(this article first appeared in issue #6 volume #26 of Avalon Hill's "GENERAL". It is reproduced here with the permission of the author)
The 1830 game system is one of the finest multiplayer systems around. As Edward Fahrmeier noted in his article "All Aboard" (Vol. 23, No. 6 of The GENERAL), it is possible for players to recover from a bad start; yet it is difficult to "gang-up" on the leader and reduce the game to a wild scramble with an arbitrary winner. Moreover, it is as close to a game of pure skill as a multi-player game can get, especially if all the players are competent so that their actions are reasonably predictable. Careful long-term planning is usually rewarded, while errors are mercilessly punished. Best of all, unlike CIVILIZATION or DIPLOMACY, the game is self-balancing because the cleverly-designed private company auction forces players to pay more for the most desirable private companies. Avalon Hill is to be congratulated for improving the already excellent 1829 (1830's forerunner) system by increasing player interaction while simultaneously reducing playing time to a comfortable evening.
"Alliances" can be useful in 1830, but diplomacy should not play a major role. Because play is sequential rather than simultaneous, one member of an alliance will usually have an opportunity to betray another without fear of retaliation. Furthermore, most alliances typically benefit one member much more than the other, and that inequality will be fairly obvious. For these reasons, alliances are generally not a large factor in the strategy, beyond the point of two players tacitly or explicitly cooperating to develop a particular section of the mapboard.
Like Mr. Fahrmeier, I too think the game divided into three phases; but I define each of them slightly differently. The "opening" is the time before the sale of the first "4" train; the primary features of this phase are the development of the players' stock portfolios and the struggle for control of the most desirable railroad corporations. In the second phase (or "middle" game), the primary focus is on the second stage of corporation start-ups and the acquisition of "permanent" trains. (I include the "4" train purchases here since the decision whether to purchase a "4" train usually determines when a railroad will acquire a permanent train and what kind it will get.) This second is the phase in which several railroads will be running for capital rather than for dividends, and one or more players may face bankruptcy. In the end game, which begins when all railroads have a permanent train, players turn their attention to maximizing their railroads' runs while impeding opponents by selling stock in their railroads, placing tokens to block routes, or looting and dumping jointly owned corporations. Many games are so close that one corporation's gain or loss of one row or column on the stock chart can determine the winner.
In this article, I will discuss each phase of the game separately. In the course of the discussion I will try to review and comment on the ideas expressed by Messers. Shelley and Fahrmeier in their articles in the 1830 feature issue of The GENERAL.
The first task facing the players is to bid for the private companies. In general, I agree with the comments of both Fahrmeier and Shelley. The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) provides the presidency of a good railroad corporation, but because it does not generate recurring revenue and may not be sold to a railroad corporation, it is not worth much more than its face value. The Camden & Amboy (C&A) is unquestionably the most valued private company in relation to its base price, often selling for more than $200. The fewer the players in the game, the more the C&A is worth, for in a three- or four-player game purchase of the C&A will not prevent its owner from becoming president of a corporation in the first stock round. I generally don't show much interest in the other private companies, but will buy any of them at face value. The Delaware & Hudson (D&H) is probably worth a bit more than its face value of $70, but our experience has been that most attempts to use its special power of "teleportation" to hex F16 end in failure (more on this later). I believe Mr. Fahrmeier is incorrect in stating that the Mohawk & Hudson (M&H) cannot be sold to a corporation; the option to exchange it for a share of New York Central (NYC) or sell it to a corporation makes it worth more than $110, but it is still a poor cousin of the C&A. While I am no fan of the Canadian Pacific (CP) in general, it is poor strategy to run this railroad early in the game without possession of the Champlain & St. Lawrence (C&StL).
In a game of fewer than six players, therefore, if not buying the C&A, a player should not spend so much on the private companies that he cannot start a corporation on the first round. This means you need $402 , or $335 if you can start the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) because of the free share which accompanies the C&A. In a five-player game, you may buy a private company if you are sure that you will have enough cash by the third stock round to start a company.
These calculations may seem cumbersome at first, but are necessary for good play of 1830; if at any point in the game you find yourself or your railroad just a few dollars short of taking an important action, you are in trouble and it's probably your fault. The only time this type of analysis really fails is if someone unexpectedly sells shares ahead of you that you were planning to dump, thus lowering the price. (This brings me to rules beef #1: I think all player and railroad holdings should be public. Since all transactions are public, keeping cash holdings secret simply rewards the players with better memories and slows down the game by requiring players to recap long sequences to figure out how much money a player or a corporation may have. Public disclosure also allows the players to catch each other if they - accidentally, of course - make an error in a transaction with the bank. With full disclosure, analysis and psychology, rather than memory, become the paramount virtues - a benefit, in my view.)
In conclusion, the only private company worth getting really excited about owning is the C&A; the others should not fetch more than $10 above face value. Buying a private company also affects the turn order, of course, and can cost you the chance to start the corporation of your choice.
After all the private companies have been sold, the next decision facing a player is whether or not to attempt to become president of a railroad. When we first began playing 1830, only two or three corporations would "float" (begin operating) on the first stock round. When the presidents of those first two or three consistently won most of the games, we realized that it is usually better to start a poorly capitalized railroad than none at all. There are several reasons for this.
Becoming a minority stockholder in someone else's corporation benefits the president a lot more than it does you. You help drive the stock market token upward on the chart (if all shares are in player's hands); you reduce the number of shares the president must buy to float the railroad; and you give the president the option of dumping the railroad whenever the priority card is favorably placed for him. Even if you sell your minority petition after three or four operating rounds, the president doesn't greatly mind. You have temporarily driven the stock price down, but this is offset by the creation of bank pool shares which can be used to increase the railroad's treasury without running for capital. Alternatively, the president (or other players) may purchase the shares from the bank pool at a discount which is unavailable to you (since you cannot sell and buy the same type of shares in the same stock round).
