A few of us on the 18xx Yahoo group decided to try a game on Vassal. 1889 and 18Scan were discussed and we decided on 1889. 1889 covers the development of railroads on the Japanese island of Shikoku, the smallest of the Japanese main islands. The game was designed by Yasutaka Ikeda and is available from Deep Thought Games. Deep Thought also makes the rules available on their web site, which is enough to get you started with the Vassal module. This is a nice way to try the game and learn the rules. I’ve since ordered a copy of the game from Deep Thought.
The game is supposed to support up to 6 players, but I think it would be really tight with more than 3 or 4. We were supposed to have 5 players, but Mike got stuck in traffic and we had a no-show, so Ricky, Ian and I started a 3-player game. This was my first 18xx game, but everyone was quite helpful, and Mike, a very experienced 18xx player, logged on when he got home and help explain some strategy for us.
I will note there is one challenge with playing 1889 on Vassal. The Vassal module was created in Japan and the town names are all in Japanese. Fortunately, there is a clear scan of the Deep Thoughts map on BGG which you can use to locate the starting cities for the companies. This is a fairly small map, so it is not too difficult. Fortunately, we were using Skype, so Ricky was able to tell us where the cities were and did not have to type a description into the Vassal chat box.
1889 uses rules based on the 1830 rule set. Seven private companies are available. When your turn in the initial stock round comes up you can purchase the available private company at its stated price or you can pass on that private company and bid on another private company. The minimum bid in this case is $5 over the listed price or the current bid, should another bid already be in place. When a private company is sold, if only one person has placed a bid on the next private to be sold, that player immediately buys the private company for the amount of his or her bid. If multiple players have bid on the private company, then an auction ensues.
The private companies have some interesting capabilities. These include blocking the start of a private company until the Takamatsu is purchased, a private with mining capabilities that eliminates the cost of building through mountains, another gives you a rail tile when it is purchased, and one other gives you a share in the Iyo public company when the private is purchased.
When the initial stock rounds were over, I had the privates Takamatsu and Sumitoma Mines Railways. Ian got South Iyo and the Mitshubishi Ferry, while Ricky had Ehime and Douga. The Uno-Takamatsu Ferry is not used in a 3-player game.
I then launched the Sanuki Railway. I set the par value at $65, which allowed me to buy the 5 shares needed for Sanuki to begin operations. Ricky purchased the President’s share in Iyo and Ian started the Tosa Electric Railroad. Ian and Ricky had paid more for their private companies and had set their shares at a par value of $75, so they did not have enough to purchase 5 shares so their companies could operate. Ian and Ricky made a gentleman’s agreement and Ricky bought one share of Tosa so it could begin operations.
I had selected Sanuki because of its starting location on the map. It’s starting station was only a couple of hexes from the starting hex for the Takamatsu and Kotohiro Electric Railway, but as long as the private Takamatsu E-railroad operated the T&K could not begin operations out of its starting station. This allowed Sanuki to lay track as I pleased, and I quickly connected to an off-board destination.
Ian started Tosa Electric, as he owned a private company that gave him a free connection to a port. Ricky started up Iyo. It looked like Sanuki would be the only company to float on the first turn, but Ricky and Ian came to an agreement to help each other float their companies. Ricky bought a share of Tosa and it floated. Unfortunately for Ricky, Ian bought two trains after Tosa floated and did not have enough money on turn two to buy any shares of Iyo, leaving Ricky in a bind. Ricky had to trade his private Dougo Railway for a 10% share in Iyo to float his company.
As stage three started everyone sold their private companies to the public rail companies, transferring large sums of money from the public companies into private hands. This triggered the next round of stock purchases. Ian started Uwajima, giving him the only two companies that had three station tokens. Ricky started Tosa Kuroshio and I started Awa Railways. Tosa Kuroshio only has one station token, which would be extremely limiting in a game with more than 3 players. With three players, very few routes were cut off because of cities filling up with stations, but with 4 or more players this would definitely become a factor.
Later Ian would start Takamatsu and Kotohiro, which put him firmly in control of the game. Tosa Electric would be the only company to max out its stock price at $360 a share. Sanuki had the best route for producing income for a few turns, but got caught with rusted trains and had to retain earnings a few too many turns to upgrade its trains. Much of these financial difficulties were undoubtedly due to my lack of experience playing 18xx games. Sanuki shares also got dumped onto the market, driving the stock price lower.
An interesting thing happened as the end of the game neared. We broke the bank without anyone purchasing a diesel engine! A couple of companies had adequate money to do so, but when it became obvious the diesels would probably only get to run once, it did not seem like the investment could be profitable.
The final accounting was:
Ian - $5380 stock + $3842 cash = $9122
Ricky - $4545 stock + $3198 cash = $7743
Jeff - $3365 stock + $3402 cash = $6767
This is a pretty quick 18xx game and did not seem too difficult for a beginner, The inland hexes were heavily mountainous, so the rail lines tended to make a big circle around the coastline. This did make the private company that could build in non-river mountain hexes of special interest. I do think this game could be brutal with 5 or 6 players.
1889 may be obtained from Deep Thought Games.