Wednesday, September 15, 2010


This article originally written in 2001 -- Brian Bankler]

The local gaming group has recently re-discovered the joys of the 18xx series of games. And so have I. I played a ton of 1830 in graduate school, and played 1870 and 1856 a bit when they came out. Then, the group that liked those games dissappeared.

I've probably played 10 games so far this year. Considering that these games clock two hours at a minimum, and usually closer to four, that's a lot of time. More surprising than my willingness to play is my opponents willingness. After all, I'm winning these games. The 18xx series suffers from a very large learning curve. It can take five-ten games just to really get a good feel for what you have to balance, and that requires time. [I personally went bankrupt in my first five games of 1830, and probably didn't win for another five-ten games.]

So, what to do? Well, first and foremost, check out the 1830 Strategy Guide. What I'm going to say has been said before, so hearing it twice may help.

I should also state that I firmly believe that 1830 should not be played with more than four players if any of them are new. With more than four players, the chances of a new player being unable to run their own company (and effectively watching the game) are heightened to unacceptable levels. With four players, three of them will almost surely get to start a company, and the fourth may just have to wait a few turns (and will probably not be the worse off for the wait).

So, hear are my quick tips for new (and improving) 1830 players.

The Opening Auction

Put a bid on the Camben and Amboy, unless there are already two players bidding. (Having one player get the C&A cheap can be devastating). The C&A should go for at least $200, and many players feel it should go for significantly more. If there are two players bidding, you may consider putting a bid on the M&H.

Don't buy the cheapest item, unless you are happy with the distribution of the other privates. Buying the 'blocker' private in any 18xx game usually means all the others resolve in auctions. Even if not, don't expect to get anything you haven't already placed a bid on.

Pay attention to how much money you'll have left over. $402 lets you open a company without help. Don't expect help. People may buy your company once it's 'proven' to run, but rarely before.

If you get the B&O Minor, it is almost always correct to par it at $100 or $90. $100 if you don't want it to open, $90 if you do. (Since typically in a 4 player game you'll have a little over $360 left). I personally never par it at anything less than $100.

The 1st Stock Round (after the auction).

Companies to Open: NY&NH, C&O, B&O, Penn. B&O and Penn probably open because of the already existing shares. NY&NH and C&O are the best of the rest. NYC can open as long as you are sure that NY&NH won't open in the 1st or 2nd Stock Round. (If the NY&NH opens in the 2nd SR, it can still vindictively cost NYC a run with a judicious tile placement, assuming NYC aimed for NY).The B&O runs very well, either as a long term company, or as a fast-buck strategy. The Penn works reasonably well as a long term company, but is usually put at a low price, so it does not have a great treasury, and it's short term prospects are bleak.

Strategy: There are two basic strategies. Low share price, get a good P/E ratio. (NY&NH with the 'fast buck' opening of place a curve to the NE, buy three '2' trains, and then next turn place the city and token, is the best example). The other common tactic is to open a long term company (Higher price, fewer trains that aren't permanent).

Simply put, the fast buck strategy works better. Three '2' trains and '3' train can pay out enough money early on so that the investor can start a new company that intends to buy any replacement trains needed for the first company.


After the first '3' train is bought, major companies can buy privates for up to double list price. In general, do this ASAP. (Wait until the last OR before a stock round if you can).

Consider setting a companies par price low in the 1st SR, if everyone else goes for a fast buck strategy, you may be able to buy a few '2' trains, a '3' train, and your private before the 2nd SR. [If that private was the C&A, you may have just won.] Contrarily, if you have no private companies, you may not want to buy as many '2' trains. [The B&O president often fits the bill].

Take the maximum value for the company, although keeping $1 (to purchase a train from your 2nd company) or $41 (for a $40 token + $1) is reasonable.

Trains or How to beat the 'fast buck' and 'looters'.

There really is only one way: Race through the trains. If you have a long term-company, try to start other companies quickly. This isn't easy. At the very least, try to get the first '4' train out (killing all of those '2' trains) quickly.

The game may pause as nobody wants to purchase the final '4' train. That's understandable, but evaluate if you are better off waiting or not. [Often a new company with a large treasury will open, buy the last '4' and the first '5' at the same time.]

