Way aye blow the man down

Stock-trashing in 1830: Is it actually necessary for Good Play or is it merely gratuitously abusive? This came up recently in both our 18C2C game and in an 18FR-RCE game a couple weeks before. I’ve no doubt it will come up future games as well. In both the mentioned games I set about trashing the stock-market (often buying shares and then selling them at a loss and so losing money) and several players complained that I was just being unnecessarily negative and wasting everyone’s time with an overly long and uninteresting Stock Round, when in truth a lot of my later success in those games was due to the fact that I’d stock-trashed so heavily (and taken the loss) earlier. Yep, if I hadn’t stock-trashed, I would have come in dead last rather than competing for the win.

The primary keys to the value of stock-trashing1 mentioned, are return on investment (ROI) and liquidity. It will take a little bit to explain exactly how, so bear with me.

Imagine a game of 1830, perhaps a 5-player game. The game starts, the private auction happens, and you get…nothing, or maybe only a really small private company. Everyone else has nice big private companies and everyone (who can) is going to float a major company. You will float a major company too, but they’ll be getting nice big revenues from their private companies and you’ll be getting what, a few more shares and their piddly revenues and meager stock appreciation to match?

Key point: You’re already losing the game. Yep, you are already losing.

Think about that. You’re already losing the game. The game has just started, and you are losing. If you let this continue, you will in fact lose. That is, or should be, utterly unacceptable and you’d better do something about it right now. You need to win!

Right now you have more money than they do, but they are making money faster than you are, and pretty soon they’ll catch up and pass you as they sell their private companies into their major companies. At that point the game is history and you’ve lost. If you’d like to compete for the win, and I assume you are playing for the win, then you’d better change something and change it fast. Going on wanly hoping isn’t going to do it. The winning players certainly have no interest in changing anything as they’re already winning (or at least contending for the win). You are losing, so it is up to you to change something so that you can win instead, and this is where stock-trashing can come in.

But before we get there, we’d better understand a little more about how and why you are already losing, because you are most certainly already losing, and losing badly.

At core you are losing because your money is not working for you as well as their money is working for them. Sure, you can buy more shares than they can, but their private company revenues have massively better returns than any share you can buy. What they’ve invested in is simply better than what you’ve invested in, and they’ve got more of it than you do. Even better for them and worse for you, in a few more turns they’re going to be able to sell their private companies into their major companies, pulling out gobs of money, and they’ll use that money to buy even more shares than you can! Their money is not only working better than your’s, but they have a great wad of free money just sitting there waiting for them to take it! You don’t have any of those advantages, but they do! Thus, you are losing.

Change something. Now.

In the classic form they’ll sell their private companies in for massive money and then immediately sell down (or even better dump) the company they just looted, adding all that wonderful stock-appreciation they’ve made in the meantime to their dividends and private company money, and then they’ll float a brand new company for a nice high par and never even bother to look back. If someone wants to take their old company, then they’re welcome to it as it has crap trains and no money2 They’re interested in their bright shiny new company that’s full of bright shiny new money!

That classic form is not good for you. Sure, it is good for them, but I really hope your goal in the game is for you to win, not for them to win. So, you’d better change something, and this is where stock-trashing can usefully enter.

The core problem is that their money is working better than your money, and you have to change that. One of the things you can change is stock-appreciation. If after they loot their companies when they then want to sell those (now crappy) shares in order to buy bright shiny new shares in a new company full of money it turns out that you’ve already trashed their stock so they have no stock-appreciation…well gosh, their money isn’t working for them so well any more, is it? You’ve killed their ROI (stock appreciation). And if you also just happen to have left the Bank Pool full of their trashed shares so that they can’t actually sell much into the market, well, you’ve clipped their wings even more as you’ve killed their liquidity (ability to sell shares to raise capital). Oh, and that new company they float? How about you stock-trash that as well, really beat the crap out of it? They bought $600 worth of shares in floating that company. If you can beat it down hard enough, that $600 worth of shares will now only be worth $300 or less (perhaps given a little help from the other players). Again, now their money isn’t working for them so well any more. Sure, they’ve got control of $1,000 in bright shiny new capital – you can’t solve every problem all at once – but it is going to take a long time to get that share-value you destroyed back. But, even better, you’re probably going to be able to buy those shares you trashed back again in the next stock round pretty cheaply as they won’t have appreciated much! You buy the shares, you trash the shares, you wait a set of ORs, then you buy most of them back again on the cheap in the next Stock Round. Now your money is starting to work for you better than their money is working for them!

What makes this a little more interesting is that many good players will buy/sell the last (6th) share of a company they’re floating. They do this in order to dissuade the stock-trashers waiting in the wings (it now costs money to stock-trash as the par is higher than the stock price), but also so that they can then use that money to buy a share that will be paying better than their new company (their new company will miss at least one dividend as it has no train). Someone may also flip a share or two into the market while you’re building up your portfolio to dump, thus costing you even more money as you trash the market. The costs to stock-trash can be high.

How much is stock-trashing worth to you? How much is it worth to your position to beat them down? Is it worth buying 4 shares at $67ea and sell them at $65ea, losing $2 each? What about buying shares at $100ea and selling them at $90ea, losing $10 on each one? Or buying shares at $100 and selling at $82? There’s a judgment call here on how much loss is acceptable. There’s a point at which it is simply too expensive, but how much is too little and how much is too much? Not biting the bullet will lose the game, but losing too much money in stock-trashing will also lose the game. Finding the right middle ground is key3.

You’re going to have to lose money, to deliberately throw money away, in order to slow them down and to rescue your position, but how much money should you throw away and which stocks should you trash and how much? If all goes perfectly (unlikely) you’ll convert an obviously losing position to a competitive position, but doing that is going to cost you some of that money you so desperately need. More likely you’ll convert a losing position to a merely weak position, and then you’ll have to fight again, and again in later stock rounds, beating and thrashing the stock-market, taking losses as you do so, until you’ve caught up and pulled them down to your level. It won’t be cheap, or easy, but if you do win, you’ll have earned it by tooth and claw from the ground up.

But then isn’t the answer then to just make sure you always get some good private companies and thus bid whatever’s needed to get them? No. Pay too much and you’ll never get it back4. The guy without any private companies will stock-trash, you won’t get your money back from your over-large bids, and you’re losing yet again. There’s a balancing point, and it is hard to find and balance correctly5.

Also, won’t everybody just stock-trash, turning stock-trashing into a shared pathology that makes no net difference? Yes and mostly no. Stock trashing sacrifices opportunities. You’re buying bad shares or passing on doing any actions while the other players snap up the good shares. Do that too much of that and you’ll lose as well. Also you’re making good shares cheap, and the other players are going to buy some of them (at their new low price) – so you’re helping as well as hindering them with your stock-trashing. Getting that balance right is not easy. In short stock-trashing is a necessary thing, but also a fairly subtle and highly contextual thing.

Also, remember that stock-trashing is not your only weapon. There’s also track and the train rush to consider among others. 18xx players have many offensive and defensive weapons to choose among. Stock-trashing is just one.

  1. There is another value of stock-trashing, which I’ll not discuss in this article, of manipulating operating order so that certain companies run before other companies. This can be critical, but is outside the scope of this article.] 

  2. That company is now a dog. If nobody takes that liability away from them, they’ll rescue it with their third company or, more likely, just buy its permanent trains out of pocket from the great dividends they’ll make from all their great new shares. 

  3. And that’s a hard spot to find accurately. 

  4. As learned to my cost in a game of 1856 where I bid $5 too much for the port… 

  5. If it were easy, we wouldn’t be playing the game.