(this article first appeared in issue #6 volume #26 of Avalon Hill's "GENERAL")


A Ride on the 1830 Express

By Edward Fahrmeier

Here's the pitch - 1830 is a great railroad game. It isn't really similar to any other game (except 1829, its English cousin); it is well-designed and it has many interesting features. It is one of the best games around for four to six players in which opportunities to win are present throughout much of the game, even for players who make mistakes in the early stages of the game. Experience and skill allow good players to recognize and seize opportunities that aren't always available in the beginning. 1830 is also one of the best multi-player games in that "ganging up" on the leader to prevent a win is relatively difficult to engineer. And solid alliances with other players aren't usually necessary to enjoy the game.

There are alliances between players or between corporations, and there are some economic struggles; but because of the interlocking character of ownership of the corporations, it is seldom possible to make moves that benefit only one player at the expense of all the rest. More typically, the long term benefits and costs to each player of each move are difficult to predict in such a complicated economic environment. The first-time player, however, is at a disadvantage among experienced players simply because the "old hands" have an improved sense of recognizing the opportunities. Chance is involved only in the determination of the arrangement of players for the share dealing phases of the game. (An experienced player might have some advantage in being placed to deal immediately after a novice, who is more likely to buy and sell the wrong stocks; likewise, a novice player is disadvantaged by dealing immediately after an experienced player since fewer "good deals" will be available.)

This game has a nice "feel" to it. Careful planning and analysis pay off, yet there is enough variety spawned by the various players' actions to present continuous interesting challenge. Each player is likely to have very different ideas about which actions are in his own best interest. The fewer the players, the more sedate the game. With only four players, each player has much , ore control over his own fate than in a five-player game. A six-player game is particularly tricky in that each has so little money and control, yet is immediately faced with difficult decisions. Games with fewer players are recommended for introducing novices to this classic railroad game.

As to the finer points of play, I have some specific suggestions in the following areas: the private companies, the special characteristics of each corporation, general strategies for running corporations, understanding some of the critical limits built into the game, and various thoughts on schemes, swindles and scams. With this as an introduction, even the novice player can become a "rail baron" after a few games. And enjoy himself immensely in the process.

The Private Companies

In general, the private companies are good investments; but they must be unloaded before they lose their worth or become liabilities because of certificate-holding limits. The face value of these companies are approximately correct in games with four or fewer players, but in five- or six-player games there are other factors to consider. Simply stated, purchasers of the three most expensive private companies are more at the mercy of other players with excess cash (due to their not buying these expensive items). A player buying the Camden & Amboy for, say, $200 has only $200 left to buy shares in the first round, and some other player is likely to gain the presidency of the Pennsylvania. Setting a par value of $67 per share is obviously going to hurt the C&A holder as compared to setting par at $90. Similarly, while a high par value of the Baltimore & Ohio shares will protect one's initial investment, other players can turn to cheaper stocks leaving the B&O president with just a private company.

Looking at each private company, we'll start with the Schuykill Valley (SVRR). Buy at $25 or less, particularly if the purchase results in an opportunity to get another private company you want immediately and at a relatively low price. The revenue for the SVR isn't bad, but better companies are available via the bid system. The other inexpensive private railroad, the Champlain & St. Lawrence (C&St.L) has adequate revenue also, but there are better investments unless you want to control the Canadian Pacific.

The Delaware & Hudson (D&H) can be critical because of its control of the station marker in the D&H hex. The Chesapeake & Ohio needs this station to get into New York City early in the game and the New York, New Haven & Hartford (NYNH&H) needs this station to head west. The Pennsylvania, Canadian Pacific or B&O could also make use of this hex to place a station marker; corporations with the most station markers have the most to gain by placing a $100 station in such a good location for only the price of the D&H and the $120 for placing a tile in the mountains. This is definitely a fun company to have, and its worth is more than its face value.

The Mohawk & Hudson is a good investment at face value, but the hex it commands isn't very valuable to any corporation except the New York Central. Since it has to be exchanged for the NYC share rather than sold to a corporation, its resale is limited to individual players. I don't think it is worth a premium price.

The Camden & Amboy (C&A) is a great investment at face value since even a par value of $67 for the Pennsylvania results in $25 a turn on a $93 investment. As a result, the C&A is often sold for a premium in a bidding war. However, as I have noted, a high purchase price for the C&A can result in embarrassment for the C&A owner. The resale value for the C&A is generally quite good and the corporation that gains control of the C&A-usually the PA or the B&O-can place the tile to its advantage in reaching New York City. Like the D&H, the C&A gives its owner some valuable options.