In general, get as many of the '5s' as possible. They are the best value. A company opening at $100 can buy two of them instantly, if they are available.

The Second company

Your second company should par for $100 (less the earlier it opens). It buys trains to feed to the first company (ideally it gets 2 permenant trains, and sells one cheaply).

Alternately, open cheaply and stays in the yellow. This allows the president to hold more shares (yellow shares don't count towards the share limit) and provides a constant revenue stream to the company.
Owning more than 10% of another player's company Can be the road to ruin. But there are times to do this:

* The player has no other company and no large private company.
* The player sits to your left. Unless he has priority, he cannot loot and dump the company on you.
* You can save the company, even if looted. (This is more likely in 1870, especially if you own the Frisco).
* Once permanent trains are out, you can own a large stake in a player's cheapest company. (You can't own a stake in the most expensive, because the cheaper, operating last, may purchase the big companies big train. But turn order prevents the cheaper from ever becoming 'trainless').

I almost never buy more than 10% of the company to a player on my right except during the endgame.

Miscellaneous Tips

Flipping (Buying from the Initial Offering and instantly selling it for more on the market) gets you some money, but also helps the company. (By putting a share in the market, where the company collects it's dividend)
Still, if someone else will probably do it anyway, you may as well be first. [This is mainly true of 1830. In 1870, flipping hurts the company, but the president can often protect the shares. In 1856, it can help capiltalize the company].

Trashing a stock (buying it in the market and then selling it instantly for no profit, but a paper loss to others) is quite powerful, assuming you don't mind losing the priority deal.

Don't flip if there is a shortage of good second companies to open and you plan on getting one. Buy the presidents share, then flip on your next turn (if it's still available).

Putting a token next to NY is probably better than a token in NY.

The way to win is to own shares that withold never (or perhaps once) and not have to dig into your pocket for a train. It takes a bit of timing, but that should be your plan. Worry about the future, but expect to use your ill gotten gains to allow you buy a saviour company.

1856 Tips

1. Be careful in the first Stock Round if three companies will go before you...expect them to each take two '2' trains. (You'll need to buy 3 shares).
2. Early on, buy a 3rd (or 4th) share of your company and then sell it (reinvest the money somewhere else for a turn). Then you can (during the next Stock Round) probably buy up to 60% of your company.
3. Decide fairly early (around when the first '4' train shows up) if you plan on saving your company or folding it into the CGR --
a. Folding costs value (2 shares become 1) but if you get to loot a company with massive loans, it's worth it. Also, if many companies are going to fold, then it will probably be worth fighting over the presidency of the CGR.
b. If you do plan on folding a company, load up on the loans. (In one game I purchased a share of a players company right before the first '6' showed up. His company had enough money to pay off the loans, barely, so didn't fold into the CGR and he had to buy a '6' train out of pocket).
c. You'll probably need a loan or two even if you are trying to save the company. Oh well.
d. Make sure you have an even number of shares so that you don't lose any value.
4. Companies can bankrupt when the first '4' shows up. FYI.

1870 Tips

1. Flipping is very powerful, but if your oppenent already has 60%, you are probably just helping him.
2. Don't be as vindictive as in 1830. Use your tokens to preserve you destination run, rather than just block someone else.
3. Even though the '5' trains aren't fully permanent, don't expect them to go away unless TWO companies actively try to force the issue. (This depends on group think).
4. The Frisco has slightly weaker short term prospects, but very good long term prospects. Especially if nobody buys early shares. Bid it up, and get it's shares out of the IPO as soon as possible. The Frisco starts with plenty of money. Letting it pay out and keep up to 80% is too good.
5. Remember that a person who owns 70% of a company can't dump it unless you own 30%!
6. As president, strive to have the company buy it's shares ASAP. It keeps others from trashing it (if you are short of money or at the share limit).
7. If someone flips or trashes your stock, consider not protecting, but buying it cheaper on your next turn.
8. Because of the tighter share limits, more trains, and the ability to pay 1/2 dividends, keeping a company in the yellow (until the last set of Operating Rounds) is a more powerful strategy than in 1830.
9. Read the 1870 Strategy Guide, which is good.