Monday, February 5, 2007

Building Railways in Shikoku

This week's gaming session saw us pulling out 1889, a newer entry in the 18xx series set on the Shikoku island of Japan. This has been listed as a shorter 18xx game, and some have commented that it's very good for two players.

(For a full review of the game, head to the bottom half of this article. No pictures this week, sorry. Forgot to bring the camera downstairs. If you need an introduction to the 18xx game family, I recommend Stuart Dagger's description. It's outdated, but still relevant.)

The rules to 1889 are nearly exactly the rules to 1830. There are very few, if any differences. That made it easy for Tim and I to dig right in. (When I refer to stocks opening below, I'll also mention their starting hex as you can deduce from the map.)

The first thing I pointed out, and Tim had surmised the same, was that opening money is very tight with 2 players. There is a total of 840¥ available at the start, and the initial private companies have a minimum cost of 200¥. That leaves a max of 640¥ left for us to each try to start a company. Minimum starting share price is 65¥, and 10 shares have to be bought for two companies to float. At first blush it looks like you'll come up short, but fortunately one of the privates can be exchanged for a share of the Iyo Railroad.

The initial stock round left me as President of the Iyo (E2) and owning the cheapest two privates and Tim with the other two privates and Uwajima (B7) as his initial company. I had IPO'd at 75¥ and Tim at 65¥ (as I had to buy one fewer shares) so the Iyo went first in the initial stock round.

I started building across the top of the map to the right while Tim was building out the bottom left. After a couple SR/OR cycles, with each of us owning 6 of our own company and 4 of the other, Tim decided to sell out of the Iyo and open the Tosaden (F9). This company has a lot of synergy with the Uwajima. It was starting to shape up like a “you have your half, I have mine” game, and for the most part this was true.

Tim's decision to sell out of the Iyo and open the Tosaden had a couple repercussions that really dictated the course of the game. First, the Iyo (which by this point had four trains, three 2s and a 3) was putting a fair amount of money into its treasury through the dividends it was collecting via the shares in the open market. A long-term side effect of this was that I was able to avoid withholding dividends except for one situation late in the game. I was always able to get money transferred around where I needed it. The other effect Tim's decision had was to ensure he'd end up running four companies to my three.

So, things slowly progressed with Tim focusing on the left and bottom sides of the map while I focused on the top and right sides. I opened the Kotoden (K4) as my 2nd company, and Tim opened the Awa (K8) as his third – this was the first time he ventured onto the right side of the board. I was noticing around this time that I was consistently going into stock rounds with more cash than Tim. We weren't logging the state at the end of every turn, but it seemed like most times I either had equal or more shares, and nearly always more cash. Now, stock prices can make up for this, but I was pretty sure I was leading after the first third of the game or so.

The last two companies to open were the Kuroshio (C10) and the Sanuki (I2). The Kuroshio only gets its initial token – no more. This makes it a very difficult company to build out to any size – you nearly have to have help from another railroad you own. This meant there was no way I was going to open it. Tim, on the other hand, owned two other railroads operating in that corner. I'd leave it to him. I eventually opened the Sanuki. This was about the time the 4s and 5s were out, and there was a bit of a train rush triggered by the appearance of these two new companies. Nothing unmanageable, though.

I had ended up in a situation where the Kotoden was generating cash, and the Iyo was appreciating a lot. My goal with the Sanuki was to have it run a single train for a decent amount (Kotohira, the city in I4, is the city that provides the highest income on the board.) I started the Sanuki just as the 5s were coming out, allowing Kotohira to be upgraded to a brown tile – this is the only real way to hook the Sanuki into that city as the earlier Kotohira tiles don't have enough access.

By this time, we were down to only two tokens remaining to be placed – the Awa and the Sanuki. We made a deal to not token each other out of passing through Kotohira. I suspect after a few more plays of 1889, this deal might not be made :)

There are 15 cities on the 1889 map. By the time brown tiles are out, there's space for around 30-33 tokens. However, the 7 companies only have 15 tokens total between them. This leaves a lot of open cities. As it turned out, not a single meaningful city was fully tokened out. This allowed for a lot of open train running.

The toughest decision making came after the first 6 train appeared. This rusted the 3s and made the Diesels available for purchase. Those Diesels are great, but they're pricey. (1100¥, but you can trade in a train for a 300¥ discount. The first Diesel purchase also rusts the 4s.) Both Tim and I were doing some serious train shuffling in order to ensure we didn't end up with a company with no train, little cash, and having to buy a Diesel. This was exacerbated by his withholding earnings on the Awa at one point. This forced my hand as he now had enough cash on hand to buy a Diesel and put me into a world of hurt.

