18xx

BGC Meetup 8/1/10 (Part 2) @ OTK Cheras – 18EU

Gamers: Allen (blownfreaks), Yee Ling (crabzai), Heng (ayheng), Henry (rhyen), Hiew (hecose), and Jeff Au (jack208)

Games: Greed Inc, 18EU

Location: Old Town Kopitiam Cheras Google Map 
Date/Time: 8 January 2010 (Fri) 8.00 PM – 5.30 AM

 

BOARDGAMECAFE.NET MEETUP REPORT @ OLD TOWN KOPITIAM CHERAS 8/1/2010 – Part 2
by jack208

Read the 1st part of this Meetup Report (on Greed Inc) here.

18EU

18EU is set in Europe, and it’s map features most of continental Europe – Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland, and Austria-Hungary. It has been touted as the “best” new/recent 18xx games. The game so let’s find out how it plays.

18EU is different from other 18xx in a few ways…

  • It’s the only 18xx game that spans more than one country. Most 18xx games cover one area of a single country.
  • You don’t start the game with Private Railroad companies. Instead you start with Minors, which are almost the equivalent of a Corporation except it’s not listed in the stock exchange.
  • The only way you can start a new Corporation is to integrate one or more Minors into it.

We are all Minors…
The game starts by putting up 15 minor companies to be auctioned off among the players. Starting capital among players is $1,350 divided by number of player. Ours was a three-player game (rhyen, ayheng and jack208) so that meant $450 each.

BGC Meetup - 18EU  BGC Meetup - 18EU 
ayheng (left) and rhyen in 18EU

Minor companies are auctioned off at $100 and can go higher if there are more than one players bidding for it; or it can go down progressively by $10 each round if no one wants to pick it up (Dutch auction). With 15 minors, we are looking at each player controlling 5 minors to start with.

In our session, ayheng went low-ball on a few minors and he managed to grab six while I took my fair share of five. This left rhyen with only four minors to kickstart his game. Would this leave him with early earnings shortfall comparatively with me and ayheng?

BGC Meetup - 18EU
jack208’s starting 5 Minors
BGC Meetup - 18EU 
rhyen’s starting 4 Minors

 BGC Meetup - 18EU
ayheng’s 6 Minors which would gain him early earnings advantage over the others.

Regardless of how much was bid/paid for the Minor, they all start with zero cash and one 2-train (yeah, life is tough as a minor). All revenue earned by the Minors are split 50/50 between the Minor and the owner/player. Minors caught without any train won’t be subjected to the dreaded FTP (forced-train purchase) but instead still earns it’s owner $10 (kinda like subsidy from the Government). Not bad eh?

Note: While I try to refrain from using too much BGC 18xx lingo (eg FTP, Hotsun) so that newbies to 18xx gaming can follow this report as much as possible, there are times when using the lingo is much more expedient. My apology. I do intend to do an 18xx Primer write-up so that newbies can read that for an introduction to our world of 18xx. 🙂

BGC Meetup - 18EU 
The gameboard showing early “expansion” by the Minors

Each set of Round consists of one Stock Round and two Operating Rounds (OR). In the first Round, all the Minors predictably laid tracks that maximized their earnings with no real “conflict” (guess those incompetent engineers from 1856 have not arrived at EU yet, with one of them frequently getting lost around the Putrajaya area).

It should also be noted Minors can only lay yellow tiles, and can’t do any upgrades to green or brown tiles (when they are available in later phases of the game). This usually means the railway building started by the Minors would grind to a halt and further expansion would require the Corporations (aka Big Boys) to extend the groundwork done by the Minors.

That Minors can only lay yellow tiles and the fact each player is getting about 4-5 Minors to start with, a key early game strategy would be to ensure you get a good combo/mix of Minors that’ll allow you to leverage to your best advantage. Owning Minors that have synergy, in my opinion, is more useful than owning more Minors.

I shall however refrain from saying which Minor combos are useful – and which are awful. I think it’s best left for you to discover when you play this game. *wink*

Crossing the Alps
The Alps is a crucial geographical element in this game as it separates the North and the South with expensive terrain builds ($120 for the yellow and $60 for the green) for any railroad company that decides to do a North-South link. Do take this into your consideration when deciding on Minor combos.

Note: There’s a proposed 18EU Alpine variant that attempts to address this issue but we’ve not playtested that yet.

