Josh Starr's TraXX 2019
Joshua Starr
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San Diego
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TraXX 2019 was an absolute blast. Very grateful I was able to attend to see some old faces and meet some new ones. 
My plays by day were:

-Wednesday: 18Dixie
-Thursday: 1817, 18Mex, 1817
-Friday: 1880, 18Chesapeake, Soo Line
-Saturday: Harzbahn 1873, Soo Line, 18NEB
-Sunday: 1841, 1880

Only 10 18xx plays for 5 full days of gaming seems pretty low, but looking at how meaty some of those games are, I'd say 10 is actually quite good!
Below are my thoughts about the games played and if/how those thoughts have shifted with my most recent plays at TraXX.
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1. Board Game: 18Dixie [Average Rating:7.51 Unranked]
Joshua Starr
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3 Players

This was my first play of 18Dixie. There is more or less a "draft" of 13 Minor companies that each eventually get merged into a Major a company in exchange for a share. (makes sense, Mark Derrick game) Some Minor companies have a set Major they will merge into, others have 2 or 3 options of which to merge into. In the early game, doinks are bonuses to routes (again, Mark Derrick game) but later on are not skippable by the 2D/4D/5D train s- meaning those awesome routes you spent all game building now suck. Also, you can only buy 1 train per OR (we get it… Mark Derrick). 

I really wasn't expecting a whole lot out of 18Dixie. Before playing, I didn't think there was much game to it, just build your routes well and figure out who wins - but there's a pretty interesting story to how the minors build the infrastructure for the majors and which minors go into what majors. You may end up trading your minor for a dead share or you may end up wanting to float a company your opponent has shares of once their minors convert - meaning they get paying shares. I think a lot of the game is in playing out the Minor draft which can be pretty enjoyable if we can get the game down to 3 or 4 hours in future plays.
 
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2. Board Game: 1817 [Average Rating:8.69 Overall Rank:1902]
Joshua Starr
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San Diego
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5 Players, 4 Players

Probably my spiciest two plays of 1817 yet. Fireworks happened. Implosions were had. Some were voted off the island. Some hung themselves. My plays of 1817 prior to TraXX had been overly tame without ever really heating up the game's economy. In these games, we were red-lining interest rates and the player tableaus were sufficiently pink. While I bankrupted in both games, I feel like I finally "got" what 1817 is about: build your house of cards and blow the other guy's over before someone blows yours down. I think I'd be happy playing only 1817 for awhile if I could consistently get it to the table.
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3. Board Game: 18MEX [Average Rating:7.75 Overall Rank:2895]
Joshua Starr
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5 Players

I had an interesting moment in 18Mex where I was running U de Y and had the opportunity to bring out the first 6T, rust a bunch of 3Ts and potentially bankrupt a player at the table, but instead waited for the 4D. If this were me playing 6 months ago, I think I would have just rusted the 3Ts without really thinking twice about it. However, despite the temptation to rust the 3Ts, something I realized is that if a player did not bankrupt as a result of it, I would be running my 6T as a 4T. Perhaps I would have set a couple other players back with the 3Ts rusting, but would not have been pushing my own earnings forward and could have potentially lost as a result. I force-bought a 4D and ended up winning.
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4. Board Game: 1880: China [Average Rating:8.24 Overall Rank:2258]
Joshua Starr
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4 Players, 3 Players

So I kind of played the "same" game of 1880 twice. In both games I got the Pocket Rocket, I opened JHA first, and opened JHU second (with Pocket Rocket in JHA). The only difference was, in the first game, I opened JHA with 20% presidency and JHU with 20% presidency during ISR. The second game I opened JHA with 40% presidency in ISR and opened JHU later. 

There is a big difference getting early ownership over the Pocket Rocket company. Perhaps I was overly greedy getting a 40% cert and just an A permit with JHA (JHU had to provide a helping hand with track builds) but getting early control over the rocket company ended up meaning I could be conservative with my train buying and still pay out similar dividends. In my first game, the rocket company was good, but that didn't do much to help me. (ended third) While I won the second game, I will say going 40% and just having an A building permit is probably too greedy. If I end up in that situation again, I would likely pick a 30% cert to make sure I could build through Phase B. 

I'm still on the fence about 1880. The stock round mechanism is very, very clever. But I feel like there are a lot of places you can screw up your game from either a wrong track lay, a wrong company par, a wrong building permit, etc. I'm all for games that you can lose on the first turn, I just feel there are just too many potentially lethal decisions in 1880's opening to navigate.
 
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5. Board Game: 18Chesapeake [Average Rating:7.66 Overall Rank:7499]
Joshua Starr
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Ended up having a really quirky play of this game. I am P1 with $200 in lootable privates. P2 (to my left) has "B&O" private with nothing to loot. P3 has "C&A" with $280 to loot and Priority Deal. P4 has $100 to loot. 

