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Subject: 4 Person Solitaire Game Session and Review rss

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Four Person Solo - 1853




Preface : On rereading my session/review below I feel it sounds somewhat negative. The report accurately reflects my feelings about where the game falls short but I hasten to affirm I like and enjoy this game very much.


Introductory Remarks

This review/session assumes some knowledge of the 18xx system of games but here is a brief overview of the 18xx system for those not familiar.

This 18xx game is set in India. It is touted as the 18xx game for engineers (though I think they mean civil engineers not locomotive engineers because it is an 18xx game where track laying decisions are said to be important.)

For those not familiar with 18xx, the game system requires players to buy and sell shares; that's all you need to do! Simple right?

When no one has any more need to buy and sell shares play switches over to the running of the companies. It's the railroad companies that do all the interesting stuff.

No player IS the company; companies are an independent entity controlled by whoever owns the most shares of that company. This player is the Director. The Director may run the company to make money for all its shareholders (the shares may be spread out among several players) but more likely the Director will do what is good for the Director, not for the company and its shareholders. This is the fun of being a Director, especially if you are Director of more than one company.

The Director may be the same person throughout the game or it may change; either because someone stole the company away by buying more shares than the Director had or, just as likely, the Director decided he or she did not want to own any shares in that company and sold his shares back to the bank.

A player need not ever be a director in a game and, theoretically, a player could win without doing so.

A company, on its turn, may lay track, build train stations and buy locomotives. More powerful locomotives are available as time progresses, but time does not progress according to how many turns have been played. 18xx games do it backwards: time is determined by what trains have been sold and what trains are currently available for purchase.

When the companies are done operating play returns to the players for more buying and selling. Since the last round of buying and selling the shares may have changed in value depending on what the players and companies did. In some 18xx games, the shares can plummet or rise steadily. In 1853, the shares can rise spectacularly or sink slowly.

In 1853, all 10 shares of a company can be sold to the bank. When no one owns two shares there is no director and the company is operated by a manager appointed by the bank (ie according to specific rules set out in the rule book).

The concept that players and railroad companies are separate individuals is hard to initially grasp, yet it accurately reflects real-life corporate law.

The winner is whoever has the best portfolio of cash and shares.



The “Rule”book

After having 1853 sit unused since purchase two years ago I finally decided to play it, even if I had to play it solo. I had read the rules several times and been nothing but frustrated by the confused wording. The section on which cities in the Ganges Valley could be in the initial bid (section 2.5.7) remained unclear. There was a confusion between the terms “base” and “station”. Several other passages were equally confounding. And there were references to what must have been aspects of an earlier version of the game but no longer existed.

Months went by and I realized it had lain on my game shelf with the tiles unpunched far too long. The only thing I had done was print up the company logos downloaded from the Geek and paste them on the wooden discs - a tweak I feel adds to the visual enjoyment of an 18xx game.

Thanks to the errata posted on BBG plus several posters who interpreted the more nebulous rules clearly I finally found the rules at least partly understandable and felt that I could tackle this game. Notwithstanding, there were still several things that remained foggy. As it turned out, setting up and playing the first few rounds clarified most of these remaining ambiguities. For instance, the differences between minor and major companies and which tracks were broad gauge and which were narrow gauge became quickly apparent as I played.


The Fictitious Players

I set up to run through a four person game of 1853, me playing all four roles. Like most 18xx games, I find 1853 is well suited to multi-solitaire once you are past the initial bid phase.

I always make up names for each player. By my convention each name has to be four letters long. For fun, I make up details about who there are.

My fictitious players were Clem, Phil, Jack and Mary. (I always have a female in there; hoping this will get more females into 18xx, I guess). They are playing over the internet but all have boards set up in their homes to keep track of things. Phil and Mary are married and live in New York City. They are both unemployed and so have lots of time to play 18xx. Jack is from Nova Scotia but now lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He hates “that cow-town” and misses the smell of saltwater. Clem lives in London, England and enjoys cross-dressing. No one knows he is playing the game in a dress and high heels, not even me.


The Components

I used the paper money supplied with the game. I do not own chips and I like the look of the paper money in 1853. It’s pretty high quality compared to other 18xx games. I am also one of those who just has to use paper money for the “real game experience“. I know most prefer chips.

The other components are of an acceptable standard. Though they did not blow me away, they were of a standard higher than my 1856 and 1870 games. The shares, trains etc. were printed on nice card stock. Unlike 1825, charters were provided for the companies. This playing component is imperative for keeping company treasuries and inventories organized on my tabletop; I never understood why 1825 does not include them.

