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4 Gods Play in Berlin
ATTENTION: This review was written BEFORE Marflow had rewritten the rule book. Do NOT judge Marflow's version of 1881 based on my comments below; I understand it has been substantially changed and improved from the game I comment on below.
Game Session - Four Player Solo Game (Plus a Few Review Comments)
“Mars”, “Juno”, “Seti” and “Thor” sat down to play a game of 1881.
In this game session I have interpolated a number of rules regarding the running of the S-Bahn. My interpretation is based on what would make sense in other 18xx games. Failing that. I decided to make the rules based on what was fair, what made for a good game, what I guessed the designer intended and what would make the game interesting.
Several rules I had to make my own decision on were:
-Once the bids (placed in envelopes) were exchanged between players there was no further mention of what to do with the money. I assumed the players must open the envelopes immediately and use the money how they see fit.
-Selling stock; my interpretation of the rules was a player may buy and sell the same stock certificate in the same turn. The rules neither prohibit this nor clarify that this can be done. They simply say “buy one share and sell any number of shares.”
-There is no stated limit as to how many shares of a company may be sold into the bank pool (except the Director’s certificate may not be sold). I assume the limit of 50% stands as per 1830.
-There was a discrepancy over the terrain costs for forests and rivers. Both 40M and 50M were specified. I chose 40M.
-Can you use the ferry routes to connect trains between the two terminals across the “see” (as in Steam over Holland)? I assumed you could not. Also, there seems to be no tile to upgrade the cities on the Muggelsee. I assume they cannot be upgraded.
-In the initial Stock Round several companies, but not all, are started. Those not started cannot be started until one of the initial companies’ shares is sold out. My interpretation is that at this point one MORE company may be floated. Subsequent companies can be started one by one as more initial companies are sold out.
-The rules are silent on forced train purchases. I will apply the 1830 rules. S-Bahn shares can/must be sold if possible to finance a forced train purchase. Since the rules do not state that the game ends on a bankruptcy I assume the bankrupt player is out of the game, which would continue with one less player. (This makes being a Vice President of the S-Bahn very risky).
-The rules for the S-Bahn are not detailed enough to be clear what happens, even in the most routine of events. I tried to anticipate what the designer may have intended to be the spirit of the S-Bahn and extrapolated the rules where they were lacking.
Bjorn Rabenstein’s website provides some house rules which I did not use. (I intended to try them in a subsequent game, but I have not replayed this game and may never do so in view of other 18xx games I prefer)
Following the initial bids, each of the four players started one company. #1, 2 and 3 started in the centre of the board with each owning two of the nine 2T’s, developing track mostly within Berlin Proper in the centre of the board.
Juno’s #3, the Berlin Electric, went third and was cut off by the track lays of Mars’ #1 and Seti’s #2. It made somewhat less revenue for its owner but was unable/unwilling to purchase the remainder of 2T’s plus one 3T in order to bring in phase 2 with its green tiles.
Thor set up #4, the Kopenick, in the South-east and ran its rails into Rahnsdorf which added a 40M bonus to each train run by virtue of its ferry pier.
I was feeling there were one or two too many 2T’s to move the game along. On the other hand, the ability to lay two tiles per OR developed the rail systems satisfactorily, although primarily along the east-west axis out from Berlin. I found from the beginning of the game, there was forethought toward how to keep the 100M edge-city bonus away from other companies. This would be important when avoiding or dealing with forced train purchases.
The Game Moves Along Slowly
I was finding that the requirement to have the original companies sell out before starting new companies limited players' options (always a bad thing for enjoyment of an 18xx game). Players were reluctant to buy a second share of other players’ companies for fear of having them dumped on them. Thus, funds were not invested while the last couple of shares in each company lay unpurchased in the IPO while the other 4 regular companies sat unfloated. A bottleneck caused by the large number of 2T’s and the simultaneous existence of the unsold shares in the IPO was slow to unravel and made for some boring SR’s in the early game.
Seti and Mars were content to leave things as they were. Juno and Thor, making less revenue, wanted to change things up by getting into the green phase. They needed to get the next group of companies floated and get the first 3T bought.
The Next Set of Companies are Floated
Gradually, painfully, the IPO’s of #1, #2 and #4 were bought out. Juno started up the #6 (The Southern Berlin) to complement her #3. Thor floated the #5 (The New Berlin) because it was in the general area of his #4’s northwesternmost railhead. These companies purchased the first 3T’s and got the game out of its doldrums.
A side effect of this was that the #1, #2 and #3 had 50% of its shares in the Pool, paying substantial dividends into their treasuries.
With these new corporations operating the game became more interesting. Opportunities to upgrade valuable hexes with green tiles were passed over in an attempt to reach the bonus cities at the edge of the map. The 100M bonus (coupled with the fact that you were denying an opponent’s treasuries that same 100M) was deemed a priority over incremental revenue increases. Reaching these far flung cities became tougher due to the loss of the second yellow tile lay available in the first phase.
