Mark Frazier
United States
Amelia
Ohio
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In 18XX, each player begins the game with a handful of cash - the amount certainly varies from game to game, but the fundamental starting point is the same: you get X dollars to begin with, and attempt to use those funds to forge a financial empire.

While there are certainly exceptions to each of the points I make below, the vast majority of 18XX games follow these same principles.

Once the seating order is determined and a starting player selected, an "opening packet" of private companies (referred to as privates henceforth) and/or minor companies (referred to as minors henceforth) is placed on the table. Each of the privates has some special ability that can be used on behalf of one of the owning player's railroads. In some 18XX games, minors will also have special abilities (such as in 18OE).

The way in which the opening packet is distributed varies from game to game - most games will use an auction style, where players have the choice of either buying the first private or placing a bid on one of the other privates.

The challenge at this stage of the game is multifaceted: determine the relative value of each private and bid accordingly. Sink too much of your cash into privates, and you'll suffer a slow start which can be difficult to recover from. Don't buy enough, and you can be left with some distasteful choices at the end of the packet.

Each 18XX game is unique on this front - in some games, the higher cost privates are powerful enough to justify their cost (and then some). In others, they can be a bit of an albatross. It's up to you to determine which is which, and adjust your plans as the bids unfold.

Pushing the bid on a valuable private to an amount that brings its value into question can be a powerful maneuver, but runs the risk of your opponent backing out of the auction. Landing a powerful private at or near it's printed cost can be a real coup. Poker playing skills can be useful here!

In part 3, I'll introduce the basics of the stock market game - check back soon!

-Mark
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Eric Brosius
United States
Needham Heights
Massachusetts
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My favorite 18xx game for six players is two games of 1846 with three players each.
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For those games that have an ordered auction in which you can either buy the next available item outright or place a bid on a future item, it's common for the first item available and the last item available to be less desirable than at least some of the ones in the middle. If the first item is too desirable, the first player gets an advantage. And having the last item be a bit of a booby prize encourages people to be more aggressive in bidding.

As you imply, some games distribute the privates through some sort of a draft rather than through an auction. This is in many ways easier for new players, but it is harder for the designer, since you need to balance the costs and values in a robust way. A decently-designed auction allows the players themselves to balance the game via bidding.
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Bill Gallagher
United States
Torrance
California
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A few comments:

1. In most 18xx games, the first private company gives no special power. It merely gives income each operating round to its owner.

2. The value of the private companies is based on more than just the abilities they provide. In many 18xx games, they can be sold to public (share) companies. Depending on the specific title, this can be for as much as double its face value (thus "looting" the share company). That increases the value of the more expensive private companies. This means that those private companies which cannot be sold to share companies are not as highly valued.
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Mike MacMartin
Canada
Ottawa
Ontario
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One thing to be on the watch for in the initial private company round is how many companies each player gets - if there's three players and four privates, for instance, as first player, is it better to take the first and whichever is left over, or bid on a specific one?

This is especially important in the "poorer" games, where you end up with a good two or three operating rounds where the only income is from the private companies, of course.
 
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J C Lawrence
United States
Campbell
California
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18OE is, or at least was and I've seen no reason to think it has changed, a fairly cash rich game. Money flows quickly -- not as quickly as 18C2C, but quickly. Trains seem to flow slightly more quickly, so capital pressure is high. The result is that private powers are a significant portion of their value, and their maximum buy-in value is less important than you might expect.
 
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Mark Frazier
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Amelia
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clearclaw wrote:
18OE is, or at least was and I've seen no reason to think it has changed, a fairly cash rich game. Money flows quickly -- not as quickly as 18C2C, but quickly. Trains seem to flow slightly more quickly, so capital pressure is high. The result is that private powers are a significant portion of their value, and their maximum buy-in value is less important than you might expect.

It's even more subtle than that.

I've seen players do well that invested heavily in the opening packet, and others do well that don't. It's more about the synergy of the privates and minors you buy, and how well you use them.

Bear in mind that there is no buy-in value in 18OE: railroads don't buy privates, you simply exercise their power when you're ready.
 
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Mike Calhoon
United States
North Fort Myers
Florida
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Buying a minor railroad for more than its face price of 120 gives it more initial capital, with a range of capital from 120 to a max of 180. Any bid over 180 does not further fund the minor railroad. Starting a railroad in the richer areas of Great Britain and Germany (with the token costing 40) might induce a potential owner to bid more than the face price of 120 to prevent going out of pocket for the initial 2+2 train.

This additional funding can create some contention over the minors that have powers that are augmented by additional capital(as they could buy a 3+3 or 3E train an OR sooner). Some players might bid more than face based on a belief that certain minor railroads are better to own for their strategy (this often happens with the G, H, L and K).

The privates seem to be about the right price, with some dissension in the play-testers about the value of the Small Metro Line. This private allows the owner to assign a major railroad a single permanent 2+2 train but only after the first rank 4 train is purchased. That train does not count against train limit, or satisfy the necessity to own a train. The maximum run for said train would be 380 IF it could run from New York to one of three 120 locations, and IF it is paired with the player who owns the Hochberg Lumber Company which creates a mountain town worth 60.

Again synergies make the values of the companies not a hard and fast value.
 
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