At the end of this month, my gaming group will be playing 2038 for our bi-annual 'big game day'. There will be six experienced board gamers but all are new to 18xx. We will play a full game without using any of the optional rules.
I want everybody to enjoy their day and the initial auction seems critical to this. I want to hand out guidelines to help people avoid digging too big a hole right out of the gate.
Below is what I have come up with by pouring through the rules and various 18xx sites. Since I have never really played any 18xx games, I would appreciate any comments or corrections from those with actual experience.
(For those who wish to comment but do not have the game in front of them, there is a brief summary of the companies being auctioned at the end of this message.)
| INITIAL AUCTION SUGGESTIONS FOR SIX PLAYER GAME OF 2038 |
| (FOR EXPERIENCED GAMERS BUT NEW TO 18xx) |
1) Planetary Imports  is the LEAST DESIREABLE company (often known as the 'blocker' in 18xx games). Never pay more than the listed price ($50). Pick this up only when you have nothing better to do with your remaining money OR to force the auction to move forward so you'll pick up other, more desireable, companies as well.
When assessing your "remaining money", consider whether anyone else has bid on companies that you intend to pick up. Some of your "remaining money" may actually be required to outbid those other players.
Also, keep in mind that shares of TSI will be available for purchase once all companies have been auctioned off. You may wish to allow someone else to pick up Planetary Imports if that puts you in a better position to grab an extra TSI share before they sell out.
2) The six independent companies [1-6] are fairly well balanced. Fast Buck , Torch , and Lucky  usually start faster which likely means they are better (or, at least, easier) choices for new players.
When bidding/buying an independent company keep in mind that half of what you spend over $100 goes into that company's treasury. When you can afford it, spending $120 (even if not necessary) is often a good idea in order to give your company a $10 head start.
3) The only people running spaceships at the start of the game will be those who control an independent company or the Trans-Space, Inc corporation [TSI]. If you control neither then you are likely to find the game very challenging, perhaps overly so. Not to mention that it will be rather boring to sit out the operating rounds while everybody else flies around exploring/mining the asteroid belt.
4) If you are the only player who does not pick up an independent company then make sure you get control of TSI. You should have the cash to do this since everybody else will have spent at least $100 more than you.
If two or more players do not pick up independent companies then WATCH OUT. Somebody is going to have a really tough day. Consider "blinking first" and arranging to get an independent company unless you are sure you can land control of TSI.
5) Allowing someone to start with control of TSI plus an independent company will make them the early leader in a BIG way. Probably better to scheme so that one player gets control of TSI while the independent companies split 2-1-1-1-1-0. That way there will be two early leaders but both will be significantly closer to the rest of the pack.
6) Paying more than $120 for your FIRST independent company is not necessarily bad, however, be aware that by doing so you have removed one or more private companies from your list of possibilities. If you do not pick up a second independent AND if other players buy the cheaper private companies then you will start way behind the pack.
Paying more than $120 for your SECOND independent company is never a problem since holding two independents is a fine way to start.
Applying the above suggestions will likely produce the results shown below (listed in loose order of least to most challenging start positions for new players).
- One player with private company 10 and control of TSI*.
- One player with two independent companies*.
- One player with one independent company and private company 9.
- One player with one independent company and private company 8*.
- One player with one independent company and private company 7*.
- One player with one independent company and private company 11.
* - plus, possibly, private company 0 (the blocker).
| COMPANIES BEING AUCTIONED AND OTHER INTERESTING STUFF |
In a six player game, each player starts with $300.
Company Min Bid Description
0 $ 50 Private/$10 income #
1-6 $ 100 Independent companies
7 $ 120 Private/$ 5 income (bonus base) +
8 $ 140 Private/$10 income (bonus refuel) +
9 $ 160 Private/$15 income (bonus claim) +
10 $ 180 Private/$20 income ++
11 $ 180 Private/$30 income (starts Asteroid League)
# - may be sold to corporation
+ - comes with 1 TSI share, may be sold to corporation
++ - comes with TSI corporation president's certificate
Hmm... well, on one hand, I feel flattered that you're trying 2038 as your first "18xx" game, but six players is going to be interesting...
Let me begin by making some general 18xx comments before moving on to 2038.
