I played my first game of 18AL last night with three of my coworkers. To protect the innocent, I'll use our initials: P, S, L, and C. Unfortunately I didn't keep detailed notes on the game or take photos but I'll try to reconstruct the high notes from memory.
P has played 1830 once in person and several times on Rails. C and S have both played 1830 once, and L was new to 18xx. We spent about 45 minutes refreshing the rules and explaining things to L. After that, we did an 1830-style private auction. L bought the Tuscumbia railway, triggering an auction for the South & North Alabama won by C. P had the sole bid on the Lumber Company and bought it for $75, then had priority and bought the Memphis & Charleston. S bought the ND Yards for face value.
C had priority in the first stock round and started the ABC. L passed wanting to see what more experienced players did, P started the West Point and S started the L&N. L helped all three companies float in the first SR.
The first couple of ORs were pretty staid: L&N and ABC built up around Birmingham making good money on the Nashville connection and coal mines. The WP built out towards Atlanta but was missing out on Birmingham. It was able to buy a 3 train and both of P's privates operating last, however, helping him float the ATN in the following stock round. L kept his shares in the existing companies. ATN bought a 4 train and developed a route from Birmingham to Meridian. This inspired L to float the M&O to run off of the track laid by ATN. To try to break into Birmingham, P bought trains from WP with ATN to collect enough cash to buy a 5 with the treasury. The L&N was left trainless after a 6 came out and S dumped it on L. L was able to juggle trains and cash to run both companies, and S floated the TAG buying a 6 and running a loop route between Birmingham and Gadsden. P decided he needed another permanent train and set up a force buy for the WP, selling it's 4 to the ATN. Due to the lax train rusting rules in 18AL, however, it was almost a disaster. After paying out of pocket for the 7, the ATN ran and it's 4 rusted leaving it with a 5. The ABC ran one more time on it's 4, but it's president C had priority in the SR and was able to dump the ABC on P. L running the M&O and L&N was also left with one train and the market full of M&O shares at $30.
Luckily P had both the ATN, WP, and TAG (owned 20%) running before the dumped ABC and was able to collect enough dividends to buy a diesel without selling shares. L was also able to swap cash for a round and collect enough to buy a D for the M&O. That set of ORs finished with P and L out earning the others but it wasn't clear if that would make up for the forced train buys.
There was one more SR, with the ABC running yellow allowing P to scoop up another share of ABC and stay under the certificate limit. It was clear the next set of ORs would break the bank, so we calculated the dividends and stock shares. The final ranking was:
1 - P (~$2300 cash, $2500 stocks)
2 - S (~$1900 cash, $1835 stocks)
3 - C (~$1700 cash, $1540 stocks)
4 - L (~$1500 cash, $975 stocks)
The stocks were the big score swing: paying out dividends consistently from the WP and ATN kept them out of the yellow for most of the game and were worth a good chunk. The TAG had by far the highest share price at $215 but being the only company owned by S slowed him down. The L&N and M&O were big earners but were stuck at the bottom priced at $65 and $60 respectively, not contributing much to L's final score.
Overall, I think everyone enjoyed the game. We clocked in at about 4.5 hours total including the rules explanation and a pizza break. I can see how the options are a bit tighter than 1830, but the kinder stock market and rusting are good for new players. I think everyone got a chance to see the train rush and value of moving right in the stock market in person, while still feeling like they were in the game. I'd recommend it as an option for teaching the 18xx series or for playing a shorter game. I have 1846 on preorder from GMT which might be our next game once people get tired of 18AL.