than of
Start out by learning the tile roster. Every tile, every count,
and all of its connectivity and upgrade paths. This is easy enough
in 1830 – there are only 85 tiles across 46 tile types in the
game, so that’s fairly easy. Then start thinking about the
implications of dits not upgrading, of the double dits and OO
tiles in particular, of how many edges are ever connected by a
given track tile and why 1830’s permissive track rules are
important there…and then you should be able to give a reasoned
argument for why there are only four #7s and #57s in the
game…any why, and thus how you setup to use that limit to or
against your advantage.
Then leading forward into the particulars, the actual management and
definition of the problem space:
How many different possible ways are there for one line of track
to cross a tile? A moment’s thought tells you 3: straight, broad &
sharp curve. Okay, that’s 9 tiles down: the simple track, dits and
yellow cities. Ooops, two of the yellow city types are missing, so
7. (I wonder why? Go to the map and fiddle for a bit, imagine what
could be done with broad and sharp curve cities – ooooh, lots of
balance problems there!) Next, let’s look at tiles with two
routes. How many different possibilities are there? Yeah, a
lot. Okay, break it down: How many where the two routes don’t
intersect and join at an edge? So two different routes joining a
total of four edges.... There are 9. Ergo there are 9
possibilities for green co-existing track tiles, 9 possible double
dits and 9 possible brown OO tiles. Of course 1830 doesn’t have
them all, for instance there are only 5 double dit tiles – so 4
are missing. Same for the brown OOs. And only 4 greens? Which are
missing, and do the different tile types
Okay what about the green switches? Two routes connecting only
three edges? How many of those can there be? Well, obviously one
route could be a straight, broad or sharp; and the other route
could also be a straight, broad or sharp…but they have to
connect, so they could connect at either end of the first
track. Oh, and some of them are impossible like straight/straight
can never connect only 3 edges and broad/broad is either 3 or 4
edges and is rotationally symmetric…and yeah, a bunch of them
fall out for being the same shape, just rotated, like the
broad/broad switch is the same track no matter how you spin it. So
fiddle with pencil and paper for a few minutes and you should come
up with 10.
There are 10 possible green switches. 9 possible coexisting
patterns and 10 switches. That’s not so many. Are they all in the
game? Grrrrr, some are missing. Which?
Green cities? They connect 4 edges. How many permutations? Yup, 3:
X, K and chicken foot. Except the last isn’t in 1830. Hurm, these
exceptions are starting to be annoying. Still, we’ve just done 26
of the 46 different tile-types in the game and have spent what?
Only a few minutes? More than half way done in so little time or
On to the browns. Oh, they are a mess! So confusing! Or are they?
We’ll use the same tools to cut them down to size. How many
different routes on a brown tile?
Yep, 3 or 4. Unghh. Okay, how many different edges are connected
on any given tile? Yep, 3 or 4 and…yes..all the ones with 3
edges also only use 3 routes. And a given edge with track only
ever has 1 or 2 routes. Never 3. Okay, grab your pencil and paper:
How many possible ways are there of doing that? Now for the 4s,
how many? And…which are missing from 1830?
Nothing joins 5 or 6 edges…? Oh, just the brown
cities. Everything else tops out at 4. Really, everything. Go
check. Does that have
any…significance? Yeah, connected edges never go away across
upgrades…so every time you lay a yellow tile you’re committing 2
of the 4 possible edges to be connected for the rest of the
game. And when you do a green upgrade to a switch you’re
committing the 3rd edge…which means that only one more edge can
ever be connected. There are only 4 edges, ever.
There are no 5- or 6-edge simple track tiles. So during upgrades
you can just count the edges, and if its 3 or 4 its possible, but
otherwise, no go no how. Hang on, 1830 track is permissive! That
means that when you plop down a green co-existing tile you’ve just
dictated, forever, which 4 edges of that hex will be connected for
the rest of the game. And switches…they commit two routes to an
edge. Once that switch is down, nothing else will ever connect to
that edge. Ever. Those are pretty strong commitments that you’re
making with simple track-lays. Maybe, just maybe, you could use
those little tidbits to make decisions?
So far in this little exercise you’ve spent what? We’ll call it an
hour, maybe two hours; a little under or over. And yet you’re
already significantly ahead of most 18xx players. Truly. Now keep
going and figure out some more patterns. As you’ve seen, it isn’t
hard and pretty quickly things like that 4-edges bit fall out, and
that’s one hell of a handy weapon. Are there more?
Is any bit of the above process hard or even particularly
time-consuming? No. Its just simple stuff, applied simply, one
step at a time in simple and even obvious ways. Just plod along
thinking it through, step-by-step. The only things that screw it
up are the exceptions/missing-tiles – but even those tend to fall
out in fairly clear-cut ways when you carry them back to the game
and ask yourself, What would happen if these were present in the
game? Would they significantly change things or would they just be
irrelevant? Why? Does it make things easier or harder?
For…everyone or just in these special cases? Do those special
cases matter? Really?