Another major reason to start your own company rather than help someone else do so is that it gives you an opportunity to sell your private companies. Typically, the players who do well in a game have sold their private companies into their own corporations at a handsome profit and then managed to rescue the corporation they "looted" by various stratagems we will discuss later. Those who play an "honest game", operating their railroads to maximize the railroad's success rather than their own, will find themselves falling behind, especially in games with fewer than five players.
Third, starting a railroad in the first stock round reduces the number of non-productive operating rounds for you. If you invest in a minority position in a corporation at the beginning of the game, the shares will not produce revenue on the first operating round simply because the railroad does not have a train. If, a few stock rounds later, you sell your minority holding and start your own company, you will not get revenue from your six new shares on the next OR for the same reason. You would have been better off starting a railroad of your own at the beginning, even at a lower price. Even if you must capitalize an extra time in the middle game because of the low railroad treasury, you are still better off than if you had started with minority positions planning to begin your own railroad later.
Finally, starting a railroad early gives you a head start on track development, as well as rightward movement of your corporation's token on the stuck chart. Early in the game, the revenue generated by a share of stock is more important than its share price, so a $76 or $71 railroad is as good as a $100 one. In some ways, it is better, because a lower starting price enables you to invest in more shares of stock as well as allowing you to profit from upward and rightward movement on the stock chart. It is hardly ever worth waiting an extra stock round simply to start your first railroad at a higher price.
The only time it is really attractive to be a minority shareholder early in the game is if all the outstanding shares will be bought so that the token will moved up a row on the stock chart each round. If you sell at the right moment, you will have a handsome profit since the shares will have appreciated significantly in price in addition to generating revenue each operating round. If you miss-guess the president's intentions, however, you may be trapped in a no-win situation. He will either begin running for capital, shutting off your income and driving the stock price lower, or will loot the railroad and dump it onto you.
Buying the presidency without enough money to float the railroad is even worse than taking a minority position. It is true that some other players may not be able to start a railroad of their own and will have to buy a minority position in some railroad. If you can't buy enough shares to float alone, you are at their mercy. If they invest in a different railroad, you are stuck with dead shares. Probably one president will be bailed out in this situation - usually the B&O because of its high potential early revenue - but a second hardly ever will be (except in a six-player game perhaps). Once one non-president buys a minority position, later-playing non-presidents will tend to buy the same stock to benefit from the row rise on the stock chart and to avoid helping any other corporations float. If you buy only the president's certificate and then wait to see what the other players will do before committing yourself further, you won't be as badly burned if no one helps you out. But you may lose the chance to buy all the shares you want. Moreover, you will end up buying stock after everyone else is done and thus place the priority deal card to your immediate left, ensuring that you will buy last in the next stock round. In summary, unless starting the B&O (or there are no "live" shares to buy), don't even consider starting a railroad with insufficient funds to float it unless the other players have previously shown a tendency toward generosity. The only exception, of course, is in a six-player game, where no railroad other than the PRR can be started by a single player in any case.
Once you decide to start a railroad, you must choose which one to start. The predominant view among my circle of players is that the PRR is far and away the best choice for an early start. The PRR/C&A combination is extremely powerful; players who hold these seem to win more than their share of our games (unless the C&A auction soared far over the $200 level). Even if the PRR and C&A are in different hands, we find that the C&A is quickly sold by its owner into another corporation so he can start a second new corporation early. If this does happen, hex H18 is freed quickly and the PRR runs for excellent revenue. Even if H18 is tied up, the PRR and B&O presidents can cooperate to generate fairly good runs between H16 and Baltimore. Only the very first PRR dividend (usually $3 per share) will be substandard.
Not only does the PRR have excellent access to the lucrative Baltimore-New York corridor, but it is unique among the companies in that: 1) it only requires the President to purchase five shares to begin operation; and 2) it does not need to build any bridges or tunnels to achieve an optimal run with a "5" or "6" train. This means that it needs to run for capital fewer times than other railroads, and can so be started at a lower price, enabling its owner to invest in more shares of stock. In fact, it is not unrealistic to construct a budget for the PRR that requires no capitalization at all:
Thus the PRR can be started as low as $76 per share (an initial investment of only $380 for the president) and still have an excellent chance to become the highest-valued stock by the end of the game. If the B&O is started early and its president cooperates (as is in his interest to do), the PRR can expect to run for up to $200 with a "2" and "3" train in the early game (I15-H14-H16 and I15-I17-H16-H18) and eventually have a permanent run for a "5" train of $270 (New York-H18-H16-H10-Chicago).
Of course, this is the ideal scenario. It requires that the C&A owner and the B&O president do not go out of their way to impede the PRR's development, and that the PRR gets an opportunity to buy a "5" train. Nonetheless, the prospect of ending the game with six shares worth $350 each and generating $27 each per operating round usually makes the PRR the first choice for being floated. An added incentive, of course, is that the PRR has four station tokens.
The best other early-start railroad is the B&O. As owner of the B&O private company, I always start with the B&O if possible, even at a low price. While the B&O is generally required to construct bridges (J14 and I17), the huge revenue it can generate early in the game gives its president a big boost. This high revenue is necessary for the B&O president to keep pace with other players who will sell their private companies to their own railroads. Fortunately, the B&O has by far the best potential runs of any corporation during the early operating rounds. A sample development will show this: on the first operating round, the B&O plays J14 and buys three "2" trains. On the second round, if green tiles are available, it upgrades J14, builds a station there and runs for $170; if green tiles are not yet available, it plays a straight track in I17, builds a station in J14 and runs for $140. This latter course burns an alarming $440 from the treasury, but one or two runs for capital at $250 or so (after a "3" train has been bought at the earliest opportunity) will restore the treasury to within purchase price of a permanent train. The B&O tends to dominate the game if other players buy into it during the opening stage; if they don't, and bring out the "4" trains early starting their own railroads - thus killing the "2" trains - the B&O is still an above-average investment.
