Posts about 18xx

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 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.

18GB Chat

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):

  • Almost all the privates are overpriced compared to the same cash in shares. Shares are massively better. Play the auction for maximal income/expense ratio (because the rules require you to bid) and otherwise get out as cheaply and with as little as you can.
  • Outside of 2 & 3 player games there are twice as many companies as players. Letting someone get a third presidency is unnecessary & silly.
  • The train rush is brisk, not fast, but brisk & steady. This is a short and small game. There isn’t enough time or enough companies for 1860-style company cycling.
  • The red company is better than all the others by a significant margin.
  • Use your second company as a train-factory until your lead company is train tight, maybe longer.
  • Don’t forget to empty all the IPOs – leaving those shares paying to treasury for lead companies is suicidal in the early/mid-game.
  • Use the bottom of the market and the pool to time getting over 60% of your second company.
  • As the permanents hit/approach, flip and leave your lead company with something modest, single-stepping up the market and run your train stuffed crap company quad-jumping up the market.
  • A token-light game: the final board has a lot of open holes after every token has been placed.
  • Token every XX. Pay attention to the brown upgrades when making the green upgrade. OOs are better revenue than simple cities but lose control late, so only token OOs for early revenue. Avoid tokening simple cities except for control – they’re not worth it.

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.

nods LNWR.

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)

OK, good.

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.

Nervous Impulses

An off-the-cuff list of online resources & methods for playing the 18xx:

  • Board18
  • CyberBoard (many fan-made kits, a file-sharing system to move the save-files between players, and with a spreadsheet for the numerics)
  • ps18xx (file-copying with a spreadsheet – link is to a version of Stephe Thomas’ rather improved version of Matthias Klose’ original)
  • Rails (file-copying the save-file)
  • rr18xx (requires a login code that can be found in the 18xx mailing list archives)
  • Stephe Thomas’ email-based “Mais n’est-ce pas la gare”.
  • VASSAL (many fan-made kits and with file-copying etc)

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.

Pennies to Peter or Paul

Say you have 6 shares of a company at $60 with a total run of $15.

  • You can withhold and reduce your net value by $30 ($5 per share) and gain control of $150 in capital, for a net of $120 ($150 - $30).


  • You can pay and increase your net value by $90 in dividends (6 shares paying $15 each) and $30 in stock appreciation (6 shares with $5 appreciation each) for a total of $120.

On first glance $150 is bigger than $120, and yes, it is actually bigger. But do you think you can do more with that $120 in your pocket to buy shares in companies that will buy and run trains and pay even more dividends and so forth…or is $150 in a treasury, which is not enough to buy a train, somehow better? (Remember: You can sell your shares in order to realise that stock appreciation so you can then flip that money into something even more profitable)

By the bye: You’ll often see experienced players selling down their companies, sometimes even until they only hold the bare presidency. Why? Because that company is exhausted, the money all spent and the trains soon to rust. They can buy paying shares in other companies (thus gaining those dividends and stock appreciation) while the sold shares also work for them by paying into the treasury – thus giving them double the money!

Commonly, the company also isn’t worth keeping hold of – a brand new company full of money is a better deal in every way. If someone wants to take it, bully for them – they can find and pay for a permanent train for it – otherwise all those shares in the pool will pay into the treasury when the company runs (partially resuscitating the company) and the shares will be nice and cheap to buy back in a future stock round after your money has been working for you more usefully somewhere else. And in the meantime there new companies full of money to float and help every other player’s trains to rust too…

Confident Termination

To give a quick sense of a fairly normal trajectory for 1830 and most other similar games:

  • SR1: 3 companies float.
    • OR1.1: First companies buy a single 2T each, last company buys 2x2T (thus ~guaranteeing that the 3T will come out in the next OR).
  • SR2: Some shares are bought and sold. (Sometimes a company floats if only 2 floated in SR1)
    • OR2.1: First company buys 2x2T+3T and their privates, later companies buy one or two 3Ts and their privates. Maybe a 4T is bought, but probably not.
  • SR3: 3-4 companies float. Sometimes all remaining companies are floated.
    • OR3.1: All the remaining 3Ts are bought, first and maybe all 4Ts are bought, 2Ts rust.
    • OR3.2: Companies run. Sometimes a 5T or two are bought.
  • SR4: Any remaining companies float, portfolios start to consolidate.
    • OR4.1: Any remaining 4Ts bought. Probably a 5T is bought, possibly all of them.
    • OR4.2: Likely a 6T is bought, possibly all of them.
  • SR5: Portfolios adjust.
    • OR5.1: Companies run. Any remaining 6Ts are bought.
    • OR5.2: First diesel is bought. 4Ts rust.
    • OR5.3: Companies run.
  • SR6: Final share buys.
    • OR6.1: Companies run.
    • OR6.2: Companies run.
    • OR6.3: Companies run. Bank is broken. Game over.

