I’ve removed the prototype watermark from the 1828 rules. It is now fully released.
I’ve removed the prototype watermark from the 1828 rules. It is now fully released.
O’ tradition! (I released 1828 for playtesting over Christmas a few years back – might as well continue that pattern)
I’m now releasing the latest-ish draft of the 1839 rules and the game itself for (somewhat limited) open playtesting. Supported player-counts: 2-4. (Yep: 2)
What is (somewhat limited) open playtesting? Pretty simple really:
Guidelines, easily tested statements of principle for game presentation design:
I’ve come up with such lists before, but they’ve been verbose or numerous or not-so-easily-tested or not phrased in terms of principles etc. eg No distractions, everything presented at equal weight and visibility, no additional emphasis or suggestion anywhere, never ever help the player but also don’t ever get in their way, etc. The above seems better in accuracy, also application and testing against choices.
What may playtesters of my games do or not do? Are there secrecy rules? Expectations that they’ll keep mum and only talk to me or my assigns? That they won’t talk to third parties or potential competition?
No, it is simpler than that. The game-teach and playtesting rules are simple: you can take and send pictures around freely, you can talk about the game freely – good or bad or ugly or indifferent is all fine – but you can only do those things where I can see/participate (tell me about it), and you can only play the game (at all) either with me or with my approval (so I can observe and respond).
My games are all under Creative Commons licenses, I keep no secrets here, but I mind the conversation.
I’ve a liking for games where the lack of rules is a bigger problem than the rules that are present.
Which suggests an aspect of style: complex, entangled, compromised positions in which extrication/differentiation is frequently worse than remaining in the (?abusive/exploitative?) relationship.
Yeah, that seems good.
In another forum far far away (truly), I’d written:
1841 however is all about mounting potential threats and then making the potentials of those threats ever larger. It isn’t about what you have, but what you could have, and thence what you could then do. So the game is fought out in the future – you’re always fighting to create or prevent something which hasn’t happened, but might.
And a player asked me to unpack and explain that a bit. So I did (lightly edited):
Rather than answer your question directly, as I expect that wouldn’t be useful, describing common basic activities in 1841 may give a clearer understanding.
First let’s start with a metaphor. Imagine someone wanting to cross a gorge. So they start to build a bridge.
In the beginning their bridge is anchored on their side of the gorge and they keep adding to the end of it and stretching it out over the gorge toward the other side. But then they run out of materials.
So they go back to the beginning of the bridge and rip it up, carry the materials to the end and bolt them on there to stretch out even further across the gorge. And pretty soon that bridge isn’t even connected to or supported by the side of the gorge they started from, and they’re still ripping material off one end and bolting onto the other and working their way across the gorge. And much like Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner, as long as they doesn’t look down, this works just fine and they keep building the bridge and crossing the gorge.
And that’s 1841.
In specific, the general path of a player in 1841 is that they’ll start the game by floating one or two companies. And those companies may invest in each other or in other players companies, but more importantly, they can issue all their shares to the bank, raise a lot of money, and float a new company at a very high par.
And a bit later those companies can in turn issue all their shares to the bank, raise a lot of money and float a new company at an even higher par. Etc. And so a towering pile of leverage is constructed with none of these shell companies (generally) having a route, owning trains or of course ever running them. This great towering pile of leverage exists so as to inflate a money bubble: bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger.
And all this money can work its way back down to the root company – the company you own shares in – and be used to buy trains which run and make money and pay nice dividends. Or also to threaten to buy trains. And that threat is really important and it has multiple sides.
1841 has a fairly typical train roster 2/3/4/5/etc…except that the 5Ts are not permanent. Also, with this ever exploding money bubble, people keep buying trains – so all the non-permanent trains are really bad. And every rank rusts the one two before – so the 5Ts rust the 3Ts etc. Nice and fast. Often the trains only get to run and pay once before they rust, not so rarely they rust before they ever run, and they’re pretty consistently just crap.
But really, all the non-permanent trains are crap, but not having one is even worse. Because even only running once gives you some money to buy more shares with…
But that’s okay, because that ever-inflating money bubble at some point is going to be able to buy straight through everything and into the permanents. VOOM. And the final permanents are a nice cheap $1,440 each. Which is of course easy to afford with your big money bubbles and trains that sometimes maybe ran.