Some players prefer to keep the B&O railroad dormant and collect their $30 private company revenue each round, but that appears to be a losing decision. The following chart shows an ordinary sequence, with the consequences for Player A who starts the B&O railroad at first opportunity and for Player B who doesn't. The figures refer to the accumulated cash generated by the private company or the two shares of B&O stock that it brings.
|Operating Round||Player A||Player B|
|2(run for $140)||$ 58||$ 60|
|3 (run for $210)||$100||$ 90|
|4 (run for $250)||$150||$120|
Even if the "3" trains are delayed or if the "2" trains disappear after the fourth operating round (and the B&O's run reduced to $110 or $120), the amount of cash generated by the two active shares in Player A's hand will not fall far below that generated by an active B&O private company. Add in Player A's increasing stock value, the benefits of corporation ownership, and the head start the B&O will get in track development, and the clear advantage lies with Player A's strategy. The player starting the B&O late will likely find himself shut out of H16 (and probably New York as well); the B&O will have lost its geographical advantage. On the other hand, allowing another player to take control of the B&O sacrifices the value of the presidency for which you have paid a premium. The fact that two expensive shares of stock are tied up far outweighs the short-term revenue gain (if any) provided by the private company.
The only variation of the "B&O Delay" which appears viable is to pass during the first stock round, until either all other players have spent all their money or someone has bought B&O stock or started the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O). If neither of the latter two events occur, it is reasonably safe to delay floating the B&O because your control of the B&O corporation and hex H16 are not immediately threatened. Another factor to consider is whether you expect the PRR president to work with or against the B&O. If the PRR president wants to be nasty and the B&O should be delayed three or four operating rounds before starting, the B&O may be permanently prevented from getting a decent run. On the other hand, a cooperative PRR president can do much of the B&O's early track development for you.
After the PRR and the B&O, the next "tier" of starting railroads consists of the abovementioned C&O, and the New York, New Haven and Hartford (NYNH). The Erie is out of the question, of course.
The New York Central (NYC) runs too poorly with "2" trains and yellow tiles only; the Boston & Maine (B&M) is just a poor cousin of the NYNH; and the Canadian Pacific (CPR) has too little potential.
The C&O is a railroad full of promise. Unfortunately, it rarely delivers on that promise. Like the PRR, it has no immediate need to waste money on bridges or tunnels; but unlike the PRR, it will always be shut out of the Baltimore-New York corridor unless the B&O is not started early. I have seen very few games in which H16 was not occupied by a PRR and B&O token at the earliest possible opportunity. Moreover, the C&O has one less token than the PRR.
There are at least three basic strategies which can be employed by the C&O president. If the B&O is not started early, the obvious choice is to sprint for hex H16. This option includes buying only one "2" train and playing tiles on G7, H8 and H10. Unfortunately, even if the B&O is started a round or two late, you can still lose this race. The decision to follow this path depends upon how committed you think the B&O president is to keeping the corporation dormant. Even if the race to H16 is lost, playing tile #2 on G7 prevents its use on G17 (where it has unique value in developing highly profitable runs for the B&O, PRR, NYNH and/or NYC).
The C&O's second strategy is the high-spending, high early-revenue course similar to that suggested for the B&O above. Build a sharp curve in G5 toward F4 during the first operating round. Then build a bridge in F4 and buy a second train during the next operating round. On the third and fourth, build two F4-Chicago runs by upgrading F4 with tile #15 (when available), placing a token in F4 and building a sharp curve in E3. On the fourth operating round, if the green tiles are available, you will be running for at least $170 with a "2" and a "3" train. On the next round, you can play another sharp curve in G3 and boost the run to $240 if you have two "2s" and a "3". Unfortunately, this is pretty slow development in comparison with others, and costs $420 from the treasury. It is unlikely that the other players will allow you to run for $200+ more than once before buying a "4" train and spoiling your fun. Your long-term development prospects are now fairly poor as you will never reach the East Coast; expect to survive with a permanent run of $230 or less. Your permanent run can be slightly improved by developing E5, but this costs an additional $80 and damages your short-term prospects as you will probably wish to play tile #14 rather than #15 on hex F4 to reach E5 (reducing your access to Chicago).
The third feasible strategy for C&O is that of the "D&H teleportation". On operating round #1, play a tile in G7 so that, should green tiles be available on the next round, you can play at F16 and still have a run. On the first operating round possible, buy the D&H with the C&O and spend $120 to place a tile at F16. The tile can be pointed either EW or NW-SE. Eventually you hope to establish a "4" train run of New York-F18-F16-G17-New York (worth $210) or a "5" train run extending to H18 (worth $260). This is a very nice set up, but takes a long time to establish; other nearby railroads may interfere with your plans, and your runs will be poor until New York is upgraded. If you are forced to do this yourself, you will have spent $495 (at least - $80 + $180 + $35 minimum + $80 + $120). If you also decide to buy a "4" train, you will get some great runs but will likely use them for capital since, even if you started the C&O at $100 per share, you will have but $215 left in its treasury. If you opt not to buy the "4", then you will have gained little from the D&H play. Your "3" train could run for $130 from Cleveland to Chicago, the same as F16-G17-New York when fully developed. But you can manage a "5" train run of $250 out west at less expense (Chicago-E5-F4-H4-Gulf). The play in hex F16 does help the NYNH and NYC however, so if you own one of those corporations or expect to, you may have more to gain than this.
The NYNH president also has several viable options. The short-term strategy is to build toward Boston and purchase two "2" trains and a "3" train, placing a token in F22 and quickly running New York-F20, F21-F22 and F22-F24-Boston (for $140 with yellow tiles or $200 for green). This will involve a bridge on F22 ($80), bridge in New York ($80), token in F22 ($40), two "2" trains ($160) and a "3" train ($180) - or about $540. Your best "3" run will probably be New York-F20-F22 for $100, so to stay within one round of a "5" train you must start the railroad at $90 per share. The permanent NYNH run will likely be confined to New York - Boston ($190 when fully developed), so a "5" train is all you can use. One advantage of this is that your play in hex F20 seriously impairs the development of the NYC, especially if all the sharp curves are in play so that it cannot establish a run with only two tile lays.