BGC Meetup - 18EU 

The THREE That You Should Know
There are three key cities in this map – Paris, Berlin and Vienna. “Key” because they have future high earnings potential and you can expect to have strong competition for access into these cities (as you shall see later in this game). If budget permits, it would be useful to pay a visit to these three cities to understand their people, culture and customs better before playing this game. 😛

 BGC Meetup - 18EU

In our game, the fight for Berlin started early… with each player owning one of the Minors (4/7/9) starting from Berlin (see above). Minor #4 (rhyen) did not build towards Thorn for some early quick revenue.. instead it build downwards so as to hasten it’s connection with Minor #8 (also owned by rhyen); Deutsche cronyism at work here.

The RED Ang Pow
European railroad history started (much like anywhere else) as a local phenomenon, to transport goods and passengers efficiently from one city to another. However unlike other countries, it soon transition to a continent-spanning transportation infrastructure. This element is reflected in this game by the “red-to-red” route bonuses.

The “red-to-red” route bonus is paid when one of your train is able to run a route that starts from one red-color off-map location (eg Bucharest, see below) to another red-color off-map location. This bonus can go as high as $30/token placed between the two off-map locations. Each company has 5 tokens so you can go work the maths. 🙂

BGC Meetup - 18EU 

The route bonus meant access to such lucrative off-map locations can be as hotly contested as the Three Cities mentioned earlier. Minor #8 (rhyen) which starts just next to Bucharest, a red-color off-map location would be a key player in controlling which other railroad can get access to Bucharest.

To Make More Money, You Need to Pull
18EU introduces a new train element that’s not seen in most 18xx games -the Pullman (P) train. Pullman costs only $100 and they do not require a new route. They are merely attached to one of your trains and it doubles one of your destination city’s revenue.

BGC Meetup - 18EU 

Note: A Minor with the right mix of trains + Pullman can increase your cashflow tremendously as demonstrated by Airin (Spore) when we introduced 18EU to the first local 18xx Meetup held in 2008.

The only downside of the Pullman is that it’ll be “lost” when you upgrade or sell the primary train it’s attached to.

The First Two Rounds…
The first two Rounds passed rather uneventfully with each Minors laying tracks to start building their income stream. With four Operating Rounds (OR) in-between, that gave plenty of time for us to plan the Minors’ network path and pocket half of the dividends from each Minor.

rhyen’s Minor #4 was the only one that’s without a route and hence not making any money for him (yet). It may seem like a strange decision but I think his intention was for #4 to connect quickly to his #8 which we shall see later how he made use of them to block Bucharest. Which begs the question, “At what cost?”

BGC Meetup - 18EU 
The railway network after four ORs

Growing up: From Minor to 18xx
Minors represent the initial local growth of the railroads in each of the European countries. That they cannot upgrade their tracks to green/brown tiles meant their growth will eventually come to a halt. The gameboard above showed all the Minors at the peak (read: end) of their growth phase. At this stage, it’s time for the Railroad Corporations to enter the game!

Corporations are floated by first injecting one of your Minors – all trains and treasury of the Minors are transferred to the starting corporation – in return for 10% share of the corporation. You can inject more Minors into the corporation as long as those Minors are connected to the starting Minor. Par values for Corporations range from $70 to $100.

Note to rhyen: When injecting Minors into a newly formed Corporation, the Minor must be able to trace a “legal” path to any one of the Corporation’s token. “Legal” being unblocked by competitor tokens.

A Corporation starts to operate as soon as 50% of its shares are successfully sold, and is fully capitalized. The remaining unfloated shares are kept in the Corporation’s treasury; this means dividends for unfloated shares are paid back into the Corporation (an important point when considering whether you want to help float a new corporation).

The Corporation takes over the Minors assets (cash/trains) and continue operating on the same route(s) used by the Minors. Corporation operates like a Minor except it’s shares has a market price in the Stock Exchange.

Since ayheng has the most number of Minors (among the three of us), his early earnings advantage meant he was the first to form a Corporation. There are a total of 8 corporations in 18EU; all having five tokens and there’s really no difference or advantage between the corporations. Your choice of corporation depends probably on which corporate logos has taken your fancy.

ayheng formed the Royal Bavarian State Railway (RBS) by injecting two of his Minors – #13 & #14 – and floating another 40% of RBS at $100 par. jack208 started the French National Railways (FNR) but only injecting one of his Minor (#15) and floating another 40% at a lower par of $75. rhyen at this stage have not yet accumulated enough working capital to float a corporation.