I managed, thankfully, to shuffle all my company cash into the Kotoden by buying its two trains. This left it with about 900¥ or so, and no train going into a stock round. The Iyo had a 4 and a 6, and the Sanuki had a 5. I managed to get the running order such that the Iyo was first (as it had been most of the game) and the Kotoden second. This allowed me to run the Iyo with both trains, have the Kotoden buy the 4 off the Iyo and trade it in for a Diesel. By this point, however, Tim had also maneuvered his trains such that the only one left without a train was the Awa, and it had enough cash to buy a train outright. So, we both dodged a big bullet, but it took a lot of planning to pull it off. It also happened that each company had exactly one train.

One more set of ORs with the Diesels running twice put us to the brink of breaking the bank. A quick stock round to position ourselves and it was into the final set of ORs done on paper.

The companies ended up in the following situation (President, Final Share Price, Final Dividend)

Iyo, Eric, 315, 32
Tosaden, Tim, 255, 28
Uwajima, Tim, 255, 33
Kotoden, Eric, 225, 63 (can you tell this was a Diesel?)
Awa, Tim, 140, 63
Kuroshio, Tim, 125, 28
Sanuki, Eric, 125, 28

Final scores ended up Eric 12,377 and Tim 11,259. I believe this was the first time I'd beaten Tim in a 2-player 18xx game. We finished up in right about 3 hours. This probably would go faster next time, as we were both pretty unfamiliar with the map and the implications derived from it. I'll call it a 2.5 hour 2-player game.


1889 is a recent (2005) 18xx game published by Deep Thought Games. It was previously available as a DIY kit from Wild Heaven in Japan. It was designed by Yasutaka Ikeda.

This is a smaller 18xx game set on the Shikoku island of Japan (the smallest of the four main islands). It's estimated at 3-4 hours, and supports 2-6 players. The rules are nearly identical to 1830. Very few (if any) chromy bits or oddities to differentiate itself from other 18xx games.

The map is dominated by a large mountain range in the center. This can make building expensive, but a private company is available that allows free builds on mountain spaces to the company that owns it. After a couple playings of this (one solo mocking four players, and one two-player game) a small number of items pop out for this title in particular:
  1. There is heavy competition for tiles. By design, the tile selection is very tight. You will occasionally run out of gentle bends or yellow city tiles. There are extra tiles included for a “beginner game” that lessens this somewhat, should you be feeling friendly that day.
  2. The token density is very light. You have to work to token out sections of the board. There are around 30 possible token locations by end of game, but only 15 tokens to place and 15 cities on the board. This makes free running for Diesels a probability.
  3. The share limits are high. It likely won't be until very late in the game when you actually have to make decisions about swapping ownership in one company for another. (There are 7 companies in the game – 63 total certificates.) The total ownership limit per number of players is 2-50, 3-57, 4-56, 5-60, 6-66.
  4. The game seems very balanced. I don't see any massively under or over priced privates, but you do have to watch the number of tokens each company gets when making your decision which company to open. My opinion on this might change after repeated play, but nothing seemed glaring.
  5. This would be a difficult game for 5-6 players. Somebody is likely going to end up running the Kuroshio (which only has a single token in a fixed location) without running another company. They are likely to lose. Opening the Kuroshio without also controlling either the Uwajima or the Tosaden is a dubious strategy.
Overall, this game is worthy of a place in any 18xx player's collection. It plays very well for two, and should scale well to four players. I would hesitate to recommend it for more than four players. Many tough decisions are provided in a game lasting under 4 hours without being overly brutal. It should also prove to be a good introductory 18xx game as there aren't any odd rules that don't apply to other games. I also expect it will have good replayability as there aren't many scripted build situations as in other smaller games such as 18FL.

As usual, the Deep Thought Games production quality is top notch. All the visual cues we've come to expect from John Tamplin's work are here. His games take a while to reach you as they're built by hand to order, but they're always worth the wait.


I believe next week's game will be Combat Commander again, but Tim hadn't picked a scenario last I'd heard. I'm still debating about my next selection, but I'm expecting it will be one of Richard Borg's Command and Colors games.

1 comment:

Dug said...

I'll recommend you try out the Zama scenario if you do C&C, and the Bessarabian Nightmare if you do CC.

Well, that's a confusing set of acronyms. :-/

Zama is good because the scenario is pretty balanced, with a lot of flags to get and both sides having roughly equal forces. If you want more realism, I strongly suggest you try out Simple Great Battles of History, which is a step or two up in complexity but several in terms of realism and playable in a very reasonable amount of time.

Bessarabian is very interesting as one side has very scattered forces (Partisans) and only a single order per turn. Very limiting, but time is on the Russians' side and you do have much better weaponry (satchel charges) and a lot more units.

Great idea for a blog, guys!