The map of India is functional albeit a little distorted. The area that would someday be Pakistan is included as it was in British India of 1853. However, Bengal is missing. I assume it was cut out for game balance or costs. Certainly the map is large and comes in two halves. I understand Bengal was part of the first edition and I would have liked to have had it included for completeness.

The station tokens are wooden (something I like). The game does not supply stickers. For me, stickers add to the visual enjoyment of the game and specifies which company’s base you are looking at. They would also be helpful to a colourblind person. I found stickers on the files section of Boardgamegeek’s 1853 page which were quick handy. These stickers (supplied by “Crabro“) matched the dominant colours of the railroad companies nicely.

You also get a good quality wooden elephant to mark the player who goes first in the stock rounds. I replaced mine with a plastic toy elephant which stands up and won’t easily tip over, but the wooden elephant works fine.


The Contract Bid

1853 has no privates. The routine typical of 1830, 1856 or 1870 where you bid on privates to start the game is replaced by a more complex process for which I have several misgivings.

In most of my other 18xx games the privates add variation to the beginning of the game such that no game starts exactly the same. In 1853, the butterfly effect resulting from the auction of the privates is pushed aside by what I suspect may turn out to be a procedure that is more than a subtle butterfly effect. Rather, it may define too early who has the best chance of winning.

It works like this: you bid to go first in a silent auction . When the bids are revealed the players are ordered from highest bidder, who goes first, down to the lowest bidder, going last. Then everyone writes down several cities which will act as destination cities. Each City he/she writes down specifies certain company(s) from which one share may be claimed by that player. Unlike other 18xx games such as 18AL, it is the player that must reach the destination cities; not the train company, and the bid is returned to the player, not to the company treasury.

Three flaws in this bidding system are, first; the rules offer an unsatisfactory remedy for ties which are to be “resolved by dice or lot”, second; anyone breaking the rules of the Bid Process by mistake will not be found out until well into the game when it is too late to change it, and third; the penalty for this is that the offender may be required to sell all sufficient shares to relinquish all directorships.

To further clutter up a poor section of rules, the rules add that this penalty need not occur if everyone agrees to not make the offender sell the directorship. If everyone agrees? This strikes me as awkward and potentially creates bad feelings.

I find this whole portion of the game to be fraught with a minefield of unsatisfactory outcomes. To set up and play a game only to find out someone has been playing incorrectly for an hour or two? To argue over whether the offending player should be penalized? It struck me as potentially ruining a fun experience. Has anyone house-ruled this section of the rulebook?


The Contracts

In solo play, it is tough to simulate the bid process carried out by multi-players. I got past the difficulty by making up four random bids in the range of those given in the example in the rulebook and writing them on the backs of old business cards then dealing them randomly to my four personalities. It seemed to work well.

The resulting player order was:
1st, Clem - 130£ Bid
2nd, Phil - 120£ Bid
3rd, Jack - 110£ Bid
4th, Mary - 90£ Bid

The funds bid were set aside and would not be released to players until the railroads (any railroads) connected together all cities in his/her bid.

The Contract Bid process continued with players “secretly” writing down destination cities on the forms I’d downloaded from BBG . “Secretly” means I did my best to NOT remember the previous players choices of cities while choosing the current players choice. During this process players could publicly choose a share from the company or companies associated with the city chosen. (As discussed above, since the share is public knowledge but the city is not, we must trust the player is choosing a valid company from which to take a share.)

In this session, the #1 railway, East Indian Railway, saw many of its shares claimed with the #2 Great Indian Peninsula Railway also seeing several shares in the hands of the players. Clem claimed a controlling number of shares in the # 5 Bombay, Baroda & Central India Railway. It is considered a minor company unless certain conditions are met. In this case, the conditions were met and the BBCI was established as a major company.

Other companies saw a single share claimed. These companies were not floated. The shares were sold off at the first opportunity without having benefited the holder one bit, merely ensuring more profitable shares in railways #1,2, or 5 were not obtained.

Only the #3 North Western saw no shares issued in the Contract Round. By the rules, the #3 shares would not be available for purchase until the IPO’s of the other 7 companies were fully subscribed. I suspect in future 1853 games there will be more careful choosing of shares in the Contract Process such that for a typical game there would be more than one company whose shares are unavailable in the early game.

