On 1841

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.

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.

Fear of Falling

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.