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Subject: 1830: Not a train game, but great even so. rss

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Filip W.
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Chugga-chugga, train, train, train! I'm the CEO of two successful railroad networks. I've showered stockholders with trillions of dollars in dividends while stuffing away enough to buy a mansion or ten. So why the hell am I losing?

Welcome to 1830, a train-game that's so much more than running a railroad network. If you've followed the current boom of train games, 1830 is the exact opposite of Ticket to Ride, somewhere on the very, very far side of Railroad Tycoon and Age of Steam.

1830 is all about money. No good cubes, no route tickets, no plastic locomotives. Money. Greed, for a lack of a better word, is good. Even if you have to run your company into the ground to suck the last cents out of it. And then you sell all your shares, dumping the worthless husk of rusting tracks on an unsuspecting investor. Congratulations sir, you're the new CEO. Now please pay our wages.

By rights 1830 should be a horrible game. It is mind numbingly slow, with games lasting six or even ten hours possible and half an hour waits between your actions not uncommon. It requires a pack of pens, a sheaf of papers and either a scientific calculator or the mathematical genius of an Einstein to play. It should have flopped, a big bellyflopp into the concrete of catastrophic sales figures.

It didn't.

For despite being as far away from current popular games as the moon is from Andromeda, 1830 is a great game. It rides high on its possibilities to backstab and royally mess your opponents over. It doesn't matter how good a railroad company you run when your enemies can dump your stock on the open market, eroding investor confidence to the point where it's cheaper to fuel your engines with your stock certificates than coal. The trick is to make the company so lucrative that they won't want to, then suck it dry and dump it on them.

Components
1830 was manufactured in the 1980's and it shows. The box and hexes are thin cardboard, the board is prone to breaking and warping (don't ever get it wet, accidents will destroy it) and the manual is a photocopied booklet in the traditional Avalon Hill 11.4.5A rule style (but surprisingly easy to understand even by modern standards). 1830 hasn't aged well, and replacements are difficult to get by – a copy can run into the hundreds of dollars on Ebay.

Gameplay
Train game. You begin by building your rail network. *Bling*, wrong, not in 1830. The central mechanic here is the stock market. To build a railroad you have to start by issuing an IPO (that's stock market talk for "convince folks with money to give you some"). You buy a 20% ownership president share, set the nominal stock price and hope that others will follow your lead. In games with few people (up to 4) you can start up a railroad on your own, but in games with more players you need the support of at least one other player or you'll be stuck with stocks in a company that doesn't exist.
Once you've got a company running you get to build rails (one hex per turn, a slow but steady growth requiring solid planning and long term strategies), buy engines and, most importantly, earn money. The more engines you've got the more revenue you can earn.

But investing depletes the company's initial capital (which is based on the size of the nominal stock price) and you can't put more money into the company voluntarily – only when it's completely bankrupt, and in such a situation the drain of keeping the company alive will be enough to bankrupt you, or at least pull you out of the lead. And as technology rolls on older engines become obsolete, forcing you to buy new ones and further depleting the company's bankroll.

On the bright side: a company which earns money may pay dividends. Not only does this put money in your pocket, money you can use to invest in other companies, but also increases the share value. And share value is how you win the game. Buy low, sell high.

Here's the catch. You can't keep part of the money in the company. Either pay out everything it earns as dividends or withhold it all, making the share price plummet and your fellow investors go "boooo".

And every so often there's a stock market round. This is when the true cut-throat nature of 1830 rears its ugly but undeniably interesting head. Yes, you may keep investing in successful railroads. Yes it will make your stock increase in value. But if you can force its price down by dumping a stock on the open market, it will take a long time to recover thus hindering other players who own stock in that company. After all, you can use the money gained from your unscrupulous tactics to invest in other railroads – or start one of your own. You don't win by only doing things which are good for you. You win by combining good for you with catastrophic for your fellow players. The dirtier the trick the better.