Players then paid for the shares claimed in the contract process. The first Stock Round was ready to start.


The First Stock Round

The results of the first stock round make me wonder what was the advantage of bidding high and going first? Why tie up so much of your money by placing it in the bid envelope until you have connected all your cities? I saw the lower bidders buying more shares and reaping added dividends in the early part of the game. The advantage of having that first turn seemed minor to me; Mary went dead last but with the most cash available to invest was soon in a strong financial position.

At the conclusion of the first Stock Round she ended up as Director of both the EIR and the GIP, buying extra shares and stealing the directorship from other players. These companies spent the next several operating rounds making strong profits with multiple 2 and 3 trains at their disposal and giving mutual support by operating in the same area of the map (the Ganges Valley).

The others were not in such a strong position. Clem held only the BBCI directorship. Phil and Jack held several shares spread across the companies floated but were not strong in any and could look forward to their profits lagging behind.


Early Operating Rounds

Of the seven companies which saw shares issued in the opening round, only three ran in the first operating round. For the first few operating rounds Mary’s companies worked together to develop the Ganges Valley. Clem’s isolated BBCI headed north from Bombay. All built broad-gauge track.

At this point an interesting decision must be made by the major companies. Majors in this game must choose whether to lay two tiles from the start of the game or wait until phase 3 to have this ability. If the former, the company will always be required to pay 20£ for the duration of the game to lay the second yellow tile. If it waits until phase 3 the second yellow tile is free.

All three majors (with Mary and Clem as directors) chose the option to lay two yellow tiles at a cost of 20£ rather than wait for phase 3. Hindsight proved this to have been the right choice. Strong early profits were realized by virtue of the extra tile lays and contract bid conditions achieved earlier. Furthermore, the costs of the second tile lays were borne by the company treasuries not the investors. I also discovered by phase 3 that most tile lays were green upgrades and the option to lay two yellow tiles was rarely exercised, free or not.

Very early on, I found the lack of a comprehensive set of tile configurations somewhat annoying. For instance, there is no tile that lets you run into a large city then directly out the other side (aka Tile 57). It does encourage planning ahead, mind you. Still, I found the lack of this tile irksome.

An usual feature of 1853 is there is a lot of money coming into the company treasuries due to the mail runs which each company runs as part of its turn each operating round. This infuses substantial sums into the treasuries even when dividends are paid out. Because of this, high terrain construction costs did not limit trackbuilding the way they do in other 18xx games. I am used to company treasuries being cash poor and all available money being husbanded for the first permanent train. 1853 is unusual in this regard; there was rarely a time when a railroad was forced to skirt a mountain because it could not pay for terrain costs. As we will see below, there were still financial challenges as the trains began to rust, but less than more typical 18xx games.


Starting the Minors


For the first couple of operating rounds, Mary’s #1 EIR and #2 GIP provided by far the highest dividends. This was achieved despite Mary’s dead last 4th place start in the initial stock round.

For Jack and Phil to remain as minor investors in the EIR and GIP would have guaranteed Mary a win. Thus, in Stock Round #3 both Phil and Jack dumped their holdings in Mary’s companies and floated the #7 South India and #8 East India respectively. These two minors chose to build narrow gauge track which allowed for cheaper construction costs and cheaper train purchases. It would also ensure the two minors would have less powerful locomotives and precluded them from connecting to the broad-gauge track already laid to the north and west of them. Dividends were dismal due to this with most of the financial gain being realized from the climb in share values on the stock chart.

The rules allow for multiple jumps up the one-dimensional stock chart if the dividends were large enough but there seemed few times a share jumped up more than one space. Due to the rules limiting the circumstances where a share value would drop, stocks rarely fell in this game.

As events progressed Jack’s #8 East Coast Railway become boxed on the east coast by the broad track of the majors and would lie semi-stagnate until later phases brought brown tiles into the game and allowed a method by which narrow and broad-gauge track could cross. By then it was too late to recoup lost revenue in the early game.

The ECR was also not able to help Jack reach his contracted destination, cut off as it was on the east coast. The other players were in control of their own fate by virtue of the open spaces around them and met their contractual obligations in a timely manner. The release of their bid money allowed them to promptly invest in new stock. Jack’s failure to meet his contractual obligations left him cash poor with no new investment ability in the next stock round. His portfolio fell further behind the others.