Except life isn’t that simple.
The companies that your companies have been floating etc have home stations etc and no routes and thus no need to have a train etc and at some point some nice friendly soul is going to build track and give them a route and so make them have to have a train. Right when you don’t want to. When your money in the wrong place. Or the timing is wrong. Or just ARGHH! Because they’re helpful like that.
And it still isn’t that simple.
Because you can merge your companies to reduce how many liabilities you have. But mergers are 2:1 share trades, so every time you merge you come out with half as many shares and it doesn’t take much before a lot of shares turns into very few shares.
It is pretty common for players to be paper-tight in the mid-game in 1841. And for the winner to win resoundingly with only 5-7 shares, or sometimes even fewer.
Because that’s all they had left after all the mergest and trades and shares sold to buy trains and general panicing.
And so during the game the players build these great towering piles of leverage, great piles that they plan to collapse just so with them having all the trains and routes and shares they could ever want, but they do that by kiting them out into mid-air, building their dream castles in the sky, and then they fight, They fight not over the here and now, but over the money bubbles that will be, over the companies that will eventually be, over the train buys that might happen, etc. Everything way down the road is fought in the here and now, because if they wait until then it is way way too late.
And so the artillery shells fly, arcing over the land…to obliterate that distant hilltop and that river crossing and that etc in two or three or five turns, so nobody stands there in that future time…while the snipers work on headshots on the people they can see Right Now and players steal companies from each just to make this simple cacophony a little simpler and easier.
And that is 1841.
Imagine that you have a set of runners running a race. The race is set atop a cliff and the runners, in order to run most quickly, must run along the very edge of the cliff, leaping across small gaps and gullies, sailing across the thousand meter drops to the rocks below.
The safe runners play it safe. They plod along the edge of the cliff, safely in from the edge where it might crumble and they almost always lose. But they do run and huff and puff and say they tried to win. The winners however invariably tear along like madmen, leaping gaps beyond imagining and sometimes frankly just running on thin air, apparently on the premise that as long as they don’t look down they’ll get to the other side ever so more quickly than everyone else. And this actually seems to work, well, some of the time. And all the while they’re doing this, they’re also pushing and tripping and shoving each other, shooting each other, setting traps, breaking legs and the like. And of course, lots of times these fast runners fall and die. But pretty much always the races are won by one of the fast runners. And then the safe runners come in a safe while later. And then the stretchers carrying the bodies peeled off the rocks come staggering and dripping in.
This is playing 18xx.
This morning Dave Berry and I had a chat on the 18xx Slack #18xxdesign channel. Possibly this was prompted by my posting quick notes on the game (the second point of which is wrong as noted in the chat and back on the original posting):
You can find the original log of our chat on the 18xx Slack #18xxdesign channel (recommended, but at some point it will age off the history), or here follows a lightly cleaned up log of the chat. All errors and misrepresentations are of course mine.
jcl – @DaveB Yo!
DaveB – joined #18xxdesign by invitation from jcl.
jcl – For everyone else: @DaveB is the designer of 18GB. Early in my plays of the game I asked if he’d be interested/willing to have an online chat about some aspects of the game I found curious and he’s graciously appeared!
DaveB – Better late than never (I hope)
jcl – To give a little more context, there was a BGG thread this morning on 18GB:
DaveB – @jcl, what would you like to ask?
jcl – So the first thing for me is the small number of companies. In general it is 2N.
Locally this has meant that all the second round companies float at the same time least someone never get a second, and then are never significantly sold down least they never get it back.
Is there a logic/sense here?
Some of his is based on our games ending very comfortably in 6SRs, so there’s just not much time to do the necessary stock actions.
DaveB – I think it’s 2N+c, where c is 1 or 2. The exception is the two player game, where there are six companies, and the six-player game, where there are twelve companies.
jcl – A 4 player game has 8 companies IIRC (I’m a bit away from my copy). 3P is 7, 2P I think is 6. I’ve not yet done 5P.
DaveB – It’s 9 companies for the 4-player game, 12 for the 5-player.
jcl – Then I’m reading something very wrong there for 4P.
totters down the hallway to fetch his copy
DaveB – Unless something got messed up in production, it should be nine companies.
jcl – I just fetched my copy…checking back page of rules.
You are right! Aaaargh!
Okay, that makes a significant difference.