While many 18xx games support lots of players, there are many players who avoid playing them at their full complement of players. Why? Because a big part of many 18xx games, such as 1830, is to buy a high priced Private, start a Corporation (par low), sell the Private into the Corportation for 2x its price, then take this money and start a second Corporation (par high), either dumping the first one (if possible) or running them as a pair, using the high capitalization of the second one to help out the (looted) first Corporation buy trains. At the maximum number of players, three problems arise: A) There aren't enough Corporations to go around; B) Player's starting cash is low enough that players can't both buy a high priced Private and start a Corporation; and C) The solution is for players to make deals (such as No Dumping or joint Private buyouts) and combine cash to open Corporations early on, which turns the game into a very diplomatic game, which isn't to everyone's taste. In some other 18xx games, such as 1829, the way that Corporations are founded and the way that players often play in response to these rules, is such that it can be a very, very long time before some players ever get to operate a Corporation, which -- as you point out -- can be pretty boring.
The good news is that these problems are greatly reduced -- but not completely eliminated -- in 2038. The Independents generally lead to most players (all or all but one) getting to operate something, even with six players. Privates can only be sold for 1x, not 2x, their printed value to Corporation (reducing the value and importance of looting as a game strategy, which in turn reduces the incentives for dealmaking in large player games).
Further, there is such pressure on Corporation cash (in addition to Spaceships and Privates, there are claims, mines, and refueling stations to buy), that selling a Private in for full value often hurts the Corporation's ability to pay high dividends. And, since there are only six more available Corporations to start (ignoring TSI and AL) and some of these may become Growth Corporations, it is even harder to pull off looting one Corporation to fund starting another one.
So, what does this all mean? Well, it makes it hard to decide how valuable Privates #7-9 are in a 6-player game. They are pretty reasonably priced even if they never get sold into a Corporation for very much money (the TSI stock alone is definitely worth $100 (but see below)). How much of a premium above their bid price should you pay for the possible (but by no means assured) option to sell them into some future Corporation for a potential extra $120-$160 in phases II-IV?
The second point is that your bidding hints talk about the Independent distribution but ignores the TSI stock distribution. This is an error. As experienced 18xx players all know, its not how big your dividends are that matters, its how the stock splits in the high dividend paying Corporation that matters. Probably, seven TSI shares will be bought in the opening round (the five shares in the initial distribution, plus two more in the immediately following SR1) and the next three will go in SR2 or SR3 depending on player actions. If this distribution ends up being 3-2-2-2-1-0 (not uncommon in a 6-player game), the TSI President (with just three shares) is screwed. If TSI pays out big, so what -- the President is getting just one extra share's worth of dividends relative to three other players, where's the big advantage? If TSI doesn't pay out big, how is this player making any money?
How can the TSI President get 4 shares? Suppose TSI goes for $180 and this player buys a TSI share for $100. That leaves $20 plus $20 for Private #10 in OR1 (before #10 vanishes). That means that TSI has to pay out $20/share in OR2, which implies that TSI probably needs to buy a claim and 3 Phase I ships in OR1. With just two Phase I ships, TSI will probably pay roughly $18/share in OR2, which isn't quite enough. (The advantage of buying only two Phase I ships is to have slots for two Phase II ships after the Probe vanishes.)
What about waiting for SR3? Well, there are two problems with this. First, in ORs 2 and 3, the TSI player needs the extra share to keep up with the incomes that the Independents are generating for the other players (remember, in this scenario TSI doesn't have an Independent). Second, depending on where the Priority Deal is and whether Phase II has occured, the three remaining shares may be gone before this player gets to buy one. In this scenario, the TSI player and one other player bought a TSI share. If the TSI player was last to buy, the Priority Deal card is on his or her left. If no one buys a share in SR2 (which is more likely when TSI doesn't pay out high), then the TSI player gets the last shot at buy a share. If Phase II hasn't been broken, then TSI shares are the only game in town, everyone has more than $100 in SR3, and the TSI President is unlikely to get a fourth share. (If Phase II has been broken, then players may opt to start Growth Corporations, possibly selling TSI shares, instead.)
This pressure to have $100 in SR2 (to afford another TSI share), in turn, suggests that a player should be wary of bidding more than $180 for TSI *in a 6-player game* (unlike 2038 games with fewer players).
It also suggests that the $120 #7 Private is not such a good fit with the TSI Presidency (since $10 #7 OR1-2 Revenue + $20 #10 OR1 Revenue + $20/TSI share is just $90 (unless TSI can somehow pay $24/share in OR2, which is a stretch but barely possible if TSI buys two claims -- at a $40 premium -- in OR1)).
