- Mark Frazier(Ganraeln)United States
Many of you who know me personally and have played 18XX with me over the years are aware that operations is my favorite part of 18XX. You get to build track, run trains, build new railroad terminals (called "stations", or "tokens" in 18XX), and buy new and more powerful trains as the game progresses. I enjoy building games, and 18XX's operations game scratches that itch for me very well.
In 18XX, each railroad has a president (the player with the greatest number of stock shares). During the operating rounds, each railroad operates in order from highest share value to lowest. In those games with Minors, the Minors tend to operate first, in some pre-determined order. It's worth noting that 18OE has Minors, but their order of operation isn't hard-wired into the game like other 18XX games - the order in which they are opened dictates the order in which they will operate.
One very intriguing aspect of 18XX is that railroads have their own treasuries - the money in their treasury cannot be mixed with the money in their owner's hand. As such, one of the challenges of 18XX is to manage both the player's cashflow, and the railroad's cashflow. Railroad cash is used to lay track, place new tokens, buy trains, and in some games buy privates from a player.
As each railroad operates, it takes the following actions in sequence:
1) Lay track - the map is made up of a grid of hexes, where the railroad may extend an existing track line by placing one new track tile. Due to their size, some 18XX games, such as 1870, 18C2C and 18OE allow multiple tiles to be placed each turn. The general idea here is to extend track lines that your trains can make use of to run to new and/or more valuable cities.
2) Place token - each city on the map has one or more white circles on it. These circles are available for railroads to occupy with their tokens, thus creating the abstract infrastructure to allow them to run their trains through that city. Each time a railroad operates, it may place one new token in an unoccupied circle - most 18XX games require the railroad to pay for this out of its treasury funds. What's neat about tokens, is that they not only allow you to run through the city, but block other railroads from doing so - this makes for an interesting chessmatch on the board, as railroads vie for the most coveted cities.
3) Run trains and pay revenue - the behavior of 18XX trains can vary quite a bit from one game to the next, so I will use the most common train type for the sake of this discussion. Each train has a number on it - 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. This number indicates the number of cities that may be counted in the train's run. As each train runs, one of the cities that it counts must be occupied with a token from the operating railroad. Using the track on the hex grid, you trace a line from one city to the next, adding up the value of the cities.
Once you arrive at a total, you decide what to do with the "revenue". The two most common choices are to "pay" and to "hold". Paying means that you divide the total by 10 and pay that amount to each shareholder. While it might sound complicated, cities all have values in amounts of 10, making the calculation a breeze. Holding means that you can place the entire amount of revenue into the railroad's treasury, providing an influx of cash that can be used to purchase more track, tokens, and trains. When a railroad pays, its stock marker advances on the stock market, increasing in value. When a railroad holds, its stock marker moves backward on the market, decreasing in value.
4) Buy trains - the last thing that a railroad can do is buy trains. Trains can be bought from another railroad (allowing for some interesting shenanigans during a stock round), or from the available unpurchased trains. At the beginning of the game, the lowest numbered trains (those that hit the fewest cities, providing the least amount of revenue) are available. Once the lowest numbered trains are all purchased, the next highest train becomes available.
The purchase of the first train of each new train type can bring with it many changes in the game. New types of track (progressing from yellow to green to brown) become available, making for more interesting options while laying track. As the train sizes progress, the lower numbered trains will become obsolete, rusting away and needing to be replaced by their owners. In fact, a railroad that is left without a train will usually be forced to purchase another one when they next operate - the primary cause of bankruptcy in 18XX games.
While this is merely an overview of the main aspects of 18XX operations, the fact remains that the operations side of the game varies more from one 18XX game to the next (compared to the stock market side). Many details have been left out, but if you decide to become a student of the genre you will find a robust game system that challenges you every time you play.
I do hope that these articles were useful to those of you interested in the 18XX hobby!
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