A longer-term strategy for the NYNH is to play tile #69 toward Albany, eventually hoping to cooperate with the NYC and establish a coast-to-coast route. Your hope is that the NYC president will pick up the tab for upgrading New York, while the NYNH plays its station in E19 or perhaps F16. The NYNH thus lays out only $300 for a "2" train, a "3" train and a token in Albany in the early going, and can afford a "4" later with a view towards acquiring a diesel. The best version of this strategy is for the NYNH president to acquire the NYC also, of course, but this will usually demand bankrupting the NYNH by selling it private companies. Otherwise, another player will surely grab the NYC first as it will have a head start on track development.
The NYC itself is an endless source of fascination in our gaming group. Its four tokens and proximity to New York make it extremely attractive as a long-term investment, but it tends to run very poorly early in the game. Its initial run is only $30, and it cannot conveniently run a second train until several green tiles have been played. When the "3" trains are available, it is the overwhelming favorite among players starting a railroad at that time, and is devastating to control in combination with one of its neighbors.
Obviously, the Erie cannot be started at the beginning of the game because it cannot even build track in its home hex until the green tiles are in play. When the green tiles do appear, prospects will be limited because there are only two "OO" tiles in the game (one of which invariably appears on H18 at the first opportunity). Thus, early development for the Erie consists only of a gentle curve into Rochester and a connection to Albany, for a lackluster run of $90. This railroad is therefore viable only as a second corporation, probably for the owner of a nearby line such as the NYC which can aid its progress. The Erie's sole advantage is its ability to monopolize the high-scoring cities in the Buffalo-Toronto area (because the OO upgrade tiles allow a single token to block passage through the hex). Thus, once the brown tiles are available, the Erie becomes pretty reasonable - especially if nearby track has been also developed.
The B&M has all the disadvantages of the NYNH, with none of the advantages. It is not guaranteed passage through New York, so it will often have to expend its only token there. Unless a tunnel is cut in D22, the B&M cannot reach Albany early enough to avoid being blocked there. If tile #56 is played on F20 and/or the NYNH plays its token in E19, the B&M's dim prospects become dismal.
Many players feel the CP an attractive railroad to start at the beginning of the game. As a potential D&H "teleporter", it is superior to the C&O simply because it has more tokens and its initial run between B16 and A19 is worth $60. If a player can contrive to hold both the C&StL and the D&H, the CP becomes very attractive; but this is extremely difficult to do because they are sold consecutively on the first stock round.
With the C&StL alone, the CP can run well in the early going: on operating round #1, place a sharp curve in B18 connecting A17 and buy two "2" trains; on #2, play B16 and put a token there, running the trains for $90, and buy a "3" train if available; on #3 (assuming the green tiles are available), buy the C&StL, play a sharp curve in B20 or upgrade B16 and run for $160; in the fourth round, upgrade B18 with tile #18 and run for $190. Unfortunately, this is probably your last run with the "2" trains, and now you will run for only $80 with a "3". You have spent some $480 to reach this point. Thus, unless the CP started at $90 or $100 a share, you are more than one turn of capitalization away from a "5" train and will run many rounds with your "3" train. A "4", even if you could afford it, is wasted because you don't have the rail net to take full advantage of two trains. The only decent prospects for track development lie towards Toronto; but building there costs money and the Erie president will certainly thank you just before buying a token to freeze out the CP. Other than the Erie, no other railroad is likely to help the CP's track development much once Albany is occupied.
Building the CP towards Albany, however, is even more futile. It requires the laying of at least two bridges (because the C&StL tile cannot be played right away), so you need to play B18 toward A16 to guarantee a run on the CP's second operating round. The chance of reaching Albany before two of the three other nearby railroads occupy it with tokens is slight. In my view, then, the best early alternative for the CP (and the only one with a chance for profitable success) is the F16 play with the D&H. It is far better not to start the CP until the green tiles are sure to be available, however. Otherwise, you will be forced to spend $80 extra to establish a run through B18 in addition to your "2" train costs and the $120 for F16.
In summary, the CP is only the sixth-best railroad to start early in the game (bettering only the isolated B&M and the Erie). Late in the game, it proves even worse, since it is the only railroad on the map likely to gain no benefit whatsoever from track construction by the others. In our games, the CP is often either the last railroad started-or it is never begun at all.
Now that you have some idea of which railroad to start, what do you do with the rest of your money? If you have played the first stock round correctly, you shouldn't have much left. It almost always pays to start your railroad at the highest price you can afford, planning to extract any extra cash it has by selling your private companies to it. By the third or fourth operating rounds, however, you should be ready to decide whether to start a second corporation or invest in an already existing line. Starting a second railroad is usually preferable, unless all the remaining corporations have very poor prospects because of unfavorable track construction by early existing lines. The second railroad not only allows you to hold an extra share within your limit of certificates, but also to cooperate with your primary railroad in track construction and station building. And, most importantly, a second one allows you to control the timing of your train purchases and to distribute cash efficiently between the two. It also avoids the necessity to invest in another player's railroad (which may be looted and dumped upon you) in order to reach your certificate limit.
Ideally your second railroad should be started at $100 per share. This is not so much because it needs more cash to operate (it actually needs less, especially if the "4" trains are already available); rather the extra cash is needed to transfer to your older corporation so it doesn't have to run for capital as much. Too, a high-priced second railroad has a fighting chance to reach the "high-rent" section of the stock chart, while a low-priced one doesn't.
In many cases, unfortunately, the player seeking to start a second railroad cannot conveniently raise $600 alone, and must give up on it or start it at a lower share-price. If the older railroad has enough money to get a permanent train with but one capitalization round, the second can be started at a low price because no cash needs to be shifted. In most cases, however, the second round of railroad starts will involve those players who have sold private companies to their first for large amounts; such first companies usually need some help at this stage. Paradoxically, if your first railroad is in really terrible shape, you can raise the cash to start your second by selling all but the president's certificate. No one else will want to take on the railway from you if it is broke. On the next turn of operating rounds, the railroad may get cash from the shares in the bank pool without being forced to run for capital. If, by selling your shares, you now have enough money to start a second company at $100 per share, you should be able to bail out the first if necessary.