Not only that, you can start a second company, convince other players to invest in it and then, in your railroad operation round, shift all its money to your "real" company and hopefully sell off enough stock to strand another player with the presidency in a now empty and worthless company while at the same time rescuing your good one. Good for you, bad for them, let's hope they don't get back at you.

Remember, you don't need to control a company to win. It's possible and even likely that a smart player who invests wisely without ever controlling any companies will win. Buy low, sell high and dump the stocks on sentimental players who like to keep their companies healthy. Sentimental people don't have what it takes to be robber barons.

Conclusion
1830 is not a game for everyone. If you don't like to spend hours and hours gawking at a maddeningly slowly changing situation then stay away. If you like fast and furious games, stay away. If you like games where you can build and expand then be cautious for you'll make the newbie mistake of thinking that 1830 is about operating successful railroads. It's not. It's about making money from a cut-throat stock market.

But if you like games where you can be a weasel, where you can legally cheat your fellow players, where you can trick, connive and where there are no random elements to hinder your progress then play 1830. Play it, love it and spread the gospel: 1830 is a game for Gamers with a capital G.
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Mark Gray
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As much as I like Age of Steam, this is THE Train game.
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Pierre Philippe Goyer
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I totally agree and the Computer game played at the highest level is just FANTASTIC and much shorter; there is even a map generator.

Owll
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Robert Taylor-Smith
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Hmm, a few comments.

My 1830 has never broken or warped after years of play and the AH bookcase box has stood up pretty well. The tiles are not thick cardboard but have never worn out or ripped. I'd say the game components are pretty good. But it has been out of print for a long while and any game picked up on the secondary market should be carefully checked for missing tiles. Luckly the game rules have a component tile manifest

Ticket to Ride is a great card/rummy game with a railroad theme/disguise tacked on. Luck of the card draw is a big factor for victory in Ticket to Ride. 1830 IS a railroad business game simulation. There is no dice or random cards or other luck element in 1830 beyond deciding who sits next to whom before the game starts. Player personalities and resulting interactions decides the game.

The game box describes 1830 as a game about ROBBER BARONS during the United States East coast railroad building period. The object is to have the most money (including stock value) at game's end. Track size, number of companies, etc. is not important.

As an experienced 18xx'er the old DOS computer game of 1830 was far too easy to beat (well that's being generous to the AI). It was on par for most of the AH computer games of the 1980s. It can be found on the Web for free as abandonware.

I'm assuming from the above review the author hasn't played too many 1830 (or 18xx type) games. The review implies a lot of dumping of companies on target players. That certainly happens with new players in the game. It can unfortunately discourage newbies from ever playing again. In other words play experience is important for victory (just like in Chess)

There is a steep learning curve for new 1830 players. Experienced players don't generally let 'soon to be insolvent' railroads get dumped on 'em. Thus running companies into the ground isn't always a good strategy, the prez is usually stuck with them. That's not to say looting public railroads to the max with the private companies shouldn't be done, just be prepared as president to start a second (or third) public railroad to bail out the first. Remember also the early starting public railroads tend to have the highest paying diesel routes at the end. A ugly ducking can turn out to be a swan.

There are many ways to victory in 1830. No perfect strategy exists.

I've never played a game of 1830 (and i've played over a hundred in the last 20 years) that's lasted longer than 6 hours. The vast majority end well under 4 hours. It doesn't need a mathematical genius to play or more to the point..to win. A calculator can speed up the game when planning moves. 1856, 1870 and other 18xx games have a paragraph or more in the rules about code of conduct strongly encouraging players to plan their next move during other player turns. But that's true of virtually all boardgames. There is something seriously going wrong if an 1830 game takes 7 or more hours. Thats like hearing from a reviewer Carcassonne or Cribbage games take 7 to 10 hours.
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J C Lawrence
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flapjackmachine wrote:
I've never played a game of 1830 (and i've played over a hundred in the last 20 years) that's lasted longer than 6 hours.