But, there is another possibility, which is that the TSI President owns an Independent instead of a third TSI share. Then, the long-term plan is to run TSI for ok money with a stock split of 3-3-2-1-1-1, funnelling ships from TSI to a Growth Corp (where this player does have a favorable stock split) that the TSI player starts from his or her Independent. If this player can get an Independent for, say, $110, then this player can bid up #10 TSI to $190, taking it from a player trying to run TSI for big profits and an early fourth share.
The danger with this plan is that the TSI/Independent player will definitely not be able to afford a third TSI share in SR2 (any Independent that goes for this cheap will not pay off enough) and may well lose control of TSI in SR3 to a player who bought two TSI shares in SR1 and, depending on where the Priority Deal is, buys a third in SR3 ahead of the TSI President (who only has two shares in this scenario). This isn't necessarily the kiss of death (since being a secondary shareholder in TSI when it is paying out well isn't a bad thing), but it definitely makes the intended Growth Corporation less valuable.
Why would a player buy two TSI shares, no Independent, and plan on taking over TSI in SR3, if doing so just gives that player a bad stock split? To cash in one or two of Privates #7-9 by buying it into TSI (since, by SR3, the game is either in or just about to go into phase II when Privates can be bought by Corporations).
And, to sweeten things, either the former TSI President keeps his or her TSI shares, possibly allowing the current President to sell out and dump TSI after looting it (again, depending on where the Priority Deal ends up), or sells them, putting shares into the Stock Market that will pay into the Corporation treasury and help replenish the money that the President loots. Of course, this player didn't get to run any company in ORs 1-4, but, with this cash infusion, this player should be able to either start a new Corporation or buy up enough TSI shares in SR4 to end up with a decent stock split and TSI's good routes.
Alternatively, the player taking over TSI might be the AL player, if that player has been playing investor (buy AL for $180 plus a TSI share in SR1; $20 plus $60 plus $20/TSI share yields $100 for a second TSI share in SR2; which then turns into a third TSI share in SR3). Taking over TSI in SR3 isn't a huge win (compared to a player who can loot one or more of Privates $7-10), but it does protect his or her investment, instead of seeing TSI funnel spaceships to a Growth Corp and not pay out as much.
(And, again, note that the $120 #7 doesn't work to produce a second TSI share in SR2, although #7 is better if TSI doesn't pay $20+ in OR2.)
But, a point that should be made is that being an investor in SR1-2 may enable you to take over the TSI presidency in SR3. If TSI plays to avoid this by paying out big and acquiring a third or fourth share early on, then you reap the investment benefits from owning TSI which you can then use to sell out and start a Public Corporation in SR3 instead.
Turning to the Independents, I would group them in three groups as far as early earning potential: A) FastBuck; B) Torch, Ice Finder, and Lucky; and C) Drill Hound and Ore Crusher. Any of these relative rankings can shift one notch up or down depending on whether that Independent gets lucky or not on its very first draw (particularly, if the Independent (other than Torch) buys a phase I tug).
Bidding and paying an extra $5-$20 generally has no effect on the Independent's early operations. Injecting enough cash to either A) buy a claim in OR2; B) buy a second spaceship in OR2; or C) buy a second spaceship in OR1(!) can potentially have a huge impact.
The theory underlying all these options is that by ramping up an Independent's income several ORs (by buying claims and/or spaceships earlier), the resulting increased income offsets the losses from not having other investments (Privates, TSI shares) that earn income. The rub is that you have to do more than just match this lost income (not too difficult); you have to earn enough more to eventually buy a comparable asset to the one you didn't buy. (And, just to complicate things, the value of the forgone asset isn't fixed but dependent on player actions.)
One opening is to bid all $300 on an Independent (or $270 on FastBuck), to enable it to buy two Phase I ships in OR1. Let's look at FastBuck.
With two Phase I tugs running to the $30 transhipment point, FastBuck will probably earn about $110 in OR2 (2x$30 transhipments, plus a $20 and a $30 pickup among the two tiles -- might be less, might be more). That's $55 income to the player, which is about average for three TSI shares in OR2 (paying about $18; more if the TSI President is aggressive). But, FastBuck makes $15 + $20 survey bonuses + $55, which easily pays for a claim, increasing payouts to about $150 in OR3 and,
with another claim, to about $180 in OR4. $30 left over + $55 OR2 + $165 in ORs 3-4, is $240 in SR3 to buy any available TSI shares, RU shares, or Growth Corporation shares (assuming Phase II has been broken).