If a really attractive railroad company is available to be started, you don't have enough money to "float" it until the next stock round, and you think another player yet to purchase during this stock round will grab it, you could buy the president's share only (or even one additional share) and set the price at $67. Other players will realize that if they take control from you, you are quite liable to sell your two or three shares and drive the market token down two or three rows on the chart making it a rather unattractive investment. The two or three shares are deadwood in your hand, of course. You have to weigh carefully whether you have more profitable short-term purchases and whether you are willing to run the railroad at $67 per share later. This is one of the few situations where it is quite proper to buy shares that are not certain to be "live" during the next operating round. Unless it's a six-player game, I would assume that no one will throw me a lifeline if I should purchase only four or five shares of a new company.
In the event that you are unable or unwilling to become president of a second railroad, you will usually have a choice of a number in which to become the second-leading shareholder. The obvious considerations are the track development potential of the railroad, the state of its treasury, the skill of its president, and the state of other railroads owned by that president. The most attractive minority position is one in a railroad with good potential, lots of money, run by a capable player who has no other railroads and no unsold private companies. Other things being equal, I tend to choose one owned by the player nearest my immediate left. This has two advantages. First, the president cannot loot the railroad and stick you with the presidency unless he has the priority card himself. Second, if he has fewer than five shares, you may get a chance to take the railroad away from him if the other outstanding shares are sold piecemeal by the other players, allowing you to pick them up before the president can.
Keep in mind that owning more than one share of any railroad that you are not president of is always a risky proposition if the president has a way of looting it. If the person does loot it and makes you the president, he might not win - but you definitely won't! Controlling your share or more than your share of corporations removes this risk for the entire game. In a six-player game, you can survive nicely with one railroad as you can own six shares of it and one share of six others, for a total of 11 certificates (your limit). In a five-player game, the winner will almost always come from among the two or three who have two railroads. In a four-player game, you can do quite well as president of only two corporations if you hold six shares of each and can obtain one share of each of the six others (for a total of l6 certificates). With three players, the player with only two railroads is usually the loser (unless both are very good).
One factor which will color your strategy is the tendency of the other players towards what I call a "fast" or a "slow" game. A "fast" game is one in which four or five railroads are started early and the train inventory is run through quickly; in a "slow" game, the "3" trains may not emerge for five or six rounds. In a fast game, the "2" trains will not last long, so it is unwise to invest in too many of them. Except for the B&O (and possibly the C&O), no railroad can profitably use three "2" trains. Several railroads in a fast game will require their presidents to bail them out from cash in hand, so it doesn't pay to use a long-term strategy. A bankruptcy is fairly likely, especially in a five- or six-player game.
[Rules beef #2 (my only serious one): the rules covering bankruptcy are terrible! If a bankruptcy occurs, the winner is the richest player at that moment. All long-term planning is useless; the result of the hours spent playing is completely arbitrary. Why not just put all the bankrupt player's stock (including his presidencies) into the bank pool and send him home early? I have seen games in which one player intentionally saves another from bankruptcy simply because the first was not winning at the time, even though the aid given would not otherwise have been in his best interest. I have even played in games in which players doing poorly were unsporting enough to intentionally bankrupt themselves, so spoiling the game for everyone. This rule requires some revision in future editions.]
In looking at a "fast" game, the basic principle is to go against the grain - do the opposite of what most of the other players are doing. If you expect a fast game, you should play conservatively to protect your railroads from having their trains stripped away before the treasury is rebuilt. You aim to force others to deplete their capital by buying short-lived, temporary trains.
On the other hand, in a "slow" game, in which players are reluctant to buy multiple trains and/or start new railroads, you should play aggressively, buying multiple "2" and "3" trains, running for dividends every chance and building an early cash lead. If your railroads reach a precarious strait, you should have ample warning if the others decide to bring about your downfall by suddenly speeding through the train deck and killing your "3" trains since not many competing railroads will be in play. If the game develops slowly enough, you may not even mind paying for a permanent train out of pocket; you will be more than compensated by your early cash and high stock prices.
Always buy that "3" train at the first opportunity. A railroad without a "3" train will lose a run when the "4" trains appear (unless you were lucky enough to buy the first "4"). As the "3" trains last through the next seven to 11 bought, they get a lot of use. Don't buy two "3" trains, however, unless you can definitely sell one to a second railroad, or you expect a very slow game. Once a "5" is bought, the limit on trains is two and you cannot buy a "5" or "6" yourself until the first "6" train is bought by some other player (thus killing your "3" trains and forcing you to lose a run).
Although it seems counter to one's instincts, it is better to capitalize on your large early runs (the operating round or two immediately preceding the disappearance of the "2" trains) rather than your small ones later. It is important to run for capital as infrequently as possible to avoid damaging the stock price, since each capitalization costs you two columns on the stock chart. Do capitalize for $200 or more, unless the extra dividends in your hand would enable you to start an additional railroad on the next round which would otherwise be started by a competitor. If, on the other hand, you are but one ''3" run away from having $450 in the company treasury, you can afford to wait and capitalize on the smaller "3" later when the "5" trains are available. And be careful not to capitalize if this will shift the operating order so that you lose any opportunity to run with your "2" trains! If you have a choice, try to capitalize at the last possible moment. This not only enables you to invest your dividends earlier, but also maintains your position in the operating order, possibly gaining you that extra run with your "2" or "3" trains before they disappear.
As in real life, it is better in 1830 to have money sooner than later, because you can immediately reinvest early cash and make some additional profits. Therefore, it is almost always good policy to spend company treasury money early rather than later for bridges, tunnels, trains and tokens to improve your run - even if this seriously depletes the reserves. Later you can start a second railroad at a high price and bail out the first if you have accumulated enough cash in your hand to do so. There are a limited number of good railroads to own, and a one-round delay in accumulating the required cash to start one will often be fatal - so get there as quickly as you can. Once you have captured control of the railroads you want, you can ease up on the accelerator and save for some permanent trains.