It is easy. A bit laborious I’ll give you, but easy enough that
just spending time and low levels of effort will get you there –
things to fiddle with in your head while in the shower or
commuting – and the pay-backs are strong and close to immediate in
On holding the
bar and setting expectations:
No, you’re way overstating and in the process affirming the
dilettante’s self-reassuring assumption of, “That’s too much
work…” Rather than holding up the clearly visible and
should-be-rotely-assumed goal: Of course people know these
sorts of things about the games they play.
The idea that things like the above aren’t an automatic part of
playing any game, that they are just as obviously necessary as
knowing the rules, is something continues to baffle me. What do
you think of the player who asks the same questions about the game
rules, makes the same mistakes, again and again and again, game
after game after game after game after game after game? The same
rules questions. The same mistakes and stumbles. Every
game. Again. Why is that any different than a player asking and
stumbling and tripping over the same questions about the
track-tiles in a game, game after game after game after game? How
is it different? The track tiles and their arrangements are just
as much game rules as those about selling shares or running
That said, I’ll happily admit that it took me a long time to get
to seeing the above and using them constructively, starting from
scratch with no guidance, but that wasn’t for lack of pushing. It
was manifestly obvious to me that something was possible even if I
didn’t yet see what it was, and so I hammered away and didn’t get
far for a while. (It took a comment from Mark Frazier before the
flashbulbs all went off)
Estimation of effort and structural similarities to trick-taking card
At no point am I deriding people who haven’t learned or figured
out this stuff. I am deriding those who aren’t even trying. We all
start out not knowing. The question is, What are you doing about
I assume you play or have played Poker or Rummy or Canasta or
Euchre or some such. How many cards are there in a standard french
suited deck? 52? How many suits? 4? What are the suits? Hearts,
clubs, diamonds, spades? How many colours? 2? How long is each
suit? 13? What are all the cards in a suit? Ace, 2, 3, 4…10,
jack, queen, king?
You know all that, and I bet know it without a second thought and
consider it “easy” and “automatic”. You likely use this knowledge
in deciding what cards to play in games like Hearts without
blinking. 1830 track tiles are not substantially different. They
are just funny shaped cards. Their particulars are a bit
different, but not a lot different: they just have a colour and
1-4 lines drawn across them in some pretty limited and
standardised ways. They’re actually simpler than playing cards!
You also know the various melds for playing cards like 3 and 4 of
a kind, runs of cards in order etc. Track tiles are also laid out
in ordered structures, essentially cards in a shared tableau we
call the “board” and the placement rules are even simpler than
those for say Poker melds: Put down any tile anywhere so long as
a) Matches the type of what's underneath it.
b) Doesn't change what was there before.
c) Can trace a line from the new tile back to one of your
And that’s pretty much it. (Everything else is basically an
edge case or exception) Or if you want:
a) You have to follow suit.
b) The card must be bigger than the previous card if any.
c) Some connection rule which maybe doesn't map to
trick-taking card games well.
That’s really not so hard.
This isn’t a question of me operating in realms beyond mere
mortals. Ptui! There’s not a single damned thing listed out above
which you and every other reader here can’t observe, utterly and
completely, in a few seconds. I’ve done nothing unusual above
beyond articulate something that’s mostly obvious in one
(hopefully) fairly cogent lump.
And of course, the parallels in Carcassonne, honing in on
Carcassonne tiles have basically three types of features: castles,
cloisters & roads. Each feature has simple constraints/patterns:
castles always join 0 or 2 corners of the tile; cloisters sit in
the middle of the tile; roads always run from the midpoint of the
edge to the center of the tile, are never inside castles, and
there can be 0-4 of them. And…that’s it. If you want to add in
the river, it follows the same patterns as and is exclusive of
roads. That’s pretty much everything structurally. Everything from
there is about the distribution, how many of this tile versus
And I don’t think memory is really useful – certainly not in the
presence of a tile sheet that’s just handed out – or for 1830
either. It isn’t being able to chant off how many #45s there are
in the game (2), but rather understanding the patterns and rules
of the system that’s been built. What is possible? What isn’t
possible? What are the constraints? Which priorities does this
create on players? How do you detect, determine and assess those?
What edges does this knowledge create and how can you use it?
Etc. None of that is based on learning tile counts, though that
tends to happen as a side effect, but instead on understanding the
implicit rules of the game as explicitly encapsulated in the
tiles. There is a pattern and a logic and a set of structured
limits there that can be readily understood and used.
In Carcassonne players learn really quickly to count the number of
open edges on their castles. The more edges, the harder it is to
ever close. Simple enough and not a memory thing. 18xx track has
similar structures: 2 routes maximum on an edge, no more than 4
connected edges, 3 basic track types, 9 co-existings, 10 switches,
all brown tiles are pairs of switches (there’s a new one for
you)… All these things define the space in which the game
happens and implicitly define the game rules even if they never
have words put to them in the rules. They are just as much the
rules to the game as what the train limit is or how much money the
players start with.
So learn the rules to the game.