Many newer player’s games run for much longer than that: 7, 8, 9 SRs, sometimes even 10 SRs. The general reason why is slow train buying. As it is difficult to describe exactly what slow train buying is to a new player – slow compared to what? – the above gives a sense of what a game looks like from the outside with normal rates of train buying. Some games (with at least modestly skilled players) will go faster than that.

Now the above isn’t the only possible game trajectory or even always the ideal trajectory for every game, far from it, but it is a pretty common path in its broad shape. No 18xx player should be surprised by a game which runs at that rate or even a bit faster.

More broadly, 3-player games will tend to run a bit faster and larger player-count games will tend to run a bit longer. For instance, 6-player 1830 is commonly a 7 SR game simply due to marginal inefficiencies from the money being so divided.

founding platforms redux

Stephe Thomas correctly noted that ps18xx needs a few additional tweaks in order to be smoothly used as per Founding Platforms, most notably to support alternative paper sizes (I think I used A1 for the 1830 map? Might have been A2 – play with it) and to adjust the layout for track tiles to fit correctly on US Letter paper. I’ve made a GitHub repository with the requisite changes and sent them to Stephe Thomas as well. Homefully the changes will make it into his master.

Note: The key to using the various paper sizes is setting a PAPERSIZE environment variable to the desired paper size:

$ PAPERSIZE=letter make
make 30 playable tile list
perl -d src
$ ps2pdf
$ lp P30.pdf
make 30 map
perl -d src -a
$ ps2pdf

The supported paper sizes are:

  • letter
  • A4
  • A3
  • A2
  • A1
  • A0
  • B4
  • B3
  • B2
  • B1

Wrist Tapping

I’ve taken to using a 1 minute timer for players (me and one other) in 18xx games (the other players are not timed). It isn’t that 1 minute is a convenient time or a comfortable time. It isn’t. It is rather markedly too short. It is uncomfortable. Unpleasant. It encourages mistakes, big ones, game-throwing ones. It is too short and deliberately so.

There’s strong temptation to break the time limit, to make allowances, to permit a player to break and go over time maybe once or twice a game when decisions are especially chewy. Maybe a player has unlimited time for their decisions…say…oh…once or twice per game. Maybe a player could play very fast and accumulate time to spend later on bigger decisions? I have sympathy for the argument, especially given that I’m one of the players subject to the timer and also more likely to recognise and chew on such a decision. Such an approach would play to and accentuate my personal interests and abilities. But I refuse the argument. Players have a minute, period. I have a minute, period. If a player is not done in that time, if I’m not done in that time, then I or they auto-pass and it is the next player or company’s turn. Finis.

Why? Because the purpose of the exercise is to force the players to prioritise. No ifs, no ands, no buts, no forgiveness, no choice. There is barely time to look at your own position, let alone to examine the other player’s positions. Prioritise! The purpose isn’t for the players to make the best decisions, isn’t for the players to be maximally competitive, isn’t to approximate any sort of ideal game session, isn’t to make the game the most enjoyable. It is to give no choice other than to continuously prioritise everything and to still be too short of time.

Because then we learn, have no other choice but to learn.

Founding Platforms

Last weekend I made a highly functional copy of 18301 from scratch (ie from blank paper to a finished and fully playable game) in less than 7 hours. This is how I did it.

Mechanical efficiency

Manufacturing a game is a purely mechanical and highly repetitive process. Recognise this. Optimise your body positions and your physical processes to make that efficient. Time and motion study is well worth your investment.