DaveB – Phew! I’m glad we didn’t mess up the production.
jcl – How long have your games generally been in SRs?
DaveB – I found that the “extra” companies often didn’t get floated. This may reflect the people who tested the game.
jcl – By default I tend toward capital heavy strategies, so all the companies will be used in every game. eg last game of 1860 I floated 5 companies and kept 2.
DaveB – 18GB was tested by several groups but to an extent the design reflected the biases and feedback of the testers.
jcl – Of course.
DaveB – In general, I think I’ve seen 6 or 7SRs. How many do you see?
jcl – 6 with 5 threatened. We’ve usually ended in 6.1 or 6.2.
DaveB – Do your games end with the top of the stock market or do you run out of trains>
jcl – Both, slightly more often top-of-market (sample size: 5 so a 3:2 split).
DaveB – That’s what I generally find.
jcl – It is hard to prevent a top of market when someone piles all the trains into a company.
DaveB – One aim of the design was to explore the space around 1825/1860 as investment games, in which you don’t have to worry about companies being dumped on you, but without the strict order of company appearance.
jcl – nods. Two areas I’ve long wanted to design something within: 1) the 1825 model (including Phase IV) and 2) Price Protection.
DaveB – Hence the borrowing of a couple of rule from 1860 to limit the sale of the last train, and sales of train-less companies yielding half price.
jcl – Of course – that rule prevents a boatload of degeneracy. But mostly here it has made for wee timing games of putting about to rust trains into a company so as to ensure it is train-less.
DaveB – A couple of players did suggest price protection, particularly in response to the impact of share sales on company conversion, but I felt the tactics around conversion can be quite interesting (and price protection would have been an extra complication).
jcl – I also think Price Protection marries particularly poorly with the 1825 economic model.
In particular, it isn’t as if stock value means or is worth much for the first 2/3rds of the game. And the hit to capital is…piffle trivial.
DaveB – (Also, I wasn’t particularly familiar with price protection at the time - I’ve only started playing 1870 recently).
jcl – 1870 is a wondrous game – but the skill curve is particularly long and deep.
In particular, I’ve seen none of the capital cycling in 18GB that you see in 1860 (for instance) of float a company, loot it, dump it, let it run insolvent for a while, pick it back up full of money etc as there’s just not time to do all of that....and given the rest of the game, this seemed....odd.
Mostly because there hasn’t been time…say you dump in SR3…by SR4 it is still crap....SR5 the game is about to be over!
DaveB – I did want that to work, and I have made it work sometimes, but you’re right that it does depend on the pace of the game. The X trains can put a fair bit of cash into a company.
jcl – With a 7SR game as you say you sometimes see…yeah, I could imagine it working, but not otherwise. As soon as the X trains hit here there’s a pretty basic pattern of ploughs-to-train-limit then pay-pay-pay.
DaveB – The conversion mechanism interferes with that as a dominant strategy because conversion gives another way to add capital to a company.
jcl – I almost always convert as quickly as I can. The capital is nice but largely irrelevant to my approach. I want the station markers! That said, I’m by no means convinced that this is a dominant strategy. Mostly I drive for paying-trains first, stations-second. Which means the blue trains are pretty close to toxic. (Blue trains are what you buy when you have no other choice)
DaveB – I know people who always convert as late as possible. I haven’t found either approach to be dominant (yet).
jcl – nods. There does seem some flexibility there.
DaveB – I don’t understand - trains first, stations second - but you convert to get station markers rather than trains?
jcl – Yeah. I can always get trains with the odd hold but getting key station markers down requires growing up.
DaveB – Makes sense. Getting the right tokens is important.
jcl – eg The last two games I’ve stitched up the midlands so that I’ve had the only companies that could possibly run N/S.
DaveB – (Slightly less so in the published game than in earlier versions, but still important).
jcl – Quite. I’ve been on your Development mailing list for some years now and worked through some earlier iterations. The current token count seems quite low.
(we had a few chats there over the years about odd bits)
DaveB – (Yes, I appreciated the chats.)
jcl – grins
DaveB – Some station spaces aren’t important, IMO. The competition for the more relevant spaces can be quite intense
jcl – I find it is mostly simple counting. Who gets a tile there first?