Mid-Game Stock Rounds

By the 5th operating round, with the #4 Bengal Najpur directorship going to Clem and the #6 Madras and South Mahratta directorship going to Phil, only Jack did not enjoy the benefit of having two companies in his control. I suppose you can win 1853 without directing two companies, but with Mary’s big lead, this did not seem likely; the other players needed to pull the kind of manoeuvres you can pull when you have more than one company.

To make matters worse, Jack still had not reached his goal and certainly would not do so unless, by luck, Mary routed a rail line through Jaipur from the Ganges area.

The next Operating Round saw Jack fall further behind and saw Mary increase an already huge lead. New trains were purchased by the new companies and players positioned their railroad companies to start shifting locomotives and money around.

By a miracle, Mary saw a reason to connect to Jaipur and Jack, with his contract bid now released, looked to the next Stock Round with some hope of getting back into the game.

Would he by some miracle manage to get the NWR directorship? If he could not get the #3 NWR directorship next Stock Round I predicted Jack would have last place sewn up early…and even fictitious players hate to lose. Without priority and with some shares from the BNR and MSM still in the IPO, it would be difficult to get the #3 for himself. Recall above, the NWR could not be purchased until all other shares were sold out. He would need the others to finish buying the last shares of the other IPO’s just as his turn came up if he was going to get the NWR Directorship.

This is exactly what happened. When the dust cleared, Jack has his second directorship and 4 shares of the Northwest Railway. Phil and Clem each held 3 shares of the NWR as well. If it could be made into a strong performer, the three boys could close the gap with Mary.

Trackbuilding

The middle portion of the game did indeed become the track building game for which 1853 is famous. Tiles were being upgraded for maximum runs and few new rail lines were extended across undeveloped areas. I also like 1853’s rule that trains can visit an unlimited number of small cities (or towns) in a train run without counting as a city visited.

The players, as directors, started moving trains and money around between companies. I noticed there were few times when dividends were withheld. Again, this was because the mail runs helped keep company treasuries flush. In addition, directors not able to buy a broad gauge train realized there were opportunities to build bases at cities intersecting narrow gauge rails and purchase cheap narrow gauge locomotives. This was my first encounter with an 18xx game having two rail gauges and I began to enjoy the options and opportunities this presented.

The person having turn priority is designated by the wooden elephant provided with the game. One of the perks of having the elephant was that that player can call for an extra operating round at the end of the regular set of rounds. Usually, the extra operating round was called for. No one attempted to buy the elephant from another player though the rules allow this.


Mary in Difficulty

Profits grew higher for Mary’s EIR and GIP but time was running out for her ageing locomotives. She could see no way to accumulate enough funds in her treasuries to buy permanent trains for both EIR and GIP. Moreover, her early route development had left no opportunity to connect to the minor rail system by which she could shift to the use of narrow gauge trains as the others were doing so successfully.

Her railroad empire crumbling, Mary decided to cut her losses while she could and trust that her greater personal wealth would make it impossible for the others to pass her in total assets before the game ended.

She managed over a set of Operating Rounds to transfer the EIR’s treasury and all its trains to the GIP just as the Elephant Operating Round Ended. As her first move in the next Stock Round she dumped all EIR stock into the open market. With no trains, no one else wished to be director of the formerly great East India Railway and followed suit. All 10 shares were sitting in the pool.

The resultant gaps in the portfolios were filled with purchases of other stock lying in the open market until all other company shares were in players’ hands.

Mary was no longer making the kind of profits that had put her in a big lead but she still held good stock and trusted she could hold on for the win. She had lost her EIR stock but her GIP shares were gaining rapidly in value and paying fantastic dividends. The end of the game was still a long way off, however and the others hoped to overtake her.


The EIR in Receivership

With no one owning shares in the EIR, the Elephant holder was left to operate the EIR as Manager. Clem took full advantage of his office. A 5 train was borrowed on behalf of the EIR and ran for three rounds before it was paid off. The value of the unowned EIR shares plummeted but the EIR now owned a permanent train…at least for a brief while.

Clem used the Elephant to call for an extra operating round. When the BBCI’s turn came up, Clem, as manager of the EIR and director of BBCI, had the BBCI buy the 5 train from the EIR. This was the only bit of nastiness I saw in this game and I loved it; he had owned no shares in the EIR but had finagled a way to have it sell a permanent train to his company! The only problem Clem now had was how to keep the receivership of the EIR for the next set of operating rounds.