I’ve observed a few things about myself in this regard:

  • I’m right-handed, so my left hand and arm are clumsier and less accurate then my right. As such I optimise my workspace such that my left hand is mostly doing crude/bulk actions and my right hand is doing high-control/detailed actions. This may sound like a trivial detail, but in a test I did a few years ago that optimisation alone saved almost an hour and a half from a larger game build!

  • I’ve also noticed that I make more accurate and more controlled cuts with a rolling knife if I’m cutting slightly to the right of my center line and am cutting from the lower right up and to the left. This one is both a time saver and more importantly, an error-rate improver. I get the tools positioned more accurately more quickly, I make fewer bad cuts and thus fewer reprints and re-dos for critical errors.

  • There’s a significant accuracy and efficiency gain from doing only one thing at a time. As such, if I’m laminating, I do all of the lamination before moving on. If I’m trimming the outsides of pages, I trim all the outsides of the pages before moving on to cutting out the individual components, etc. The idea is to isolate a specific action and body motion, to optimise and practice that and to then do nothing else but that single thing until it is all done everywhere. The result is more accurate cuts made faster and thus fewer critical errors that need re-dos.

The general result of this is that I’ve established a basic physical work flow:

  • Objects to be processed are to the upper left.

  • Trimmings and scrap are to the immediate left.

  • The work area is immediately in front of me (the long side of the cutting mat in most of the below pictures).

  • Finished items are either to the immediate right or upper right.

The result is a work flow with little wasted motion:

  1. My left hand gets the next piece to work on from the upper left and brings it down and into the work area, slightly to my right.

  2. Along with my right hand, the piece and rule is accurately positioned so that the cut goes from the lower right up and to the left.

  3. The cut is made: left hand holding the rule, right hand moving the knife. If the cut requires multiple passes (generally one pass for 3mil, 2-3 passes for 5mil and 3-4 passes for 10mil), then for each pass the knife is returned to the lower right and makes the exact same cut again. I don’t roll the knife back and forth in both directions as I’ve found that encourages the knife to wander and make sloppy cuts.

  4. My right hand sweeps the cut item to the right.

  5. My left hand sweeps the trimmings to the left and then moves up to get the next piece.

  6. Repeat.

For all the arguments about the above being boring or unnecessary or overly pretentious and picky or dear-gods-give-it-a-rest I can point to saved time, a more accurate product and fewer mistakes requiring me to re-make a component from scratch. The metrics win.

If you’re going to emulate a machine, ensure that you’re emulating a very efficient machine.

Materials & Tools


First, a note on vendors. I’m going to use Amazon links almost as they’re effectively universal. However my recommendation is not for Amazon per se but is for that specific equipment, model and material manufacturer.

Just standard cheap printer paper. Really. Nothing special.

Note that the lamination pouches are matte. While glossy lamination is significantly cheaper, it is markedly less pleasant to play with. That said, satin is even better than matte, but also rather more expensive again. I don’t find the cost differential justified.

The 10mil lamination is for the map. 10mil is rather clearly thicker and stiffer than it needs to be for maps, and most laminators can’t handle it properly…but it is what I have. 7mil (which I don’t have) is probably just as good and cheaper, but I’ve not tried it. (See the additional notes below for the laminator I use)

The 5mil lamination is for the track tiles. Well, almost. At the time of this build I’d run out of 5mil and hadn’t noticed. Ooops. So for this project I made the track tiles using 3mil…which really isn’t ideal. They’ll be made again, properly, later.

Track tiles made with standard printer paper and 3mil lamination are a bit too thin and a bit too flexible. They tend to stick together together a bit, are harder to pick up from the board and harder to sort and separate in the hand. This isn’t a Huge Deal, they are playable, but it makes a noticeable difference. 5mil laminated track tiles using the same paper etc handle noticeably more nicely.

Everything else, privates, shares, and trains was printed on standard printer paper and laminated with 3mil…and that’s just fine. Well, kinda okay.

Be careful with the choice of label paper. I’vee found that Avery don’t stick nearly as well as some cheaper brands, epecially the one I linked above.


I have several steel rules, but you only really need one. Asides from the rubber/cork backing (pretty standard), I recommend getting a stiffer rule (thicker metal) rather than one of the floppier/more flexible varieties. The shorter stiffer rules are easier to control and position accurately with one hand. I think the one I linked above matches this description but I haven’t tried that specific make/model.

