Friday, October 19, 2007

Building Rails in Mike's Homeland

Mike wanted to play an 18xx game for his choice this time, but left it to me to pick the game as I know the available choices better than he does.

So, we sat down for a game of 1825 Unit 3. This one is on the simpler end of the scale. It's designed (and hand assembled) by Francis Tresham himself, and is geared towards company operation vs. stock manipulation. The game is in the 1829 tree, which basically means a linear stock market instead of the 2-dimensional market in the 1830 tree. Games in the 1829 tree tend to be a bit friendlier and a bit shorter.

1825 Unit 3 is specifically a 2-player game based in the north of England and Scotland. (Which, even though it's where Mike's from, is not the reason why I chose the game.) There are three privates, three major and three minor companies. All the majors are based in Glasgow. Two of the minors are based in the far north, and one on the south edge of the map.

The game starts out with the two cheaper privates randomly dealt. Not seeing who the 1st player is supposed to be at that point, we randomly chose, and I went first. The 1825 games release company stock in stages based on their par value. Unit 3 provides two companies available at the start – once one of them is fully sold, the 3rd company becomes available. First, however, the expensive private must be bought before the two first majors (The Caledonian and North British) become available. I decided to take the leap and buy the last private. In that same stock round, Mike pulled the same trick he pulled when we played 18AL a couple weeks prior – he started an extra company. In this case, the NBR. Now, I've found in a couple prior plays that the NBR has issues developing its rail line as building north is expensive, and as a result didn't want to start it. (And I warned Mike of this before we played.) Still, that tactic really threw me off.

(At this point – not finding the rule in the poorly organized 1825 rulebook – we played a rule wrong. You can't sell stock in the first stock round. Now, in the end, it probably wouldn't have mattered, but it did change the character of the first couple operating rounds. The starting cash doesn't allow for both starting majors to be floated, one sold out, AND buy just the director's share of the third major in the first operating round.)

I kept buying the Caledonian in order to sell it out to make the Glasgow and Southwestern come available. At that point I sold most of my Caledonian and opened the GSWR. And, that's how the game was structured for a while – Mike ran the CRC and the NBR, and I ran the GSWR.

After a few turns and some judicious investing I was in position to open the Maryport and Carlisle minor at a high enough value to pay for its inherent train. The eventual plan was to buy shares of the M&C to get cash into the system so I could have it buy a second train which would then be bought by the GSWR (which could actually use it.) After that happened, I could sell off some of the shares and open one of the other minors (The Great North of Scotland) to actually generate cash.

And, that's pretty much how it worked out. The M&C bought the only 4 train, and the GSWR then bought it for cheap. I opened the GNSR at a rather high par value a turn later by selling some M&C, and I was off and running.

By the end of the game, one thing became clear – the high share count per certificate for the minors can almost makes them more valuable than the majors. (The certificate limit is 17 – I ended up with two director's certificates in minors which are 4 shares each compared to 2 for the majors. That alone gave me a 4-share advantage over Mike for the same number of certs.) There's only 9 permanent trains in the game for the six railroads, so it's possible a couple of the minors can also run for similar payouts as well.

When the final tally was complete, I had beaten Mike by about 10% (scores were around 7900 to 7200 – he's got the final scoresheet.) Nearly all that difference was in stock value. Our final cash on hand was very close.

This wasn't an effect I remember seeing in my two prior plays of 1825 Unit 3, but the minors really make a difference here. I was able to use them as a means to get trains to my major without having it withhold dividends. (I might have had the GSWR withhold once – can't recall.) As the minors are incrementally funded (meaning they get more cash as you buy their shares from the IPO) you can get cash into the company that way. Then they buy a train at cost, and your major buys the train from them – at a steep discount. That works for the minors that can only run one train. In the case of 1825 Unit 3, that's the M&C and the GNSR. The HR can run two trains as it has two tracks running out of its base. I'm not sure I'd use it in the fashion I used the M&C. The GNSR can get to Glasgow, so it's worth investing in – it was paying out nearly as much as the majors, and as I started it as a high value, it appreciated quite a bit.

Mike, on the other hand, had to withhold a handful of times to get the trains situated the way he wanted – this cost him in the stock market, and would have made the final result much tighter. All that comes with experience, even with a game as (relatively) simple as 1825. That's the thing I love most about the 18xx games – each one provides a radically different experience within the same core rules engine, and the techniques needed to play well are different in each game (there is some amount of carryover, but not always that much.)

One oddity about our game – nobody built to Edinburgh or Newcastle. I was headed to Edinburgh at the end of the game with the GNSR, but realized I didn't have time to get there – so I detoured into Glasgow. The building cost in the mountains is significant, and effectively blocked the eastern edge of the map from play. Compare that to this picture of an endgame. In our game, no tiles were built east of column 11 (the brown “crows foot” city tile with a 40 on it in the 2nd-from-the-bottom row of that image) excepting the tile out of the GNSR's base at the top of the map.

Good fun, and well played. I like playing these games with Mike as he always does something, at some point, that surprises me and causes me to shift tack. And half the time it works.


Our next game is my choice. Right now, I'm leaning towards Defiant Russia, but I need to get a copy of the rulebook to Mike. We'll see if that happens. If not, it'll have to be something we both own, and I'll need to decide that soon.

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