If TSI wasn't aggressive and investors weren't able to buy an additional TSI share in SR2, then they are losing ground to FastBuck. If TSI was aggressive and managed $20/share in OR2, $24 in OR3, and $27 in OR4, then the investors are holding even with FastBuck (who is also beginning to accumulate a lot of spare cash in its treasury for its golden parachute when the Asteroid League appears).
Having two ships from the start can dramatically help Drill Hound and Ore Crusher. For example, Drill Hound with both a Scout (to explore with) and a Tug can access its distance three $30 transhipment point and earn about $100, $140, and $170 in ORs 2-4, which puts it in position to become a Growth Corp in SR3 (assuming Phase II is broken), with just enough cash on hand ($205) to buy three more shares, which should disuade players from trying to take it over (allowing it to instead buy other shares that will pay more and retain its shares in its treasury to continue paying dividends).
However, the loss in assets from doing this is real.
Alternatively, one can bid $170 for FastBuck. This enables it (89%) to buy a second tug on OR2 (with $30 FB, $10 survey, $35 extra funds and 1/2 of roughly $50 income) and leaves its owner $130 to buy Private #7, say, or a TSI share.
Similarly, bidding $150 for Torch enables it (89%) to buy a claim on OR2 (with $25 extra funds, $10 survey, and 1/2 of roughly $50 income) and leaves $150 to invest in Private #8, or Private #1 and a TSI share if Private #8 is bid above $150.
If two or more players bid high for Independents (say, one bids $300 for one and another bids $270 for FastBuck) and buy extra ships, this can have a huge effect on the game phase. Now, suddenly, eight Phase I spaceships are being bought immediately by Independents and TSI can push the game into Phase II in OR1 by buying two Phase I ships and a Phase II ship.
If the TSI President went for Private #7, instead of a third TSI share for $100, then the President can buy it in in OR2 for full price and go into SR2 with more than $200.
(This situation can also occur if one player bids $300 on an Independent and another bids $170 for FastBuck and buys a Phase I spaceship in OR2, but this requires TSI to only buy two Phase I spaceships in OR1 (to keep a slot open for the Phase II spaceship in OR2), in hopes that FastBuck will buy the last Phase I ship.)
Alternatively, if no players bid high on Independents and TSI buys three Phase Is (to get its vital fourth share), then FastBuck is likely to buy the last Phase I ship in OR3 and then Phase II may not occur until OR5 or later, since TSI will be slot-tight (with the Probe and three Phase I ships), as will FastBuck, and no other Independent may have enough cash to afford a Phase II ship.
In this case, SR3 will likely see the last TSI shares bought and nothing else, unless several players strike a deal to launch RU together as a public Corporation or an investor sells out of TSI to do so (probably a mistake since TSI is paying so well). When this occurs, frequently no Growth Corporations will be launched at all, since SR3 is generally the best time to luanch them (to have enough time and enough unbought shares to end up with a high stock price by continually paying out in full).
What I'm trying to illustrate is that 2038, in general but especially in the 6-player game, has a very complex interaction between the opening bids (particularly high bids on Independents to fund extra claims or ships), player decisions on whether to play investor and try to take over TSI in SR3, TSI's decision of whether to press for a fourth share in SR2 by buying three Phase I ships and a claim in OR1, player evaluations of how important it will be to loot Privates, and how the game phase advances and whether Growth Corporations are ever formed.
A lot of this also depends on where the Priority Deal ends up, which is very hard to foresee in games with so many players.
I'm not sure how to boil all this down to a few hints for new players.
* The TSI President needs to be concerned about gaining a true share advantage in TSI, if TSI is all this player has.
* If the TSI President owns an Independent, this player needs to be wary of losing TSI due to another player gaining more shares.
* Playing investor with just Privates may allow you to take over TSI.
* Paying a large premium for a Private, in hopes of eventually gaining cash by selling it to a Corporation, may not work.
* Either bid low for Independents (just enough to succeed in getting them, which may be face value for some) or bid enough to get an early claim (in OR2) or an extra spaceship (in OR1 or OR2).
I hope all this helps. Post a session report on your game. I look forward to reading it.