I like playing with Lemmi's moderator. We've played 1824, 1830, 1856, 1870 etc, all in about 150 minutes each. Good stuff.
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Robert Taylor-Smith
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I'm not familiar with Lemmi's moderator. I assume it's some computer program for keeping track of money. I've personally not found the need for additional electronic help beyond a calculator and doubt it would really speed up my games beyond a few minutes. Remember company money is secret from other players. Two and a half hours is a good average for an 1830 game, 1856 longer, and 1870 about 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Some have replaced the paper money that comes with the game with poker chips. I guess handling and counting paper could be a burden. Particularly during the end game diesel runs which can be number counting exercise. But I like the feel of paper. Plus again paper money can be flipped down and hidden easier than poker chips on the company charters.

Excessively long playing times for 1830 and other 18xx games keep coming up on reviews. It cannot be dismissed as one odd reviewers experience. At least excessive in my experience. I don't think tracking cash is the reason. Three common problems seem to be at the root: 1) Not reading the rules clearly before playing and thus playing incorrectly, 2)Not fundamently understanding the game and how to win (ie. refusing to use debt in 1856, or failing to speed the advance of trains in 1830 when the status quo isn't in ones favour, and 3) players allowed to take too long over turns (nobody would allow a Monoploy player 20+ minutes plus a computer to decide on a purchase of property, why allow it in 1830). I've certainly seen problem number 3 too many times in some convention games. A loud GET ON WITH IT, or a fully charged electric cattle prod would be a good solution to problem 3. Even Big Blue wasn't given unlimited time to make chess move decisions vs. Kasparov.
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J C Lawrence
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flapjackmachine wrote:
I'm not familiar with Lemmi's moderator. I assume it's some computer program for keeping track of money.


That's part of it. Lemmi's moderator removes the money, charters, shares and trains to a computer, leaving only the board and track on the table. Typically usage has a shared screen which lists all player's holdings, companies etc etc etc, all presented on a single pane, and one player handles data entry during the game (which is very little load/bother at all).

A typical moderated purchase (train, share, whatever) takes barely as long as it does to say it. No more counting of money, shuffling stocks and charters, moving trains, moving tokens on the stock chart, no more bookkeeping of any sort. I'll run for $xxx and buy a 4 train. The moderator automatically handles things like rusting trains, private company income, stock chart token movement, turn order, moving money (of course), company direct movement, etc. All the players do is make play decisions and lay track: the real essence of the game.

http://www.18xx.de/docu/18xx/dmain.htm

Quote:
I've personally not found the need for additional electronic help beyond a calculator and doubt it would really speed up my games beyond a few minutes.


Moving from paper money to poker chips is commonly reported as reducing play time by almost an hour for most 18XX (see the 18XX mailing for examples and cites). Moving from poker chips to electronic bookkeeping seems to typically remove another 45 minutes from playtime. Full use of Lemmi's moderator speeds the game even further.

Example: I know of an 18XX group in Berlin that regularly plays 4 and 6 player 1835 in under 60 minutes (it is one of their favourite games).

Quote:
Remember company money is secret from other players.


Actually, it isn't tho the details vary by specific game. All player money is perfectly trackable in every 18XX I've bothered to check. If you don't know exactly how much money every player has, then keep track on paper. Every group I've played with or heard of instead just uses open money. The only caveat I've found is that some games allow corporate transactions (eg train sale values) to not necessary be public (IIRC 1870 is one such example). However every game that makes that stricture also allows shareholders to find out the exact contents of a company treasury.

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Some have replaced the paper money that comes with the game with poker chips.


I do for those games which aren't yet supported by the moderator.

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3) players allowed to take too long over turns (nobody would allow a Monoploy player 15+ minutes to decide on a purchase of property, why allow it in 1830).