Similarly, I don’t know the specific thin-bladed knife I linked above but that one appears similar to the one I use.

The corner rounder I used is cheap junk and is not recommended. It works, but only barely and only for thinner stock and thinner lamination (a bit iffy with 3mil and even more iffy with 5 mil). Oregon Laminations corner rounder is however recommended…but I hadn’t received it by the time of making the game.

The Apache AL13P2 laminator I use is big, heavy, built like a tank, heats slowly, cools even more slowly, and the outside gets hot enough to burn. But…it has four rollers and can be heated past 360 degrees Fahrenheit…and that’s useful.

Cheap consumer-grade laminators generally only have two rollers and ~no temperature control. At worst this means laminated material comes out cloudy and whitish due to the lamination not getting hot enough to properly melt and not getting enough pressure to be fully pushed into the fibers of the paper. Now this mostly doesn’t matter with 3mil lamination, most any laminator can handle that, but it comes into play with the thicker stuff. Even the $17 Amazon Basics Laminator can mostly handle 3mil lamination. Mostly. Given enough passes running the material through again and again it even tries (and half-fails) to handle 5mil using Oregon Laminations 5mil matte pouches: The pages still comes out cloudy and whitish.

I mostly-happily used a Fellowes 5600 (think that was the model number) for most of a decade until it died earlier this year. It did great on 3mil and with a couple passes even did well on 5mil. Maybe it would have worked with 3-5 passes on 7mil? I don’t know. But it completely failed on 10mil. When it died I replaced it with the Apache AL13P2 mentioned above. That laminator handles 3mil, 5mil and 10mil with only a single pass, just like a dream4.

Note: Oregon Laminations appears to recommend the TruLam TL-320B – which appears identical to the Apache AL13P2 laminator. Possibly one is the OEM?

I also used an Ellison Prestige Pro die cutter for the privates, shares and trains. (Note that it is $600+ on Amazon and ~$400 direct from the manufacturer It is a fairly expensive bit of kit, and even more so when you add in custom-made dies2 for cutting track tiles.

The Ellison Prestige Pro is the same equipment that Deep Thought Games, Golden Spike Games and All-Aboard Games all use (and I think Marflow Games as well).

For this build I used the die cutter, along with the test die that it came with solely for the privates, shares and trains. I wrote XXPaper to produce private, share and train art that precisely fits the test die.

While the die cutter certainly saves time, it really isn’t necessary unless you are making a lot of games. Trimming the privates, shares and trains by hand would have added perhaps half an hour to the build.


Making & printing the map

First, make and print the map and tile sheets. ps18xx5 can trivially generate the map…but it does so at a reduced scale (small enough that the entire map fits on a single page). The trick is to get it to make the map properly bigger and then to paginate the result across multiple pages cleanly.

For 1830 I had to do two things:

  1. Scale the map hexes up to be normal size.

  2. Move the resulting image on the page so that it needed fewer printed pages to cover all the important bits (ie not the white space) and the printed segments more sensibly divided up the map space.

Scaling the hexes is easy. For 1830 the top of the file looks like this (your version of the file might have some extra bank lines or indents than I’ve shown below – but don’t worry as they’re irrelevant as its just the words and numbers that matter, not the blank lines or spacing):

% $Header:[1.6] Wed Nov 15 17:26:41 1995 saved $
% ----------------------------------------------------------------------
% 1830 map
/mapRows 11 def
/mapCols 24 def
/mapScale 0.6 def
/CM { 28.35 1 mapScale div mul mul } def
mapScale dup scale
21 CM 0 translate
90 rotate
/mapFrame {

The key line there is the mapScale line. We need bigger hexes…and some measuring and calculation gives the desired scale bring around 1.20 rather than 0.6.6.

However that positions the map rather clumsily on the resulting image/page. The resulting larger image paginates poorly across more pages than are really necessary. In order to get the map segments most cleanly distributed across the final pages, I found that I needed to “slide” the map a bit on the page, and so I also edited the translate line to get:

% $Header:[1.6] Wed Nov 15 17:26:41 1995 saved $
% ----------------------------------------------------------------------
% 1830 map
/mapRows 11 def
/mapCols 24 def
% /mapScale 0.6 def
/mapScale 1.20 def
/CM { 28.35 1 mapScale div mul mul } def
mapScale dup scale
% 21 CM 0 translate
40 CM 0 translate
90 rotate
/mapFrame {

Note: The lines starting with percent signs (%) are comments and thus can be and are ignored.