As a private company, I think the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) has relatively little to recommend it. The $30 it earns each turn won't make up for the retardation of early growth and the possibility that the Pennsylvania will make the corporate life of the B&O cramped. Eventually, other players will make the B&O float as a corporation and the private company will end. Of course, buying the B&O private company is the only way to get the president's certificate, but the par has to be high enough to protect one's initial investment. A player has to want the B&O corporation to buy this company, but I don't think a good player should pay much over face value for the company.

The private companies usually get distributed evenly among the players, but it is possible for a player to either be heavily invested in private companies or to be cut out completely. Heavy investment in private companies usually gives control of the early starting corporation railroads to others. Good cash flow leads to some fine chances to start a corporation in Turns 4 or 5 because one is likely to have more ready cash than the other players, but liquidation of the few corporate shares one has will probably be necessary to make any big move. Unloading the C&A at this time to a corporation is also a great way to get cash.
In contrast, players buying no private corporations have the best chance to control the corporation of their choice. Since cash flow will generally be low at first, these players will have to either sit tight on long term investments or plan massive share liquidations to raise cash for further major moves. Since such major moves should only be made if the first corporation is in horrible financial trouble, timing must be perfect for such a move to succeed. Let's look at the corporations now for a better understanding of what can go wrong.

The Corporations

The Pennsylvania (PA) is disadvantaged by low revenues in the early stages of the game, but it typically is the dominant railroad in the game. It almost always gets started in the first turn. The PA has sufficient station markers, and two of them should be played in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia quickly. The PA should get into New York City and Chicago, and it should be able to use big engine power at the end of the game. Both a "5" and a "6" are ideal, but a diesel usually can be profitable. The PA can usually make an "alliance" with either the C&O or the B&O for purposes of route enhancement. Its own interests should be carefully protected by its president, however.

The New York Central (NYC) is very disadvantaged at the beginning of the game. It has the worst available routes on the board until the "3" engines are in play, and thus it is poor choice for a first railroad. This corporation has to make its way into territories of other railroads to do well. The best possibilities are around Buffalo and Toronto or Chicago since simple blocks will keep the NYC out of Philadelphia and its environs. Local cooperation is usually necessary to exploit any area of the board. There are possibilities, but this railroad is difficult to play well.

The Canadian Pacific (CP) is a nice little isolated railroad-deadly dull to own and run. It is well suited for the lean-engined, steady-dividend, highstock-value strategy to be discussed later. The corporation can also be run in the manner of an expansion-minded NYC, particularly if it buys the D&H. This play fills the New York area with hostile railroads and makes life difficult for all.

The Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) can have a very cramped game unless it breaks into the PA territory early. An early grab of Philadelphia is a joy and should be attempted if the B&O has a chance. The B&O has to defend itself against a PA-C&O alliance by getting a station marker on the "H" tier or above. Shares are usually good investments if the corporation is going to be started immediately, but I find the price for becoming president a bit steep.

The Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) is the great tracklaying railroad. It has good revenues early in the game, but like the PA, it always seems to need more engines, more money, or both. Running the C&O is a roller coaster ride. Investors will typically dump the stock after five or six turns to buy other stocks in anticipation of the C&O stock value decline due to frequent withholding of dividends in Turns 6 through 11. Of course, this corporation can be run leanly, but the C&O is a diesel-type of railroad and, as a result, timing of the purchase of new equipment is very critical. The best time to save is when revenues are high.

The Erie: does your spine tingle when you hear the word? It should - beware the Erie. It's a lot safer to be president of the Erie than to invest in it, particularly if the president of it also controls another company. If the Erie starts late in the game with a par of $100, you can be sure that a diesel is going to be bought and that diesel will be sold to another company with smarter investors. The Erie is a nice second or third railroad to control; its success depends on the friendly assistance of other corporations.

The New York, New Haven & Hartford (NYNH&H) is another nice local railroad. With a little luck it can place its station marker in a nearby spot like the D&H or the NYC hex and set up a tidy "5" engine run into New York City (south) or Boston. There are even good breakout possibilities to the west, but saving for a diesel with this railroad doesn't usually make much sense. The tile placements to the northeast and west of New York City are critical for the future of this railroad. Try to keep the NYC president from making trouble, and you'll likely do well enough with it.

The Boston & Maine (B&M) is another nice railroad, but its breakout potential is even less than that of the NYNH&H. In addition, mountain crossings are usually necessary. It is a fine second railroad to run, particularly when the NYC or NYNH&H is the other corporation controlled.