I like using the moderator as a game clock. There is a configuration mode which assigns a certain time for each player's moves in SRs and ORs. If they use less time, then their positive time accumulates. If they go over then each second they ever went over is subtracted from their endgame score at $1/second. Very nice. There is another mode which subtracts $1/second instantly from the player's fortune, but as that's an actual game change I like it less.
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Robert Taylor-Smith
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Company money is SECRET in 1830, 1856, 1870 (I was on Bill Dixons design and playtest team in Vancouver). Bill Dixon (designer of 1856, 1870) or John Puddifoot (ruleswriter/developer) or a query to Mayfair would back me up. A re-reading of the boardgame rules would seem to be in order.

I don't read German so a German 18xx mailing list is new to me. There may have been some problem in translating the English rules to German. Hidden company money is important play factor in the game.

Use of a public computer tracking program would negate this hidden asset factor. My experience is poker chips do not speed the game up.

NONE of 1830, 1856, or 1870 allows non-presidental shareholders full or any knowledge of Company money at any time.

Player money is common knowledge in 1830, 1856, 1870.

Purchase of trains within corporations which have the same president may sell trains to each other for at least 1$ (1830 Section 21.0) but there is no other public disclosure.

Since the review is Avalon Hill's 1830 I'll point out Section 11.0 Railroad Stock-Formation of Corporation, page 7, final paragraph: 'The number of tokens available and the number and type of trains owned must be clearly visible for inspection by other players. The money may be kept in a stack and the amount held need not be divulged!' Only the Companys President has access to The Charter of Incorporation (1830 rules section 11.0).

The 1870 rules (available on Bill Dixon's website) Section 3.4 Funds Disclosure states: 'Player money is always public knowledge. Company money is always private. A president may reveal the extent of a companies finances if he so wishes but he need not be truthful.'

There is nothing in the rules about an individual player TRYING to keep track of opponents financial transactions on paper or computer but I'd object if it slowed the game down. Try openly using a laptop for card counting during a Vegas Casino blackjack game. And once trains start to be bought and sold between companies with the same president the tracking goes out the window.

Lawrence's style of play blurs the border between computer games and face to face boardgames. If he is having fun playing a modified version of 1830 then great, it isn't the 1830 games I play. The 18xx games lend themselves to modification thus the huge number of variants.



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cooper anderson
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If you use the moderator, do you still use the gameboard? I'm not sure I want to play a boardgame without a board.

Also it seems everyone would end up huddling around a small computer monitor. I'm having a hard time picturing it.

Finally, I think I might scare new players away if they realized that a computer was necessary to handle the math. Am I off base here?
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J C Lawrence
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madgamer wrote:
If you use the moderator, do you still use the gameboard?


Yes. The board, track tiles and station markers remain on the table. The only things that are removed are the money, private companies, major company charters, shares and trains.

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Also it seems everyone would end up huddling around a small computer monitor. I'm having a hard time picturing it.


Imagine a game board in normal play, but with a laptop off to one side where everyone can easily see it, and one player with a keyboard.

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Finally, I think I might scare new players away if they realized that a computer was necessary to handle the math. Am I off base here?


It isn't necessary, it merely speeds the game and accentuates the aspects I find most enjoyable.
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flapjackmachine wrote:
Company money is SECRET in 1830, 1856, 1870


You're right. I was wrong. I was incorrectly extrapolating from the many other designs in which money is public -- especially given that every group I've played with plus the many I've simply watched, always played with public company money.


Quote:
I don't read German so a German 18xx mailing list is new to me.


The list is primarily in English:

http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/18xx/

It is a great list maling list (also available via GMane if like me you prefer a newsreader interface). Many of the current 18XX designers hang out there (Hutton, Hecht etc).

Quote:
Hidden company money is important play factor in the game.


I strongly disagree. Inter-company train sales are typically made either in order for the selling company to be able to buy a large(r) train with its consolidated cash, or to simply shuffle trains without regard for cash consolidation. In the first case you know exactly what the end-state is: as close as he can get to being able to afford a train. In the second case the end-state details are largely insignificant.