BGC Meetup - 18EU
ayheng with his first railway corporation, the RBS

With the RBS having two 2-Trains (one from each Minor) and the FNR having only one; the RBS kickstarted it’s illustrious history by running at twice the revenue of FNR. Early cash is important as given the proper investment, they can snowballed into much higher value towards game-end.

My (jack208) counteract to the early cash advantage given by ayheng’s RBS was to invest Pullman trains into my two Minors #1 & #3 which were already delivering good dividends without the Pullman. Becoz of this consideration, I had decided to form FNR using only Minor #15 and kept both Minor #1 & #3 both of which were making very profitable runs into Paris.

BGC Meetup - 18EU
Initial runs of Corporations would be in the $15-$30 EPS ballpark. 
EPS = Earnings per share

By the 4th Round, rhyen had sufficient capital and started his own railway corporation – the Royal Prussian Railway Administration (RPR) – to compete with the RBS and FNR. However by then ayheng managed to get his 2nd corporation floated – the Italian State Railways (FS) in the south – and the German State Railway (GSR) was also formed by jack208 in the north.

BGC Meetup - 18EU
ayheng’s 2nd corporation – FS 
BGC Meetup - 18EU 
ryhen’s first corporation RPR
BGC Meetup - 18EU
jack208’s two corporations

Five railway corporations in operation now, the 3-trains will be purchased triggering the availability of the green tiles which shall see the next stage of the railroad expansion in the European continental. You can expect more Minors will be injected into any of the five growing pan-European railway corporations and the fight for the key cities and off-map locations will become more competitive as the threat of getting locked out of these lucrative destinations become “real”.

BGC Meetup - 18EU 
Gameboard showing how the five newly formed corporations took over from the previous Minors

The Future may be the Corporation, but the Foundation belongs to the Minor…
It is interesting to note that while the future of 18EU definitely revolves around the Corporations which will form networks that span across countries, their foundation however were laid by the early 15 Minors.

Unlike in most 18xx games where Private railway companies “disappear” once they were bought by a Corporation, in 18EU the legacy of the Minors’ early play remains until end of game, and having the “right” Minor(s) injected into your Corporate is significant.

Dividends & The Stock Exchange
A Corporation’s share price is determined by 1) whether it pays or withhold dividends, 2) selling of shares and 3) it’s shares being fully subscribed. 18EU allows declaration of Full or Half Dividends, and  it’s share prices only move up when the dividend it declares (regardless of Full or Half) is equal to or greater than it’s current market value.

The last mechanic means your Corporation must continue to churn out better earnings and ensure dividends are on par with your current market value in order to keep your share price going up! You can’t rest on your laurels here by doing sub-optimal runs to milk share price appreciation. 

The Last Three of the Big Boys
18EU comes with 8 corporations; with 5 already started, the race is on grabbing one of these last corporations. It’s obvious in a 3-player game, one is going to be shortchanged with 2 corporations. This is not a deal-breaker however you need to have a Plan B such that if you end up being the person with only 2 corporations while the other players have 3 each, you must have an alternative plan to overhaul the disadvantage of having one less corporation.

Hint: Buying 2-3 stocks in the competitive corporations can be a workable Plan B, except this plan tends to turn sunny-side up (hehe)

In our session, the last three corporations were evenly taken up by ayheng (Belgian National Railways BNR), rhyen (Imperial & Royal Austrian State Railway IRA), and jack208 (Dutch Railways DR). The last threes were all floated at $100 par.

This resulted in ayheng and jack208 running 3 corporations while rhyen runs only 2. My suspicion is that rhyen was always a step or two behind in this session due to him getting one Minor less than the equitable five.

BGC Meetup - 18EU

At this stage of the game, having done their basic groundwork in laying down their railroad network, the Corporations were busy concentrating on getting access – and to those who already have access, locking competitors out – to the lucrative key cities (Paris, Berlin and Vienna) and off-map locations (for red-to-red route bonus).

BGC Meetup - 18EU

Corporations were doing average earnings of $20/share at this juncture. However since all the 4-trains were bought, everyone was jostling to get into positions to grab the early permanent 5-trains (three units only) before the 6-train is triggered which would obsolete the (useful) 3-trains.

BGC Meetup - 18EU

Selling Your Pants to Buy a Train
There appeared to be no train-rush in the early stages of this game…. most corporations find it useful to own one or two trains given that their early railroad network is usually confined to one or two countries. With town stops ($10/$20 revenue) not counting as part of the route limit, 3- and 4-trains seemed to deliver a very good rate of returns.