Looting and then dumping a railroad early in the game is not as clever an idea as it may seem, unless most of the railroad's treasury ends up in the looter's hands. This is usually done by selling private companies to the railroad in question for the maximum amount possible and buying trains, bridges, and such to completely empty its treasury, then taking advantage of the favorable position of the priority card to sell enough shares into the bank pool to make another player the president. However, not only does this fail to benefit the looter substantially, but it really doesn't injure the new president particularly either.
The looter will generate enough cash to start one or even two new railroads at a high price. Unfortunately for him, however, at least one of those will be very undesirable (possibly both). The railroads with the best potential (including, perhaps, the one just looted) will already be owned by others. Secondly, the new railroad(s) will start back in the red rectangle of the stock chart, making them unlikely to reach a high stock price by the end of the game. Third, the looter's new railroad(s) will not run on the next operating round (because they have no train), costing the looter a turn of revenue. Finally, single shares of the looted railroad may be picked up at a bargain price by other players.
If the looted railroad is in really terrible shape, the new president will have some anxious moments, but will usually be able to recover before having to pay substantial amounts out of his own pocket. The game mechanisms provide for this in several respects. The looted railroad can collect revenue, not only from the private companies now owned, but also from any shares of its stock which remain in the bank pool during the operating rounds. Thus it can rebuild its treasury without running for capital, and its stock price will recover quickly. Other players besides the new president may be reluctant to buy the shares out of the bank, fearing that this would force the new president to capitalize. And the looted railroad may be able to sell its surplus trains to another railroad owned by the new president, thus benefiting both. And, if it retains those "extra" trains it bought, it will run for high revenue (at least temporarily). The new president will eventually be grateful to you for acquisition of a railroad with a good stock price and well-developed track. Alternatively, he may turn the railroad into a "feeder line", driving its stock price into the colored zone of the chart.
Note that in criticizing this "loot and dump" tactic, I refer to the plunder of a player's only railroad early in the game. Looting a second railroad corporation in the middle or late stage is much more profitable for the perpetrator and more damaging to the victim.
Another destructive tactic is "churning" - the buying and selling of large numbers of shares in railroads owned by others in order to lower the stock price. If two or three players cooperate, they can lower the stock market token to the very bottom of the chart. It is even more effective if one additional player remains uninvolved to buy up the now-cheap shares so that the railroad will not get any benefit from having shares in the bank pool. If done fairly (that is, equally to everyone), this tactic will not have much effect on the game except to reduce the importance of the early starting railroads. Our local group tends to avoid this tactic as it is time-consuming, and either unimportant or unfair in the long run. In a cut-throat game, however, it can be very effective when the victim cannot retaliate.
After six or seven railroad corporations have been "floated", the most critical phase of the game begins. Players strive to reach their share limit at a time when many of them will be short of cash because they hold many shares in railroads running for capital. Railroad presidents jockey for position to insure that their railroads can smoothly acquire a permanent train. Crucial tiles and tokens will be placed, determining which railroads will have profitable runs and which will not. In short, the game is usually won or lost in the middle game.
Near the start of this stage, the question of railroad ownership will be pretty much settled (unless a "loot and dump" entrepreneur arises). The cash-rich players will try to acquire at least two railroads, and possibly even three. Those with more railroads will, however, find that their shares have a lower average price than the holdings of other players, and they may be in danger of paying out of their pocket for a permanent train. If one railroad is deemed so inferior that no one will start it, only 63 certificates will be available; so some players may not be able to reach their certificate limit in a four-, five- or six-player game.
Four strategic questions face players in the middle game: 1) start a second railroad or invest in established ones; 2) run for capital or dividends; 3) buy a "4" train; 4) aim for a "5" or "6" train, or a diesel? We've touched upon the first question in the discussion above. The last three are intimately connected, as the following discussion will show.
In general, one should not run for capital for any of the following purposes: to get a better permanent train, to build a bridge or tunnel, to place a token, to buy a second permanent train (unless it's for a second railroad you own), to move the stock token leftward into the yellow zone. Capitalizing costs you a lot of money. If your stock is one of the higher-priced ones, the two columns you lose may cost you $5O per share at the end of the game; added to the lost dividends, that's $400 to $500 lost per operating round if you hold six shares. Even worse, the immediate dividends you forego may prevent you from buying stock on the next round, adding to that loss. On the other hand, do capitalize when your run is at least $200 and there is no other way to obtain a permanent train without spending at least $300 from your own cash reserve.
Experience shows that you should almost always buy the first permanent train available; saving for a diesel is rarely a good investment. As Mr. Fahrmeier indicated in his article, the game will usually last only six - nine operating rounds after the first diesel purchase. For example, if the diesel allows your railroad to run for $400 while a "5" train would run for $230, you gain $17 per share per operating round if you own a diesel. If you have six shares, your gain is therefore $102 per round. After seven rounds, you have gained $714. Therefore, if you capitalized more than once to get the diesel rather than the "5" train, you were a loser - because the two extra capitalizations have cost you $800-$1000. Moreover, unless you have the opportunity to buy the first diesel, you will have no trains after another railroad buys one and so will lose an additional run. Note also that other players may cut down your eventual big diesel run by placing tokens, reducing your ability to recover your investment.