DaveB – If you have the tokens to place, yes. If you’re balancing that against converting late, it’s more of an issue.
jcl – Seems like there’s 4-5 control token spots on the board and then it is XX tiles. OOs are mostly a waste except for early and simple cities are stupid.
nods converting late. That’s why I convert immediately.
DaveB – Do you think that extra tokens would benefit the game, given they would be placed in less strategic positions>
jcl – Yes. Help stitch up the board.
One of the things I do with any game is count the total number of station locations if everything is fully developed, and then the total number of markers in the game. Ideally the second number is within a small handful of the first. A gap of say 2-5 is Okay.
DaveB – I worry that it would be a distraction, leading to more recalculation of routes for little overall impact on the game.
jcl – Depends if they fall early or late.
DaveB – Analogous to some games where people chase dits to increase their income by 10 each
jcl – If they fall early it makes for more track tile roster focus/interest in working around barriers and stopping people working around.
(Yeah, dit chasing is silly)
But I’m also of the mind that Frustration-Is-Good in games.
DaveB – Maybe I’ll experiment with adding an extra token per company. (Or do the sums properly).
jcl – Jolly good.
DaveB – I agree about frustration. In my experience, players want it to be easy to lay the right tile, play the right station marker, buy the right stock, keep their company afloat, etc. One of my goals as a designer is to make those choices less straightforward.
jcl – Precisely.
DaveB – On the other hand, if players are tripping over a mechanic that isn’t an essential feature of the game, then that’s a rough edge that needs smoothing.
jcl – Which makes 18GB’s two-upgrades-only-one-city track development seem incredibly excessively rich. Everybody gets…everything they want very quickly modulo tokens and hills.
(One of my general wants as a designer is for companies to be still laying key yellow track in the last ORs)
DaveB – Unless another company gets there first! Many of the track laying rules in 18GB arise from the nature of the board, with a dense area of cities in the middle and empty space to the north, south and west.
jcl – Of course. Mostly the whole board goes brown in a couple ORs and half the companies have no track to build/develop for their own interest for a large chunk of the game.
DaveB – Hence two non-city actions or one city. Also the restrictive upgrades and the unusual OO and XX tiles.
jcl – (My lead company has its tokens down and end-game routes already defined half-way through blue)
DaveB – The last few ORs are basically an evaluation function over the game state to that point.
jcl – Which leaves only the tail-end-charlie track development from blue forwards. (I’d say sets rather than ORs)
DaveB – Halfway through blue is quite impressive. Allied to the early conversions, of course.
jcl – nods. Always push.
DaveB – Do you find you’re making enough income compared to people with non-converted companies?
jcl – I lag for one SR and then blow past them.
Hang on, two hexes OR one city?
DaveB – Neat.
jcl – We’ve been reading that as two hexes of which only one may be a city.
DaveB – You’re right
jcl – Phew.
In 5 games....we’ve never once built a hill. In short the cost is too large a fraction of the price of a train and so is Just-Not-Worth-It as it is effectively punishing an already-loser. You?
DaveB – I’ve just finished an online game in which people crossed at least three hills.
Late conversions can lead to spare capital, which allows people to build round those pesky tokens.
jcl – Were they worth it?
Seems like that late capital is better spent doubling up on trains.
DaveB – In most cases, the hills seemed worth it.
jcl – aims for all of his companies to be train-tight for the second half of the game.
DaveB – I don’t recall which companies had which trains. In some cases, a player had one company build a hill that was used by another, where the second company had two trains.
There’s a risk if all companies aim for two trains, in that the game may end before those trains pay back their cost.
jcl – If you can get multiple trains usefully across the connection then…maybe. My early grow-up & track development tends to preclude such being interesting to me, but that’s clearly not a global constant.
DaveB – (For onlookers, this is because the game ends when all trains have been bought or removed).
jcl – Yeah. Thus our games that ended in 6.1. Mostly for us it has meant that the gap from the 4X->6X is about 1.5 ORs.
(I’ll happily buy trains that never run if it stops even more opponent’s trains from ever running)
DaveB – nods
jcl – It is good to deny people quad-jumps for shares you don’t hold.
You think the privates are worth buying?
DaveB – You mentioned on BGG that the privates are over-valued. That’s an area I struggled to get right and its probably the area I’m least happy with the design as it is.
jcl – I’ll buy the Liverpool.....and maybe the Edinborough thing if I have scrap money and it isn’t an edge on a share… But more generally if I could get out buying no privates I would in every game.