The new companies also found it harder to develop their routes. Especially as a few tile types began to get used up. I did not find the tiles scarcity to be so profound that I would offer criticism of the tile mix; I note that a feature of this game is a small tile mix which provides some cutthroat opportunities. Choosing to float companies which synergize with your existing companies is a key to success in this game. I initially considered the game should allow two yellow tile lays in all phases, but I quickly felt that this would make the S-Bahn even less attractive as a possible investment.
In the center of the map, the established companies found the green tile upgrades very restrictive. I did not find this a great negative to the game; players simply need to be aware of the tile mix and plan carefully.
Floating the S-Bahn Main Net
Seti decided to start the main branch of the S-Bahn. This was not entirely a wise move; he had to sell good stock from his portfolio and he should have held on a few more SR’s anyway. I wanted to see how the S-Bahn worked so in the interest of this review, he 'took one for the team'. The #7 and #8 were available but did not impress me as great alternatives for Seti’s investment capital.
Declining to start up the #7 and #8 had the effect of leaving the last three 3T’s in the bank while the S-Bahn bought 4S trains, thus forestalling any train rush.
The operation of the S-Bahn did indeed prove the most interesting aspect of the game so far. I did not find that Seti’s #2 had much opportunity to synergize with his S-Bahn; neither could lay track for the other nor buy trains from the other. The only way they could help each other was upgrade cities with both types of track (regular track and special track for the S-Bahn).
The S-Bahn mechanic began to take shape as I played it. It functioned in many ways like 4 independent railways whose fragile independence would collapse into a merger should track between subnets be connected or director’s shares end up in one players hands. Each subnet decided unilaterally whether or not to pay dividends. The share price went up or down based on whether the majority of subnets paid or withheld dividends. The rules failed to provide further information at this point but I surmised any dividend issued by any subnet was paid out to each 5% shareholder no matter which subnet he held shares in.
The first subnet (aka The Main Net) set up its home base token in Bahnhof Zoo (next to the Giraffes, I assumed). In the first OR following its floatation, several companies bought added shares into their treasuries until Subnet 2 floated. All SN#2’s shares were in company treasuries with the Vice-President’s share purchased by the #5 New Berlin. Control of SN#2 therefore fell to the #5’s Director, Thor.
Investing in the S-Bahn
The players’ decided to invest in S-Bahn shares in order to boost their treasuries in preparation for the expensive permanent trains, still some time away. The shares would provide equity increases and income until they needed to be sold to finance a train. There is a risk to holding S-Bahn shares for two reasons:
-Minor Concern; the stock value may be trashed. This is a minor danger since I assume that two 5% share would need to be sold to lower the price one space on the stock chart (using rules from 1835 and 1856 as my model)
-Major Concern; it is easy to dump the presidency of a main net off on another company or player. This may be a game loser if done just before a cashless subnet is forced to purchase a train.
Ways to combat this are to make sure you can quickly connect up, and merge, to the main net before the 4s trains rust but hopefully after you have made a tidy profit investing in the S-Bahn. You also have veto powers if you and your fellow Subnet Director’s veto the Main Director’s intended actions; the dangers of the S-Bahn are mitigated somewhat by the need for the subnet Directors to co-operate.
Operating Alongside the S-Bahn
In the next SR Mars started the #7 (The Gemeinde Heiligensee) which took the last 3T. Only the #8 (The Spandauer) remained unfloated. I found these two companies to be so out of the way that expected profits would be low, especially the #8, and assumed the designer intended these would act as suitcases in the late OR’s.
#2 sold off its 3 S-Bahn shares and broke the 4T’s out to rust the 2’s and allow upgrades to brown tiles. #3 stood trainless with poor cash holdings. The sale of the #2’s 3 S-Bahn shares wrote off the gains other investers in the S-Bahn had enjoyed, including #3, which made its position even more perilous.
Some other companies sold their S-Bahn shares, others chose to hold on to them in hopes equity would increase again.
The availability of the brown tiles was well timed; there were no further yellow tiles to upgrade to green and I wanted to see the bank funds being used up and get the game moving along a little more briskly.
In the next SR, Seti sold off his entire position in the S-Bahn. The Directorship devolved onto the #1 Railroad with its two shares. This put 50% of S-Bahn in the pool and effectively blocked companies from selling their S-Bahn shares to finance new trains in the upcoming train rush.
The S-Bahn Mechanic
At this point, I took a moment to ponder the S-Bahn as a mechanism. I found the concept of 4 subnets which eventually can be made to merge into a larger powerful major company to be very intriguing and full of potential as far as producing a complex set of conditions which would lead to a tense, challenging experience. So far, I found nothing that suggested it could, in practice, work that way. Further, there seemed no reason to invest in said shares; there was far too little profit in view of the risk and without Seti’s too early floating of the Main Subnet of the S-Bahn, I doubt no one would have a reason to invest.
On the other hand, there was little else to invest in since the players were all leery of buying a second share in opposing companies for fear of having them dumped on them. Thus, several companies had 50% of its shares in the pool. This may likely change as soon as the 5T’s come out, but for now, it made for a dull game.