In deciding whether or not to go for a diesel train, you should consider the fact that in order to get a diesel, you need to buy a "4" train. Without a "4", you will have no trains after the first "6" is bought-so you will have to buy the remaining "6" train. If the second "6" is gone, you will be forced to buy a diesel (with a lot of your own money). "4" trains cost $300 and have a notoriously short life span. Many a "4" train has not provided its railroad with a single dollar of revenue, as a diesel is bought before the railroad runs again! Moreover, many railroads do not get much benefit out of the "4" train: with only green tiles in play, the rail net is too limited to allow both their "3" and "4" trains to run fully. Worst of all, owning a "3" and a "4" will put your corporation at its limit for trains as soon as a "5" is bought. Therefore, unless you happen to have $450 in your treasury and have a chance to run at the exact moment the first "5" train is available, your railroad cannot get a "5" without help from a second railroad. In fact, it will probably not get a "6" either, since only one "6" (at most) will be left in the bank when your "3" disappears, leaving room for the second train. With both a "3" and a "4", your timing must be perfect to get a "5" or a "6" train. Thus, if you buy a "4" train, you are committed to buying a diesel unless a second railroad can help by buying the permanent train and selling it to the first railroad. Unless you are the first corporation to build your treasury to $800 with a "4" train, you must either run for capital an unacceptable number of times or pay a substantial amount out of pocket (after losing a run to boot).
As a consequence of these grim facts, you should buy a "4" train only in certain specific situations. If other owners are profiting more than you from the operation of "2" trains, buying a "4" will put them out of business. If it is the first train a railroad is buying, then, assuming you have any choice at all, you can afford a "4" because the railroad will still have enough money for at least a "5" (unless it started at less than $76 a share). If it is a "slow" game and you envision that there will be a long delay before a "5" train is bought, buy it quickly, enabling you to get four or five runs with your "4". If you have enough cash in the railroad fund and good enough track to ensure you reach $800 first, invest in a "4". And if you have two railroads, one of them will need a "4" since it is unlikely that you will be able to get a "5" or "6" with each of your railroads. Remember that your railroad can be the first to accumulate $800 in its treasury and still not be able to trade the "4" for a diesel if no "6" has yet been bought before it is your turn, leaving you with no train. If the second "6" is gone, you will not only lose a run (getting no revenue and losing another two columns on the stock chart), but will also have to pony up $300 in spite of your "conservative" play. Never buy the last remaining "4" train (we dub it the "Poisoned Four") unless the railroad can also buy a "5" or your second railroad runs soon after and will be able to buy one or two "5" trains. If you do decide to buy a "4", at least buy it at first opportunity; nothing is worse than dithering and finally buying one when it will only run once before vanishing.
Of course, even if you don't buy a "4", you can still come to grief if all the "5" and "6" trains disappear before you have a chance to purchase any. The $450 (or $630) you saved in the corporation coffers so carefully will leave you to dish out $470 to $650 from your pocket for a diesel. It would seem, then, that whichever route you take is risky, and that you have little control over what kind of train you get and how much you pay for it out of personal funds. This is quite true ... if you own only one railroad.
With two railroads under control, the situation is a lot more stable and predictable. Naturally, each railroad has one "3" train by this time (not two - you don't want to be prevented from buying a "5" by the train limit and then lose a run when the first "6" is bought). One of your railroads (not both) buys a "4" train at first opportunity. Now you have the desired flexibility. You can shift the money and the open slot for a train around to your best advantage, positioning yourself to get a "5" or "6" with one railroad and a "6" or "D" with the other. If, on top of this, you can get the diesel without losing a run and get it to the railroad with the better route, you are probably a game winner. Don't try to switch permanent trains after both are bought, however; this is very expensive.
This phase of the game can involve some tricky maneuvering. Players will often spend the stock round preceding the critical set of operating rounds attempting to manipulate the stock prices of the various railroads so their own will be able to buy a "5" and avoid the "Poisoned Four". One of the best situations is to start a railroad for $90 or $100 per share at a time when it can purchase two "5" trains on its first operating round. This solves the problem of a permanent train for both its owner's corporations (since one of the "5" trains can be sold to the older for a nominal sum). Starting the new railroad just to buy the "Poisoned Four" can also be a good move, so long as one or both your other railroads will be positioned to buy a "5". Losing revenue by capitalizing several times is not good, but losing a run entirely because you have no train is even worse. If you get through this phase of the game without losing a run or paying out of your pocket, you will almost certainly be a contender (even if your railroads have poor runs).
Occasionally, however, it can be a good tactic to purposely deprive one of your railroads of all its trains. Suppose the situation is this: you own two railroads, one of which has a "4" train or better (the "good" railroad) and one which has only a "3". The railroad with the "3" cannot accumulate enough money in its treasury to buy a "5" even if it runs for capital once, but you know that it will run first when a "5" or "6" is available. You can help this railroad by having the good one buy the "3" from it on its turn. Then, when the bad railroad runs, it can buy the permanent train with the help of your personal funds. This avoids having the poor railroad capitalize, and then either capitalize again or be trainless during the following operating round. You gain two columns on the stock chart at the cost of the $50 or $100 you would have raised for the railroad by capitalizing with the "3" train - usually a good bargain.
My local group has discovered an extremely cruel but effective tactic to punish poorly-run railroads (and, by the way, prevent the tactic just discussed). The perpetrator owns a railroad with a "3" and a "4", and this railroad now has the opportunity to buy the first "5" train. It does so, and now must turn a train in to the bank to meet the new train limit. Instead of turning in the "3" (as one would ordinarily expect), it turns in the "4"! The victim's railroad has only a "3" and not enough in the treasury to buy a "4", "5" or "6". After the first "6" is bought, the victim's railroad has no train. Even if the second "6" is available, the victim's railroad may not buy it; instead it must buy the least expensive train available-namely, that "4" the perpetrator turned in to the bank. The next time around, the first diesel has almost certainly been bought, so the victim is trainless again.
In conclusion, your goal in the middle game is to acquire permanent trains for all your corporations without losing runs for lack of trains, or paying heavily out of pocket, or running for capital multiple times. Achieving these goals will usually involve owning at least two railroads (unless you are willing to trust to fate). You must always plan to acquire a "5" or "6" train with at least one of your railroads. Do not feel unhappy if you wind up with no diesels; they fail to pay off as often as not. In but one specific situation is it wise to capitalize an extra round to grab a diesel: your railroad has only a "4" train, one "6" remains in the bank, the railroad has between $630 and $799 in its treasury and would have over $800 if you run for capital on the current operating round. Now you face a simple decision between running for dividends and buying a "6", or capitalizing and buying a diesel. Normally it would be worth the effort to capitalize and buy a diesel, especially if it slows other players who need their "4" trains. This situation is an exception, however. In the majority of cases, one should accept the cheapest permanent train available.
