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18Ardennes Review
Railroads Race to the Map Edges



Introduction

As per e.e.goings’s question “where is the love?” found in this game’s BGG forum, I look at 18Ardennes, one of the less common titles in the 18xx family of railroad games.

Designed by David G. D. Hecht, the game reminds me of 18EU but with extra rules and therefore more complexity. There is enough difference to say they are two games, not just the same game with two maps, but I still found the games very much alike in flavour. Nonetheless, I would say only one of the two needs to be owned by me and my choice would be 18Ardennes.

The following review is based on two plays; a 5 player solo game and a 4 player solo game. (The game is designed for 3 to 5 players.) Two solo plays before attempting a review isn’t enough for some people, but since no one else has attempted one, I have decided to put down my thoughts.

I assume a basic knowledge of 18xx in my comments below since I would not recommend this as a first game for 18xx novices.


The Flavour

Like 1861, 1858, 18EU a large number of minor companies float in the initial Stock Round. There are no real privates in the game, except for one very vanilla private which is used in the 4 player game only and then it is just to equalize the number of companies per player.

The minors in this game are closer to public companies that other 18xx games I have played. They have value on the stock market and have a second token they can place to protect their routes. They can withhold dividends. They can remain operating to the end of the game.

Each minor comes up on the block and is purchased by the high bidder before the next is put up for auction a la 1861 or 18EU. These minors can be converted into 5 share public companies which in turn can be turned into 10 share publics. Public companies are cash rich throughout the game and it is easy to get a company two permanent trains.

Revenue bonuses are achieved by reaching and servicing ferries, mines and forts represented by tokens placed on the board. The early game is a race to collect these bonus tokens by building track to their locations.

Building track and guarding routes for map-edge-to-map-edge bonuses in the mid game are essential to winning. Blocking routes of competitors is common and very effective. This is helped by the fact that public companies come with 6 tokens. Being able to use multiple companies to work towards the same goals is key. Merging them into the same company may be the only way to complete an edge-to-edge run. Careless players may see a minor unconnected and unconvertible if not careful.

The late game brings a rapid emptying of the bank and I applaud 18Ardennes for not dragging the ending out over several sets of OR’s as happens in several other titles.

A 1D stock market ensures stock market shenanigans do not occur. Some may find that good, some bad.


The Ruleset

Expect a few extra rules in this game. The rule concerning conversion of minor companies into shares of public companies is more complicated than 1861 or 18EU. For your efforts in understanding the mechanism you have more interesting options and more ways of messing up; in the 5 player game I had mis-planned and did not have enough shares in my public company’s treasury to allow me to get rid of a poor paying minor by exchanging it for a share in a strong public company and instead had to take a financial hit.

Likewise, timing the selling of IPO shares in a company treasury for purchase of more powerful trains and/or conversion of a 5 share company to a 10 share company is critical.

The rules for edge-to-edge bonus runs are also more complex than 18EU.
There are hard-to-keep-in-mind special rules, ie,
-minors cannot upgrade to brown tiles;
-some trains can only be owned by 10 share companies;
-stock movements depend on company types;
-2T’s are wounded but 3T’s rust immediately.

What makes the extra rules seemingly more complex is that the rule book seems fragmented; rules bounce back and forth among several subsections. Since the game is an enjoyable experience, the effort is worth it, but still hard to untangle and I missed several rules in my first playthrough.


The Initial Auction

I found the large number of companies to auction tending toward tediousness. And then even more auctioning happens when the public companies are brought out.

In my mind an 18xx game starts once the initial auction is over (even though I know this initial auction can be critical) so I dislike a long beginning auction. This is personal preference and I suppose others enjoy the tense jockeying of position as you try to start with the best set of companies you can.

18Ardennes’s ruleset seems set to ensure everyone gets exactly the same number of companies (which seems to be the only purpose of adding the Guilliaume- Luxembourg private company.) I suspect it is impossible NOT to end up with more or less than an even split. Critics of 18EU complain that if minors are not evenly spread when the auction ends, the game has already been decided. 18Ardennes’s rules seem to ensure this does not happen. The only thing determined in this auction is whether you get a mix of minors that work well together or end up with a bad mix. This is a comforting situation for new players but may not be welcome news to experienced and/or cutthroat 18xx’ers.

I think some minors are more valuable than others but any one of them is an asset if you have a friendly minor nearby to work them together.


First OR’s

The beginning of the game is all about getting your first track built and getting some revenue. Players need to ensure they are not cut off by competition. Ideally, companies need to plan for the future by reaching bonus tiles. The first minors to reach ferries, forts and mines can snatch up the bonus revenue and keep it from opponents.

Capitalization of the minors ensure everyone can buy exactly one 2T and no more than that. By the time the 2nd SR come around the map is covered by yellow tiles.

This trackbuilding is the flavour of the game and the main reason I enjoyed playing this game. From the first tile, players are positioning for those huge runs at the end of the game by building track and placing station tokens. At the end of the game, if you have been successful you get the thrill of running for big revenue.