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Try openly using a laptop for card counting during a Vegas Casino blackjack game.


I don't and won't play in Vegas.
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Allen Doum
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If you use one of the existing moderator programs, ignore this.

If not, you might consider putting together a spreadsheet just to handle dividend distribution. A one screen spreadsheet will be all you need, and recalculate just before the stock market rounds begin to get the total to give everyone. This will take at least an hour off of the lenght of any of the 18xx games.
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Filip W.
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clearclaw wrote:

Moving from paper money to poker chips is commonly reported as reducing play time by almost an hour for most 18XX (see the 18XX mailing for examples and cites). Moving from poker chips to electronic bookkeeping seems to typically remove another 45 minutes from playtime. Full use of Lemmi's moderator speeds the game even further.

Example: I know of an 18XX group in Berlin that regularly plays 4 and 6 player 1835 in under 60 minutes (it is one of their favourite games).


Wow! I've never played a finished 1830 6 player game in less than 4 hours, but I guess that my group is a bit slow. We spend more time talking and debating than figuring out our moves in advance. But then again, to each their own.
 
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Robert Taylor-Smith
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My current play group of 16 usually plays at least one 4 player 1830 game every week.

We play 18xx every Sunday (since the late 80's, Friday reserved for non-18xx boardgames) and the 1830 group starts at 2pm and generally finishes two games by 7pm complete with lots of discussion. A five or six player game adds about an hour. The 1856 players might get two games in, rarely, and the 1870'ers one in the same time period. The rest of the 18xx group are playtesting new games.

When I lived in Vancouver the 18xx club/gang would have been lead by Bill Dixon generally testing out one of his designs. I noticed virtually the same game time length.

Both groups don't use any electronic aids outside of calculators, and used paper money, never poker chips. We do have charts made up for standard amounts required for start-up companies to help newbies. We don't have a designated banker, everyone collects his/her own money from the bank (cheating has never been a problem, we're all adults), which I suspect speeds up the game from 'banker' operated games.

Being experienced players we know the rules, etc. but it only takes one or two games for new players to get up to steam...
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flapjackmachine wrote:
Excessively long playing times for 1830 and other 18xx games keep coming up on reviews. It cannot be dismissed as one odd reviewers experience. At least excessive in my experience... Three common problems seem to be at the root: 1) Not reading the rules clearly before playing and thus playing incorrectly...


I'm part of a 3-player group that started learning to play the game yesterday. Each of us had read the rules, but we still found we were referring to the rulebook constantly -- and it was not always easy to find the rule that applied to the situation we were in. So it's not just a matter of reading the rules before playing; it's a matter of becoming very familiar with a longish ruleset that seems (to a novice) filled with exceptions. Over time, I'm sure our familiarity will grow, and the playing time will get shorter as a result. But your comment about "reading the rules clearly before playing" seemed -- at least to me -- to minimize the difficulty of integrating a lot of new information.
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Bill Gallagher
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filwi wrote:
It requires a pack of pens, a sheaf of papers and either a scientific calculator or the mathematical genius of an Einstein to play.

Nothing more complex than multiplication and division - any basic calculator should do. RPN with multiple memories can help in endgame calculations though (see below for why).

Having a second color of pen can help. As for the paper... when I play against one particular opponent, I know not to bring a pad of paper. He will insist on taking the ENTIRE PAD, then write his runs IN LARGE PRINT on it. 30 + 40 + 40 + 30... (all in 48 point (roughly 18 mm) print on an A/A4-size pad).

In 6-player (and frequently 5-player) games, negotiation is important in determining whether you can start a company in the first share round.

filwi wrote:
Congratulations sir, you're the new CEO. Now please pay our wages.

Not before buying a train - that's the law.
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clearclaw wrote:
I don't and won't play in Vegas.

You do know that there is an occasional group that plays 18xx in Las Vegas, yes?
 
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