Monday, May 21, 2007

Revisiting Shikoku Railways

Last week, Tim and I got together for another game of 1889. It's the second time we've played, and knowing the map and game flow makes for a big difference in 18xx games.

I'll provide a bit of overview here, and I'll eventually write about the experience in much more detail on my personal blog. I took notes of the result of every turn (except for tile lays) so I think I can recreate the game in pretty good shape.

The game started off in my favor as I ended up with two privates (the 2nd and 3rd most expensive ones out of five. This gave me the ability to lay a port tile (which ended up not helping me all THAT much) and a free city upgrade. Tim had privates A, D, and E. This left him with insufficient cash to open his own company. So, he piggybacked on me for a bit. I opened the Kotohira (which starts in the NE corner of the board near two of the three highest valued cities) at 65. It wasn't until the 4th Stock Round that Tim had enough cash to sell off three of the four shares he'd purchased and opened up the Iyo. (Private E can be exchanged for a share of this.) After Operating Round 4 was over, Tim had six shares and $53, I had 7 shares and $89. I had the lead at this point.

It wasn't until our 7th turn when the 3 trains came out. During this turn, I had opened the Uwajima (financed by selling off my Iyo.)

Tim was doing a good job in keeping up, but I was always running one more company than him. I didn't keep track of exactly when the privates were sold, but I believe they all were before the 5 trains came out obsoleting them.

The critical part of the game came late. The first operating round of turn 10 saw the 6th and 7th companies opened. It also saw all the 5 trains AND the first 6 train purchased. We had successfully dodged being stuck without a train when the 3s disappeared (when the 6 was bought) but we were both figuring out if we were going to try to buy a Diesel. This would rust the 4s, and whomever could control when it happened was probably in the best position to win. After the 2nd 6 was bought (middle of the 2nd OR in turn 10) we both sat there really thinking it over. Tim had five trains strewn among his three companies and very little cash in their combined treasuries. He'd have to work to get enough to buy a diesel. (even with the 300 discount for trading in a train.) I only had four trains among my four companies. Two of these were 4 trains. I'd have to have enough on hand to buy two diesels, and I simply didn't see that happening. So we sort of reached a detente where neither of us wanted to go through the necessary pain to get a diesel onto the table.

The game only lasted one more turn. (we went from the first 4 being bought to the last 6 being bought in the span of 3 operating rounds.) I miscalculated a bit in the last stock round. In the end, I should have sold one of my Tosa and bought an Iyo. It had two trains and ended up paying the highest dividend. It would have ended up being $91 more in my pocket.

When we tallied up the final scores, neither of us really knew where we stood. First, we counted cash on hand. That was 2362 for Tim, and 2317 for me. Very close. Dividends in the final turn was 993 for Tim and 914 for me. I thought I had him for stock though. Turns out I did. My final stock value was 4715 to Tim's 4605. Net result?

Tim won 7960 to 7946. Fourteen dollars (okay, Yen) difference. That's a 0.18% win. Chris Brooks has referred to this as smaller than a rounding error. But the score's the score and Tim squeaked one out.

While in any game that close, you can point to a number of things you did wrong that changed the outcome, my non-purchase of the final Iyo share was probably the difference. I probably could have done some more optimal track lays, but it takes a few plays of a particular game to iron out those paths.

This game was great fun. We didn't take THAT long (just over 2.5 hours, IIRC) and we definitely had times where we really had to think about our decisions. This is a great 2-player 18xx game, and there really aren't very many of those. The system lends itself better to more players (4-5 seems best for most games) but there's always exceptions.

As usual, the company makes a huge difference, but I really enjoy 1889. I'm glad to have it in my collection and highly recommend it to any budding (or experienced) 18xx fan that's looking for a smaller game for their collection. It would likely make a good learning game, as well, as there really aren't any tricky bits. The rules are essentially exactly like 1830. It plays quick, but the map can be a bit unforgiving. There are a lot of expensive building paths, and the order in which companies come out can make a huge difference.


It's my pick this week, and I'm leaning towards either 1860 or a DIY scenario from Combat Commander. Still haven't chosen.

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