The Tile Mix

The yellow tiles are unlimited.

I found the green tiles a helpful mix. If anything they provide more route options rather than less. For example, the switches (ie tile #’s 23, 24 and 25) are replaced by similar tiles which allow trains to turn in either direction at a junction and the switches do not appear in this game.

On the other hand, the brown tiles that are quite restrictive. Only brown city tiles are present in this game. In other words there is no way to upgrade green track tiles to brown track tiles that would help a company cross existing track between cities. You need to cross track by running through a city and the cities will likely already be blocked off by competing railroads in the green phase. Fail to ensure a route before the first brown tiles are available and you cannot likely fix the mistake later.

18Ardennes is therefore a game where planning for the future begins early. More than other 18xx games, I felt like the final routes I wanted affected my decisions at the very beginning and sacrificing early money to ensure future routes was usually the correct decision.


Cash Rich and the Train Rush

Treasuries remained rich and were helped by revenue from IPO shares sitting on the charters, the ability to sell these IPO shares into the pool and the ability to easily convert to 10 share companies.

There was no hard decision to be made as to whether the publics should be formed; everyone had money they could not invest. The only hard decision was which minor to convert. In converting a minor to a 5 share public company you give up a company giving you 50% of its revenue to giving you 60%. Convert to a 10 share company and you are down to 30%.

Trading additional minors in for additional shares serves a purpose like getting added cash and assets into the public treasury or converting minor tokens to the public tokens to allow trains to run long routes. Also, rules allow you to accumulate share holdings over 60% but only if trading in a minor for such a share. On the other hand, keeping a minor outside the public gives you more track laying ability and maybe more revenue than that single share may bring.

As long as the train rush does not begin, you would want to hold on to some minors. The danger of doing this is that the train rush will leave a minor producing no profit (there is no obligation to buy a train for a trainless minor). This is all part of the planning that pervades 18Ardennes and I think this is a challenging and enjoyable aspect of 18Ardennes.

The early track builds are usually obvious; the devil is in the details of converting companies from minors to 5 share to 10 share at the right times. Company tokens are plentiful but still never quite enough. Your minor companies frequently block your public companies routes if allowed to operate too long.


Conclusion

All this results in what can either be a friendly stressless game lacking any challenge or a game of intense planning where any errors or moves made too late can cause the death of a thousand cuts. (okay, maybe 3 or 4 cuts)

Enjoying the subtleties of building routes rather than worrying too much about finances, I am partial to this kind of game. Others will miss the financial challenges of other 18xx titles.

This seems a mostly forgiving game with unlimited yellow tiles and lots of cash. An even start is ensured (at least a start where no one starts completely unable to compete). There is no nasty stock manipulation.

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Tyler McLaughlin
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Re: A Race to the Map Edges
Ha! A mere 5 years later....

Nice write up.
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Tom
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Re: A Race to the Map Edges

e.e.goings wrote:
Ha! A mere 5 years later....


You are a very patient man.

 
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J. Santos
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Re: A Race to the Map Edges
I read halfway through your review before realizing it wasn't about a wargame.
 
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Re: A Race to the Map Edges

Enoch Root wrote:
I read halfway through your review before realizing it wasn't about a wargame.


I can understand the confusion. I will edit the review to make early mention it is a railroad game.

 
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J. Santos
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TomAquin wrote:

Enoch Root wrote:
I read halfway through your review before realizing it wasn't about a wargame.


I can understand the confusion. I will edit the review to make early mention it is a railroad game.



Sorry, I forgot to include a :devil: after my post. :D
 
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Tom
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Thanks for clarifying.

It was still good feedback - it does sound like a game about the Battle of the Bulge.
 
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TomAquin wrote:

Thanks for clarifying.

It was still good feedback - it does sound like a game about the Battle of the Bulge.


What am I going to think if a game includes Ardennes in its title?

What will be next, a heavy eurogame called Roads to Stalingradwhere the players are Party Members trying to gain Politburo favor by building up their collective farms in the Volga Valley?
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Dave Berry
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Enoch Root wrote:
What am I going to think if a game includes Ardennes in its title?

What will be next, a heavy eurogame called Roads to Stalingradwhere the players are Party Members trying to gain Politburo favor by building up their collective farms in the Volga Valley?


I know you're joking but there is a difference that is perhaps of interest. Stalingrad was only so named between 1925 and 1961, so any game about Stalingrad would refer to a rather narrow period. (Although according to Wikipedia there are calls in modern Russia to change its name back to Stalingrad). In contrast, the Ardennes forest has been so named for hundreds of years. Even the political department was named in 1790 after the revolution. There have been battles in the area in many periods of history.

I'll stop being pernickity now.
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Enoch Root wrote:
What am I going to think if a game includes Ardennes in its title?

What will be next, a heavy eurogame called Roads to Stalingradwhere the players are Party Members trying to gain Politburo favor by building up their collective farms in the Volga Valley?


I am already working on my review of 18Stalingrad; a game in which the T-28's are rusted by the T-34's at which time the yellow fortifications can be upgraded to green fortifications
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