However as the railroad expansion progresses, and Corporations can now place their tokens further away from their starting city, the acquisition of long-distance trains (eg 6-train) gained more impetus.

The 6-train is important because it’s the catalyst for two key events; 1) it rusts the (useful) 3-trains which have been the stable diet for these Corporations during the early years, and 2) with only two 6-trains and 8 Corporations, it’ll rush out the 8-train which makes obsolete the 4-train (ouch).

Some Corporations may be caught without a train.. and the CEO may need to dip into his own pocket to pay for a new 8-train (which costs a hefty $800). My initial impression about “no train rush” was not exactly spot-on as the 6- and 8-train rush possibly made the investment on 4-trains a loss.

However 18EU seems to have a “soft” way to get people out of FTP (forced train purchase) situation by allowing Corporations to sell unfloated shares in its Treasury to the Bank at any time at current market value; which was what rhyen did to both his Corporations – RPR (blue) and IRA (white) – to raise the funds needed to get a permanent 8-train.

BGC Meetup - 18EU
Share prices for RPR (blue) and IRA (white) fell on selling pressure when the CEO were forced to unload Treasury stocks into the market to raise financing for new long-distance trains

While selling shares to the Bank can help to avert a FTP crisis, the loss in the stock market value could potentially be a deal-breaker. As seen from the Stock Market table (above), RPR and IRA shares hovering at the $65-$75 value was worth only 1/3 of ayheng’s RBS which was trading strongly at $180.

Note: In 18EU, your Corporation can also redeem (ie. buyback) any shares that’s in the Pool at the Current Market Value. If you anticipate your share value will rise and have surplus cashflow in your Treasury, this is a good way to provide some capital gains to your Corporation.

The Paris Strategy
Paris is arguably the most important city in this map, with it’s earnings rising up to $80 (brown tile) and it’s close vicinity to London, another city with strong earnings $70.

I (jack208) had two of the Minors that start out of Paris, and another Minor #15 that could potentially allow me to link up London-Paris with Rome in the South for a handsome red-to-red route bonus. But I messed up my Paris strategy as I did not realize Paris has no gray tiles (duh!) unlike Berlin and Vienna both of which have gray tiles that merged the O-O connections into a single 3-token city….

BGC Meetup - 18EU

… which resulted in my having to drop two DR (yellow) tokens into Paris just to ensure I can still control access to it. Needless to say, this is wasteful and not the best use of my tokens.

Locking up Bucharest
Earlier I wrote up the fight for control to access the red off-map locations as towards the end-game stage, all Corporations once they’ve acquired the long-distance trains and set up country-spanning railroad networks will want to ensure they can claim the red-to-red bonus.

There are only four such off-map locations (Hamburg (in the middle-north) does not count) making it crucial to be able to choke the access to these locations. rhyen’s Deutsche Cronyism strategy of hooking up his #4 and #8 Minors did allow him to use his two Corporations RPR (blue) and IRA (white) to totally shutdown Bucharest! (see below)

BGC Meetup - 18EU 

jack208’s GSR (top right) was building towards Bucharest but was too late to stop RPR/IRA shutting it down! I then had to detoured GSR north-east towards Warsaw which needless to say slowed GSR down from claiming the red-to-red bonus.

Mid-to-End Game
The game transitioned from the mid-game towards its conclusion with all Corporations scrambling to ensure they can maximize their earnings. Some Corporations were also paying half-dividends to keep back some cashflow in order to afford their 2nd long-distance train.

This phase also saw ayheng unloading a hotsun on rhyen when he dumped his shareholding in BNR and transfered presidency to rhyen.

End-Game
Towards end-game, all of us maxxed out our stock limit (20 certs). Corporations were doing average earnings of $75+; with rhyen’s IRA doing the best $101 but his BNR (formerly owned by ayheng) was poor at only $52 EPS.

BGC Meetup - 18EU BGC Meetup - 18EU
BGC Meetup - 18EU
   
Top-left: jack208’s stock holdings were mainly on the three companies he owned. He also owned 30% of ayheng’s strong-performing RBS.
 
Top-right: ayheng owned the controlling 60% of the two companies he started (RBS, FS) while diversifying heavily into all three of jack208’s companies (30% each)
 
Left: rhyen has a more spread-out portfolio; besides max ownership of his companies and 30% of ayheng’s FS, he has his remaining portfolio well spread out over the other 4 companies

The closing market price towards game-end (see below). Both ayheng’s RBS and jack208’s GSR shared the highest market value at $250 (ayheng’s RBS withhold a few times in order to raise capital for the 2nd long-distance train) while three of rhyen’s companies languished in the sub-$100 bracket.

