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Subject: New (GMT) version - official 2 players rules? rss

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Ola Mikael Hansson
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I have the DTG version and have played many enjoyable 2 players (and a few 3 players) games with it, despite the box saying 3-5.

So I wonder if there was a chance of having official 2 player rules / adjustments in this new printing of the game? Would save those of us who enjoy games on 2 players having to track down variants and experimenting to see which ones work - there's some discussion about it here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/694035/1846-2-players

It's been a while since 1846 last hit the table, so I don't remember what rule changes we were using... in many 18xx games, it's just a matter of changing the starting cash and certificate limit to something sensible, but here, the availability of privates (and major companies?) probably should be adjusted as well, perhaps available trains too?
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Tom Lehmann
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This request is months too late. I put up draft rules for comment in mid-June and make many revisions based on community feedback. The final version was frozen more than a month ago. All work on 1846 GMT is complete. It's now working its way through the GMT production queue.
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Robert Hahn
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hmm… if only GMT had some sort of living rules page where one might post updates that include rules for two players.

 
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Tom Lehmann
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Besides the point that the work on 1846 GMT has been completed and I'm no longer on that project, there's no 2-player variant for it (I've experimented with several in the past) that I'm happy with and willing to put my name on. Sorry.
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Jimmy Okolica
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I played 1846 2-player once (I think using the rules referenced by the OP). It played fine but unremarkably.

I've given 2-player 18XX a lot of thought. With 2-players, you lose the temporary alliances of multi-player games. So without that, what makes an 18XX game interesting? There's track laying, company money management, portfolio management, and stock market manipulation. Maybe other things I'm forgetting?

1846 is one of my favorite games. It's a very short game chock full of decisions. However, to me, it's mostly a portfolio management game. The game is too short for the other aspects to be central. I'm not saying there's no track laying, money management, etc. There certainly is, but there's not enough for the game to remain "top tier" when played with only two players. Personal opinions will vary, but to me, 18OE short scenarios is the best 2-player track laying game. I've made my own attempt at a 2-player company money management game and, so far, have yet to find (or figure out how to design) a good 2-player portfolio management game. My opinion at the moment is that for a game to be a good 2-player portfolio management game, it would need to be designed that way from the start. There's no way to take an existing design and create such a thing.
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Tom Lehmann
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I somewhat agree with Jimmy's analysis. However, I've been exploring 2-player 18xx ideas in the context of an unpublished "smaller" 18xx game (neither 1846 or 1834; let's call it 18??). Here's my current thoughts:

* Make it smaller isn't the answer.

I began by experimenting with 1846. The first approach I tried was to scale 1846 down in the obvious manner, along the lines of Eric Brosius' linked post above, but with a 70% player share limit.

This failed. Not in the sense that the game didn't work or was broken, but the play experience was unsatisfactory. The map felt too open; Chicago was boring; there weren't enough interesting choices; and early and mid-game cross investments was either "obvious" or simply didn't happen (a player would start a second corporation instead).

* Making it closer to a 4-player game might be a partial answer.

As my next step in understanding 2-player dynamics, I tried an experiment: an 1846 4-player game played "two-handed". Each player plays two player positions (A & D and B & C, viewed clockwise), with share dealing order going in a "z": ABDCA order (from whomever had the priority deal), and victory being the sum of each player's two positions.

The board play felt much better, but cross-investment fizzled -- players would almost always cross-invest in their other position instead of an opponent's position. The ability to shift trains and money between two positions reduced the incentive to start a second corporation in any given position, which made 6 corps less interesting. The ability to concentrate all 10 shares in one player's two positions made it less like a stock dealing game. All in all, it mostly felt like an alliance game, not a "true" 2-player game.

But, this sparked the idea of making the 2-player game "halfway" between a 3 and a 4 player game in terms of corps. Go back to 2 players and a 70% share limit, but make the initial money and # of corps closer to a 3-player game while the privates and trains are closer to a 4-player game.

* How mimicing "3.5 player pressure" could make 2-player games work

If one combines less initial money with more privates, this puts pressure on how many corporations get started in SR1. Players then either start: two ok corps, one strong corp, or one weak and one decent (but not strong) corp.

There's good tension among these alternatives. Do you start two ok corps so they can start cooperating on track lays right away? Do you start one strong corp, buy in your privates, and then start another strong corp in SR2? Do you start a weak corp and buy lots of shares to leverage earnings, depending on the decent corp (or a third corp) to eventually bail it out?

Similarly, there are some possibilities for initial cross-investment. If only 3 corps start in SR1, then the player with one strong corp typically has some spare money to invest in the better paying of the two ok corps. Alternatively, the two ok corps can plan to issue more shares to allow that player to invest in the other player's strong corp (since it will almost always pay out and appreciate since it's the other player's only corp).

After SR2, when privates have been cashed in and the proceeds reinvested, there will almost always be 4 corps running. The benefits of running two companies are too great for most players to pass up. An extra train is needed in the mid-game compared to a 3-player game.

Another upside is that the board play becomes more interesting than in many 2-player 18xx variants.