During the next stock round Clem purchased one share of the EIR aiming to keep the EIR in receivership with him as Manager. The other players debated taking the directorship of the EIR by buying two shares but decided they did not want the control of the EIR that badly. Clem was left to again run the EIR for the next set of operating rounds as manager of a directorless, trainless company.

Emptying the Bank

At this time I was finding the late stage of the game to be much less interesting. Rereading the rules I noted I should have removed 2500£ from the bank. I decided to remove 5000£ to get the game over with. I think I may even consider removing 7500£ next time.

In a repeat of the last set of operating rounds, the EIR borrowed a 6 train then saw Receiver Clem sell it after three operating rounds to his BNR, once it was paid for. This was to little benefit, however, because the bank ran out of cash shortly thereafter. It would have benefited Clem quite a bit had I left that extra 2500£ in the bank.


The Final Tally

I added up the holdings of the four players.

Mary had not hung on.

In the end Clem had passed her in total assets. Perhaps his first place start helped after all. Phil came a close third with Jack coming a distant last. His late fulfillment of his contract had hobbled him. He had also floated the weak #8 railroad, the East Coast Rail, as his first company.


My Final Thoughts

1-Despite my concerns with the opening contract bids being too determinant in the final winner and despite its clumsy rule set, I enjoyed this game. The highlight for me was the choice between standard and narrow gauge for track building and all the ramifications this presented. As bonus, railroading in India also had an exotic feel to it.

2-There were pros and cons to the mail runs. I may need to play a few more games to decide if I like it. It added a complication to calculating train runs and kept infusing treasuries with money. In turn this took away the challenge of other games where costs were a consideration in route planning. In 1853, the companies seemed to always have enough cash to lay track across mountains.

3-Money come way too easy to the companies in this game. There was no challenge to keeping a treasury flush. I missed having to make the difficult choice of issuing dividends or saving for the next train. Choosing between maximizing the train run or maximizing the mail run sometimes was an interesting decision, though.

4-I missed the two dimensional stock market. I think this adds to the game and makes the stock rounds more interesting.

Finally

There are several posts on BBG opining 1853 is not a game to introduce to beginners. If anyone wanted to use 1853 as an introductory game, I would say it could be done, provided a veteran explained the rules. Money is plentiful, there is very little nastiness. As I alluded at the beginning of the report, anyone trying to read the rules will be discouraged from starting. Once I finally tried this game, the rules became less hazy and I found the game entertaining.
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Bryan Mosher
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Re: 4 Person Solitiare Game and Review
Can you let Clem know that I'm getting a solo 18xx game together and would enjoy it if he joined us?

Thanks for the well-written review; I'll delve into it more when I set up 1853 for J. Edgar, Clem, and me.

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Kevin B. Smith
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Re: 4 Person Solitaire Game and Review
I would call this a Session, not a Review, but it was a fantastic read. I have never played an 18XX, and am not sure I want to, but you had me on the edge of my seat.
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Tom
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peakhope wrote:
I would call this a Session, not a Review,

Thanks for your input. I did not mean to mislead. My aim was to do a session which would provide a chance to offer a game review in the context of that specific game. I changed the title of my post to better reflect that this is a review and a session.

Glad you liked the post despite my misleading title. Cheers.
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Enrico Viglino
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TomAquin wrote:


There are several posts on BBG opining 1853 is not a game to introduce to beginners. If anyone wanted to use 1853 as an introductory game, I would say it could be done, provided a veteran explained the rules. Money is plentiful, there is very little nastiness. As I alluded at the beginning of the report, anyone trying to read the rules will be discouraged from starting. Once I finally tried this game, the rules became less hazy and I found the game entertaining.


I find it a lot harder to cope with what is usually a fairly easy
part of 'xx though - the track lays. You have more choices here than
I'm comfortable with - much less a beginner in the series. And, although
it's not harsh like '30 (and most of its derivatives) it is (like '29)
still not the least bit forgiving. Indeed, I wonder if it's ever a
game for someone new to '53! Probably the best thing to do is
make a few early trial runs with the initial bonds, and play a few rounds
after each one to see the effect that they have. Otherwise, you're
front-loading the most important decision without any idea of the
effect - even with experienced 'xx gamers.
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Tom
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Calandale.

Thanks for your comments.

ps - Any chance you are thinking of doing an 1853 video? I enjoyed your other 18xx sessions.
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Enrico Viglino
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[listitem=2167007]Working on it[/listitem] right now actually.
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