P3, P4, and I float (such that I am last to operate). SR2 comes, P2 is floating a company and will be taking 5 actions this SR thus P3 is pretty likely to get Priority. P3 sells one share to operate last and buys 1 of my shares. I respond and do the same. P3 doesn't like that, sells one more and buys another of mine. I have a moment of "Are we really doing this?" and I decide we aren't and just buy a share of P4's company. P3 buys one more share of my company, P2 floats, PD lands on P3. 

OR2, I don't like having a 50/30 split. I'm not buying through to the 3's to loot. Fine, I'm withholding. (to make sure I have cash to loot and buy 2x 3T next OR.) P3 thinks it's silly. P4 buys through the 3Ts and loots. P3 loots for $280 after only buying 1x 2T. 

SR3, P3 ditches my shares (good!) and floats another company. 

OR3.1 3Ts get bought through till last one. I buy a 3T and a 4T to rust the 2Ts.

OR3.2 I loot one private for $150 (all I can afford) last 4T exports.

SR4 float storm happens. OR4 5's and 6's fly. P3 ends up with 3 companies with a 4T, 4T, and a 5T in each. I have a 5T and a 4T in my first company while suitcasing with C&A as my second. P2 is in good shape, P3 might overtake P2 if he is allowed to run his 4Ts. I am not winning but I can bring the Diesel out with 2 withholds. "Okay, guess we're bringing the Diesel out" 

P3 sees my withholds and is starting to sweat since he has 2x 4T. I rust 4T's. P3 buys 1 Diesel but can't afford the second, buys time by juggling. 

Next OR set, P4 has Priority, so P3 organizes a mid-OR company dump onto current leader, P2. P2 has to juggle trains until next SR, where he dumps a trainless company back on P3. Game eventually calms down and we run our trains. I win, just beating P2 by $200. (easily the result of a couple missed runs)

So despite 18Chessie being a teaching game, definitely still has the 18xx toolkit for plenty of interesting things to happen. While exporting the poison 4 moves the game along, I can't help but feel it's a bit too obvious to get companies floated up with just the 5Ts on deck. No one has to eat the poison 4, so there's a lot less positioning around the green trains in general. Need more plays to see how the green trains are bought to make up my mind about the game.
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6. Board Game: The Soo Line [Average Rating:7.10 Overall Rank:7920]
Joshua Starr
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3 Players, 5 Players

I played wrong (twice) so grain of salt here, but I'm more inclined to say this is a puzzle than a game. There's an equilibrium that needs to be struck for the companies to work. To me, the experience seems to be more about discovering what that equilibrium is rather than manipulating the game system to win. Again, grain of salt.
 
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7. Board Game: Harzbahn 1873 [Average Rating:7.39 Overall Rank:6739]
Joshua Starr
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4 Players

My third play of Harzbahn. It's a very subtle game which could easily be missed if you aren't looking. Planning around when shares become available and when you'll have capital is big. You don't always need to pay out in a game that has triple stock bumps and there won't be shares for you to buy in the SR anyway, so why not withhold and boost up the value of your current holdings? 

It's a clever game, but I did not enjoy this play after the 4 hour mark (went for 7.5 hours). My actions were scripted from then on out and it was just route calculation for 3.5 hours. I would LOVE Harzbahn if it could be played in 3 hours (when most of the interesting stuff happens anyway), but I would rather play something else if it's taking 5+ hours.
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8. Board Game: 18NEB [Average Rating:7.56 Overall Rank:4062]
Joshua Starr
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3 Players

Nice little surprise in 18Neb. Hadn't heard much about it before, but I had the chance to play with the designer, Matt Campbell. It feels like 1846 with tight tokens at 3p. East-West routes are game-winning and getting tokens in choke points to secure those E-W routes feel similar to the race to get a Chicago token. 

Matt said I did something he hadn't see in 200+ games which was to par high and buy only the president's share (incremental cap). In the following SR, I issued shares up to the bank pool limit and dropped my stock price one for each issued (similar to 1849). I thought to myself "Capitalize a company like it was parred at $100 and buy shares of it at $60? That sounds nice" I was pretty surprised I was the first Matt saw try it, but perhaps that's for good reason considering I lost to him by $500!
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9. Board Game: 1841 [Average Rating:7.89 Overall Rank:2990]
Joshua Starr
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4 Players

My first "real" play of 1841. What a weird game… I'm not used to having almost $1000 at the start of a game. The merger rules are confusing, but I wasn't as bothered by it as I thought I would be just because it all felt so different than how 18xx usually plays. Some of the decisions felt a bit obvious like opening a company with your acting company and parring high, but one thing I did not see was companies stealing presidencies of other companies after they have issued down, which I think is a big threat that we all missed. 

Buying shares into a company in our game seemed like more of a way to deny shares in the SR than anything else, but perhaps that goes back to not stealing presidencies with companies. 

I could see this becoming a favorite, but need more plays to better explore what's under the hood.
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