The S-Bahn Merges with Itself
It was the last company to float (the #8) that bought the first 5T and rusted the 3’s. (Also opening up the game to grey tile upgrades). Companies #3, #5 and #7 were trainless. Just prior to this purchase, the S-Bahn got interesting, at least to the directors. I won’t go into details, but the 4th subnet was floated when the #1 company bought the sub-director’s shares to sit alongside the Main Director’s certificate. By the rules, this automatically brought Subnet#4 into the Main Net and brought with it its entire capital of 420M.
Operating ahead of S-Bahn in the first OR after the #8 floated the #5 sold its sub-director’s share for SN#2 which also was merged into the Main Net before the 4S trains were rusted by the 5T. The players had done some quick thinking to avoid being stuck with a trainless subnet.
By now, I was pleased by the way the S-Bahn was working (notwithstanding its obvious flaws). As S-Bahn share holders, you must use timing to avoid financial loss. An added danger is that the subdirectors will veto and outvote decisions made by the director. (NB-While you can sell shares to dump the directorship on another player this cannot be done for the sub-directors; selling a subdirector share into the pool immediately merges that subnet with the main branch.)
When the #8 rusted the 3’s and 4S’s the S-Bahn united with enough capital to buy the 9S train for 900M. With the S-Bahn now in great shape and shares selling in the pool for 50M, the companies began buying up shares again; the intention was to invest for the purchase of second permanent trains. This opened up the pool to receive the S-Bahn shares the #3 and #5 needed to sell to help finance their own 5T’s.
Mars then spent 500M of his own money to finance a 5T for the #7. In hindsight he should never have built the #7 a route.
Running the Bank out of Money
The grey tiles are now available and there is still 6,700 of the 12,000 marks still in the bank. I may consider a starting bank of 9,000M to be a better figure. I was finding the lack of tiles was becoming frustrating. I do not object to the games which have tight tile mixes, not even the early part of this game, but it had ceased to be challenging and had become boring.
With all companies now owning permanent trains, investment began to heat up. The S-Bahn shares, paying 20M per 5% share were bought up by the rich companies. Several companies were cash poor after some forced train purchases. An interesting distinction arose between those trains holding S-Bahn shares and accumulating money for a second permanent train and those unable to.
In the next SR, all S-Bahn shares were bought up and several shares in other companies held 100% by players.
Once the corporations, including the S-Bahn, had permanent trains the investors maxed out their holdings. Revenues were huge with the brown and grey tiles filling up the board. The #1, #2 and #3 companies all got a second permanent train by cashing in their S-Bahn shares. The bank soon ran out of cash.
Final Score and Analysis
The final score was
Despite starting the S-Bahn a bit too early (if starting it was wise at all) Seti finished on top. He did dump the S-Bahn at the right moment which may have made the difference. His #2 stayed strong throughout the game and offset the weak #8 he later floated.
Mars played a competent game and kept a strong #2 company through the game. Cashstrong, it never withheld to buy trains. It was the first to get a second permanent train well ahead of other companies thanks to its early investment in the S-Bahn. His #7 was weak and may have hobbled his profits.
I do not know how Thor kept up with the leaders. He was only 55 marks behind at the end despite his #4 and #5 being poor performers in the late game. His staying close was due to the money he made in the middle game when those two companies were making the best revenue.
Juno got off badly with her #3 being blocked off by others’ tile lays. Her number 6 started off with poor revenue and poorer track lay options, even with the supportive proximity of her #3. It only ever became a competent performer in the last rounds; never spectacular.
The S-Bahn is an interesting animal; rather than other games where minors or privates merge into bigger companies, the S-Bahn is a bigger company which merges with itself. The Director and Sub-directors must do some dancing to consolidate the subnets and their treasuries prior to mandatory train buying occurring.
I found no strong need to open the S-Bahn, at least not as early as Seti did and I suspect this is the flaw in the game. The question is how to make it a viable investment. Once it floated it seemed to open up the game and other investors made use of these opportunities. Those who used the S-Bahn to their advantage finished high. But without someone starting the S-Bahn up, the game will remain a disappointing bore; without it there is no game.
I would not write this game off as a lost cause. Do some work on the rules and maybe even the map and this game may work. As it is currently, I do not recommend the effort to make a PnP or even play with someone else’s copy. Still, I saw some potential.
Possible improvements I pondered as I played this game but never tried out:
-Produce a comprehensive, full rule set for the S-Bahn to make this game work.
-Allow the S-Bahn to buy and sell regular trains and lay regular track in addition to the special track and trains it uses
-Go one step further; the S-Bahn uses the same trains as the other companies. It still lays special tracks
-Allow the S-Bahn to sell trains back to the bank
-Allow more S-Bahn shares to be sold into the pool
-Increase Capitalization levels for the S-Bahn
-Mandate S-Bahn must start before new companies are floated.
- Last edited Wed Jul 13, 2016 2:37 am (Total Number of Edits: 5)
- Posted Mon Oct 19, 2015 6:52 pm
I believe Marflow Games are working on development of this title.
I believe Marflow Games are working on development of this title.
I am looking forward to see how they do.