Now make the map:

$ make
make 30 map
perl -d src -a
$ ps2pdf

And there you go, a nice map nicely positioned as a raw Postscript file7. Now to get it properly paginated for printing and cutting.

Most Linux systems come with a tool called poster to do this sort of thing. Certainly there are other similar tools available for other systems.

$ poster -v -i 1190x1580p -s 1.0 -m letter -o

In short, I manually defined the page size of the original file, scaled it by a factor of 1.0 (ie not at all) and paginated it across letter sized pages. If you live in a sensible and civilised part of the world with an actually rational measuring system, use A4 instead.

Note: I fiddled with the above line, trial and error, also adjusting the translate line in and the exact size of the page I passed to poster until I got what I wanted. It was fiddly but didn’t take long before I got a good result..

Okay, not make the PDF and then print it:

$ ps2pdf
$ lp 1830_scaled.pdf

This will print the map in segments, with clearly marked cut lines. All that’s required from there is laminating and then precisely trimming to those cut-lines.

Making & printing the track tiles

Simple enough:

$ make
make 30 playable tile list
perl -d src
$ ps2pdf
$ lp P30.pdf

Making the Stock market

A not entirely different process, but with a lot more fiddling, got Peter Mumford’s stock market similarly scaled and printed. I don’t yet have a good tool-chain built for automatically generating larger 2D stock markets, so for this build I’m stealing, err, Peter’s slightly buggy file (it has a minor error).

Making the privates, shares, trains and token art-files

XXPaper comes with a few .xxp files for 1830 assets. While they’re fine, I ended up making my own, adjusting the colours mostly, but also because longer term I want to extend that tile to include many of the variant companies (Norfold, Pere Marquette etc). The script in the samples directory shows how to make the files:

$ xxpaper -P letter ../1830_JCL-Papers.xxp -f nooutline

But I want the charters with outlines because they will be hand-cut, where-as the rest will be die-cut:

$ rm charter*
$ xxpaper -P letter ../1830_JCL-Papers.xxp -f outline -s charter

Convert them all to PDF:

$ for file in *.ps
  ps2pdf $file
$ rm *.ps


$ ls -1

Then just print them:

$ lp *.pdf

Making the game


Take each page, slip it into a pouch of the appropriate thickness, center it and run it through the laminator. Adjust the temperature of the laminator appropriately for each type of pouch (in general this means flipping a little 3mil/5mil switch but for the laminator I used it means dialing in the target temperature directly).

Starting the lamination process

Here’s the map all done in 10mil. Look closely and you can see the cut lines (little back triangles) showing where to cut for the map segments to align precisely.

Map segments done

And then everything fully laminated:

The rest of the laminated components


First, start with a new blade in your knife. I use a new blade for every game, two for larger games. The extra ease and precision is worth it (blades are cheap).

Also remember that I’m sitting to the long side of the cutting mat in the below pictures. New stock is to my top left, waste to the lower left, cut material to the right.

The map segments have cut markers showing precisely where to cut to get the segments to line up perfectly. The problem is that once you cut to one marker, you’ve also cut off the other marker on that side – and precision is particularly important in getting the map segments to line up exactly.

My trick was to make the cut along one side all the way through but not for the full length. I didn’t cut all the way to the end and left the extra bit still connected at the end. Thus the strip dangled and was attached only at the end…and was perfectly aligned with the remaining map. Then I made the next cut in the other direction, cutting off the loose end of the dangling strip while creating a new partial cut.

Lather rinse repeat around the outside and you get a perfectly cut map segment!

Trimming the map segments

Checking the map segments are perfectly square and exactly the same size:

Cuts are square and segments exactly the same size

Now cut the charters, first pass trimming the outsides, then cutting them into two strips of two charters each, then cutting those strips into individual charters:

Trim the charters

And now for the big monster, the track tiles! Following the rule of picking a single action and doing it everywhere before moving onto the next action, the first step is to trim the outside of the tile sheets. A secondary goal in this process: whenever possible make cuts that affect multiple track tiles. Doing so reduces the total number of cuts needed, thus also reducing possible errors.

