Monday, February 5, 2007

1889 - Railroads in Japan

I’m going to briefly cover the specific game of 1889 Eric and I played last Thursday, but I plan to spend most of my post today talking about how 1889 compares to other 18xx games I have played, and give you my thoughts on how it worked as a 2-player game.

First, duration – we started just about 8pm (possibly a bit after, but not too much), and pretty much dived right in after discussion what rules differences there were, and covering the private companies and their special abilities. We finished up right at 11, for a total duration of 3 hours - I suspect this will be a bit shorter, but not much, for future plays.

In the initial auction, I ended up picking up the company that provided a free mountain track builds (once owned by a public company), and another private who either didn’t have a special ability, or it was a special ability I don’t recall and/or didn’t use! I then opened up the Uwajima Railway, and Eric was able to open up the Iyo (mainly because he had the private that could be turned into a share – otherwise he would not have had enough money to start a public company). Initially, I was producing better dividends than Eric, but that brief advantage didn’t last long, as his company was near Kotohira – which ends up being the biggest city on the map, and doesn’t take long to ramp up – as well as a couple of the strong off-map areas. From this point on, I was behind the eight-ball the rest of the game – the one chance I might have had is if I had been able to get to having enough cash to buy a Diesel fast enough to actually hurt Eric’s railroads . . . but that was not to be, as I had to do a lot of shuffling to get trains that would survive the arrival of the Diesel (which made 4-trains obsolete) in my other railroads. As it turned out, Eric ended up picking up the Diesel just before I could – I believe it was in the same operating round, but he operated before the company that had the cash in it did – and all in all, I suspect it worked out to Eric’s advantage.

The final result was: Eric 12,377, Tim 11,259. Despite having two of the three top valued shares as my companies, this advantage was muted by Eric having 4 shares in each of them, and my NOT having participated in much of the run-up of his highest valued company (the Iyo) due to having dumped it earlier in the game in order to start up another railway, and never having had the free-cash and/or certificate slots to pick it up – in retrospect, I should have forgone some other shares in order to buy into it, as the appreciation on the high-end of the stock market is significantly stronger than the lower valued areas.

1889 is a descendent of 1830. Apparently, the original rules were just a list of differences from the 1830 rules – they’ve been re-written to be complete and stand-alone, but that gives you an idea of the development of the game. Major differences are the size of the map (much smaller than 1830), the duration of the game (much shorter – we finished our two player game in right at 3 hours), and some details of the privates, although in effect they are fairly similar to those in 1830. As in 1830, one city on the map needs to be the focus of development (Kotohira), as it develops into by far the most valuable city.

The other element of the game is how tight initial cash is – it’s been awhile since I’ve played 1830, but I think this is pretty similar, if not slightly more tight. In a two player game, it requires serious management of resources in the initial auction to insure having enough funds to start up a public company. In general, I like this element, although it certainly does make this a game that will take a play or two to get a good feel for.

The map is also interesting – there are two separate areas that are relatively easy to develop in, separated by mountainous terrain (which is expensive to build in). As already mentioned, I believe the rail and companies around Kotohira need to be hotly contested (in our game, they weren’t – Eric ended up with all of the companies in that area under his majority control), but I don’t feel TOO bad about it, because that wasn’t obvious from the initial set up. It might have been had I looked at the tiles more closely, but so it goes!

This game definitely was a good two-player 18xx – I suspect it would work well (although be tight) for three or four, but I don’t think I would want to go higher than that in player count, as I suspect that the money constraints and the smaller map wouldn’t handle a larger player count very well.

All-in-all, I enjoyed it, and am definitely open to trying it again – I suspect our next game will be different, as we both now have a better feel for both the geography and the private companies (and their abilities), and which public companies have the strongest prospects. I'm very excited by the 18xx games that Deep Thought has produced - the production quality is quite high, and the games they have published have been consistently interesting (including this one, IMHO).

Our next game (this Thursday) will be another game of Combat Commander: Europe - we've not yet picked a scenario, but I'm thinking of either a rematch of scenario 4 (with the sides swapped), or giving Scenario 2 a try (bocage country just after D-day). Not sure what Eric's thoughts are as to Scenario, but one thing I do know is that we'll both be posting our thoughts after that game next Monday - see you then!

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