If I can't get my favorites, I'll take the best of what is left available; being president of several railroads is what the game is about. At the beginning of the game there is usually only enough capital to start three or four railroads. If the president's share in one of the more lucrative corporations isn't available, it makes sense to buy single shares rather than buy the president's share of another corporation if there isn't enough capital to get yours started anyway. Investor confidence is an important element in 1830, as the experienced players are likely to get better financial backing.

Corporate Strategy

The design of 1830 is such that carefully and competitively run corporations have the: highest stock values at the end of the game. For such corporations, dividends might be lower on a particular turn than far more grandiose corporations, but the dividends are steadier than those for corporations that save to invest in big engines and long lines. Let's look at the economies.

Suppose corporations "A", "B'' and "C" have identical stock value of $126 on the highest row of the Stock Market Chart. Each has enough money to buy a "5" train. Corporation A buys the "5" and operates it for dividend distribution of $25 per share until the end of the game in, say, ten turns. Each share would then be worth $350, plus the $250 per share paid out for dividends. Corporation B saves two turns and, by then (as if by magic), a diesel is available and he has a "4" train to trade; he buys the first diesel. His revenue is, say, $50 a turn for eight turns, but his shares are worth only $250 each on the market. There are some important "ifs" in this calculation, but the return per share in this scheme is $650 - a small gain over Corporation A (which had $600 per share value at the end). Corporation C meanwhile buys a "5" engine, and saves for four turns to buy a diesel as well. Once the "5" and the diesel are at work, the dividends are $75 per share, but only for six turns. The total dividends are $450; including the share value of $180 makes for a total per share return of $630. If the game goes on longer than ten turns from the hypothetical point suggested, the corporations equipped with diesels are favored, but a shorter game tends to favor the conservative corporation (A).

1830 is so finely tuned as to make the decision of whether to save for diesels a very important one. Factors in this decision are whether the game will last long enough to make the diesel worthwhile, and whether the high revenue routes will still be available for it. The revenue estimates in the above calculations are by no means certain, and poor timing of saving and of purchasing new engines can lead to great disaster. Railroads that often can use a diesel profitably are the NYC, C&O, PA and B&O. The others are usually limited by territory, track or station markers.

No one strategy is perfect, but the conservative approach has a good chance to win if the quality of the player's stock portfolio is high. On the other hand, a more opportunistic player who gains control of two or three corporations (possibly even a corporation with very low share values so he can exceed the certificate limits) often can win with proper management of his trains and lines.

One of the most difficult aspects of the game for novices lies in anticipating the changing conditions of the game. These changes simulate gradual modernization and increased complexity. The game is divided into phases in accord with the complexity of the tiles and the quality of the engines for sale. For me, there are three distinct stages of the game, which I'll refer to simply as the opening, the middle and the finishing stages.

The opening stage includes the initial stock purchasing and initial tile laying operations of the game. Engines are plentiful and cheap (the "2", "3" and "4" types); dividends are small but regular; and private capital is reinvested to buy more stock. The game looks simple at this point and of rather low complexity. Heavy investment in trains usually results in higher dividends, but a railroad often becomes cash poor if this is done.

The real challenge of 1830 lies in the middle stage of the game. It is marked by increasing scarcity of engines and high prices for the "5" and "6" trains now available. Often there is much action in the stock market as players jockey to improve their overall positions. Players often will sell shares of stock of corporations with high value and relatively little cash return in order to start new corporations, while holding on to corporations with good runs. The number of turns a corporation must save in order to purchase a new engine is critical for its eventual value, and presidents who start to accumulate too late sometimes have to dip into their own private capital. Games are won or lost at this stage; the absence of an engine almost always spells disaster for a corporation and the player who controls it. The purchase of the two "6" trains and the first diesel are likely to be made by the corporations run by players with a little good luck (sequence of turns is important) and a lot of accurate planning. These purchases inevitably squeeze all the remaining corporations.

The finishing stage of the game begins after the first diesel is sold. Successful companies are now fully equipped and merely laying a few more tiles, while the "also-rans" are still scurrying to amass capital to buy diesels. Since there are only three "5" trains and two "6" trains, the purchase of a diesel or two is inevitable, and only the first player to do so will get a cheap one. Seldom do diesel purchases made after the first turn in which they become available pay off, but players often have no other choice.