Trim the outside of each tile sheet

Next, cut the sheets into strips of tiles:

Next trim the tiles into strips

You’ll commonly need to trip both edges of each strip:

Mind the accuracy of both edges

Cutting the strips into diamonds, each one containing one track tile::

Cut the strips into diamonds

Now trim each individual tile, checking all 6 edges for precision:

Trim the diamonds into individual tiles

And all done in 1 hour and 10 minutes!

Done in 1 hour and 10 minutes

Carefully aligning the map segments and putting a strip of standard cello tape across the back seam to make a folding board:

Check map segment sizes

I originally stuck the segments together in pairs. Since then I’ve decided that was a poor(er) choice and instead to make a 6-panel folding map. This will mean that some of the cello tape is on the top/visible surface of the map, but as I’m using a slightly whitish tape, something close to a “magic tape”,” and it just disappears once it is on the map.

The stock market was made just like the map, but only had two panels.

Ahh, the Ellison Prestige Pro die cutter! There it is in all its glory along with a test due and an old extra private I’ve previously cut with it.

Ellison Prestige Pro

If you look carefully you can see that I’ve drawn pencil lines along the middle of the die in both directions. XXPaper puts similar lines around its art-files and they can be used to correctly align the die with the printed page:

Die registration lines

I use an old spare private or share I cut earlier to ensure that the alignment lines that XXPaper made on the art-file lines up perfectly with the registration lines I drew on the die. As you may imagine, this can be a bit fiddly8].

Lining up the die

And voila, a cut sheet of shares!

Cut shares

All that’s done, all the privates, shares and trains, and now to round the corners of the charters and trains.

Corner rounding the charters and trains

I only round the corners of charters and trains, nothing else. I could do the privates and shares too, but I find that square corners on the shares make it easier for players to display their portfolios neatly (okay, I find it easier). And as for privates? Some privates contain a lot of information and the corners can get a bit crowded. XXPaper‘s format is still generous enough to allow the corners to be rounded, but not by much and privates aren’t handled much, so I leave them square.


Now for the tokens.

I used to use wood plugs manufactured by General Tools as sold by Home Depot (the small box to the left). They work well. But Home Depot is out of my way and General Tools no longer sells direct…and I’ve found that Platte River sells bags of 1,000 even more cheaply on Amazon. If you’re only making a few games I recommend the General Tools product.

But for this game I’m going to use tokens from old prototypes from the bag at the top of the picture. I’ll be peeling off the old stickers and attaching the new.

Making the board

Showing how easy it is to peel the sticker off an old token using a thin-bladed knife.

Token re-use

First, cut the whole-page label with the tokens into strips, two tokens wide:

Strips of token stickers

See the little flap sticking out one side of the punched token? Almost every time that will be there due to the different behaviour of the backing paper to the main paper of the label in the punch. The little tab is the backing material and is an easy handle to grab with a fingernail to peel off the rest of the backing.

Peeling flaps

But if it is missing (happens sometimes) the thin-bladed knife can slip in the edge and peel off the backing paper:

Using a knife to peel off the back

Peeling the back off normally:

Or your finger to peel

Marching through the companies:

TOkens for each company

The finished game

You may note that there’s some shading, that the left edge of each map segment is darker than the right edge. That is a previously unknown behaviour of my printer – I’m pretty sure it didn’t used to do that!

Note: The perspex sheet atop the map isn’t actually needed, its just convenient and now almost expected for my table

All done -- the game!

And a finished game with 3 players:

End of a 3-player game


As correctly noted by Stephe Thomas, ps18xx needs a few additional tweaks for the above, most notably to support alternative paper sizes (I think I used A1 for the 1830 map? Might have been A2 – play ith it) and to adjust the layout for track tiles to fit correctly on US Letter paper. I’ve made a GitHub repository with the requisite changes and sent them to Stephe Thomas as well. Homefully the changes will make it into his master.

Note: The key to using the various paper sizes is setting a PAPERSIZE environment variable to the desired paper size:

$ PAPERSIZE=letter make
make 30 playable tile list
perl -d src
$ ps2pdf
$ lp P30.pdf
make 30 map
perl -d src -a
$ ps2pdf

The supported paper sizes are:

  • letter
  • A4
  • A3
  • A2
  • A1
  • A0
  • B4
  • B3
  • B2
  • B1

  1. I own two copies of 1830 by Avalon Hill, one by Mayfair (so yes, I have a license to the game), plus now my third homemade edition. 