DaveB – Edinburgh? Do you mean the AF with the Perth tile lay?
jcl – Yeah, that one.
DaveB – The Leicester tile lay is quite strong.
jcl – It is for red, but it also requires a token, and that’s a stupid token.
DaveB – And the station markers can be good too.
jcl – But it is the only other one I’d think about
DaveB – The LNWR can build through Leicester too.
jcl – York? So very easy to wall off – and it isn’t even an EXTRA marker, just reserved.
Which brings up red (Midlands?) as being significantly stronger than black (LNWR) or light green (NER).
DaveB – If I had another round of tweaks to the design, I’d look at making the privates more powerful, both in ability and possibly also by making the closure payment multiplied by the phase (e.g. 1x for yellow/green, 2x for blue/brown, 3x for gray, or something like that).
jcl – Neat.
DaveB – I’ve never found the Midland (red) to be significantly stronger than other companies. The NER can be a bit weak, I agree.
jcl – NER runs a lot of short trains quickly and easily and has some good control token opportunities…but then suffers badly. LNWR…just desperately needs someone to build track for it. Something…some edge. MR is in the middle of a forest of XX that it can get and token before anyone else, defining both revenue and shape and the mid-board.
Oh, and if they are not XX they’re OOs that also pay more.
DaveB – I think the LNWR can reach Manchester before the MR. Also, what about the LYR?
(Which starts in Leeds, one of the XX cities).
jcl – LYR has been second tranche in all our games…but even worse, is short a token.
If it had the token…I’d agree that it is stronger than MR.
DaveB – The reason I introduced the tranche system was because people were forming rigid openings. Varying the range of companies available to open made the game less predictable / less subject to groupthink.
jcl – nods. I’ve no problems with the tranches.
DaveB – I’m guessing you haven’t tried opening two companies in SR1, as you had only N companies in the first tranche instead of N+1?
jcl – I think I did once, worked out Okay.
DaveB – (This might not be possible with all player counts, as you start with less cash)
jcl – Yeah, certainly not at 4P which has been most of our games.
DaveB – I wanted it to be a viable option without being dominant.
jcl – It currently seems weak but not always Bad, but I also haven’t looked at it hard.
(Only time I did a 2-company start was in a 2P game – think? Tough to remember now.)
DaveB – OK
jcl – Gnahh…the games start to drift together and blur.
BtB I do like the add-legs-and-no-revenue pattern.
There’s been a lot of slag thrown at the N/S bonus as irrelevant BtB.
I’ve suspected that it may be the difference in getting multi-jumps for tighter games, but it hasn’t been here.
DaveB – Originally, the income for simple cities was always 20 regardless of phase. But people kept tripping over this, so I changed it to the more familiar pattern (albeit 10/20/30 instead of 20/30/40).
The N/S bonus makes the off-board hexes worthwhile compared to stopping at Glasgow or Edinburgh or Dundee.
I’d prefer it to be +30 instead of +20 but didn’t make that change in time for production.
jcl – Ahh, I jerk that sort of thing around here for my designs, so people are used to having to pay attention.
DaveB – I need to sign off tonight. Thanks for the conversation!
jcl – nods off-board. I’ve certainly wrangled or poisoned track to make getting to the off-board better/worse.
waves. It has been great to chat to you!
Would you mind if I posted a log of this? (With cleaned up typoes etc)
DaveB – On BGG?
jcl – I hadn’t actually thought about it, but uhh, sure?
DaveB – I mean, where do you want to post it?
jcl – I’ve not actually thought that through.
Left by itself this chat will slowly roll off the history. Seems like there’s ~value in making a log more accessible.
So, let’s say BGG.
DaveB – OK.
jcl – Thanks.
DaveB – No problem. Bye for now.
jcl – waves. Thanks.
Muddling about, cleaning things up a bit and getting a few more bits and other bobs standardised. Fixing old broken image links, having another whack at the CSS width issue, re-tagging artcles more approriately (eg the new 18xx tag), etc.
An off-the-cuff list of online resources & methods for playing the 18xx:
I use ps18xx heavily and don’t use any of the others.
I’ve also setup games under a webcam and played via a Google Hangout, which worked fairly well.