The last stage begins when all active railroad corporations have a permanent train. In the end game, play focuses on tile and token play on the board rather than on stock transactions. Typically, all players will have reached their stock certificate limit around the beginning of this phase. Stock transactions are now focused upon damaging the value of competitors' portfolios and acquiring shares of such companies as may be in the colored zones on the chart. If a railroad remains inactive, at least one player will be faced with a decision as to whether to float it.
Several decisions arise in the end game: Should a railroad with a permanent train but empty treasury run for capital in order to obtain funds for bridges, tunnels or tokens? Should a player sell shares of a competitor's railroad to lower its value? Should a railroad token be placed so as to damage another's run? Should a railroad be looted and dumped? At this stage in the game, each player's reactions can be predicted with such a fair degree of certainty that one can calculate whether any of the above actions will gain or lose ground. Unfortunately, it will often take more time to perform these calculations than the other players will permit you, so some general guidelines are in order.
It is rarely profitable to run for capital in the end game. If one is certain that by building a particular tunnel or bridge the railroad can improve its run substantially (at least by $15 per share), it may be worth considering. The lower the railroad's stock price, the less costly it is to capitalize (because the two lost columns make less of a difference to the price when the token is near the left or bottom of the chart). Remember also that if a really big profit is in the offing, other players may conspire to deprive you of the tiles you need to complete your projected run.
The question of whether to attempt to reduce a competitor's stock price by selling your shares usually arises on the very last stock round of the game. While it is extremely time-consuming to attempt to calculate precisely whether the game will end after the ensuing three operating rounds, a rule of thumb is that in the late game $30 per operating round will be removed from the bank for each share of stock in play. If all 80 shares are in play, about $7200 will be removed from the bank on three operating rounds. In rare circumstances, someone will be able to delay the end of the game by building unnecessary bridges and tunnels (or even by going to the extreme of purchasing an extra diesel). But selling shares in other companies should be directed at the players you believe are doing the best, since selling any high-priced stock will cost you money. You must be sure it will hurt your competitor more than it hurts you. If you can sell only one share, and the stock is already at the top of the chart, your move is futile since someone else will simply buy the share causing the token to rise back to its original row.
The question of token placement is more one of psychology than tactics. It is pretty easy to determine whether a token play hurts or helps you. But if you plan on playing with the same group again in the future, you might consider that a surprisingly large number of gamers view aggressive token play as bordering on the unethical. I personally prefer a "cut-throat" type of game in which each player is committed to furthering his own self interest by harming the positions of others, but some disagree with me. If you think that the player you damage by your placement of a token will take seven-fold revenge in future games, that is a factor to consider.
The end game presents the classic loot-and-dump opportunity described by Mr. Fahrmeier. The situation is such that during an operating round, you own two railroads, each with a permanent train. The railroad with the lower stock price has at least $1 remaining in its treasury. The priority card is located so that on the next stock round, you will play before a player to whom you can pass control of your more expensive railroad. On the third operating round of the current set, your cheap railroad buys the permanent train from the other, leaving that railroad with a depleted treasury and no train. On the subsequent stock round, you sell enough shares of the expensive railroad to transfer the presidency to your victim. He will have to come up with almost the full $1100 for a new diesel on the following operating round. This play costs you some profits, but you can make some or all of it back in dividends because your remaining railroad now has two permanent trains. If there is other stock left to buy, your total income per round may actually increase. And you are now protected from the same ploy by someone else because you have an "extra" permanent train should a railroad be dumped on you.
This tactic is so effective, in fact, that the threat of it tends to dominate play in the later stages of our games. Players will maneuver to avoid owning two or more shares of another railroad unless that president is to their immediate left (so the minority holder cannot be victimized). The best antidote, of course, is to be president of enough railroads that you can complete your portfolio without owning more than one share of any other.
Players occasionally find it profitable to operate what has been called a "feeder line" - a railroad with very low stock price which capitalizes often so that its market value remains in the colored zone of the stock chart. The advantages of this are that the shares do not count against their owner's certificate limit and that the extra treasury money accumulated can be used to assist the track development of his other nearby railroads or place tokens so as to injure close competitors. In order for this situation to be profitable, however, other players must have contributed to driving down the stock price. It is a losing strategy to capitalize a railroad five or six times simply to drive down the stock. What you gain by creating larger runs, you lose in early revenue and in stock appreciation of the feeder line. Too, the ability to exceed your share limit only benefits you for the one or two operating rounds out of three that you can run for dividends. And, by the time you get the feeder line's price into the yellow zone, there may well be other worthwhile shares to buy. Thus, I believe one can be pushed into a successful feeder-line strategy by the actions of others, but cannot set out to create such an opportunity; it's simply too costly.
1830 is one of a very small number of multi-player games which are almost pure tests of skill. Unlike DIPLOMACY and its brethren, however, 1830 is unique in that one's fate is somewhat less dependent upon the actions of other players if one so chooses. The game lends itself so well to analysis, in fact, that it suffers from the same problem as chess unless a time limit is set, the game can drag on far too long to be enjoyable. I think the game is best enjoyed if each player is practiced enough so that only three or four important decisions will require extensive thought and calculation. Our local gaming group plays a very sophisticated game, but usually completes a match (no bankruptcies) in three to four hours. This is a comfortable evening's entertainment.
This article is intended to provide the beginner with some examples of the issues he must think about when making these crucial decisions. Profound hex-by-hex, dollar-by-dollar analysis of a large number of specific situations is beyond my scope, but I will be glad to respond to future discussion or criticism of the points raised here in future issues of The GENERAL.