  2. My last quote for a custom die was a bit over $300. Two such dies3 (one for track tiles, the other for rectangular components), plus the die cutter sums up to around a $thousand if bought new. I bought my die cutter via EBay for rather less (after almost two years of waiting for a good deal), but it still wasn’t cheap. 

  3. Getting the die accurately positioned with respect to the paper is a core problem. Even with my little tricks of pencil lines to check orientation and alignment, it takes me a frustrating minute or three for each page. A key advantage of the custom dies is that they come with an alignment system for quick, easy and very accurate alignment of the die to the printed material. 

  4. Well, a dream where you wait 6 minutes for it to heat up, try not to get burned while you’re using it, and then wait an hour for it to cool enough to put away… But the produced laminations are completely delightful. I am a fan. 

  5. The linked version is old and rather out of date. Contact the venerable Stephe Thomas for the latest and greatest. 

  6. A scaling factor of 1.0 is the nominally right size. It makes for hexes which are tight compared to the the track tiles, even slightly smaller than the track tiles depending on the details of how you cut them. However a 1.20 scaling factor such I used gives hexes which are slightly bigger than the track tiles. Not a lot, just a little and for me, but just enough bigger as to make it placing and replacing track tiles on the map significantly easier and faster and less prone to disturbing all the surrounding track tiles. Thus I use the slightly sloppier 1.20 scaling factor, 

  7. Most systems can probably natively display Postscript. If your’s can’t, you’ll probably want to install ghostscript, which comes with the very nice ghostview Postscript viewing tool. 

  8. The custom dies have a far simpler and more effective registration and alingment system, much less fiddly, but as I don’t have them yet I’ll just leave that there. 

Inflationary Spending

A fundamental question is how to deploy capital into already extant companies and the friction and costs thereto. Possible methods include:

– Half-pays: intercepting part of the flow of capital from train-runs into the treasury. 18India and Rolling Stock perhaps take that particular pattern furthest in allowing the president to freely declare any between $0 and the full value of the the treasury plus run. Partially along this line, 18EA allows the company to “pad” the dividend with capital from treasury – often used to edge into a higher multi-jump stock increase.

– Revenue-generating assets sold/held by companies instead of players. This can be anything from cross-invested shares in 1841 to private companies with revenues, to bonds and other derivatives, to inter-corporate loans/securities and so forth.

– Horizontal transfers from other companies or other financial instruments, possibly newly floated or created for the purpose, can be interesting. Mergers, acquisitions, take-overs of objects with assets…can all fit in here.

– Direct access to the president’s personal cash. While 1832 has the London Bank private (company and personal cash are no longer separated), emergency train buys are the classic form of accessing presidential cash, but there are other ways from 1831 allowing presidents to freely contribute to train buys (and in some games, also other purchases), to even billing all shareholders for such elected purchases (pro-rated by the percentage held – yes, just being a minor share-holder is an ongoing risk in such games).

– Then there are loans. The most common form have the companies take the loans (eg, 1817, 1856, etc), but in some cases players can be the ones taking loans (1824, 1844, etc), sometimes solely by force (had to buy a train for a company and couldn’t afford it), and sometimes electively. Typically loans exert some sort of pressure, be it a constraint on future choices (eg most Double-O games), or interest payments (eg 1817, 1856, etc), or a long-term penalty on final score (various Vellani games).

– Company-issued derivative assets, be they 1817’s shorts or 18NE’s bonds or 1849 Electric Dream’s bonds or the Bill Dixon games with re-issuing treasury shares (also seen in 18C2C), or other ways of dynamically increasing the share issuance (ie the company dilutes its extant shares by issuing more shares that might be bought – ala 18201)…etc. (This is an area in which I expect to see considerably more innovation)

More broadly, the costs of redeploying capital are a largely untapped and rich field to be explored in 18xx games.

  1. I should note that the cost of deploying capital in 1820 is particularly high, averaging just over 40% in the early game (spend $100 in order to deploy $60 of capital) and varying from there onward.