Having 5, not 6, corps, creates good tension when both players start with two ok corps, with the idea of bailing out one of them by starting a 3rd corp in the late mid-game. Since only one player can do this, there's an incentive to create it ASAP, but, ideally, you want to start a third corp later so it can be well-funded (so it can help another company buy a permanent train and still buy one for itself).

* Adding some blocking to the board can be helpful

At this point, I started testing 18?? 2-player, using this approach. 18?? (intended for 2-4) has just 6 corps, 3 in a central area, 1 nearby, and 2 in the periphery. I tried having the 2 periphery corps being always available and having one of 3 central corps or the nearby corp be removed, with a token in its home station.

This approach made the 2-player game more varied, since the game played out quite differently depending on which of the 4 more central corps were in play. There was considerable early token pressure in certain combinations, since placing a token in the hex with the blocked corp was powerful. There was also tension over starting two corps at the start, since getting two of the three more central corps in play was desirable.

The periphery corps also became more interesting (relative to the 4 player game), since a player who goes for a weak/decent two corp. opening can make the weak corp a periphery one that isn't under lots of token pressure, feed it a cheap second train from the decent corp., and run it very cheaply for lots of cash.

Looking at 1846 through this lens suggests, unlike 3 and 4 player games, that A) every corps could be a removal candidate, and B) that the removed corps should have a stronger blocking presence than simply its initial home station (given how much more open the 1846 map is compared to the tiny 18?? map).

* 70% max is definitely better than 60% max

Since 18?? shares 1846-style capitalization, a common position is for the highest paying "good" corp to have some cross investment, but the second highest corp is often 40% held, just by its owner (after possibly retrieving an early cross-investment share from the Stock Market).

This corp often ends up buying two permanent trains, making it a company that all players then want. In 4 player games with 60% max shares, this often leads to 6-2-1-1 or 5-2-2-1 splits in the next SR, depending on the Priority Deal. In 3 player games, it normally leads to 6-2-2 splits, with the Priority Deal player being able to keep tempo, since otherwise, it will go to 5-3-2.

In a 2-player game with 60% max, this situation leads to a boring SR, as its owner can trivially get from 40% to 60%. At 70%, if Priority Deal is held by the other player, that player can "force" these shares to be bought (ending at 7-3) without loss of tempo. Further, this situation opens up the possibility of cross-investment a round earlier (a 4-1 split) which, if the Priority Deal isn't held by the owner, can then become a 6-4 final split.

A 7-3 split in a strong final company is considerably better than a 6-4 split. 70% max produces more interesting SRs and incentives to cross-invest earlier, which I like.

* Phase IV trains should not be infinite

At point, 18?? 2-player worked reasonably well in the early and mid-games. However, I discovered an end-game problem.

The player who was behind after the initial permanent train rush -- often the player with 3 corps -- would then delay, managing permanent train purchases so that the bank never broke until after he filled up all his companies with 2 permanent trains apiece. This produced a long and tedious end game and removed the tension between managing the train rush well (but getting only 1 permanent train per company) and getting lots of permanent trains.

What I want to happen is a sweet spot, where getting a company to 2 permanents is a serious advantage and where there is a decent reward for withholding once or transferring and withholding once to get to a 2nd permanent train, but not to where both players get 2 permanent trains in all their companies.

I'm convinced that I need a second end game trigger. That with just two players, it is too easy to control the rate of withholding and reinvestment so that the bank doesn't break unless the bank size is set *really* low, in which case, it becomes too likely that the game ends abruptly in phase II.

So, rather than decreasing the size of bank, I'm going to try limiting the number of permanent trains and making buying the last permanent train a game end trigger (at the end of the next set of ORs). Thus, if the last permanent is bought in OR 9, then the game -- unless the bank breaks in OR10 -- will go until OR12.

This is where I'm currently at in my thoughts on 2-player 18xx. 18?? is well down my list of priorities, so I may not be able to test this idea for several months.

However, I can "back-port" all this to a UNTESTED DRAFT set of rules for 2-player 1846, for other interested players to test and give feedback on.

I've posted them in a variants forum, here.

I make no promises that this works or that I will ever make this variant "official" or merge it -- via GMT living rules -- into 1846 GMT. But, this at least gets us moving forward.
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John Wellman
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What a fantastic contribution to the community. Thanks, Tom!
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Jimmy Okolica
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Tom, thanks so much for all this! I've seen the 70% max ownership before and had never understood the benefit of it in a 2-player game. It makes a lot more sense now.

Triggering game end based on the last train is an interesting idea and one I hadn't thought about. The other way to deal with one player delaying the end of game is by making stock value more important than late revenue and not allowing anything more than a double (or single) stock jump. But I like the idea of alternative end game conditions. It gives people yet something else to consider and more control over game length.

Great writeup!
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JR
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Sorry, Tom, but 18?? is already a published game.

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgameexpansion/123137/18

Mind you, it's impossible to find it in a typical bgg search, so no one can be faulted for being unaware of it.

Joking aside, thanks for the commentary and posting the variant. I have little interest in 2p 18XX (and 1860 fills the space well if necessary, for me), but it's great to see you sharing your findings so far on the subject.
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