First I must say that games, belonging to 18xx series, are great. The only drawback I can imagine, is their money-handling boredom - i.e. banker has to manage all those dividend payouts, changes, etc etc. Using poker chips instead of paper money can make this process to be faster - but what about using e-money, with digital bank? We had found such program as Rails (http://rails.sourceforge.net/) - that promised to make all money handling and dividend payouts automatically, allowing us to focus more to the economical strategy itself. Would it be useful? Well... there's only one option to find it out - test-play! :)
We decided to test it with 18AL - as it's relatively short game, compared to other 18xx-s, and we wanted also to play with maximum amount of players. A bit more about technology: banker was using his laptop for running the software and extra 17" LCD monitor was connected to it and standing on one side of table, so everybody could see the financials.
There were 5 players - all with at least 18AL experience and some with 1856/1870 experience. After initial draw I appeared to be the first in starting order and I decided to make this time something different: passed the initial round bidding. Costello bid/purchased NDY and Tusc, Inga bid/purchased B&SLC, Ashlar S&NA and Martin M&C.
Costello was last to buy the NDY, so Inga had the Priority Deal... and I had the assumption of things going quite down the drain for me... already... as my plan was to float with my saved money TAG or ABC and therefore get round or two ahead from others. But now I had 3 players in front of me and those two companies are too sweet for leaving to others. And so it went - Inga started TAG, Martin L&N and Ashlar ABC. So, I made a happy face and started WRA - better this than nothing. According my calculations I had still enough money to make the only floating during this turn and get the early start. My assumption was that everybody is busy building their own companies up this round... and then Costello bought 10% of ABC. (He also didn't bother at all to start something on its own - not until the late rounds - instead he bought also during next stock round L&N by helping to float this as well.)
Brief comment: first we were afraid that it's difficult to observe the money/stock information from the monitor but we adapted it pretty quickly. You just have to remember what rows and columns are most important and can then ignore the rest. And when it came to paying the income for private companies - the part we usually often forgot during the heat of the game - it was made automatically!
So here I was: instead of one (my) company two were floated and the other one was by very good 18xx player, Ashlar. Things didn't look well at all. After next stock round also L&N floated and there I was, starting last of three, due to smallest stock value. But there's always a chance... and I went positively on.
Due to my initial miscalculation I had to purchase my second train also 2-train, so I wanted to wait now until the 3-trains are sold out and try to be the first one to buy 4-train. The negative side was that during that time I had connected Montgomery both to Atlanta and Gulf of Mexico and 2-trains were not able to collect maximum revenue. So I couldn't hold myself and bought the last 3-train. I calculated that I've collected enough money to company to purchase additional 4-train next turn (perhaps even be the first to buy it) and then live happily everafter for some time.
But. At the start of next turn the only company that operates before me (ABC) purchases the 4-train. Both my 2-trains are rusted now. I also discover with horror that due to lumber terminal bought last round I'm missing now a nice amount of money needed for 4-train. Ok then - have to withhold revenues twice and then can afford it.
At the start of next operating turn somebody (guess who - yes, ABC) buys first 5-train. Again I'm a bit short of the money even after withholding and my stock price goes down on fast lane. Meantime: ABC earns 210$, TAG earns 320$, L&N earns 220$. I have my only 3-train and able to withhold only 150$ per round. M&O (Costello's just floated company) and ATN (Ashlar's second one) are yet on 0$.
Finally, on operating round 7.2 I'm able to upgrade my train, to 6-train, making all 3-trains obsolete. Fortunately I have also during same round success in persuading the TAG owner that this company needs also better train and therefore first 7-train is bought (and all 4-trains are rusted). This makes the difference between the company train amounts a bit fairer (from my point of view) but Ashlar has to put in several hundreds of his personal money to buy his companies something to make revenue with.
But this doesn't get me to better positions, compared to diesels, so I have to struggle on. As there is no more rusting trains, there's also no cash flows to bank and therefore we're facing sudden end quite soon. At the end of operating round 9.1 we have to face the fact that bank is over -3000$ and therefore the game is over. The final rankings were:
1. $3898 Ashlar
2. $3696 Katsulas
3. $3459 Costello
4. $2572 Inga
5. $2269 Martin
With 5 players the gameplay took appr. exactly 3 hours with electronic bank and e-money and there were no major drawbacks to this kind of money handling. Of course, several times I had to do some undo-ing, but it happens. But from my point of view the best part of this software is that it stores a log of every transaction made during the game, so there's a good opportunity to analyze your game later.
Excellent review, Katsulas!
It was quite interesting experience to play 18AL using this software. My suggestion is that if you don't have much time and you want a quick game - use it. But be warned that it may spoil your gameplay experience because you may lose true boardgame feeling - no money to count, no stock chart to manage, no shares in front of you, etc. Because I was missing those things that I like in boardgames, it felt for me like I was playing a computer game...
About the game. It was first time for me when I was trying to play in stock market and not to operate my own company. This tactics worked quite well as you can see from the results. But buying L&N stock was a mistake because that company didn't perform so well as I hoped. I should had bought WRA instead and with that tactics I had earned silver at least. Well, I have to think twice in next time.
I like the RAILS moderator, but last time I used it there was a small rule that it was missing for 18AL. I'm going to download the newest version and see if they fixed it.