Another critical area, although less serious than that of engine purchase, is that of tile placement. Some blocking maneuvers with the non-station green and brown tiles are available to clever players who want to limit access to particular areas. Close study of the tiles available before it is the corporation's turn to move is sometimes warranted. More obvious is the proper play of station tiles. Promoting tiles in the 57 to 14, or the 15 to 63, sequence in ones' own routes results in a small but important edge in revenues and access. Placing the right tile of the 64 to 68 set on the Camden hex can be very significant for the PA and B&O, for example. The Erie and Toronto hexes can be exploited well or poorly (tile 67 is particularly appropriate for Toronto). Last but not least, the 1, 2, 55, 56 and 59 tiles are of tremendous importance in the development of the New York City area. A thoughtful player will spend some time analyzing the possible placements with an eye toward eventual route building.

Another critical area of play is that of station marker placement. Most corporations have enough markers (with the exception of the B&M and the NYNH&H). I have seldom seen the PA, NYC, CP or Erie use all their station markers, while the B&O and C&O often need all of theirs. I must admit I prefer "open" games with restrained usage of station markers; this leads to big, productive diesel runs for my trains. But some games will inevitably see "station wars" commence as players place stations to block the access of other corporations to their lines.

A final critical topic is that of certificate limits. The certificate limits are, of course, lower as the number of players increases towards the maximum. A six-player game is usually very challenging as one must work with fewer resources. One "legal" (i.e., not breaking the game rules) way to gain an advantage is to hold as many president's certificates as possible, thereby increasing the actual number of .shares held. A person with two or three president's certificates becomes a favorite to win on shares alone, so other players must strive to prevent any player from running three railroads simultaneously. The other "legal" way to increase the number of shares held is to buy shares currently in the yellow and brown areas of the Stock Market Chart. How to succeed at this brings us to our next topic.

The Schemes, Scams and Swindles of Scoundrels

(This information is intended for honest players who need to know how to protect themselves from those who shouldn't be allowed to play with gentlemen and ladies. Honest.)

Players running only a single railroad can usually be trusted not to ruin their own chances by mismanaging operations on purpose (although sometimes a little advice is necessary to prevent shooting off toes; that's the role of other interested stockholders in a corporation). But players running two or more corporations can never be trusted. The most obvious ploy is to run one railroad to help another at its own expense. Sometimes irate minority shareholders can do something about it. However, the more subtle operator may need to be turned out also. If a player holds six shares in one corporation and three in another, watch for signs that the second corporation is withholding dividends to buy an engine while the first always pays dividends. A switch is in the offing. The second corporation will buy a new engine, but it will be quickly bought by the first corporation at a reduced price. The second will then simply keep on saving or will be dumped onto the market. The best defense against this is to wrest control of the second corporation away from its evil president before the switch is made. This usually requires the good guys to hatch a takeover bid; convince the other shareholders that you are indeed the deserving new president.

A second version of this scam is to gain control of one company deep into the brown or yellow areas of the Stock Market Chart. These stock shares aren't worth much, but often there are possibilities for these low valued corporations in buying engines for rich sisters or themselves. Values are kept low so that shares don't have to be sold to meet limits but there is no harm in timing dividend payments so that the stocks don't emerge from the yellow area until just after the last stock buying round. A partial defense against this scheme is not to buy minority shares of corporations without engines or shares of corporations which are obviously going to be abused. A second defense is to gang up on these corporations to minimize revenues by blocking routes.

A third version of such a scheme is a true swindle. This is to start a railroad like the Erie relatively late in the game; set share value at $100; and then convince everybody to buy a share or two, but not enough to take away the presidency. Three shares (the president's certificate plus another share) are usually enough to pull this one off. If the Erie does float, the $1000 (with an added $100 of personal money) buys a new diesel for a small investment of private capital. The diesel is transferred at once; no track is ever laid. And no other engine is ever bought. With a little luck, the villain will even get to unload his three shares for $76 each. The best defense here is not to invest; the second is to build a line into Buffalo so that the Erie has a run and must buy an engine. A lot of cooperation may be needed to accomplish this task for an unwilling president.

The scheme of selling shares to lower stock values usually has the effect of reducing the options of the remaining players holding that stock to sell and then buy something else. However, this usually doesn't affect the long term value of the stock a great deal, and can actually assist the long term investor to pick up these shares cheap. If the seller has a better deal available elsewhere, the selling must be done; but such trading should be evaluated in terms of long term gain for oneself rather than temporary pain to others.

Final Thoughts for Successful Play

Winning 1830 depends a lot on careful planning and taking advantage of opportunities when they occur. Resorting to the worst swindles may result in a victory in a particular game, but since each of us usually plays with the same few players repeatedly, reputations develop. There is a considerable advantage to any player who can get others to invest in the corporations he controls, particularly in the initial share dealing round. Later diversions of corporate funds should be on the conservative side so as to be dismissed as merely good business sense. Always remember that the free enterprise system that made America great is being simulated in your dining room.