BGC Meetup - 18EU

The inter-Europe railway network built by the eight corporations at game-end. The top performing Corporations such as IRA (rhyen), RBS (ayheng), DR (jack208) have networks that spanned west-east or north-south. The Alps remained unconquered. 😛

BGC Meetup - 18EU 

Interesting Stats
Here are some stats from the final game scores.

  ayheng rhyen jack208
Cash on Hand 5,121 4,958 6,879
Stock Holdings 5,410 3,145 5,845
TOTAL Net Worth 10,531 8,103 12,724
Average Share Value 245.91 136.74 254.13
       
Dividends paid in last OR 1,621 1,730 1,792
RBS (ayheng) – $74 EPS 444 (6) 74 (1) 222 (3)
FNR (jack208) – $75 EPS 225 (3) 75 (1) 450 (6)
RPR (rhyen) – $66 EPS   396 (6)  
FS (ayheng) – $71 EPS 426 (6) 213 (3) 71 (1)
GSR (jack208) – $62 EPS 186 (3) 62 (1) 372 (6)
BNR (rhyen) – $52 EPS 52 (1) 208 (4)  
IRA (rhyen) – $101 EPS   606 (6) 101 (1)
DR (jack208) – $96 EPS 288 (3) 96 (1) 576 (6)
No. of shares 22 23 23
Average Earnings per Share
 
73.68 75.22 77.91

Interestingly rhyen has caught up with us in terms of dividends payout towards game-end. Even though his IRA was hovering in the sub-$100 current market value, IRA with two long-distance trains (and one of them hitting the red-to-red bonus route) was able to turn in an impressive $101 EPS.

However the selling of his treasury shares in IRA and RPR to finance the permanent trains did hurt his final shareholding values. ayheng’s ASV of $245 is very close to mine because he cross-held 30% of each of my high net-worth companies. Therefore I strongly encourage all players to cross-hold 30% of other player’s companies (kekeke).

Hope the stats above gave you some insights into how to increase your net worth in an 18xx game (remember the buy 30% rule).

Thoughts on the Game
This is my 3rd playing of this game; the 2nd was also at OTK but it was a 5-player session and as ayheng remarked, we seem stalled at kicking off the Corporations. In this 3-player session, the first Corporations got out the door pretty quickly….

The dynamics of the Minors at the beginning of the game certainly made for a very different and interesting 18xx and I suspect this is what prompted many 18xx fans to vote this as the “best” recent 18xx game.

There’s a 3-phase arc to this game that needs to be handled well if we are to do well at the end; 1) the early synergy among the Minors, 2) the choice of Minors to inject into Corporations which would also determine the speed at which Corporations are introduced to the game, and 3) the final push towards inter-Europe networks with the long-distance trains.

There’s no CGR (1856) to add the twist to the end-game phase but I believe the long-distance push makes an interesting game finale. In spite of the lack of tension in train-rush, this is not a beginner’s 18xx. It’s best played by those who have already had some 18xx sessions with games like 18TN, 18AL or 18GA. To learn about Minors, 18Scan would be the best intro before jumping into this.

We did discussed why Corporations did not start as swiftly in a 5p game as in this 3p game given that the amount of starting capital is similar and the number of Minors in play are also 15. Perhaps we were too conservative in the 5p game. Having had the experience of this 3p session, I would like to do another 5p game and see how well that plays.

btw rhyen, according to the rulebook you can play 6-player for 18EU! I suspect 6p can be brutal and best done with experienced 18xx players…. hehe.

In a 6p game, at the word “GO”, you would immediately be thrown into a key decision – how many of the 15 Minors do you want to own and how much are you willing to pay for them? Given that early cash deficits is not healthy, but 15 Minors shared by 6p will always result in non-equitble share, what’s your Plan B? 😛

Those of you interested to learn more about the 18xx series of (no-luck) business game, feel free to visit our 18xx Forum where you can find a list of 18xx games available to play.  You are also most welcome to drop by Old Town Kopitiam on Friday evening to join our boardgaming meetup where 18xx is played frequently.

Track this blog as I’ll doing more write-ups on boardgames and 18xx. 🙂

Till next time….. ciao!


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